Sunday, August 9, 2015

12 Years 3 Months 3 Days

Warning: This will be long and very emotional!!!:):)
(if you want to help set the tone while reading!!)

I don't even know where to begin! Over 12 years trying to reach a goal, and finally when that time came, speechless. Emotions boil over and words take a back seat for once. I cried, I let out all of my built up frustrations, anxieties, joys, relief, happiness, heart break, pretty much every emotion I've had over the last 12 years in that one glorious and memory forever lasting moment crossing the finish line in the 39th Annual Grandma's Marathon June 20th, 2015. Here is my journey to Boston....

March 17th, 2003 had this life changing tennis practice! My coach Darren Iverson, former owner of Big D's Family Restaurant, came to practice saying he had signed up for a half marathon which planted a seed that day, a seed I never knew would blossom into this, a seed I will forever be thankful for! For on that day he gave me this goal, this outrageous impossible seeming goal, a goal my body type would be shunned for even thinking: to run and finish a marathon! I got home that night and really thought about what I wanted to accomplish in life, and the first two things on that list:

1. Run and finish a marathon before the end of college!!
2. Qualify for and run THE Boston Marathon!

These two things for the next 12 years would mold my essence, my everything about me, my heart! I started to change after that day, not right away but a little at a time! I noticed myself not eating crap as much, and lifting weights no longer for strength but endurance! I quit football my senior year to focus on tennis, lose weight, and build up my endurance! A decision that you could say was the first step forward to my 26.2 miles worth of steps! By my freshmen year of college I had already shed around 15 pounds and was DETERMINED to not put it back on, especially with the illustrious Freshmen 15 looming over my head!!

I enrolled at the University of Minnesota Duluth fall of 2004, and for those from that area or live in Minnesota know Duluth is famous for their summer race: Grandma's Full Marathon and Gary Bjorkland's Half Marathon!!! I don't know if it was fate or an AMAZING coincidence, but choosing Physical Education put me in close relation with a professor named Jim Knapp (KNAPPERS)!!! I will be forever grateful to have him as my professor!! He was/is an avid runner and had ran Gary Bjorkland's Half Marathon almost every year when I arrived!! After my first year he tried to get as many PE Majors to sign up with him to run it in the summer of 2006!! He said and I quote "if you sign up I can guarantee you getting in, I know the secret"!! Now the half marathon unlike Grandma's Full Marathon was by lottery, they took the first 6,000 registration cards out of buckets, literally!! So registering for the half was no guarantee, unless you knew Knappers!!! He told us the secret, which will forever stay with me and those PE majors (sorry), and sure enough a month later got the famous "Congrats, your registration has been picked to run the 16th Annual Gary Bjorkland's Half Marathon 2006"!!!! I went to Knappers to tell him I got in and he gave me a training schedule in return (oh he also said congrats)!! Still have that very first one to this day!!! As all my training programs I had to start historically and a date that made sense, so Monday January 2nd, 2006 I did my first ever training run in Shakopee, Minnesota! It was a 2 mile run and holy crap did it suck, but felt AMAZING after I got done! It was 2 miles in 20 minutes (10 min pace)! Stopped a couple of times to catch my breath! But was ECSTATIC when I finished back at home!! I knew I was hooked ever since then! After every single monumental run that year I fist pumped, jumped in the air, was freakin loving it!! 2 miles, check! 3 miles, check! 4 miles, check, all the way up to my biggest run that year 10 MILES!! DOUBLE DIGITS!! The first time EVER I ran in double digits, and who knew it wouldn't be the last!!! The thought going into a half marathon for the first time is either you're going to love it or think I am NEVER doing that again!!! June 17th, 2006 was my first competitive run EVER!! Never did cross country in high school!! Got my running packet that Thursday night before the big race on Saturday morning!! Laid out my clothes the night before, with bib and cross on top, and finally got my shoes and watch ready to go!! Morning of I repeated my goal of FINISH THE DAMN RACE!!!! With a bonus goal of under 2 hours and 5 minutes (9:30 pace)!!! I was nervous as CRAP, but weirdly feeling at peace and ready!! Starting pistol went off and BAM I was off on my first race EVER!!! It was over before I knew it and ran it in 2 hours 2 minutes and 3 seconds!! I WAS FEELING AWESOME!!! A college buddy of mine and my dorm RA previous year also ran it and when he finished he told me he was hurting!! I on the other hand was feeling fine, as I knew I had trained hard and was prepared for this race!! It was at that moment, that second I said to myself, Grandma's Marathon 2007 bring it on!!! Screw my timeline of finishing a marathon before the end of college, I want to do it NOW, in the middle of college!!

