My Life and the Marathon

This is Perry’s Recap from his recent Tokyo Marathon. Perry was also one of the Whippet of the Week last year.

I’ve thought long and hard about what marathoning means to me. Making the initial decision to run a marathon was not an easy one to make as I had long felt that I had absolutely zero talent for long distance.

In high school, I ran on the track team and on every Friday we would do a 3-mile run. Guaranteed every time, I would be the last runner to finish the run on the team. I not only did not have a knack for it I had no interest in it either. Nevertheless, seeing family members do these years after year was inspiring so in 2014 I finally caved and decided to give training and running a marathon a shot. And right away I proved that I was right; I ran the Marine Corps Marathon down in DC hitting the wall at mile 12 and had to essentially drag my body for 14 more miles to finish just barely under 4 hours. It was such a painful experience trying to complete when I had absolutely nothing left in my tank after mile 12. I could have walked away after checking “running a marathon” off my bucket list. But I didn’t. There was something about the distance that compelled me on a visceral level that I could not quite put my finger on. I felt compelled to keep trying. I felt compelled to keep trying to get it right. I would even say to people that I hoped to qualify for Boston one day even though I could barely manage 1 mile running in 7:15 let alone 26.2!

In May of 2015 I joined the Dashing Whippets and used the weekend long runs the team ran as a way to get through the doldrums inherit. But in the 2015 New York City Marathon I was once again frustrated with hitting the wall too early. It was at mile 15 this time which left me with the task of dragging my body 11 more miles to finish. After the race, I went directly home skipping the team party as I had no strength left to put a brave face on. But then something surprising happened. Teammate after teammate reached out to me to pick up my spirits, encouraging me not to quit and shared with me their own struggles and ways they got past them. It was inspiring and I cannot express enough how much their support meant to me. Because you see, this level of friendship and support wasn’t always in my life.

Running a marathon and long distance, in general, felt to me like a physical representation of life and its challenges. That through hard work, sacrifice and persistence one can better themselves through the trials and tribulations of miles laid bare before you. During my formative years, I had plenty of challenges to get through. To talk with me today one might be surprised to know what I had to deal with in my youth. If I had to point to a moment where my challenges started it would be the death of my father when I was seven. Not only did I lose him at an early age but it happened in a very traumatic fashion as he died right in front of my eyes. He died on a ski trip and despite my screams for help any sort of medical help was miles away and if something could have been done to save him it took too long for help to reach him. He died at the age of 45 from a heart attack. I did not know it back then but that single moment would forever change not only my life but my entire family as well. My mother did the best she could but she had to raise 3 boys by herself so the struggles during my coming adolescence were my own and it was up to me to overcome them. I could not tell you how things might have been different had my father been around. I could not tell you what difference might have been made had he been there when I struggled. All I do know is that I felt ostracized from others in my adolescence all the way to my last year in High School. I could not cite one single friendship I had during that time. I had no friends. I was the kid that got bullied on the school bus. I was the kid who would get shoved into lockers. I was the kid who got sent to the counselor and principal offices. I was the kid who was put into special classes for troubled teens. I would not start a fight but other kids would start a fight with me. It got so bad at one point a group of kids ganged up and threw rocks at me; I ended up having to go to the hospital that occasion because one struck me in the head and knocked me unconscious. It was hard for me to dig myself out of that as no one wants to be associated someone with that reputation, which is why I spent so many years alone. But I also knew they were wrong. I knew I didn’t deserve their abuse. I knew I wasn’t this weak kid they perceived me to be. I knew there had to be better days ahead. I also know many kids are not that lucky. Many kids do not see an end to their torment and end up taking their own life. Or at the very least carry developmental issues into adulthood. I for one still struggle with the effects of it in one form or another; it is a fight to stay present, it is a fight to stay engaged socially when my instincts are telling me to shy away into the background. This all may be a surprise to those who have taken up a friendship with me or have seen me take leadership roles on the team. To that end, I will say that we each are the authors of our own story and it is up to each of us to define who we want to be or to transcend the person who we once were. One of my favorite quotes is “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about”. This is what long distance running has meant to me. Through my persistence and hard work, I have been able to endure and progressively transcend the person I once was. I once started out a runner who could barely manage to run (or more correctly “jog”) 1 to 2 miles at a time. Who knows what kind of runner I can become if I just continue to fight, to stay present and to stay engaged.

