World Majors Achievement

The article I wrote for this month’s Birmingham Track Club newsletter, The Vulcan Runner, is about a major achievement accomplished by one of my good friends, David Kahn.  Below is the article as it appeared in the newsletter:

What do you think of when you hear the word “major”?  I looked it up on www.dictionary.com and found a couple of interesting definitions:

  • Noun – one of superior rank, ability, etc., in a special class
  • Adjective – greater in size, extent, or importance

What does this have to do with running?  I am glad you ask.  I decided to look online to see what I could find a connection with “major” and “marathon”.  On www.active.com, I found a list of the biggest marathons in the United States:

  1. ING New York City Marathon – 43,660 finishers
  2. Bank of America Chicago Marathon – 33,701 finishers
  3. Boston Marathon – 22,843 finishers
  4. Marine Corps Marathon – 21,405 finishers

I am not sure of the year that these numbers represent, but the point is that these are the largest attended marathons in the country.  I guess you could consider them the United States’ major marathons.

I know several runners in our area that have run all four of these marathons.  Some have completed one or more multiple times.  They are all great and unique events in wonderful cities.

On the world level, there are six marathons that are classified as World Marathon Majors.  These major marathons are Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo.  On their website, their mission statement states:

“PROVIDE GLOBAL LEADERSHIP IN ELITE AND MASS PARTICIPATION MARATHONS.”

The World Marathon Majors is a series consisting of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world:  Tokyo Marathon, Boston Marathon, Virgin Money London Marathon, BMW BERLIN MARATHON, Bank of America Chicago Marathon and TCS New York City Marathon.  The organizers of these events are united in their effort to advance the sport, raise awareness of its elite athletes, and increase of the level of interest in elite racing among running enthusiasts.

The Abbott World Marathon Majors (AWMM) determines the world’s best male and female marathoners, awarding a $1 million prize purse split evenly by the men’s and women’s champions.  The purse is awarded after each full year cycle of competition.  A one year series is defined as follows – AWMM Series IX begins at the 2015 Tokyo Marathon and ends upon completion of the 2016 Tokyo Marathon.  AWMM Series X begins at the 2016 Boston Marathon and ends upon completion of the 2017 Boston Marathon.  Each subsequent series will begin and end at the next AWMM race on the calendar.  The Olympic Marathon and IAAF World Championships Marathon will be included in the race schedule in years they are held, but will not begin or end the series.

The ninth running of the Tokyo Marathon on 22 February 2015 marked the official start of Abbott’s title sponsorship of the Abbott World Marathon Majors.

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The champions are the male and female runner who scores the greatest number of points from Qualifying Races during the one-year scoring period.  During each scoring period, points from a maximum of two Qualifying Races will be scored.  An athlete must start in two Qualifying Races over the Series cycle to be eligible for the championship.  If an athlete earns points in more than two events, the athlete’s highest two finishes will be scored.

Points are allocated following each race as follows:

1st Place 2nd Place 3rd Place 4th Place 5th Place
25 points 16 points 9 points 4 points 1 point

If you are still reading this, you are probably wondering why I went into so much detail on the World Marathon Majors.  Well, I am glad you asked.  With the 2015 Tokyo Marathon, one of Birmingham’s own has actually now completed all six World Majors. David Kahn began his quest to complete the major U.S. marathons with the 2009 Chicago Marathon only about a year after he started running.  He followed that up with the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon, 2011 New York City Marathon and the 2012 Boston Marathon.  To make this achievement more impressive, he started a new business during this same time and grew Yogurt Mountain to over 40 locations.

Once he completed the largest U.S. marathons, he looked for another goal to go after.  Since he was half-way through the World Majors, he decided to complete the three international races.  In 2013, he completed the London Marathon.  After that he set his sights on Berlin, which he completed in 2014.  With the completion of this year’s Tokyo Marathon, he rounded out the World Majors.  He has also started another new company, Pizza 120, while wrapping up these international races.

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As far as I can tell, David is the first runner in Birmingham to complete all six races of the AWMM series.  He may be the only runner in Alabama to complete this feat.  We all know that only a miniscule percentage of the population ever complete a marathon and David has become a member of an even more exclusive group.

Congratulations to David on this most impressive achievement!

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Lessons from Meb Keflezighi

As many of you know, I write a regular column in the monthly newsletter published by the Birmingham Track Club. My column is titled “Ramblings” because I just write whatever I feel like writing each month. For the January issue that was just released, I shared something that I read not too long ago about Meb Keflezighi. Since we are starting a new year and I thought this was good advice, the following is a reprint of the article:

Sports Illustrated recently blew a historic opportunity to make a strong statement to the sports world when it selected Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants over Meb Keflezighi as their 2014 Sportsman of the Year.  Taking nothing away from Bumgarner, he was incredible in the playoffs last fall, but Meb accomplished something that transcended sports when he won the 2014 Boston Marathon.  To me, it seemed like such an easy choice to select Meb as Sportsman of the Year.  One year after the terrorist bombings at the finish line on Boylston Street, Meb ran a PR on his way to winning the marathon.  He honored the four victims killed the previous year by writing their names on his bib.  He wanted to do something special for the running world and, more specifically, the city of Boston.  And he did!  Just shy of his 39th birthday, Meb took the lead early and held it throughout to become the first American winner since Greg Meyer in 1983.  With his victory, Meb brought pride to our country and he reclaimed the streets of Boston for the community and runners.  The win also made him the first runner in history to win both the New York City Marathon and the Boston Marathon along with an Olympic medal.  Those of us who know him personally could not have been prouder.  I just wish Sports Illustrated had recognized the magnitude of his accomplishment.

