Heart Attack Survivor to Marathon Finisher ( Goofy Challenge Finisher)
39.3 MIles ( 63.25 Kms) , 2 Days, 4 Theme Parks. 3 Medals. 1 Moment of RAW Emotion.
His name is Mark. At age 38 , he is now a Marathon Finisher. It did not come without struggle, committment and hard work.
One week prior to his 36 birthday he suffered and survived a Heart Attack. Four days later he went into Cardiac Arrest during surgery to place 2 stents in his heart. Only one was placed due to this event. He continues to live with another 70 % blockage in the main artery to his heart but this doesn’t stop him from living and trying to reach new limits.
For the next 2 years and 5 months he went through Cardiac Rehab, made a few lifestyle changes, lost 30 lbs and got back to one of his passions. Running. Mark will admit that none of it was easy and there were some days of having to push beyond what he thought he was capable of.
On January 10th, 2016 in the Happiest Place on Earth, Walt Disney World, Mark became an official Marathon Runner and Finisher. Equally as important he completed the Goofy Challenge which requires a runner to do a Half Marathon (13.1 Miles or 22 Kms.) the day before. Some would call this crazy, I guess that is why they call it Goofy.
In 2013 he attempted this same challenge and did not finish. Due to pacing requirements he just wasn’t fast enough to avoid being swept off the course. Some people say they were closing things early because of extreme heat and humidity. “ It doesn’t matter the circumstance, I just was not fast enough and that race, unknown to me would set the tone for my year. I failed but knew I would try again. I just didn’t think it would take me three years to get back here to do it.”
On his Marathon Finish Mark said “This was by far one of my hardest and most proud moments in life. I cried like a baby knowing I was going to finish a Marathon. I saw my friend Jennifer, a woman who I respect, admire and love for how encouraging and supportive she has been. I believe around Mile 24.
She gave me some beer. Yes I drank a beer and it tasted like heaven. Shortly after I hugged her and went on my way, tears began to fall. “
The course was not without it’s challenges. From mile 19-20 he had to fully walk because his heart rate was not recovering as quickly as he had hoped. It is the only point in the race where he thought that he may have to pull himself as his heart rate seemed to not dip back below 125 beats per minute on rest moments. Thankfully his heart rate eventually went down enough to keep going on. “6.2 miles to go, it became harder and I began run/ walk more frequently.”
To run a Marathon requires commitment, a commitment that most won’t give. For the last 9 months he trained while most were sleeping. Midnight and 2 am runs, sometimes he’d go earlier but that was rare. “Some people totally understood and others not so much.” Opinions began to not matter to me. This was not about other people, it was all about me. I was dedicated to finishing, so dedicated that I eventually stopped wearing my Fitbit on those late night runs. I kinda wanted to ensure I was challenging no one but myself. I was obsessed to say the least.”
The race started around 5:30 am with the first wave of runners set to go. Mark was in Corral M. 4 corrals up from the last, he knew he had to go hard in the beginning as to not fall behind and risk being swept. By the time it was his turn to cross the start line, the time was closer to 6:20 am.
Off went the fireworks and it was now time to put all that training to the test. He was nervous but not afraid, strong , focused but most importantly no matter the result, prepared to ensure he still had fun. “ I stopped for a few photos with people who had funny signs, looked on in envy of those who had time to stop to take photos with characters but still felt like a kid seeing the Disney characters on the course. I did eventually get my chance at a couple of character photos but that reward would wait until I knew I was going to finish the race.”
The first 13 Miles seemed to be the easiest according to Mark. 13 miles was a distance he was use to as he had run half marathons in the last but only once since his Heart Attack. As he continued he did experience some knee pain but was able to overcome that by stopping at Medical tents and utilizing bio freeze which numbs the area. He credits that with allowing him to focus on the race and not the pain.
As the remaining miles went by it seemed like forever, he began to run/ walk more frequently but still maintain a pace that was healthy and that would help him succeed.
How did you feel when you knew you were at the point where you absolutely knew you were safe and were going to finish the race without the fear of being swept ?
“ That moment is when I got through the ESPN zone, the most boring part of the course. I left ESPN and shortly encountered Mile 22. The Mile in which I was swept in 2013, I saw the buses that were parked there for those who would not finish this race sometime later. I gave those buses the two middle fingers, smiled and kept going. It was such a good feeling to know that I was now safe and the race was now mine to finish.
To finish this story, I will now leave third person and talk as myself.
As I entered Hollywood Studios my pace slowed, was is my sense of security ? No, I was tired and wanted to ensure a strong finish. They say with hard work comes reward. What was my reward before finishing? I worked so hard and skipped some character stops that I would have loved to do. Then I saw Boo from Monsters Inc. I had to stop for this photo, at least one, for me. Shortly after I saw the Genie from Aladdin outside the boardwalk and I was ecstatic that I could have my photo taken with him. There is a quote in Aladdin that I love . “ But oh, to be free, such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in the world.” This sums up how I felt crossing the finish line.
I came running around that 26 mile marker and shortly saw that finish line in front of me. I wanted to stop and admire what was before me but I could not, I knew I had to keep going. As I got closer I looked into many eyes of those cheering on the runners. I was bawling like a baby, I could not contain my tears, I forgot what it was like to actually feel emotion until that moment. My eyes were leaking !!
Just before I reached the finish all I can remember was pushing my arms out to my side in excitement and bringing them back into my body, almost flexing and releasing every emotion I had in me. Lucky for me the photographers caught that moment. Here I was, after almost losing my life a couple years before, accomplishing the most physically challenging thing I have ever done in my life. I smiled, received my Marathon Medal, hugged the volunteer and almost couldn’t let go. I am pretty sure her shoulder is still soaked from my tears.
Jan 10, 2016, I became a Marathoner. I finished in 6 hrs, 47 minutes and 13 seconds. I was not fast but I never gave up. The training for this race began from the moment I stepped back on a treadmill 6 weeks after my heart attack.
That feeling of finishing was worth all of the late nights, hard work, blood, pain and listening to those who told me if I trusted them, then they would get me back as close as they could to who I was before. That day I left it all out there and succeeded.
If anyone tells me they can’t do something, or that I can’t do something they have said it to the wrong person. Because I will show them what I can do, what they can do….. IF, they believe.
I may not have what others have in terms of physical capabilities but it’s not about that, it’s about my will power. I am proud of what I accomplished but I will never settle. I will always succeed and earn every moment of life. I am still not a finished product, I am striving each day to always be better than I was the day before. In my Heart I do not fear, I love as much as I can and am free.