Almost immediately registration opened up for the 31st Annual Grandma's Marathon 2007 in June and I put my name in immediately!! That fall did some 5 and 10k's, starting to feel like a real runner now!!! Knew this was my off-season to a BIG training time period coming up so wanted to maintain that momentum from this past spring but also not get burnt out!! As always wanted to start this training period historically as this was the FIRST EVER marathon I will be running!!! SO as if fate had handed me a perfect calendar, Monday January 1st, 2007 New Year's Day I went on my first EVER MARATHON TRAINING RUN!!! 2 miles in 19 minutes and 16 seconds!! I was a little better off this time around compared to my first ever training run almost a year previous to that!! But this training schedule was from Grandma's Marathon training site itself!! A "Beginner" training schedule that had me going for 6 months (24 weeks)!!! This time around the energy and excitement after every longer Saturday run was GINORMOUS!! 12 miler, YESSSSSSSSSS!!! 15 miler, HECK YEAH!!!!! My first ever 20 miler, HOLY CRAP DID I JUST DO THAT?!?!!? Run after run my confidence for my goal of FREAKIN FINISH WITHOUT DYING (with bonus goal of sub-4) was becoming higher and higher!!! I was thinking, wow I might actually be able to pull this rabbit out of my hat!!! Now I was a HUGE Rocky fan during college so my entire training "theme" was 'No Pain' as in "No Pain, No Pain...No Pain, No Pain...No Pain, No Pain"- the exchange between Duke and Rocky whilst fighting Ivan Drago!! And my physical physique was changing once again!! Losing 10 pounds overall during that training period and coming in at a cool 187 pounds pre-race day, while gaining a 10 pound beard!! Another Rocky IV homage!! January 1st to June 15th let the facial hair go untouched, same as Rocky did in Rocky IV while training in Russia!! Side note: a tradition I have kept ever since while training for a major race!! The night of June 15th started another tradition, this time with my dad: the ceremonial shaving of the head and face!! I went from Grizzly Adams to Alien in less than 30 minutes!! It was bald and clean shaven, it felt weird but light!! For the past couple of weeks it was torture to go running in the heat with that beard, and now I felt light and cool!!!:):):) Had my dad's spaghetti at the cabin that night, and then tried to get some sleep! Now they say the night before a big race sleep is key and try to get at least 6-8 hours! YUP! NOPE!!!! On average they say runners get around 4-5, mostly because of anxiousness and anticipation for the morning of!!