Reading all of the posts on the internet in the aftermath of Sports Illustrated’s decision, I ran across an excellent article outlining lessons that we could all learn from Meb.  I dug it back out and thought I would share the advice here.  Regardless of ability, all of us can strive to better ourselves in 2015.  I hope you find this as good as I did.

Lesson #1:  No Pity Parties

If you have run for any length of time, you have most likely experienced a pity party.  If you run a marathon, you will see many pity parties all around you as you get deeper into the race.  When things become difficult, human nature is to dwell on the pain and suffering.  This is something Meb does not allow to happen.  Because of his mental strength, he is a master at refocusing his attention away from negatives.  When my wife told him she did not like to run long distances because it hurts, he laughed and told her that a marathon hurts him for all 26.2 miles.

Just like all of us, Meb suffers when he runs but he refuses to live in the suffering.  He quickly redirects his thoughts to things, usually external, that can be beneficial to get him back on track.  I have heard Meb say that he often thinks of his father who escaped Eritrea by walking more than 200 miles to get his family out of the country.  When he began to struggle in the Boston Marathon and Wilson Chebet was gaining on him late in the race, he thought of the victims from the previous year’s tragedy to find the strength to keep the lead and race to victory down Boylston Street.

For those of us that have been fortunate to train with Coach Danny Haralson of Run University, we often hear him tell us to think about other things when we feel tired or deflated during a race.  He tells us to think positive thoughts to get our minds off the negativity.

Meb’s ability to refocus from the negative to a positive mindset is a key to his consistent success in running and life.  As he often says, “I run to win but winning doesn’t always mean getting first place.  It means getting the best of yourself in each race.”

Lesson #2:  Relentlessness

Meb displays the same relentlessness in training as he does in races.  If you are familiar at all with his story, you know he has had more than his fair share of injuries.  Others have written him off repeatedly.  Sponsors have chosen not to renew his contract.  He just keeps coming back, stronger and better.  His secret is relentless hope.  He believes that if today is not his day, then it probably will be tomorrow or maybe next week or even next month.  He is always looking ahead with hope.

When he races, he always has several goals.  At this year’s New York City Marathon, he had three goals:  win, top three finish or PR.  The wind gusts created conditions that took the PR off the table, but he kept his sights on his other two goals.  He ran with the lead pack for most of the race but was unable to match some of the late surges and fell back to eighth place at one point.  He saw the reigning world champion, Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, ahead of him and thought, “Well, that’s not too bad to finish behind the Olympic champion.”  As soon as he thought that, his relentlessness kicked in and he decided to give it one more push.  He soon caught Kiprotich as they set their sights on the next runner ahead, defending champion and course record holder Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya.  That is when Meb thought to himself that this might be his only chance to beat Mutai so he continued to push.  Just like that, he found himself in fourth place and began thinking, “Maybe one of the top three will fade and I can achieve my goal.”  No one faded, but that is how he thinks during a race.  He is always hopeful and ever relentless.  By the way, that fourth place finish was good enough to be the top American finisher.

Lesson #3:  Hard Work Pays Off

An interesting fact about Meb is that he thought the marathon distance was too hard for him after he ran his first marathon.  He then went for a visit to his native Eritrea and was reminded of what “hard” really is.  The trip rejuvenated him and what he thought was hard was no longer hard.

In both his running and non-running activities, Meb works hard.  He spends a significant amount of training time on non-running activities such as cross training, mobility, massage, nutrition, etc.  At age 39, Meb believes he has to work even harder on these non-running elements than he did ten years ago.  His long and consistent career is testament to the fact that he knows hard work pays off in running.

It does not matter what kind of runner you are, we can learn something from these lessons.  Whether you are a front-of-the-pack runner trying to win races as Meb does or a middle- to back-of-the-pack runner just balancing life and running, you would do well to keep these three simple lessons in mind.  I call them simple because conceptually, they are.  Putting them into practice is much more challenging.  We all have the tendency to focus on our pain or feel content with where we are rather than push to see how much better we can be.

Most of us want this running thing to be easy.  I hear people say all the time that if it were easy, everyone would do it.  As runners, we are already mentally, physically and psychologically stronger than the vast majority of the population.  The truth is that the only thing that can really hold us back is ourselves.  As we embark on a new year, make the commitment to “run to win” as Meb describes it.  Find out how good your best can be!

If you have not read Meb’s book, Run to Overcome, I highly recommend it.  If you cannot find a copy at the bookstore, just go to www.runtoovercome.com to order a copy.  The latest edition includes a chapter about this year’s Boston Marathon.

I also like to include some inspirational quotes with each of my articles. Since I chose to include quotes reflecting on hard work, I wanted to share those here as well.

“Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.”

   ~ Sam Ewing, a former baseball player for the Chicago White Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”

   ~ Thomas A. Edison, (1847-1931) an American inventor and businessman

“All growth depends upon activity.  There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”

   ~ Calvin Coolidge, (1872-1933) the 30th President of the United States

“We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort.  We postpone and postpone, until those smiling possibilities are dead.”

   ~ William James, (1842-1910) an American philosopher and psychologist who was also trained as a physician

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work.  Hard work is the price we must pay for success.  I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.”

   ~ Vince Lombardi, (1913-1970) an American football player, coach and executive best known as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers during the 1960s

“Focused, hard work is the real key to success.  Keep your eyes on the goal, and just keep taking the next step towards completing it.  If you aren’t sure which way to do something, do it both ways and see which works better.”