After I became committed to running and what it meant to me in 2016 I set my goal to qualifying for Boston. Boston to me had long been this symbol of strength; a difficult standard of measure to meet in the amateur marathon community. My first marathon in 2016 was the New Jersey Marathon. My goal for this marathon was just to get a gauge of the distance, to run it without experiencing a blowout. To train, I made my objective to run with the team as much as I could! I joined the team on Tuesday nights in Central Park as the lockers in the Jack Rabbit’s inside the Time Warner Center made it logistically possible. But for Thursday nights, as someone who lives all the way uptown at the very top of Manhattan running with the Whippets at the East River Park in lower Manhattan was logistically impossible. So I lobbied the team hard to get a workout started uptown at the Riverbank track. Luckily, enough members of the team felt the same way and joined me and have gone on to make this workout a success. If you cannot go to the Whippets make the Whippets come to you I say! After a successful training season in the winter/spring, I ran the New Jersey Marathon with a PR of 3:22:23. A 25 minute PR from my time for NYC Marathon. But I was still frustrated with hitting the wall during the last 6 miles of the race. Emboldened by my performance during the Brooklyn Half Marathon (1:28:30 – a 13 minute PR from my previous half time) I signed up to run the Lehigh Valley Marathon in Pennsylvania in an attempt to qualify for 2017 Boston which was ahead of my timetable. Prior to that, I did not think I could advance far enough in my marathon time and had 2018 in my sights instead. However, my outlook has been to not engage in “what ifs” but rather in “what could be”, so I perhaps foolishly engaged in the attempt and trained like I had never trained before during one of the hottest summers on record! I engaged in much more high mileage plan and began running 6 times a week instead of the 3-4 times like I did for New Jersey. And I got up to 90 miles in one week at my peak, which ended up being a mistake as my hip flexors paid the price and I spent the bulk of my taper on a stationary bike instead of running. The entire endeavor was ultimately a positive one as I proved it possible to myself that I could train that hard and the bonds I formed with fellow teammates running the race (Selina Satoko Highstein and Steve Wo) I will always carry with me. The race itself? What a nightmare! This race will not be famous for the weather of the day which was an impossible to PR 80 degrees with 80% humidity, but for the freight train that interrupted the course! The train not only derailed my hopes but for many, many others that day including the indomitable Steve Wo who just narrowly missed out on his Boston Marathon qualification time. I shut my attempt down after mile 11 trying to save my body to make an attempt for 2018 Boston during the 2016 NYC Marathon but ultimately the damage was done and I fought hard to recover in time to make a worthy attempt for that race. I spent much of that remaining training time either falling off marathon pace during tempo runs or spending off days on the stationary bike. I had a fairly successful race all things considering but still ended up falling short by 46 seconds off of Boston qualifying time that day. But I had an ace up my hole. A couple months prior I lucked out with a lottery and gained entry to the 2017 Tokyo Marathon! On the plus side, it would be my first international marathon (and first time overseas ever)! On the downside, it would be my 4th marathon within a course of a year and running so many was taking a toll on me both mentally and physically.