June 16th, 2007: RACE DAY!!! My first marathon ever!! Woke up at 4:45am and EVERYONE was awake and ready to go it seemed, no one was tired or drowsy!! Got a ride from my family to the Miller Hill Mall bus pick-up, gave me HUGE hugs, and off I went!! Now if you've never done Grandma's Marathon before, especially the bus pick-up from anywhere minus Two Harbors, it is intimidating!! You literally drive the ENTIRE marathon route distance out to the starting line!! You keep going, and going, and going, and going, and going it seems!! About 5 minutes from the drop off point you're thinking what the HELL have I signed up for?!?! I was intimidated and humbled immediately!!  Got off the bus and knew there was no turning back now, it was NOW or NEVER!!! Hung out, went to the bathroom like 3 times, forced out 2 poops and 1 pee and was ready!! 7:35am headed to the starting corral, with the other 6,000 runners, felt like herding cattle!! I closed my eyes for those next 10 minutes and just felt the energy and soaked everything in!! Started goosebumps at that time and they didn't even go away until mile 1!! I repeated in my head my goal and strategy, FINISH THE RACE!! FINISH THE RACE!! JUST FINISH THE DAMN RACE!!!! Bonus goal of coming in between 3 hours 40 minutes and 3 hours 50 minutes (little bit under a 9 minute pace)!!!! A pace 30 seconds faster than my previous year's half marathon finish!!! It was a beautiful morning for a race (as years pass I would find out NOT a good thing for runners!!), the sun was shining and like metal hitting metal I heard this loud BOOM!! It was the Air Duluth fighter pilots flying over for their ritual flyby!! All the runners went crazy as we knew, this was it!! It was under a minute until the gun would go off and my marathon career would officially start that day!! 10....9....8...7...6...5...4...3...2..1... BAM!!! Starting pistol went off and off we went!! Now we walked for the first 3 minutes as it was a traffic jam just to cross the starting line, but once we crossed we were running!!! The first 3 miles were a blur, I had goosebumps and tears in my eyes!! I couldn't believe where I had come and where I was at physically!! It was a dream!! Every single mile there were fans cheering us on!! Including my family at mile 5!! The moment I saw them I knew I had it that morning!! This was one race I HAD TO and was GOING TO FINISH!!! By the half way point I was feeling fantastic, my goal time was right on step, 1 hour and 49 minutes exactly, putting my finishing time within my dream goal!! The next 6 miles were critical ones as I heard and read about around mile 18-20 was "the wall"!! A dreaded point in the marathon when your body physically says "I HAVE HAD ENOUGH STOP!! JUST STOP ALREADY!!!!!" I got to mile 18, hurting but good! Mile 19, still strong!! Mile 20 let's do this!! Mile 21 and Lemon Drop Hill NAILED IT!! The crowd when entering Duluth is something of a dream!! The energy is buzzing, the runners are encouraging each other, it was ALIVE AND KICKING!!! Now this next part, to this day I have never told anyone, not even family, but I feel it's time to let it go!! At mile 22 I walked, I stopped running, I walked for 47 seconds (the longest 47 seconds of my life)!! My goal was to RUN and finish a marathon, I felt failure in my heart, I couldn't believe it, "the wall" got to me!! BUT it was in that moment, it was in those very 47 seconds I promised myself NEVER AGAIN, NEVER WILL I QUIT! NEVER WILL I WALK ANOTHER MARATHON!! I DUG DOWN DEEP!! DEEPER THAN I HAVE EVER REACHED BEFORE!! I grabbed my water, took a couple sips, threw it on the ground, said thank you, and TOOK OFF RUNNING!!! I had this feeling of determination and will that I never knew I had until this moment!! I RAN mile 23, I RAN mile 24, I RAN mile 25, I RAN mile 26, AND I SPRINTED THOSE 200 METERS TO THE FINISH LINE!!!!! I crossed the finish line and just collapsed!!! It was over!! My lifelong goal of running and finishing a marathon was accomplished!!! I cried!!! And I cried!! And I cried tears of JOY!!!!! All these lifelong memories flashed before my eyes!! Not being able to run a mile in high school without stopping, being teased for being fat in middle school, all of these memories came.......and then went away!! It was like my soul was cleansed that very day!!!! I did it!! I ran a marathon!!! I looked at my watch!! DID IT UNDER 4 HOURS AND WITHIN MY GOAL!!! 3 HOURS 48 MINUTES AND 32 SECONDS!!! A time I will never EVER forget!!!! That moment in time will last an eternity!!!! I found my family after it was done and just collapsed into their arms!!!! Mom and sister were crying, dad was on the verge, Cindy was tearing up, it was an amazing moment to have with them!!!!!!!! I still couldn't believe it!!!!!! They asked the question all runner's get asked after a marathon "how are you feeling?" I said.......... exhausted. But it was the greatest feeling of exhaustion I have ever felt in my entire life!!! (Real life pause for tear wipe and nose I said emotional, well at least for me!)

After Grandma's I went home and tried sleeping but couldn't, I was feeling alive and exhausted at the same time, IT WAS GREAT!!!!:):):):) I sat on the couch at the cabin while everyone else slept and thought, yeah this was good, this is something I can get into!!!! I had already thought about next year's Grandma's Marathon and a 3:30 goal!!!! And a 3:29:59 I DID in the 32nd Annual Grandma's Marathon 2008 (8:03 pace)!!!!!:):):):):):) But it was in that winter of 2008/2009 something happened, something life changing!! I went to an International Job Fair in Iowa!! Not knowing what to expect from this I went in thinking hey if I can land a job in Europe, specifically one of the Scandinavian countries AWESOME!! I went, found out VERY quickly those jobs require minimum 2 years experience and/or Master's Degree, both of which I did not have!! But as if an angel was looking over me that day, a school I never heard of from a country I would never have expected to go to put their school's pamphlet in my personal folder!! I went to open my folder and looked at the pamphlet and read the school's name: Woodstock School! What and where is this school?!? It took me all of 3 seconds to get hooked as I opened it up and saw the beautiful Himalayan mountain range and the endless hills!!! I interviewed with then HR Head Polly Peterson and was offered a job as a PE teacher the very next day!!! I accepted and was heading to India!! INDIA!!! INDIA!!!! Of all the countries in the world India was not even on my radar as a possibility, BUT I took the job!!

