My long road to 50 miles
It was May 27, 2012 and I had just completed my first marathon. The first words out of my mouth? “That was (expletive) stupid.” Running 26.22 miles was something I had been curious about for a while and crossing it off my bucket list less than a year before my 30th birthday was satisfying, but to think I’d ever want to do it again? Fat chance.
Any runner can guess what happened next. I wanted to do it again and not only would I run another, I vowed I’d finish 30 in my thirties. First on my list was the Buffalo Marathon, same as in 2012. By now, I had moved from Buffalo to Cleveland and started a job in baseball at Progressive Field. Though working in baseball is tasked with days longer than one can imagine, I still began training on the same 18-week program that I had used the year before (thanks Hal Higdon!) but then it happened: I pulled my quad.
I decided against running in Buffalo but planned on still knocking out a few before the year was over. It never happened. Turns out, working in baseball not only leaves little time for exercise but it also affords you the exciting opportunity to eat ballpark food several times a day. Then, 2014 came and went with no consistent running.
In 2015, I moved to Detroit to be closer to my then girlfriend, now wife Taylor, who lived in Windsor, Ontario and continued what was now my career in sports food and beverage at Comerica Park and Ford Field. Growing in this field was my top priority and it was showing physically. I had gained over 50 pounds since crossing the finish line in Buffalo in 2012. That December, I started to run again. I was much bigger but could still knock out three to five miles most days, no problem. Once again though, I moved for my career, this time to South Bend, Indiana and stopped running.
Between 2016 and 2018, I tried from time to time to start running again. Each time I failed to be consistent. I even signed up for that Buffalo Marathon in 2016, telling myself that since I’d paid, I would properly train and run. Nope.
In 2018, I was living in Erie, Pennsylvania running food and beverage for the Erie SeaWolves minor league baseball club. On August 11th, I stepped on the scale and couldn’t believe what I saw: 295 pounds. Two hundred and ninety-five pounds! Nearly 100 pounds over what I weighed six years prior when I completed my lone marathon.
There were times over those six years that I’d tell people I completed a marathon before and they’d look at my physical appearance and laugh. That always bugged me. Completing a marathon is such a special accomplishment in life and it was a joke to people that I’d run one.
By August 11th, 2018, I’d had enough.
I started a healthier diet, starting with soda. That was the first day of the rest of my life without it and I’ve never looked back. I was eating a lot of the things you hear are good for diets, fruits and yogurts, etc. I was losing a little bit of weight, but not as much as I was hoping. I knew I wanted to run again so I started by taking walks that would equate to 10,000 steps, I didn’t want to rush into things.
At the end of the month, I was around 288 pounds, I felt I should be losing more.
While picking up some vitamins, the cashier at GNC suggested I look into the Keto Diet. I wasn’t unfamiliar with it; my cousin Bruce had recently lost a lot of weight following the same diet. He was eating mostly meats and everything he talked about eating sounded delicious. The important thing was cutting out the sugars. I stopped eating fruit, stopped with the yogurts that have surprisingly high levels of sugar and began eating mostly bacon, deli meat, eggs and veggies. Daily eggs and bacon for breakfast, meats and cheese for lunch and a burger for dinner (with more bacon) became my daily routine. Oh, and running.
In September, I started running small distances, just one or two miles at a time. I’d now accepted a job back home in Buffalo, at the KeyBank Center. To make sure that I didn’t fall off my routine, I paid way too much to join a fancy gym next door to the arena so I could get in runs on the treadmill early in the morning before work. At the end of September, I was 270 pounds, down 18 in my first month following the Keto lifestyle, in addition to losing weight, my energy level was noticeably higher.
By January, I was 236 pounds, and my running was getting better, running over three miles consistently. The next couple of months saw me eclipse five miles, then on March 29th, eight miles. I was down 75 pounds. I signed up for the Buffalo Marathon in 2019 and on May 26th, I crossed the finish line of my second marathon. It was about twenty minutes slower than my first, but I didn’t care, I was lugging around a little more weight after all.
On October 20th, I finished another marathon, the Niagara Falls International. I even ran a half marathon in Ellicottville, NY a week later and clocked a sub two-hour time. I was heading into 2020 in a groove!
I completed half marathons in both February and March to start the year and couldn’t wait to start knocking off more of the full lengths coming up. But you know, 2020 happened.
I had already signed up for Toledo’s Glass City Marathon in April as well as the Buffalo Marathon in May when the Coronavirus hit, races were postponed – and then cancelled. My weight had bounced around between 205 to 215 pounds over the previous five months or so, which was better than the 295 pounds I had ballooned up to less than two years prior. As I was laid off from work on April 1st, I shifted into a different gear.