   ~ John Carmack, an American game programmer and the co-founder of Id Software

“It is only through work and strife that either nation or individual moves on to greatness.  The great man is always the man of mighty effort, and usually the man whom grinding need has trained to mighty effort.”

   ~ Theodore Roosevelt, (1858-1919) an American politician, author, naturalist, soldier, explorer and historian who served as the 26th President of the United States

I hope you enjoy this and find it to be good advice. I did.

Four Great Contributors to the Birmingham Running Community

For those that are members of the Birmingham Track Club, you should have received the August issue of The Vulcan Runner.  As some of you may know, I have written an article in the monthly newsletter for a couple of years.  My article is always at the back of the issue where it belongs.  I agreed to write the article as long as I could choose whatever topic I want.  I did not want to have to write every month about a specific topic.  That is not my strong suit and I knew it would get tiresome and boring for me quickly.  Plus, that would be a sure way to lead to “writer’s block” for me.

Up to now, my articles have been published exactly as I have written them, grammatical errors and typos included.  Since I have never claimed to be a good writer, I figure people get what they get when I write something.  It is the same way with this blog.

This month, however, someone decided they needed to edit my article.  In doing so, they included incorrect information.  I received the mass email from the BTC at 2:01pm notifying the members that the August issue was available on the website.  At 3:55pm, I received an email from someone telling me that I incorrectly credited Danny Haralson as being the Race Director for the Vulcan Run 10K in 2007.  I never included a year when I mentioned Danny taking over as race director.  To be clear, in case there are others that want to make sure that my facts are correct, the year was added by whomever decided to edit the article.  For those that want to make an issue over this matter, please know that it was not something that I submitted.  The edits were done without my knowledge or consent.  I was not even given the courtesy of being allowed to make my own edits.

Because it took less than two hours to ruffle some feathers, I would like to make it clear that this error was not mine this time.  Of course, I did find where I left a word out but I always find something like that once the issue is published.  The irony to me is that some people seem to think that everything is always about them.  Well, my article was all about four gentlemen that have made a tremendous contribution to the Birmingham running community   I attempted to point out, to the best of my knowledge, ways that these men have selflessly gone above and beyond for the benefit of those that went before us as well as those of us that are still running.  I have personally never heard one of these men ask for recognition for their efforts.  The intent of my article was to show my appreciation for what they have done for all of us.

I had already planned to repeat my article here in my blog after The Vulcan Runner was released.  I wanted to express my thanks for these men to those outside the BTC too.  Since the published version of my article includes incorrect information, I have chosen to post the article as I wrote it here:

 

We Should Honor People While We Can – A Tribute

As we saw in last month’s issue of The Vulcan Runner, the Birmingham running community lost another icon.  Dr. Arthur Black was highly regarded as one of the founders of the Birmingham Track Club.  (He was the first President of the BTC in 1976 and he served a second term in 1979.)  The BTC was an offshoot of his belief that exercise had value and could lead to a long and healthy life.  Apparently, he knew what he was talking about since he lived 93 years.  Even in his later years, he was said to be seen walking around Vestavia Hills picking up trash along the road.  He obviously took great pride in our community.  Needless to say, Dr. Black will be missed.  (If you have not read the article in last month’s newsletter, I highly encourage you to do so.)  In the last year or so, we also lost other prominent members from the earliest days of the BTC such as Versal Spaulding (a Vulcan Run founder) and Les Longshore (a BTC charter member).  Although I never had the opportunity to meet these men, I always heard them spoken about with high regard by everyone that knew them or met them.

Reading the tribute to Dr. Black last month also got me thinking about how we tend to honor people after they are gone.  It is obviously an appropriate thing to do.  I just wonder sometimes why we so often fail to honor people while they are still with us.  I guess we take them for granted like we do so many other things.  The BTC is blessed to have so many wonderful people who have done so much for our local running community.  I wanted to take this opportunity to express appreciation for a few of these individuals that we still see and hear from on a regular basis.

Al DiMicco

For those of us that have only been running for the past six or seven years, Al is known primarily for leading the Sunday morning group that trains for the Mercedes Marathon and Half Marathon each year.  In addition to that running group, many of us also know Al for his blogs (runningwithal.blogspot.com and trainingwithal.blogspot.com).  This past year, Al turned the reins of the marathon/half marathon training group over to Natalie Ferguson and the BTC.  Of course, he stayed involved with the group and continued to post regularly to his blogs.  His posts are not just interesting and entertaining, but provide a wealth of information to help all runners get better by learning from his experiences.  What experience you ask?  According to his blog, Al’s running resume includes over 140 marathons and ultramarathons.  His marathon PR is 3:03.  He has also run over 100 miles seven times!  For fifteen years, Al was a coach for Team-in-Training, which is a running program that benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  For those of us that read his blog regularly, we know he has ankle issues and those issues have slowed him down a tad.  However, you will still find Al and his running partner (Moha) tackling trail races all the time.  Al also still covers the ultramarathon distances, even with bad ankles.  It does not matter if the terrain is hilly or flat.  Al finds ways to stay out on the trails.  Al was the recipient of the Dr. Arthur Black/Rick Melanson Annual Service Award in 1996.  In addition, Al was just the second person to receive the BTC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