Training for Tokyo I was on a short time table. It was only 18 weeks after NYC Marathon which left only a short period of time to recover from that race and to train. Something was wrong with my body and I was not recovering from the NYC Marathon like I had previous marathons. My legs were very tight and stretching and foam rolling was only doing so much to relive it. This is when I became wise to the massage stick. From all my time training my legs had built so much tension that it was not getting relieved and adopting a much more rigorous post-run recovery routine was what was required. I was discovering that as much as I had grown adept at punishing my body and hardening it through training without the balance of recovery I was not making the adaptations necessary to grow my ability as a runner. If I were state to a regret is that I had discovered this late and did not make the gains I could have in this short period allotted to me during this training cycle. Having a balance is not only important in training but in life. I had grown into such a mentality of extremes that I was shutting off myself to a lot of joys that others were experiencing in life. It had to all be hardship and no joy because that is what I had deserved. As much as hardship can grow you as a person and as a runner to truly make gains there has to be balanced. You cannot appreciate the hardships in life without the friendships and positive experiences to balance it out and you cannot gain the benefits of a hard workout without the recovery necessary for your body to make the adaptations. Going into Tokyo I would need both to make both the marathon and the trip a success. Fortunately, I would have friends to help me on this journey.

As lucky as I was to gain entry into the 2017 Tokyo Marathon I was equally fortunate to be going with a friend from my team Matan Korrub. If you are on the Dashing Whippets team you may already know that he has one of the most charismatic and curious personalities of anyone you might meet. He was instrumental in making my first trip overseas a success as his curiosity and charisma were key in overcoming my intimidation, my lack of experience and inherent shyness in this matter. We were on this journey together to both qualify for Boston and although the race did not go his way I know he is way too determined to let one race stop him. But one cannot talk about our Tokyo journey without also talking about Naoyuki Okuda! Nao had come to run with the Whippets back during the summer of 2016. Upon reaching out to him not only did he open his doors to us and let us stay with him at his apartment (mere minutes walk away from the start of the marathon) he took great pride in offering himself as our personal guide through his city. He took great care in arranging an itinerary of sights we would like to see in the city, contextualization to everything we would see, proper etiquette when engaging others and of course translation for a language that would be baffling to most outsiders. When speaking to the locals he would inform them that we were in town to run the Tokyo marathon, the response we would receive was fantastic, we felt like celebrities. I will be forever grateful for all that he did to make our trip a success!

Let’s get down to business. Let’s talk about the race itself! Trying to adjust to such extreme jet lag would normally not be a benefit but because we had to be on a sleep schedule for an early morning for the marathon it worked out well for us. After a couple days of acclimating and seeing the city, we woke early on marathon morning ready to go! We got through the security gates easily and the pre-race area was very organized. Dropping off a bag and getting access to a port-a-potty were non-events (nicest port-a-potty I’ve ever been in I might add). The wait inside the corral was a bit long but to compare it to New York City Marathon it was barely a blink of an eye! Introductions of the elite racers were made, the gun went off, the confetti exploded all around us and the choir sang us out of the start gates. We were off and racing! The first kilometer was a bit dicey as the runners around me had all very different ideas at what pace they wanted to go, I had to dodge and weave quite a bit. I also very narrowly avoided a catastrophe as a bandit hopped onto the course shortly after the start. I really don’t know why he thought running at full speed from out of spectators onto a crowded race was a good idea but I was lucky enough to spot him and adjust my body to absorb his collision with me. The streets opened up shortly after in a big way and I was in absolute awe of the buildings towering above me, the large vertical colorful signs they were decorated within kanji and the large crowds cheering us all on in a strange language. It was clear to me that this was going to be a very different marathon. The sheer amount of volunteers and organization was staggering! Every water station had 3 times as many tables that would really be necessary. The sport drink cups (Pocari Sweat) were clearly different than the water cups (take note NYC Marathon! No green Gatorade cups followed by green water cups!), each bank of tables was followed by a bank of large angled trash bins to throw your cup and gels away (a great way to keep the course clean). I never felt at any point panicked that I would miss an opportunity to get my hydration or that I would get trampled going to a table. Yes, it helps to be one of the faster runners and therefore not be as encumbered by as much people traffic but I felt the mobs of runners behind me would not have as much of an issue either.