As for my running ambitions and goals, well needless to say those were kind of put on hold for the moment!! Not knowing what to expect in India and what racing opportunities I would even have, running marathons was put in a folder and stacked in a "to-do" pile on a desk in my brain!! I arrived in the fall of 2009 and within 2 months I had already wanted to extend my contract from 3 years to 5!!! Fell in love with the school, the environment, and of course the students!!!!!:):):):):):):) It was within the students that motivated me to get back into my serious quest for Boston!!! I did a devotion in a middle school assembly in the fall of 2009 entitled "The Wall"!! My experiences as a marathon runner, what it's shaped me to be, what my goals are!! It was within that devotion I found my passion for running again!!! Dusted off that folder in my "to-do" pile and went out and bought a pair of running shoes!!! Now the only problem was, WHERE THE HECK CAN I FIND A RACE??!?! Then someone told me about the New Delhi Marathon!! I was like, WHAT?!? New Delhi has a marathon race!??! Needless to say, before I got to Woodstock half marathons, 10kms, marathons were all the same title "marathon"!!! I found out very quickly that A. I had already missed the registration deadline for the New Delhi Marathon!! And B. it was the New Delhi HALF Marathon!!! But no worries, had been dreaming of traveling to Finland, Sweden, Norway all my life!! Now with this job had a chance!!! I saved up like crazy, set a budget for everything, AND built this trip all around the Paavo Nurmi Marathon in Turku, Finland Saturday June 26th, 2010!!!! I was freakin pumped!! Not only would it be my first marathon since Grandma's 2009, but it would be in FINLAND!!! I set my goal for 3:09:59 (at that point 3:10 was the qualifying time for Boston)!!! I was back in it once again!! Feeling energized now, more than ever!!! My students were super pumped, and some even took up running with me!!! That definitely helped and inspired me to train even harder!!! Now instead of taking up more time and going into each detail of each marathon up until this past June, here is a summary of my last 4 Boston qualifying attempts, including Finland as the first!!!