Danny Haralson

If you have not been involved with the BTC for very long, you may only know Danny as the Race Director for the Vulcan Run.  But he is so much more than that.  Through his Run University program (RunUniversity.com), he has trained literally thousands of runners from the couch to a 5k or 10k.  In many instances, those runners have gone on to conquer half marathons, marathons and beyond.  I know because I am one of those runners.  Moreover, I am not alone.  I would challenge you to run with almost any group in Birmingham and not find at least one (probably many more) runner that started running through Danny’s program.  Almost everyone in my regular group started with his Running 101 (also known as “Couch to 10k”) program through Run University.  The thousands of participants that have gone through his program would be impressive enough.  However, Danny’s involvement in the local running community does not end there.  Over the years, Danny has served the BTC in a number of positions, including Club President from 2004 through 2006.  His introduction as Vulcan Run Race Director was a fire by baptism.  When the previous Race Director resigned, Danny (with help from his wife, Micki) agreed to take over as Race Director for the next year.  He has graciously stayed on and made the Vulcan Run the premier race organized by the BTC every year.  A couple of years ago, the BTC recognized Danny’s significant contributions to the club by adding his name to the annual award now known as the Randy Johnson/Danny Haralson Annual Service Award.  The club gives this award each year at the annual party to “a ‘newer’ member who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and freely given of his or her time in a volunteering capacity in ways that help further the mission of the BTC.”  Danny and Micki jointly received the Dr. Arthur Black/Rick Melanson Annual Service Award in 2004.

Rick Melanson

For years, you could find Rick just about every weekend timing a race somewhere in the Birmingham area.  In addition to timing races, Rick also certified racecourses.  I would argue that no one else has worked at timing as many road races as Rick.  In addition to working races, Rick was an active member of the BTC for many years.  I still remember him at board meetings reminding us about the history of our club.  He always stayed true to the mission of the club in every way.  His fingerprints are all over the BTC, even today.  As I researched, I kept finding Rick’s name attached to something within the BTC.  Our most prestigious award given each year is the Dr. Arthur Black/Rick Melanson Annual Service Award.  This award is “our oldest award and is annually given to the most outstanding club member over the past year or for continued outstanding leadership and service to the BTC.”  In other words, this the MVP Award for the BTC and it has Rick’s name on it.  Rick himself won this award in 1980 and 1986, which makes him the only two-time recipient.  In addition, the club honored Rick in 2012 when the Peavine Falls Run officially underwent a name change to become known as the Rick Melanson Peavine Falls Run.  This was done to recognize his many years of service as the Peavine Falls Race Director.  That same year, Rick became the first to receive the BTC Lifetime Achievement Award.

Charles Amos Thompson

If you were to attend a BTC board meeting today, chances are you will find Charles there with his stack of papers.  Personally, I have no idea what is in that stack but he has them with him at nearly every meeting.  Charles’ reach into the Birmingham running community extends far beyond our club’s road running.  You will also find Charles at track meets and other races working finish lines.  He may be at a high school track meet one day at a local school then working a collegiate indoor meet at Birmingham Crossplex the next day.  I overheard Charles tell someone once that he has participated in over 2,000 events as a runner or official.  That is incredible to me.  Those that run from National Bank of Commerce (formerly Brownell Travel) on Shades Creek Parkway near Jemison Trail can thank Charles for providing the water and hydration drink on the brick wall each Sunday morning.  Charles also puts out the materials about upcoming races at the base of that wall.  I have had the pleasure of working the finish line with Charles on a couple of occasions.  The first time was the Southern Conference track championships when Samford used their new track for the first time.  I had never been to a track meet, much less work at one, but Charles was patient and taught me what to do.  On another occasion, I worked the finish line with him at the BTC Classic.  Although this event was much less tense, Charles took his job just as seriously as he had at Samford.  Working with him, I saw that he has a real passion for running and creating an environment where runners can have the best experience possible.  Charles received the Dr. Arthur Black/Rick Melanson Annual Service Award in 1987.

These are just a few examples of the people that we still have running with us today that have made significant contribution to our running community and the BTC.  I include myself when I say that we should try harder to show our appreciation to these folks, and so many others, while they can still hear us.  I certainly understand the importance of honoring people when they are gone.  It is the right thing to do.  How much more right is it to honor them while they are still here?  Without these early founders and long-time members, the BTC would not be where it is today.  For anyone who has ever worked with a volunteer organization, you know it is often a thankless job.  Let us try to make a more concerted effort to show our appreciation to those that have made significant contributions to an activity that we all love so much.

That’s it.  I hope Al, Danny, Rick, and Charles know that many of us truly appreciate what they have done for us and all runners in our community.  Without these men, the BTC would not be where it is today.  Birmingham running would not be what it is today either.  More of us need to take their lead and do our part to make running fun and inclusive.  Although I was not there, I think that is what Dr. Black and the other founders envisioned when they started the Birmingham Track Club so many years ago.

Another Running Hero, and Friend – Meb Keflezighi

The following is a preview of my article for the June issue of Birmingham Track Club‘s monthly newsletter, The Vulcan Runner:

 

In previous columns, I have written about a couple of my running heroes, Terry Fox and Team Hoyt (Dick and Rick). I decided this month to write about another one of my heroes, Meb Keflezighi. In addition to being one of my running heroes, I am blessed to also call Meb and his brother, Merhawi, my friends. We often see world-class athletes and have an impression that they are so far removed from us that we could never have the chance to actually meet them.

Like the marathon, life can sometimes be difficult, challenging and present obstacles, however if you believe in your dreams and never ever give up, things will turn out for the best.

~ Meb Keflezighi

In my case, a chance meeting at the expo for the Zappos Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon/Half Marathon in 2010 developed into a friendship. I was at that race with my good friend, David Kahn. We saw someone just standing in the expo talking with a couple of runners and thought it looked like “the guy” that won the ING New York City Marathon the year before. We introduced ourselves and were happy to learn that it was indeed Meb. When he discovered that we were from Birmingham, he told us that our city held a special place in his heart. In 2004, he qualified for the Athens Olympic Games at the Marathon Olympic Trials in Birmingham. He was the runner-up at those trials and went on to win a Silver Medal in Athens. We ran into him and met Merhawi a month later at the expo for the P.F. Chang’s Arizona Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon/Half Marathon in Phoenix. From there, our friendship grew.

