Normally I try to keep race reports from getting too long, because I know they probably get pretty boring. I mean, how many times do people want to read about my heart rate getting too high and me taking another gel pack? But there are so many things to write about the Operation Jack Marathon that I don’t know if I can keep this short.
First, just in case you haven’t been here before, I’m a marathon runner and a father of three. My middle child, 7-year-old Jack, is severely autistic. I ran 61 full marathons in 2010 to raise money and awareness for a charity I’m a part of called Train 4 Autism. I named the endeavor Operation Jack, after my son.The Operation Jack Marathon was the 61st and final marathon of the year for me. If you didn’t see the blog I wrote last week as my swan song, click here to check it out.
So anyways, when I originally looked at the calendar to set up my race schedule, I knew this weekend would be a challenge. Christmas on Saturday and the day after Christmas on Sunday. Where would I find a race? I couldn’t possibly leave the family on Christmas Day if I found something on the Sunday. I launched Operation Jack with that weekend as a TBD. It truly was a TBD.
I had a plan in the works, but it fell through in late September. So, in October, I started brainstorming and decided to put on a marathon to close this all out. I was nervous about it — I didn’t know how in the heck I’d be able to recruit people for a race — but I was optimistic I could get at least 10 entrants and cover the costs. I went through a bunch of red tape and several different government agencies to get a permit and insurance. We had a course, I created a spot on this site, worked with a registration company and we got it rolling.
I had the help of Operation Jack supporter Jake Rome, who was a huge help in planning this thing. I worked with my designer, Tara Larivee, to get shirts and medals designed. I had a committee from Train 4 Autism helping take care of everything. I was nervous and anxious about this for two months. I was worried about having enough participation to make it a good event and the last thing I wanted to do was let anybody down.
Before I knew it, registration started to climb in a hurry and I got anxious that we’d have too many people to be able to handle things. This 10-person race I was hoping for ended up with 151 registrants and about 40 volunteers! I showed up early to make sure everything was rolling fine and when people started lining up for registration, I got pretty excited. It was showtime. There were runners all over the place, mingling and waiting for the race to start. I knew they were all out there to support the cause.
I saw the Train 4 Autism popup go up, I saw familiar faces and I saw unfamiliar faces. I moved my dad’s car to a lot we rented, synced up with my mom, who was in from Atlanta, and walked the 1/2 mile back to the start area thinking about what an exciting day it would be. I knew that no matter what happened, it would be a day I would always look back on.
I did an interview before the race then talked with a good friend of mine for a bit. We looked around and basically said that wow, my dream from two years ago was a reality. New people were out for the cause, and it was going to be a great day for Train 4 Autism that probably wouldn’t have otherwise happened. I don’t want to say I did it, because I didn’t — a lot of people did it. And I KNOW it wouldn’t have happened if my son didn’t suffer from autism. So it was a pretty special day before I got going. I got on the megaphone a few minutes before the start and thanked everybody for showing up. It was amazing to look out and see so many people ready to start this race. My legs hurt, but it’s pretty sweet to be in my shoes.
Next thing you know, we were off. Immediately, the first thing in my mind was that this was finally the last race of Operation Jack. I was running, and I was only about three hours away from completing the goal I’d set. The goal of 61 marathons isn’t tremendously important on an individual basis. The biggest thing about it is that it’s a tactic to gain attention and increase awareness of Train 4 Autism. But it’s still challenging to run that many marathons all-out in a single year. I won’t lie — I was intimidated by what I was facing at the beginning of the year.
But finally, the last marathon was underway and I could put this thing to bed. Of course, I still had to cover 26.2 miles on foot, and no matter how many times you do that, it’s never easy! One of the benefits of putting on marathon you’re going to run in is that you kind of forget you have to go pound it out! But I showed up ready to run. I had no desire to take it easy and let my last race be a victory lap. I did a few things different with my training and fueling this week and I thought I’d have a chance to be ready to move pretty quickly. Not necessarily a sure-fire thing, but I took some gambles because … why not?
I started off holding the sub-3 pace I wanted for a couple of miles, but it felt fairly tough and I felt sick to my stomach, like I wanted to throw up. My calves got a bit tight early, but that’s typical when I’m pushing the pace in a marathon. They usually feel good by about four miles in. I was running with a friend of mine, John Loftus. John is a great guy, a blazing fast runner (2:41:19 PR, won his age group at the Boston Marathon in 2009) and also a running coach, so I had good company.
He kept me focused when I needed to be and we spent a fair amount of time chatting (when my breathing allowed — for him, it was an easy run). The course was flat and along the ocean before turning to head alongside a creek. There was some wind on the way out, but it was at our back on the way in. Temperatures were in the mid-50s. The weather was about as good as any race I ran all year.
I could tell by about mile 5 that I didn’t have enough to set the world on fire. My pace had slowed to somewhere around 7:15s or so I think. I was still going to push for the best finish I could, but I didn’t have as much in me as I’d hoped. I got over my nausea by about mile 8 and then settled into a groove running miles around 7:20 or so. The course was a 6.55-mile out-and-back, so half marathoners ran the loop once and marathoners went twice.
