My Smile is Fake. Since Memorial Day, I’ve been running at least 1 mile each day to keep my Runner’s World Run Streak going. Today’s run was different. Even though I have a smile on my face and my usual thumbs up at the end of the run, it was fake. Prior to today’s run, I had finished listening to the first hearings in the Ahmaud Arbery case. The details were pretty clear and angered me. Maud was chased down like an animal by 3 racists who don’t deserve to share the same air as the rest of the civilized world. Maud was running, as I was running today. The difference? I have “white privilege” and he didn’t. It sickens me. This run was not like the others. It was very different. It was emotional. I tried to put myself in the shoes of my fellow runner who is now gone too soon. I saw a truck coming my direction but the driver passed me with only a wave. He didn’t question why I was running or what I was doing. No, he kept going. Another car passed with the same result. So, why was this not the case with Maud? Why? Because he was black and he was running. A light in the world now gone. Today, even more than my tribute run weeks before, #IRunWithMaud, #IRunForGeorgeFloyd, #IRunForEquality, and I run for a world that no longer sees color and treats people with respect, no matter their skin color. I run with you!
On March 1st, I had the distinct honor of being able to cheer on fellow runners during the Skyway 10K. It was my consolation prize after not getting chosen as one of the 8,000 people to run it as selected through the lottery process.
The task was relatively simple. My position as a bus captain required me to arrive by 3:45 a.m., pick up my bus identification sign, script, and directions. My assignment was to provide runners with encouragement, safety instructions, and water. Cheerful, nervous, and excited faces stepped onto the bus. Fortunately, I could relate, running the bridge two years in a row prior.
The morning went incredibly smoothly. I was partnered with my stylishly dressed bus driver, Eugenia (addressed as Mrs. Gina by her students). Her driving ability and my witty personality (debatable) was a great duo.
We loaded the bus with runners who were layered to beat the 43-degree temps that would welcome them at the starting line of their adventure. On the way, we were gifted by sights of the bridge adorned with the glow of red, white, and blue to commemorate the day. We dropped them off exchanging high-fives and wishing them good luck before heading to the finish line.
The runners started coming. First, the elite hand cyclists; then, the men’s first-place finisher; finally, the women’s first-place finisher. After about 10 minutes, the drip of runners became a deluge.
We collected them like marbles congratulating them for successfully traversing the bridge. We gave them water and drove them back to their original starting point of Tropicana Field where their finisher medal, bananas, granola bars, salted potato chips, and adult beverages would be waiting. Mrs. Gina and I were requested to do it all again. It was a great feeling, not as great as the runner’s high experienced after a race, but fulfilling nonetheless. Our duties concluded, I said farewell to my driver and joined the accomplished runners at the afterparty in the parking lot of Tropicana Field. The day had seemingly gone off without a hitch. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Just past mile 5, there was a different story.
Mile 6 is Never Promised
Justin Doyle was a 48-year old airplane engineer who grew up in the United Kingdom. He had just moved to Pinellas County in 2012 to join his brother, a local pub owner. Shortly after, he married the love of his life and settled down. When his wife and stepdaughter were diagnosed with breast cancer, Justin started the Hope, Health, and Sunshine Foundation to help local cancer patients pay medical bills (Tampa Bay Times, March 15th, 2020). Sadly, his stepdaughter succumbed to the disease last year, but Justin’s mission continued. According to his brother, Lea Doyle, “he wanted to make everything as easy as he could for everyone in his life.”
Justin and Lea decided to sign up for the Skyway 10K Lottery with the hopes of being one of 8,000 people selected to run over the iconic Tampa Bay Bridge. Both he and his brother were chosen and would be running.
Justin probably went through the same pre-race routines as other runners: carb-loading the night before, laying out running clothes in layers, planning a light breakfast, setting alarm clocks, and making sure race bibs and safety pins are easily found. The day would also begin the same way as other runners; parking challenges, long lines leading to security checkpoints, port-o-let stops, and finally, the bus ride to the starting line. Justin probably experienced the same euphoria when seeing the majestic Skyway Bridge lit to honor the runners.
According to his brother, he was excited to be running the bridge. It was something he had wanted to do. So, Justin crossed the start line with the other runners. He ran. Justin reached mile 1, then mile 2, then 3 and 4. When he reached mile 5, he took a quick photo to remember the moment. Justin started again and shortly after, he collapsed.
This story resonated with me. Justin was only two years my senior. He was in good shape, and life appeared to be treating him well. Then, in a matter of 5 miles, Justin’s race came to an end caused by an unknown heart episode.
Justin’s journey is much like anyone’s. We all begin life at the same start line. When the gun goes off, some of us walk, some jog, some sprint, and some enjoy the scenery along the way. No matter how we run, walk, or jog the race, we don’t know how many miles we’ll pass. Life is a journey of an unknown distance and only one finish line.
Whenever I become discouraged, frustrated, or angry with where I believe life is taking me, I think about Justin and fight to make it a better day. Mile 6 is a promise that may never happen. Our starting gun has already gone off so enjoy the scenery, make each mile memorable and make each one count.
If you would like to make a donation to the Hope, Health and Sunshine Foundation, you can follow this link.