But I also realize that winning doesn’t always mean getting first place; it means getting the best out of yourself. One of my greatest joys is inspiring other people to perform at their best.

~ Meb Keflezighi

Meb visited Birmingham back in November 2012 and spent a few days meeting and running with a number of our local runners. There was a meet-and-greet event benefitting his charity, MEB Foundation (Maintaining Excellent Balance), at David’s house one night. There was also a book signing at Aloft in Homewood another night where many people got the opportunity to talk with Meb as he autographed their books and posed for pictures. David even went to London to be Meb’s “gopher” during the 2012 Olympic Games, where Meb was the top U.S. marathoner with a fourth place finish after winning the trials earlier that year in Houston. For this January’s Houston Marathon/Half Marathon, David and I had the opportunity to act as Meb’s handlers for the weekend when Merhawi had to go back home unexpectedly. Seeing Meb interact with runners of all skill levels gave me some insight into just how humble he is. He never turned down a request for a picture or autograph, even when we were pushing him to his next appearance. While in Houston, he also won the U.S. Half Marathon Championship (his 22nd career national championship). On top of that, he came back out on the course to run David in as he finished the half marathon and he ran me in as I finished the marathon later in the day. He did that even though he ran and won his own race earlier that morning. While standing near the finish line, he also congratulated and high-fived other runners as they finished their race. As always, he was uplifting and encouraging to everyone he encountered.

Probably the highlight of Meb’s career (from my selfish perspective) is his win at this year’s 118th Boston Marathon on 21 April. Not only did he become the first American in thirty-one years to win this prestigious event, but he also did it by running his personal best of 2:08:37. In my opinion, Meb was just what Boston needed following the tragic events that occurred the year before. At this point, I should mention that he was just a couple weeks shy of his 39th birthday when he won. I noted that this is a selfish highlight for me and that is because I was there. Of course, I did not see him finish since I was still on the course at the time. In fact, Meb was close to mile 20 when I started, but I got to run the majority of that race knowing that he had won thanks to the thousands of spectators lining the course. I could not have been more happy or proud.

While in Boston, a few of us were fortunate to spend some time with Meb the night before the marathon. Jack Burnette and his wife, Barbara, along with me and my wife, Caroline, visited Meb in his hotel room for a few minutes on that Sunday night. This was also when we met Meb’s wife, Yordanos, for the first time face-to-face. We found Meb very comfortable and relaxed in his room. Jack said a prayer for Meb as we were planning to leave so Meb could get some rest. Before we left his room, Meb asked if we wanted to take a picture. Of course, we said yes. The next thing we know, he is pulling two boxes out of the safe in the room. When he opens them, one contained his 2009 New York City Marathon Championship Medal and the other held his 2004 Olympic Silver Medal. He let Jack wear the Silver Medal and he let me wear the NYC Medal in the picture. That was a huge honor for the two of us.

meb's room in Boston

I have an Olympic medal. I won New York. Before today I felt my career was 90% accomplished. There was one gap. Now I’ve won Boston, and I feel 110% accomplished.

~ Meb Keflezighi

Jack and I told Merhawi after we left Meb’s room that we thought he was confident in his training and that he expected to run well the next day. We hoped it would be well enough to win since the elite field was strong this year. When he won, it made the whole trip for me. My race became secondary. Of course, it meant we lost our dinner partners for Monday night when he won. Apparently, Meb had a few obligations that went along with being the Boston Marathon Champion.

meb wins boston

As an athlete, you have dreams, and today is where the dream and reality meet. I was just crying at the end. This is probably the most meaningful victory for an American, just because of what happened. It’s Patriots Day.

~ Meb Keflezighi

I think it is safe to say that Meb is a favorite of the Birmingham running community. A number of Birmingham runners have raised money for the MEB Foundation through various races: Alison Burnette, David Kahn, Joey Longoria, LB Mitchell, Carrie Patterson and me. We have adopted Meb as one of us. You only had to look at Facebook during and after the Boston Marathon to see that the vast majority of posts were about Meb. It was more than the obligatory congratulations. Runners were posting pictures that they had taken with Meb when he visited here. Others were sharing their stories about interacting with him at one time or another. There were plenty of “generic” congratulatory posts on Facebook, but the tone of the Birmingham posts was much more personal. That is just indicative of the type of person Meb is. He genuinely cares when he speaks with people and just wants to encourage them to “Run to Win.” That is his way of telling people to be the very best they can be. I have heard him tell that to so many people.

Just when there was a need for another American hero in our sport, along came Meb. He epitomizes everything this sport stands for – courage, determination, commitment, and above all, respect. There is no better role model in our sport than Meb Keflezighi.

~ Dave McGillivray, B.A.A. Boston Marathon Race Director

If you have not read Meb’s book, Run to Overcome, I highly encourage you to buy it or borrow it from someone. It is an inspirational story about his journey from humble beginnings to winner of the New York City Marathon. Without giving too much away, you will learn about how his father escaped their home country of Eritrea and made it to Italy to save his family during the thirty-year war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Meb’s father had to flee the country because his life was threatened by the Ethiopian regime. He worked for four years in Italy as a laborer to get his family out of Eritrea so they could join him. After their reunion in Italy, the family immigrated two years later in 1987 to San Diego. Meb was twelve-years-old at that time. Despite a significant language barrier, Meb and his ten siblings persevered and thrived by making education their top priority. The Keflezighi kids hold eight undergraduate degrees, a MBA, a MD, a JD, etc. I would say they have become very productive members of society since their arrival in this country. Meb earned his U.S. citizenship in 1998 and has represented our country in numerous international competitions, including three Olympic Games and several World Championships.