I completed few half marathons virtually, then on May 2nd, I ran the Glass City Marathon virtually, running through the streets of Fort Erie, ON where Taylor and I now live. A couple of more virtual half marathons followed, and I was getting stricter with my Keto diet again. I weighed 185 pounds by June.
On July 9th, my life changed forever. After watching a few documentaries about trail running, I hit a nearby provincial park for my first ever trail run and it was awesome! The scenery of the park, a waterfall and some deer made for good company. Where had this been my entire life?
I still continued to knock out virtual road races, by the end of the year I’d finished 18 half marathons and 5 full marathons, including the virtual NYC Marathon, my first sub four-hour finish. But my focus was now on the trails, more importantly, ultrarunning.
An ultramarathon is any run over the marathon distance of 26.22 miles and I couldn’t wait to try one. Between July and October, I hit the trails more and more frequently, logging longer miles and having more fun. I started reading books on ultrarunning and watching every documentary and video I could find on YouTube. I decided that on November 1st, I’d run my first ultramarathon, a 50K run on the Bruce Trail in Queenston, Ontario. That day, it rained, and it was cold, and I struggled through some IT Band pain in my knee, but I finished. My first 50K was in the books.
Over the course of my trail running research, one thing I kept hearing and reading about was the community, but I was having trouble finding a group locally. I followed as many local runners as I could on Instagram and finally, someone posted about a trail running group in the Niagara region called Trip ‘N’ Fall Runners. I reached out and joined for a run the following Sunday. I couldn’t believe it: there were other people as crazy as me.
On Sundays, we run local trails and on Monday nights, we run a local hill for some repeats. In December, to raise money for children’s mental health, there was a 24-hour event to see if we could run the hill 89 times, which would equal the elevation that equaled half of Mt. Everest. I completed 40, which was enough to complete another 50K and called it a day. A few of the runners amazingly competed the feat of 89, some exceeded that.
With races still cancelled, I was beginning to look for my next new challenge while my weight dropped into the 160s, my lowest weight since I was 14 years old.
Then, something awful happened to our family.
On December 18th, my brother Donny suffered a stroke and multiple seizures that severely affected his kidney. He spent eight days in the hospital before returning home to his two young daughters. I wanted to help, but didn’t know how. I finally realized what I could do: run.
I announced to anyone who would listen that on January 10th, the day before Donny’s 40th birthday, I’d run 50 miles to raise money for his medical bills, with a goal of $10,000.
I’d heard that in ultrarunning, there were tiers of difficulty. Increasing from the marathon distance of 26.22 to the 50K distance (just over 31 miles) was fairly easy, which I discovered, but the jump from 50K to 50 miles was very difficult.
On January 10th, 2021, I lined up to start my run in Grimsby, Ontario. I was going to run the entire length of the Niagara section of the Bruce Trail, just over 50 miles, but I wasn’t alone.
To my surprise, so many of my new running group wanted to join me for various parts of my journey. I was joined by a couple of runners, Stephanie and Tanya for what turned out to be the first 22 miles of the run. During that first portion, four others joined for some time too, Geoff, Jessica, Vaughn and Denny. I’d never met Denny, but he still came out to help. Derek jumped in and out at certain points and Che joined me for ten miles after the girls were done and the trail got tougher.
After 22 miles of mostly rocky trail, I was feeling great, then we hit a long stretch that had turned to mud. It was challenging different muscles in my body at the worst possible time and to be honest, I wanted to quit, but I thought about the ultimate goal of raising money for my brother. Taylor was waiting at various checkpoints to serve as an aid station and kept updating me on the progress of our fundraising while keeping everyone updated on my progress throughout the day.
Finally, we got past the mud, and I needed to recover. My pal Paolo joined me at this point, about 16 miles out from the finish. I run with Paolo about once a week now, and I knew I’d be able to talk football and distract me from the pain. We walked for our first mile together and I started to get my second wind. I was feeling much better.
With 9.5 miles to go Derek rejoined us and gave us a strong push to head closer to the finish. With around four miles to go, Jessica jumped back in for the home stretch. Those final miles in the dark Ontario night were difficult but it was so refreshing to know how close I was to the finish.
Around 9:30pm, we hit the end of the trail, a total of 51.9 miles! And my body didn’t even feel that awful. I thought about that 295-pound version of myself and how that guy would never have believed he’d be able to run a 50 miler in just 29 months. I thought about everyone who laughed when I said I’d run a marathon before, and how my total now eight, plus two 50Ks, now this. I took off my shoes and asked myself one question:
Being a runner that has done a couple marathons and one ultra, I am constantly fighting a weight issue myself. I am completely inspired by your story Tom!! You look fantastic and congratulations on your most recent accomplishment!! Keep running and keep inspiring! It’s very motivating.