1. Paavo Nurmi Marathon (Turku, Finland; 27th June, 2010)
4 hours 16 minutes 25 seconds (body problems!!!)

2. Grandma’s Marathon (Duluth, MN; 16th June, 2012)
3 hours 12 minutes 13 seconds

3. Mumbai Marathon (Mumbai, India; 27th January, 2013)
3 hours 6 minutes 18 seconds

4. Phoenix Marathon (Phoenix, AZ; 19th January, 2014)
3 hours 5 minutes 19 seconds (depressed!!)

So there it was, 4 attempts over the past 5 years and all ending in heart break and failure!!! But the greatest thing ever happened before Mumbai and Phoenix!!! December 19th, 2012 Shubhra took the most important test of her life!!! A pregnancy test!! SHE PASSED!!!!! WE WERE HAVING A BABY IN SEPTEMBER (or so we thought it was September)!!!!!!:):):):) So Boston was again put on hold for the time being!!!!!! August 17th, 2013 (3 weeks ahead of schedule) the greatest day of my entire life, better than any Boston Marathon would/will ever be, an angel entered this world: Aleksia Steven Luukkonen born August 17th, 2013 2:22pm at LCH in Mussoorie, India!!!!!!! Needless to say having a baby definitely makes training a LOT tougher!!!! Getting very little sleep, sleep patterns disturbed due to poopy diapers or upset stomach!!! Had to miss some running days due to exhaustion!! Shubhra and her mom were saints though as they took care of Aleksia at night and throughout her maternity leave and allowed me to get decent sleep as I still had to work!!! And Aleksia was the best of all as her first year was pretty amazing, slept well, was never fussy throughout the nights, it was amazing to live through!!!!:):):):) We were headed back to the states that winter so I asked a buddy of mine Jay if he wanted to run the Phoenix Marathon with me, a very "FLAT" course and labeled one of the flattest/fastest in the US!!! As you saw missed my Boston goal by 19 seconds and that one hurt, it was heartbreak!!!! The Phoenix Marathon hurt the most out of those 4 attempts, as those 19 seconds haunted me!!! It put 19 different ways of doubt into my head!! Can I ever really qualify for Boston at this point?!?! Well more determined than ever after the Phoenix close call, I signed up for Grandma's Marathon that summer of 2014!! However, with a more determined attitude that also meant a step up in training, pushing my body harder than ever!! Sadly too hard at one point, as after one of my runs in late February I noticed a stabbing pain just under my patella in my left knee!! I thought nothing of it as I've never had a serious running injury before, so why would one happen now?!? I took the next day off, and then the following day I went for a run and within 1/2 a mile I was done, out, PAIN IN MY KNEE!!! Went home and got out my runner's injury book and sure enough found EXACTLY what I was feeling: patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)....aka runner's knee!! My heart sank, I couldn't believe it! I just dropped the book and sat there in denial!! There is no way I am injured, couldn't be, not now, not when I'm so close!! I never went to a doctor but I knew it was that!! I took 3 months off from running, Grandma's was obviously out the door and instead I took up biking and iso leg exercises!!! That summer I did go up to Duluth for Grandma's Marathon and biked the course during it! That was pretty emotional in itself!! Biked all the way out to Park Point and just sat on the beach for hours, thinking about Boston and qualifying!! I didn't even run until I got back to Minnesota that summer!! I went outside with my running shoes for the FIRST TIME in months, started off at a VERY generous pace (9 minute miles), and went for only 3 miles!! BUT RAN PAIN FREE!!! Was this it?!? Was my pain really gone?!? I went on a run every other day that summer, ALL pain free!! I got up to 10 miles (my pre-determined limit that summer) by the end and was back down to a 7:30 pace for that 10 miler!! I was JUMPING FOR JOY!!! I FELT ALIVE AGAIN!!!! Going almost 4 months without running killed me, it took away my spirit!!! I had set a goal after the summer to run the New Delhi Half Marathon, but to run it in a PB!!! 1 hour 24 minutes!! They say if you can run a half marathon in an hour and 24 minutes you can run a sub-3!! Coincidentally I needed a sub 3:05 to qualify for Boston!!!!! I did MASSIVE research on new training schedules, training schedules that don't "PILE" on the miles, but instead go by a theory of less is more!!!! I had a professor in college who again I wouldn't know where I would be without him!! TOP DOG!! Professor Ken Harkins of UMD had always preached in his classes his LESS IS MORE principles!! Of course never listening to him until now, I finally gave in and gave it a try!!!!:):):) I found this 3+2 training program, where they have you run 3 days a week and do cross training cardio the other 2!! Running 3 days a week to get a PB, WERE THEY CRAZY?!?!? But I went all in on this one!! I lived and breathed by what they told me to do!!!! If I was going to save my knees it would have to be a radical change in my state of training mind!!!!! I could live with Top Dog telling me I told you so if I accomplished my goal of 1:24 in November!!!

I started my training and sure enough by November, 2 weeks out, I was tapering already, something I had never done before either!! November 30th, race morning came, I was nervous as EVER!! This was my first real race since Phoenix and not knowing if my knees would hold up was killing me!!! If I ran this race and something happened to my knees I don't know if I would ever have the confidence to run again!!! I met my friend and two of my student's father Pritam before the race started!!! We had gotten closer as the years went on as we both loved running and gotten faster!! He however was shredding time off of his runs like crazy, his goal for this half was around 1:22!! We wished each other luck and BAM the corral gates opened and the race had started!!! I started off right away falling into my pre-determined race pace of 6:24 per mile (4:00 minute per kilometer since it was in kilometers), Pritam took off and literally that was it for seeing him until the finish!!!! First 5km I was on target, hitting 3:59's, 4:00's and 4:01's!!! Knees were the only thing I was thinking about and they were fine, in fact feeling stronger than ever!!!!:):):) Half way through the half I was feeling AMAZING!!!:):):) At the 11km mark I knew I had this!!! In fact at the 13km marker I saw this guy I raced a year ago at the Gurgaon Half Marathon who beat me by 2 minutes!! PASSED HIS SHORT SHORTS BUTT WITH A HUGE SMILE ON MY FACE!!!!!:):):):):):):):) In my head I was like "suck it" mister I don't smile and I'm from some foreign country in Europe!!! I mean seriously he looked like he didn't even enjoy being out there!!! But passing him, knowing he has ran Boston before, made my confidence rise even more!! I passed him and never looked back! Okay I looked back a couple of times to make sure he was eating my imaginary dust!! I'm sorry but in Gurgaon I tried and tried to catch him but never did, and after the race was over he didn't even smile or anything when I said good run!! SO I was his running karma biting him in the butt to make him try and appreciate and enjoy running again!!!:):):):) Came to kilometer 20 and put on the after burners!!!!:):):) Sprinted the final 500 meters and crossed the finish line with a time of 1 hour 24 minutes and 4 seconds!! I WAS BACK AND LOVING IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:):):):):):):):):) No pain in the knees and CONFIDENCE WAS HIGHER THAN EVER NOW!!!!!!!!!!!:):):):):):):):):):):):):) I found Pritam close to the finish line as he had just finished 2 minutes ahead of me, not really sure as his watch died!!! But he definitely reached his goal and he was feeling pumped as well!!!! We said our goodbyes, I found Shubhra and Aleksia and we headed back to Mussoorie, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!!!!:):):):):):):):)