I haven’t posted anything in quite a while; that part is pretty obvious. Many posts were started and edited; however, I failed to publish them. The last was published on February 29th, before I volunteered to work as a bus captain for the Skyway 10K. A lot happened during that run, some good, some bad. It was a beautiful day for most but a tragic day for some. I wrote about Justin Doyle, the 48-year-old who lost his life during the final mile of the run. He was a husband, stepfather, brother, and the founder of a local charity organization that helps those diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, it never got posted. It will.
Who could’ve ever predicted this drastic change in our global society? A pandemic. Nearly 4.58 million people have contracted COVID-19 globally, and 309,000 have died; 1.45 million confirmed infected and 87,697 deaths in the United States (as of this writing). This horrible virus spread quickly and changed lives in unimaginable ways. As days go by, there becomes more of a chance that you will know someone impacted. A former colleague’s mom died from this disease, and a current colleague’s former classmate also succumbed to it. State and local governments enacted stay/safer at home orders, required non-essential businesses to close, and events to be canceled, including every race that I planned on running this year. All within three months!
As a county employee, part of my assigned duties is to serve as the Deputy Planning Section Chief for the Emergency Operation Center (EOC). This position requires coordination among agencies, data collection, setup of testing sites, and donations coordination. My team and I have been busy trying to do our part to keep the virus at bay. Fortunately, it has helped. Unfortunately, we are not out of the woods just yet. As the State of Florida begins phases to opening up, the uncertainty of whether revenge from the virus will be sought causes increased anxiety. When should we consider the loss of life acceptable? When should be take the risk to avoid a complete collapse of our economy? I’m not an expert, and I don’t know the answer; however, I do know that people need to do there part to protect themselves and others. Wear a mask, wash your hands, cough, and sneeze into your elbow, stay at least 6-feet away from others, and avoid getting together in groups. These are easy and effective ways to prevent the spread.
I’ll be writing more on this topic and others in the coming weeks. For now, take care of yourself and do your part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our lives depend upon it.
We are one day closer to this being over! Stay strong!
One of my favorite races in Tampa is the Skyway 10K. It is 6.2 miles of bridge running that traverses the mouth of Tampa Bay from Manatee County, through Hillsborough County and ending in Pinellas County. The views from the peak height of are breathtaking and something that very few people get to experience due to restricted access to the bridge.
In 2018, a group came together to pitch a 10K run over one of the tallest cable-stay bridges in Florida; something that hadn’t been done since the collapse of the original bridge on May 9th, 1980. The new bridge, called the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, is an engineering marvel, spanning 180 feet into the air and 21,859 feet across the water to connect Manatee and Pinellas Counties. It is also part of a heavily traveled federal highway system, making it a logistical challenge for race organizers. However, they made it work.
The race was an instant success and the race spots were quickly sold out during the inaugural race during 2018. My wife and I got a spot. In 2019, the same outcome. However, the popularity continued to rise and anticipation grew. At 1:00 p.m. on September 13, 2018, registrations began. After errors with the registration system and duplicate entries, entries for the race were all taken in a little more than 20 minutes. We were again lucky to get a spot, as was my parents.
In 2020, the registration became a lottery based system. Once again, we submitted our names, this time as a team, and hoped for a spot in our 3rd Skyway 10K event. Waiting with anticipation, the moment never arrived. We were upset but realized that we had been lucky to have gotten a spot running in the first two races.
I’ve always heard that if you’re a ‘real runner’, you not only encourage other runners no matter their abilities but you also occasionally volunteer to help during a race. Well, this is my race. I will be at the Skyway 10K, as a bus captain. For that, I”m willing to get up at 2:30 a.m., drive 30 minutes to St. Petersburg, arrive at 3:45 a.m. and give safety information to lucky runners. This is my way of giving back to all of those volunteers in the many races in which I participated. They made my races memorable and wanting more. I plan to provide the same to the runners of the Skyway 10K.
See you at the finish line!
Recently, I noticed a few stories on Facebook regarding the common questions a runner receives. They cover the gamut who, what, why, how, when-questions. Each article is on the mark; however, it took running a marathon for me to become the subject of the questions.
The first question with good reason is always “you ran a marathon?” with the follow-up, “how many miles is that, 5 miles?”, and finally the self-deprecating, “I could never run 26.2 miles.” If ever faced with such a comment, you could respond one of two ways: nodding lightly without evidence of confirmation, or making a statement to diminish their self-deprecation: “if I can do it, so can you.” Now, hold on just a minute. I don’t think so!
Before you stop reading and decide to chastise me in the comments, hear me out. I’m not saying that they CAN’T run 26.2 miles. I would never say that. Indeed, anyone could. However, it takes a particular type of person to go through the rigorous training regimen to complete a marathon. The statement, “if it were easy, everyone would do it,” is true. Less than 1% of the population of the planet has attempted to run a marathon. There is a reason. Running a marathon is hard. Training for a marathon is even harder. A marathon is just the celebration after the 16 weeks of grueling tempo runs, Fartleks (yes, a real word), long runs, and recovery runs. It is the realization that you’ve conquered sprains, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and hairline fractures (I know something about that). The preparation to run a marathon is like putting together a puzzle in a calendar. You can’t take shortcuts, and you can’t rush. You have to change your nutrition intake, change your habits, adjust your schedule, and re-prioritize your life. It is NOT easy!
Anyone can technically run a marathon if they have the determination. Yes, even new runners can beat my PB of 4:53:03; however, they’d need to work hard, train, make sacrifices, and show up at the starting line to do it. The moment you cross the finish line, I will welcome you to the fold.