Meb embodies what can be accomplished when one takes advantage of the opportunities presented to them. His story of dealing with both struggle and success can teach us all what it means to persevere through anything life throws our way. For distance runners, Meb has become a role model that rejuvenated interest in their sport.

While Meb’s performances have shown me what is possible for American distance running and urged me, his teammate, to press in for more, his overcoming spirit through the lows have shown me what it looks like to be a real man. Meb has the remarkable capacity never to lose hope and to experience joy in his life no matter what his circumstances. He is truly gracious in victory and defeat. It is this characteristic that I admire most in Meb.

~ Ryan Hall, American long distance runner and Olympian

I consider it a privilege and honor to call Meb a friend. It is not so much because of his running accomplishments, which are numerous, but because he is such a fine Christian family man. You only have to be around him for a few minutes to realize that he really does care about others. The world could use more people like him and Merhawi.

The following are just some of Meb’s running accomplishments:

  • Olympic Marathon – 2004 (Silver Medal in Athens), 2012 (4th in London)
  • Boston Marathon – 2014 (Champion), 2006 (3rd), 2010 (5th)
  • New York City Marathon – 2009 (Champion), 2004 (2nd), 2005 (3rd), 2010 (6th), 2011 (6th), 2002 (9th)
  • London Marathon – 2009 (9th)
  • Chicago Marathon – 2003 (7th)
  • USA Marathon Champion – 2009
  • USA Half Marathon Champion – 2009, 2014
  • USA Cross Country Champion – 2001, 2002, 2009
  • USA Olympic 10,000m Trials Champion – 2000, 2004
  • USA Olympic Marathon Trials – 2012 (Champion), 2004 (2nd)
  • USA 15k Champion – 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007
  • USA 10,000m Champion – 2000, 2002, 2004
  • 22-time USA Champion (16 roads, 3 tracks, 3 cross-country)
  • Former U.S. 10,000m record holder (27:13.98 set in 2001)
  • Inducted into the UCLA Hall of Fame in Fall 2010

Two of My Running Heroes: Team Hoyt

A while back I shared an article I had written about one of my running heroes, Terry Fox.  I thought I would share another one about two more of my running heroes, Team Hoyt (Dick and Rick).

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Last summer I included a story about one of my running heroes, Terry Fox.  I received some positive comments about it so it seemed to be well received.  This month I thought I would write about another of my running heroes, Team Hoyt.  I decided to write this when I saw them accept the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the Annual ESPY Awards on television recently.  The award is given to members of the sporting world who have overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination.

For those that know anything about Team Hoyt from Holland, Massachusetts, they certainly exemplify this award in every way.  Dick (age 73) pushes his son, Rick (age 51), through each race in which they participate.  Rick is restricted to a wheelchair.  Using their custom-made running chair, they have completed over 1,000 races together.

When we first started running, I was getting calls and letters from people with disabilities that were very upset with me and they said I was just out there looking for glory and dragging my disabled son to all these races. They didn’t know that it was him dragging his old man to these races.

   ~ Dick Hoyt

Overcoming the Odds

Rick was born in 1962.  At birth, he was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy because of oxygen deprivation to his brain.  Dick and his wife, Judy, were advised to send him to an institution because he had no chance of recovery and little chance at a “normal” life.  Although he could not walk or speak, Dick and Judy soon realized that his eyes would follow them around the room.  Through every period of Rick’s life, the Hoyts had to fight to integrate him into society.  They pushed school administrators to see beyond Rick’s physical limitations to include him in the public school system.  They did everything they could to give him that “normal” life, even taking him swimming and sledding.  They taught him the alphabet and basic words.  They even had to show concrete evidence of his intellect and ability to learn like everyone else so they could help him find a way to communicate on his own.  With the help of engineers at Tufts University in Boston, an interactive computer was built for Rick.  Using one letter at a time, Rick could finally communicate for himself.  He even surprised everyone when his first words were, “Go Bruins!”  (The Boston Bruins were in the Stanley Cup Finals that season.)  As they suspected, Dick and Judy had a sports fan on their hands.  At 13 years old, Rick was finally admitted to public school.  After high school, he even went to Boston University where he graduated with a degree in Special Education in 1993.

Team Hoyt’s Beginning

In 1977, Rick told his dad that he wanted to participate in a five-mile benefit run for a lacrosse player that had been paralyzed in an accident.  Dick agreed to push Rick even though he was not a distance runner.  Although it was difficult, Dick pushed him all five miles and they finished next to last.  It was quite a struggle, partly because Dick was not a runner and partly because Rick’s wheelchair was not designed for running.  When they got home that night, Rick said, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”  Thus began Team Hoyt.  It was just the start of an athletic career that would encompass over 1,000 races of various types, including marathons, duathlons and triathlons (six being Ironman competitions).  As if that is not enough, Dick and Rick biked and ran across the United States in 1992, completing 3,735 miles in only 45 days.

When we got home from that race that night, Rick wrote on the computer, ‘Dad, when I run it feels like my disability disappears.’ So, that was a very powerful message to me.