Took the winter off from serious training as I knew the next time I got serious would be in February for Grandma's Marathon 2015, so I wanted a refreshed training mind and spirit!!!! Did a lot of biking again and 3 days a week running!!! Then the day came, March 3rd, 2015.....1st day of my 16 week training schedule!!!!! Shaved off all of my facial and head hair and began the 16 weeks of untouchable beard/head hair!!!! With a success at the New Delhi Half Marathon, I took to the same theories, less is more (3 quality runs a week) and full body strength training is KEY!!!!! Combining these two aspects hopefully would bring me success in June!!!! After each month passed by, I felt stronger and faster but my confidence was still shaky!!! Training in the hilly roads of Mussoorie was hard to get down to the pace I needed to be at, so in late April and May, my tempo and 20 milers were on the treadmill!!!! May 30th, 5am I woke up to my final LSD (Long Slow Distance) 20 miler!!! This to me was my make or break run, the run of all runs in my training thus far!!! I had to keep a 7:05 pace for all 20 miles!! I was nervous!! I walked to the gym that morning, turned the fan on, started the treadmill and was off!! After 20 miles I was done, pace ACHIEVED!! My confidence was boosted a little bit, I still was unsure since it was on a treadmill and not road!!! After that run it was taper time!!! Took the next 3 weeks and steadily and easily backed off the intense runs and boosted up the strength training a little bit more to get that final push!!!! Flew back to Minnesota with my girls, did a lot of biking with Aleksia in the trailer those 10 days, and on Thursday June 18th evening traveled up to Duluth, MN to try accomplish my lifelong goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon with a sub 3:05 in the 39th Annual Grandma's Marathon 2015!!!!!!!! Dream goal a SUB-3!!!!! But I would be happy to get anything lower than a 3:05 at this point!!!!

Thursday June 18th, 2015 (Packet Pick-Up)
8:05pm - arrived at the DECC and picked up my race packet and bought some sweet new running shorts and jerseys to last me the next 4 years!!!!!
9:00pm - arrived at the cabin exhausted but relieved to have picked up my packet!!!!!!!

Friday June 19th, 2015 (Rest and Relaxation Day)
8am to 1pm - did a lot of switching between laying on the couch, walking around with Aleksia, and snacking!!!
1pm to 7pm - repeated the routine of 8am to 1pm, but then SAID HI TO JOELY JOELY JOELY JOELY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
7pm - started the traditional shaving of the head and face!! I decided in honor of my personal best marathon on the same day June 20th, 2008 at Grandma's Marathon I went with the single shaved mohawk on top and of course the Prefontaine mustache on the face!!!!
8pm - had the traditional dad spaghetti with whole wheat bagel and water/gatorade!!!!
9:30pm - left with JOELY JOELY JOELY in his truck to do my traditional drive Grandma's Marathon route while listening to "The Race" playlist on my iPod!!! We didn't even arrive at the starting line until 10:10pm, and when we got there I stepped out of his truck and walked right up to Grandma's Starting line (of course not going past it as I never step on the actual race course until race morning)!! I got to the starting line, got down on one knee and just prayed!! I said "Amen" looked up and into the distance, pressed play to "The Final Countdown" and off we drove!! We went all the way to about mile 21, and then took a right up 21st Ave!!!!!!
11:15pm - arrived back at the cabin, focused, ready, anxious!!!!
11:55pm - got next to my bed, went down on one knee, prayed one last time, hit play again on my iPod and laid there picturing the race the next morning!!!!! (fell asleep around 1am I think??)