I hit the half in 1:35:35, a 3:11 pace. I saw my wife and kids which was cool. They were excited and Benjamin was having fun working at an aid station. At that point, I felt like I was on the track and they were ringing the bell for the last lap. It was finally time to finish this thing off!
The wind was a little stiffer on the way back out, but it wasn’t terrible. I started to run out of steam by about mile 18 and could only manage 7:45s. When we hit the final turnaround at 19.65, I was excited that all I had to do was run back in and this whole thing was done. I started to get a little nervous, because I didn’t know how I’d be emotionally when I got to the finish. I’d been dreading that, because I didn’t know how I would react.
I started thinking a lot about my first race this year in Texas, and that dread I had, and how it had all come full circle with the (almost) completion of Operation Jack. For the most part, though, I was staying focused on my running. I needed to get my body to the finish line and the fatigue was starting to set in. I really wanted to get done. Five miles to go. Four miles to go. I was counting them down and getting excited to be done.
I had worked out something with Tiff and Jack was going to be a half-mile out from the finish and I was going to push him in while he was in a jog stroller. We hit mile 24, which is a good spot for me in a race, mentally. It starts to feel easy at that point, because I know the finish is close. Me and John took a bit of a wrong turn, but got back on track pretty quickly.
At 24.5, John told me that I only had a mile until Jack would be there. With a little over a mile to go, I saw my good friend Ben Delaney with him. Time for the handoff, time to finally get to the finish of a marathon of marathons! It’s tough to push that thing if you’r not used to it. I also had to try to keep it fairly steady, because he had a sandwich bag with celery and carrots in there, plus a sippy cup with a drink, and I didn’t want them to fall out.
I asked Ben if Jack was having a good time and he said he was just checking things out and he seemed fine. He had seen a plane a few minutes earlier and got really excited. I kept pushing, talking with John and Ben and making sure Jack was OK. The tenths were ticking down, and I wasn’t feeling the emotional overload I thought I would. I was just feeling physically beat and pushing the stroller was getting tough. Ben offered to help, but I told him no, I’d bring it in myself.
Finally, I got to the finish line and saw a bunch of people waiting for me, applauding. I kind of suspected that would happen. I saw quite a few people who had driven a considerable distance and it was nice to see them. I saw Ben, Ava and Tiff and they all came over to congratulate me.
Oh, I went 3:18:43, as if that matters. I got third place (yay for a small field!) so I got a trophy, which I was really hoping for since it says “Operation Jack Marathon” on it.
Anyways, a reporter from the Los Angeles NBC affiliate was there to do a piece on us, so I had to go straight into an interview while I tried to catch my breath. I made my way around to try to talk to everybody who was there and thank them for being there. Then I just kind of hung out for a while, watching people finish and talking to the volunteers.
Everybody seemed to like the race, which was really my biggest concern for the day. Everything seemed to go off well and it was a fun day for Train 4 Autism. In fact, several people were asking if we were going to the race again next year! I told them to wait until Tuesday to ask me that. It would be fun, I think, to put something on like this every year. But I need to decompress, first.
A couple of interesting things: I found out that a runner flew in from North Dakota just for this marathon! He flew out Saturday night, flew back after the race and it was his first-ever marathon! That totally blew my mind, and I was relieved to hear he had a great time. There was also another runner who drove down from the Bay Area for this and it was also his first marathon. I took pictures with both of them but haven’t gotten the pictures onto my computer yet. I’ll update this later.
And that’s pretty much it, I guess. Operation Jack, mission accomplished. I ran my 61 like I said I would and I went all-out every time like I said I would. It’s tough for me to really measure any accomplishments other than the money, but I’m pretty sure it was all worth it.
I’m not going to disappear now. I’ll still probably blog once or twice a week and tell bad jokes on Twitter, plus I’m going to get to work on building up my local Train 4 Autism chapter. I’ll keep pushing to try to make things better in the autism world, even though I don’t have much of a gameplan right now.
I’ll give one more reminder, as we get pretty close to the end of the year … you can still make a tax-deductible donation by clicking on the Donate Now! link at the top of any page on this site. Also, don’t hesitate to spread the word! I did this so you would talk about it. Tell your friends on Twitter and Facebook to stop by!
If there’s anything for you to remember from what I did this year, please let it be Train 4 Autism. Not that some nutty guy in California ran a whole lot of marathons.
Train 4 Autism.
Train 4 Autism.
Train 4 Autism.
Ya hear? If you ever come across somebody impacted by autism, send them this direction so I can tell them how they can use us to raise money for the autism-related charity of their choice! ANY charity!
Oh, and if you ever suspect your child is delayed, don’t wait to get treatment. Have your child evaluated so they can get treated as soon as possible. Early intervention is critical!
That’s all. Thanks for reading!
Me coming in to the finish. Jack was having a blast — he thought it was like a ride!
Me and Jack coming in to the finish with Ben (bib 268) and John (bib 298) close behind.
Me and John after the race.
Jack checking out the microphone.
Jack really wants the microphone!
My new favorite photo.
Ben and Jack.
Tiff getting interviewed.