   ~ Dick Hoyt

Triathlons may be their most amazing accomplishments from my perspective.  Dick completes the swim by pulling Rick in a boat with a bungee cord attached to a vest around his waist and to the front of the boat.  For the biking portion, Rick rides on the front of a special two-seater bicycle.  And for the run, Dick pushes Rick in his custom-made running chair.  If you have ever seen them compete, you know that Dick has to carry Rick from stage to stage as well.

People often ask me, ‘What would you do if you were not disabled?’ When I was first asked, I said I’d probably play baseball or hockey. But when I thought about it some more, I realized that I’d tell my father to sit down in my wheelchair so I could push him. If it weren’t for him, I’d probably be living in a home for people with disabilities. He is not just my arms and legs. He’s my inspiration, the person who allows me to live my life to the fullest and inspire others to do the same.

   ~ Rick Hoyt

The Boston Marathon

In 2009, Team Hoyt completed The Boston Marathon for their 1,000th career race.  It is Rick’s favorite race.  This year’s marathon was to be their last together.  It was their 31st consecutive running of this iconic event.  After all, Dick is 73 years old and I cannot imagine pushing someone that far at any age.  To commemorate their final Boston Marathon, the Boston Athletic Association honored the Hoyts by erecting a statue of the duo in front of Center School in Hopkinton where the marathon starts.

It was a beautiful day and their final race was going well.  Dick said in an interview, “The race started off very good.  It was awesome.  We were having a good marathon run, an-hour-and-a-half faster than last year.”  As they neared the finish, people began to tell them about the bombs going off on Boylston Street.  Like many others, they were stopped with about a mile to go.  Being there with Rick, Dick began to wonder what he was going to do.  A bystander suggested they take a cab, but Rick’s wheelchair will not fit in a cab.  Another spectator came forward with a Jeep SUV and offered to help them.  The 2013 version of the marathon was supposed to be their last, but because they were unable to finish, they have committed to return in 2014 for a final run together.  They want to finish the race to honor the victims and families impacted by the senseless act of terrorism.

By competing with my father, I send the message that everyone can set a goal and they can reach it, as long as they never give up. In 2008, Dad and I were inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame. I was inducted as the twenty-sixth member and Dad just behind me as the twenty-seventh, because, as you know, I always finish just ahead of Dad…First, as a man with disabilities, it has given me the chance to compete in one of the world’s truly special sporting events. Second, allowing me to compete, led to the establishment of the physically challenged division. Third, it gave me the stage to show all types of different people that they can set, strive for and achieve their goals. And finally, I got to go to my favorite place on earth eight times.

   ~ Rick Hoyt

ESPY Awards

The Jimmy V Perseverance Award is one of the highlights of the Annual ESPY Awards.  The award is named after, and inspired by, the late Jim Valvano.  As the first recipient of the award in 1993 and while battling cancer, Coach Valvano gave an emotional speech that included the famous words, “Don’t give up…Don’t ever give up!”  He passed away two months later.

During this year’s ESPY Awards, Boston native Ben Affleck took the stage to pay tribute to Team Hoyt and present them with this year’s award.  Before introducing a video narrated by Denis Leary that told the story of Team Hoyt, Affleck said, “This April the country embraced the city of Boston after an act of terrorism at the marathon.  Terrorism is meant to create fear and break the spirit of its victims.  But the spirit of the city isn’t founded on her buildings within its landmarks, it’s found within the people who claim the city as their own and thrive despite adversity.  It is found in the people of Boston.  And it is especially found in people like Rick and Dick Hoyt.”

I knew the credit went to my son. He was my motivation. Something gets into me when I’m competing along with Rick that makes us go faster. My strength comes from him, as if it moves from his body into mine. The strength that I got from my son that day enabled us to become Ironmen.

   ~ Dick Hoyt

“Rick and I are grateful to be receiving this award, and learning that Jimmy Valvano’s motto was ‘Don’t Give Up…Don’t Ever Give Up!’ is amazing as we have always said there is no such word as ‘can’t’ in the Hoyt vocabulary,” said Dick Hoyt.  “Our motto is ‘Yes You Can’ and we strive to always persevere even when others tell you that it cannot be done.  We want to thank The V Foundation and The ESPYS for honoring us with this award.”

“Throughout their lives, Dick and Rick Hoyt have exemplified dedication and persistence, living out Jim Valvano’s famous words about perseverance,” said Maura Mandt, executive producer of The ESPYS.  “The Hoyts serve as a symbol of their hometown as they consistently display strength and resilience – just like the city of Boston did in the aftermath of the marathon tragedy.  Their numerous accomplishments have served as a true inspiration to many people and we’re proud to honor them with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award.”

…to me finishing is so important. It is a representation of my life. Mom and Dad could have quit when I was born, but they didn’t. They could have given up trying to help me learn to communicate or trying to get me into public school. They chose to continue, and because of that, I’ve had one heck of a ride. We never fail in our athletic competitions despite the fact that we have gotten lost during races and even finished with flat tires. We still continued and still finished the race. Dad and I are not quitters.

   ~ Rick Hoyt

If you have some time, I would recommend going online to search for videos of Team Hoyt.  You cannot help but be inspired by them.  I can watch YouTube videos about them for hours when I lose track of time.  One word of warning, make sure you have plenty of tissues within reach.  You will need them!

The Light Of My Life

This past week was a milestone week.  I’m late getting it into a blog because I was having computer issues.  What was the milestone you may ask?  On Wednesday, 15 August, Caroline and I celebrated our 20th anniversary!  It’s hard to believe we’ve been married that long.  It seems like yesterday that I saw her for the first time and knew I had to get to know her.  After a failed “scheme” to meet her, I just had to call her and introduce myself.  Boy was I nervous!  She was way out of my league but I had to take the chance.