Saturday June 20th, 2015 (A Day Forever in My History; Race Morning)
4:45am - FUNKY COOL CELL PHONE SONG PLAYS!! (My alarm on my cell phone goes off)

If you haven't been playing the song, do play this song for this next part and just let the pictures and song gel into one story!!!!

5:45am - Eye of the Tiger!! Felt focused and more determined than ever!! My dad dropped me off, gave me a HUGE hug once again, and I stood in line to get on the bus!!! This time the bus ride was more light hearted than the very first time I rode it back in 2007!!!! Talked to a guy named John the whole trip, how it was his first time, he was coming off a knee injury, etc. etc.!! But near the drop off point got focused!!

7:45am - Start of the Race!!! It was absolutely down pouring leading up to the start!! Runners were seeking shelter under trees and large air vents next to the Ford dealership!! But with 15 minutes before the start of the race I got up, started to do my pre-race warm-up, and walked to the starting corral!! I saw my buddy Jay in his traditional kilt!! We talked a bit, and then with 1 minute before the start of the race I bent my head down, closed my eyes, and said one final prayer!! This was it, the moment the last 12 years 3 months and 3 days have been leading up to!! The hopefully qualifying run for THE Boston Marathon!!!! 7:45am and BAM!!!!!!!!!!! 39TH ANNUAL GRANDMA'S MARATHON HAS STARTED!!!!!

Miles 1 to 5 went by like a breeze of fresh air!! The rain had stopped a mile into the race and the weather was perfect!! Cloudy, slight mist and drizzle, energy from all the other runners were HIGH!!!! This is mile 5 where my family saw me and I saw them for the first time!!! I had requested to have mini snickers and jolly ranchers ready to be handed off at this point as I had trained with them at mile's 8 and 16 for a sugar boost!! I saw my dad, Cindy, Nat, Dusty, JOELY JOELY, but couldn't find my mom with the Snicker's!! I kept on running, searching the crowd, but nothing! Then I heard "STEVEN! STEVE! STEVE" .....behind me! I had missed her!! I had a moment of panic, was this it, the moment that would be the turning point of my Boston Career?!? I went on and said "screw it, this aint going to change nothing, let's do this!! NO PAIN!!!"

Mile 13.1 (Half Way) and right on pace!! I saw EVERYONE this time as they were a lot more spread out!! My wife and Aleksia are right there in the pink, and that's JOELY JOELY JOELY in the black!! He had my snicker bars this time! I ran up to him, bobbled the handoff and dropped them! I said "SHIT," stopped, turned back around to pick them up, and then carried on!! I saw my mom who ALSO had snickers waiting for me, but I was full at that point! Had 2 snickers and 2 Jolly Ranchers, I was set!! My pace was spot on, if not a little head of schedule!! 1 hour 29 minutes and 22 seconds!!!:):) I was feeling amazing right now!!!!:):)

Miles 13.1 to 16 were in the zone!! Tunnel vision and flying!!! Came up to mile 18, where in the past at Grandma's had slowed down a little bit and felt the fatigue!! NOT THIS TIME!!! I had this gut feeling! This gut feeling I had never gotten before in my past 4 attempts, this gut feeling that I WAS GOING TO DO IT THIS TIME!!!! They always say listen to your gut, so I did!! I had the confidence, the will, the desire this time!!! I WAS READY TO QUALIFY!!!! Mile 20 I saw a familiar Woodstock face, Ajay Mark!!! Now in my head after I saw him I KNEW, I JUST KNEW I couldn't let down Woodstock another year!! I couldn't go back to my students another time as a failure!! I passed Ajay and put my head down and increased my speed!! It was an amazing feeling!!! (Real life pause for tears wipe and nose blow)!! I knew I had to do it this time!!! I said to myself "we got this, we GOT THIS!!!!!!!" I thought of my students and took off!!!! Mile 21, faster!! Mile 22, faster!! Mile 23, faster!! Mile 24, faster!!! Mile 25, faster!!!