The first 7 kilometers was all downhill and allowed me to get ahead on time while also saving effort. After the course flattened out I was reliably ahead on my pace band by 50 seconds every kilometer. My approach to the race was to stay reserved and not engage in racing with others around me until mile 16. Every time I felt like I was being pulled into an effort faster than what I should be going I slapped the brakes on and eased back my effort. My goal was to stay in a zone of no slower than 7:15 but no faster than 7:00 per mile, which proved to be challenging as the tall buildings made my GPS mostly unreliable. I had used the pace band as a guide which I printed out to display a mix of every 2 kilometers and every 5 kilometers. Most times I have great difficulty reading a pace band during a race but for this one, I very calmly saw the kilometer marker coming up, checked my pace band for my expected total time and then denoted my actual total time as I passed by the marker. The first half of race went exactly to plan; I stayed relaxed, I did not engage in racing and hit all my pace targets. I would say this was the most successful execution of the first half of a marathon as I had ever done. Halfway through I felt like I was going to have a great day! But I still did not want to engage in racing, not yet! I had 3 more miles to get through before I would engage my thrusters. My legs felt like well-oiled springs waiting to explode. But I had been through too many marathons to know this feeling can be deceiving early on, best wait. Mile 16, time to release my speed, just a little bit. I had to hold back enough for the last 6 miles as that is where my marathon demons waited for me. I had to stay disciplined, so for the next 4 miles, I picked the pace up to 6:50 per mile. Past the 20 mile mark, I had run my perfect race. If everything was going well I was going to release everything I had on the last 6 miles. But sadly, my marathon demons were still waiting for me and my fuel ran out. I was on pace to go under 3:05 for the race but at this point, it was all about survival and doing enough to not let Boston slip through my fingers. My heart was sinking and was sinking fast as I felt every little bit of wind was sucking time away from me. The last 6 miles of the course was an out and back and I could see runner after runner on their way to the finish as I ran further and further from it not knowing when I would reach the turnaround. They say that it is at this state of the marathon where it becomes a mental game, and for me, it was hard for my mind to ask my body to go through this another time after going through it so many times in succession already this year. I would pull back on pace and take a 5-second walk break each time I felt I was going to black out. But I kept the mantra going “hold on for Boston, keep going for Boston! You’ve come too far to give up on it now!” For 4 out of the 6 miles I was able to keep my pace under 8 minutes per mile as not give too much time back, but for 2 out of those 6 miles, I hit 8:30’s which is a full minute and a half off my pace. I bought myself some time to give myself breathing room for a collapse like this but towards the end, I felt the real danger of not hitting a time that would be good enough to get me in. With the last 1 kilometer to go unleashed every last bit of untapped energy, I had to get across the line. I was not able to keep my time under 3:10 like I had hoped but I only added 56 seconds more on top of that. So getting under my Boston qualification time by 4 minutes and 4 seconds should be enough to get me into the 2018 Boston Marathon as the last 2 years one had to beat their qualification time by 2:28 and 2:09 to gain entry.

Before I became a runner a journey like this would not have seemed possible. Flying to Tokyo to run a marathon to qualify for Boston is nothing I could have ever expected or dream of my life. Had I gave up and listened to everyone around me telling me that I was worthless in my youth I would have never gotten to have this experience. There are many things that I have hoped for myself and I have failed at most of them. But without all those failures and hard times, the good experiences and successes would seem less bittersweet. So thank you to all the bullies and jerks for kicking me down! But a bigger thank you to all my friends, family and teammates for picking me up and making my life special. Thank you to all those who inspired me with your performances and for sharing your stories with me, as I hope my performance and story will inspire someone else. The fight is not over, it never is. My marathon demons are still out there hanging out past mile 20 waiting for me to conquer them! I still hope for greater experiences and even greater race times! But for now, it is time for me to take a step back and to celebrate! Kan-Pai!

More about Dashing Whippets Running Team

The Dashing Whippets Running Team is a New York based running team that is founded on, and driven by, the diversity of our team members. With team members from all over the city, the country and the world, and with greatly different running goals, we find unity in recognizing and appreciating each others differences and our mutual enjoyment of running and participating in the New York running community and beyond.

One thought on “My Life and the Marathon

  1. Orlando Gracia

    I loved your article Perry.
    Good Luck!
    -Orlando, Runner from Dallas, TX


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