After our first date, I knew she was different from anyone else I had ever dated.  We hit it off right away.  In so many ways, we are very similar but also quite different in other ways.  I think we complement one another well.  She fills the areas where I am weak and I would like to think I do the same for her.

We met for the first time in November 1991.  We got engaged in February 1992 and then married in August.  For many people, that was too fast.  For me, I just knew she was the right person.  Of course, the challenge was convincing her to marry me.  Somehow, I pulled it off.  To this day, I chalk it up to her being young and naive.  Once I got that ring on her finger and heard her say “I do,” I could breathe a sigh of relief because I knew she was stuck with me.  I still wonder how I pulled that off.  Others do too!  More than once, I’ve had someone ask me how I got her to marry me.  I guess when you “marry up” as much as I did, it’s a reasonable question!

Caroline is the most remarkable person I know.  Not only is she drop-dead gorgeous, she is one of the smartest people on the planet.  She excels in everything she puts her mind to.  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so focused and dedicated to anything and everything she does.  When she tells me she wants to do something, I know she will succeed.  There’s never a doubt in my mind.

To have been given 20 years with Caroline is the greatest gift I could have ever received.  The good thing is that it’s not stopping here.  Every day that I’m married to her is a blessing.  I would say I hope to have 20 more years but that wouldn’t be enough.  I saw a saying a few years ago that is so true to how I feel about Caroline:

I love you more than yesterday and less than tomorrow.

Happy anniversary, Caroline!

The Marathon of Hope

The following is an article I wrote for the July 2012 issue of The Vulcan Runner, the monthly newsletter for the Birmingham Track Club.  I received some good feedback on the article so I thought I would share it here too.

The Marathon of Hope

When I was 14 or 15 years old, I remember a news story the national media would update every few nights. There was a guy, a kid actually, trying to run across Canada and he only had one leg! I was NOT a runner at that time and did not understand the significance of the athletic challenge he was undertaking. I just thought it was crazy that anyone, especially someone with an obvious handicap, would try something so formidable. It was not until I was older that I heard the story about the Marathon of Hope. It made such an impact on me that I have wanted to go to Vancouver for several years just to see the statue of Terry Fox, the young man who impacted a nation.

Terrance Stanley “Terry” Fox was born on 28 July 1958 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and raised in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, a community near Vancouver. By all accounts, he was an active teenager involved in many sports. In 1977, at the age of 18, he received a diagnosis of osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer) and the doctors had to amputate his right leg about six inches above his knee. While in the hospital, the suffering of other cancer patients, many of which were young children, so affected Terry that he decided to run across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer research. He called his journey the Marathon of Hope and his initial goal was to raise $1 million.

Beginning by dipping his leg in the Atlantic Ocean at St. John’s, Newfoundland, on 12 April 1980, Terry’s goal was to complete his trek by dipping it again in the Pacific Ocean at Vancouver. His pace was daunting. He planned to average a marathon a day. At this time, no one had ever attempted something like this. After 18 months of training and over 3,100 miles to prepare, Terry started his run with little fanfare. Although it was difficult to garner attention in the beginning, enthusiasm grew and the money he was collecting began to accumulate. Over the course of 143 days and 3,339 miles, Terry ran through Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario before he had to stop.

He was unable to finish the run because the cancer spread to his lung, forcing him to abandon the course on 1 September 1980 just northeast of Thunder Bay, ironically near the small village of Marathon, Ontario. An entire nation was stunned and saddened. A few days later, Canada’s CTV network telecast an impromptu telethon to carry on Terry’s dream of raising money for cancer research and to, in spirit, keep the Marathon of Hope alive. Many Canadian and Hollywood celebrities participated in the event, which raised more than $10 million. In the end, the Marathon of Hope raised $22 million.

On 28 June 1981, Terry passed away one month before his 23rd birthday. However, his Marathon of Hope captured the attention of a nation. Canada’s inspirational warrior was gone, but his legacy was just beginning. He became a national hero and, to date, over $600 million has been raised worldwide for cancer research in Terry’s name through the annual Terry Fox Runs held across Canada, in the United States, and around the world.

Terry’s heroism has inspired other Canadians to attempt similar feats in the name of charitable causes. This includes Steve Fonyo, another runner who also had a leg amputated as a result cancer. He retraced Terry’s route and then proceeded to complete the run to the west coast in the name of cancer research. A paraplegic athlete and close friend of Terry’s, Rick Hansen, was also inspired to make his own trek around the world in his wheelchair to raise funds for spinal cord injury research.

Terry’s impact on his country cannot be underestimated. Canada Post issued a Terry Fox Stamp on 13 April 1982. Prior to this, no other stamp had been issued until ten years after the death of the honoree. In December 1990, The Sports Network (TSN) named Terry Fox Athlete of the Decade. The field included Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan. The Terry Fox Hall of Fame was created on 11 February 1994 to provide permanent recognition to Canadians who have made extraordinary personal contributions to assist or enhance the lives of people with physical disabilities. On 30 June 1999, Terry was voted Canada’s Greatest Hero in a national survey. He was once again immortalized on a Canadian postage stamp on 17 January 2000. This time he was part of the prestigious Millennium Collection of influential and distinguished Canadians of the 20th Century. These are only a few of the honors posthumously bestowed on Terry. You can Google Terry and find an endless array of information about him.

I will be heading to Vancouver in mid-August to run the SeaWheeze lululemon athletica Half Marathon with several members of The Village Runners. To be honest, I think I am much more excited about the opportunity to get my picture made with the statue of Terry Fox than anything else, and that includes the race.