Now I come to the final mile of Grandma's Marathon!! I am mentally and physically exhausted but know I CANNOT GIVE UP!! I CANNOT SLOW DOWN!! IN 1.2 MILES IT WILL BE OVER!!! I put my head down again, dig down deep, look into my heart and GO!!!! I come to the overpass which leads to the final turn before the straight away!!! At this point I am 200 meters from finishing!!! I see my wife and Aleksia standing there, then Joely, then my mom, then Cindy!! That right there gave me my final kick of speed!!! I turned the final corner and started to SPRINT!! Tears starting to build up a little bit, but I felt a face of pure determination and grit!!!!

100 meters away now!!!!! I see the time on the clock and realize I'm going to do this!!! I'm going to qualify!!!

I cross the finish line......

....and collapse!!!! It's over. All these years, all those months training this time, over with. Nothing more that I could do! I'm on my knees crying my eyes out with joy!! I DID IT!!!!!!!!!!! A SUB 3 HOUR MARATHON!!! 2 HOURS 59 MINUTES AND 41 SECONDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 19 SECONDS FASTER THAN A SUB-3!!!! THOSE 19 SECONDS I COULD HAVE USED IN PHOENIX NOW WORKING WITH ME AND NOT AGAINST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:):):):):):):) Officials and first aid come around me making sure I'm fine, I'm still on the ground crying my eyes out, but I look up at them with a HUGE SMILE ON MY FACE AND SAY "I'M FINE! OH GOD AM I FINE!!!" They roll the wheel chair away to someone else who needs it more than I do!!!! Right now at this moment I am speechless, I can't believe what has happened!!!! I just think back to all those years ago when I first wanted to accomplish this!!! I look around and see my dad, I lose it again!! Start the tears all over!! I hug him, then I see my mom, Shubhra, Aleksia, Joely, Cindy, Dusty, Nat all come up and I hug each one of them!! Crying all the while (Real life pause, can't even type right now tears and snot) and absolutely loving the fact I am with them at this moment!!!! I couldn't have planned a more perfect day and moment to qualify for Boston!!! It was at the marathon that started it all with family (pause again more tears)!! It was the moment I had dreams of and now I was living it!!!!!:):):):):):):) 

I went to Shubhra, who was also tearing up at this moment, and Aleksia, who was scared as heck and trying to escape, and just fell into their arms and cried again!!! Everything I have fought through, every failure I had to overcome, every moment of doubt I had to run out of my brain, was conquered!!! This was it, the moment had come and I was overrun with emotion!!!!! I was speechless!!! 39th Annual Grandma's Marathon 2015 will forever be in my memories as an opening and closing chapter!!!! This race opens my future of Boston and closes my 12 years 3 months and 3 days of pursuit!!!!!!:):):):):)

On a personal note I want to thank all of you who have been with me throughout these years, my motivation, my support crew, my family, my friends, my students, everyone who has had to hear about my failures and overcoming adversity time and time again!!!!!!!!!! I cannot express enough the love I have for you and the (pause break again for tears) thankfulness that you are in my life!!! I could not have done this without you!! I had days where I thought all hope was lost and you came to my side and picked me back up again and said "DO IT"!!!!!! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!!!!:):):):):):):) They always say you should hire a coach to motivate you more and get you to accomplish your goals!!!!! I'm lucky and blessed that I've had hundreds of personal coaches and motivators along the way, all through love and support!!!! Again without you I could not have done what I did on June 20th, 2015!!! A special thanks and love to my mom and dad, who always believed in me no matter what!! To my sister who always said I could do it and never doubted me for a second!! Dusty for being the brother from another mother!! Cindy who was equally as supportive through all of this!!!!! ALL OF MY MINNESOTA/WASHINGTON FAMILY/FRIENDS!!!! MY WOODSTOCK FAMILY!!!! And last but certainly not least, my daily rock, my talisman, my wife Shubhra!!! And even though she will have no idea what all of this means until she's about 6 or 7, to my Aleksia, which everything I do at this point is for you and making sure I am alive to see you grow into the beautiful woman I know you will be, both inside and out!!!!!!:):):):):):):):) Thank you all again so much, as it still feels like this is just some wonderful and amazing dream!!!!!!!


Next up...

April 18, 2016