Where do I start?….
Well, I guess the most logical place, in my head, is to start with a 5k I ran in Thibodaux about a year ago. That’s where I met Jonathon Thomassie, my partner in crime. The 5K was my very first race in Thibodaux, my hometown. I had been running for about two years, and I had run the Crescent City Classic a couple times, but running a race in Thibodaux is something I hadn’t done. I was feeling good about where I was because I had recently run a 5k in New Orleans and came in second in my age group with a time around 26 minutes (it was a small race). So, the morning of the Thibodauxville 5k, I was stretching out, warming up, and generally eyeing up the “competition.” I was wondering just where I might place in little ole Thibodaux. Anyway, at about 1.5 miles into the race I saw a visor-clad bald head bouncing up and down way out in front of me. And, as judging runners mid-race is something I tended to do, I pegged the owner of this head and visor as a “real” runner based on his form and the fact he was so far out in front of me. I decided to try to reel him in. By mile 2 I had caught up to him. However, when I tried to pass him, he wasn’t having it. We ran side-by-side, total strangers, both not wanting to let the other be the over-taker, all the way to the finish. He pushed ahead and beat me by a nose in the end. But, I’d run the 5k in 00:22:30! A new PR!
Immediately across the finish line we dapped it out, and he showed mad love for the effort I’d shown. Subsequent conversation revealed that he had actually already run 8 miles before the race, and that I had lost, at the time, about 180lbs. That day the first domino fell in what would become one of the most special friendships I have ever had.
Fast forward to the following April, this past April. I was wanting to run the Crescent City Classic (the CCC) this year in under 50 minutes, but I learned through both running with Jonathan and with the people at the Louisiana Running Company that I may be fast enough to get a seeded bib, which takes a 00:45:00 10k qualifying time. From the seeded bib corral I’d be able to take a shot at getting into the top 500 and snatching up one of the highly coveted CCC posters. So, a few weeks prior, Jonathon and myself ran a 10k race over the Luling Bridge from one side of the Mississippi River to the other; we both qualified for the seeded corral at the CCC. In said corral this April, as we waited for the start gun, Jonathon says “hey brah, I have an invitation to run the NYC Marathon this year. I think there is a way to get guaranteed entry if you raise money for a charity. Would you be down?” My answer was “hell yes!” We both went on to crush the CCC and get our posters that day, by the way.
The following week I found Team For Kids (TFK) and the New York Road Runners (NYRR), and learned about this “guaranteed entry” Jonathon was telling me about. I joined the NYRR and signed up to be a TFK team member, and committed to raise $100.00/mile for Team For Kids, $2620.00. I was nervous at first but I quickly realized that social media, and the people with which it had connected me (mostly due to recently being interviewed about my story on an amazing podcast with what turned out to be a very generous listenership), along with family and long-time friends, would make that task completely doable. We were able to reach the pledge amount a month early, which really helped me mentally; I was able to really focus on my training for the last two months or so before the race.
The training! Jonathon and I went IN on that training. YA HEARD!
I remembered reading about heart rate training in Rich Roll’s book, Finding Ultra. So, we adopted a training plan that used heart rate, as opposed to pace, to gauge effort. Heart rate training makes sure you’re doing all your body can handle and nothing less, plus it makes the pace you can achieve in lower heart rate zones faster. This helps conserve glycogen while still actually going faster. Anyway, we spent lots of early mornings at the local high school track, hot afternoons with our Thibodaux Running Group, and long Saturday mornings pounding the pavement of New Orleans for our 15+ mile runs. It hurt so good. We knew we were making ourselves as ready as we could for what we were reading could be a difficult marathon…
After all the training hours and miles logged, I was looking forward to the taper when it came. But as the taper began, my family and I almost suffered a great blow. My dad had a heart attack that very nearly took his life just 13 days before the race. So, while my running load may have wained, my and my family’s emotions were in high gear. I was very scared for the ole man’s life. But thanks to a local hospital with an amazing group of caring, responsive, genuinely gifted staff we get to keep his ass around for a little while (maybe I’ll get him into a 5k after all this). He made it back home by the weekend before I left, and by the day of my flight out he was looking and sounding like his old self again. He was well enough to take care of my and wife’s baby boy, Zeus, while I was gone.
With Dad back home, my flight awaiting, and my gear all packed up, I hit the airport at 4am for a 6:30am flight. Excited as hell, and raring to go. My buddy Jonathon got a flight later in the day and met me at the hotel Friday afternoon.
Saturday we did the expo, and, on our iPhones, were able to watch a lot of our other running friends’ times post as they finished the Jazz Half Marathon being run in New Orleans that morning. Everyone was crushing their PR’s! We were quite elated to see all the kickassery happening back home. We even had a couple friends, who didn’t run the actual race, run 13.1 on the streets of Thibodaux that morning, smashing their PR’s of course. Between their times and our bout-it ass Marine buddy the weekend before at the Marine Corps. Marathon in D.C., who ran a blazing 03:43, you could say the bar was set pretty high. I think I can speak for Jonathon here, and say that our friends sparked us. We were so proud of everyone! I’m getting chills as I write these very words. We were JACKED.
With our bibs in hand, and a fresh dose of inspiration from the Thibodaux Running Group, we got back to the room and tried to get still for the long Sunday day we knew awaited us. The weather forecast was not very pretty. It was calling for 40mhp gusts, and about 38 degree temperatures at the start! (here is the actual weather from that day)This is not coonass-friendly weather to say the least. So, Sunday morning we decided to do what Jonathon was calling a “dress rehearsal” to see how what we were planning to wear for the race would feel in the cold.
As we jogged through the lobby, on the way out to the cold-ass, windy streets of Manhattan to test our race gear, I heard “Joshua” in a very familiar voice. It was not Jonathon; it was my beautiful, amazing wife! She had been working with Jonathon for months to surprise me with her presence. An effort to make me bawl like baby I was sure. But due to a clue the night before, I wasn’t as surprised as they’d hoped, and I did not bawl just yet. However, I was extremely excited to a.) see my baby’s face, b.) hear my baby’s voice, and c.) know that she would be at the finish with waiting arms for her husband.
After hugging and loving on Beej, and letting her make slight fun of how ridiculous, and slightly scary I looked (mostly due to my follicle-richness about the head and face), we decided we were satisfied with our gear so we went back up to the room and began our final prep before boarding our buses to Staten Island for the start. Due to the time-demanding logistics of getting 50,000 people corralled and ready to race, we spent as much time waiting for the start on Saten Island as we did actually running the marathon. So by the time we began, we had been up for several hours in the windy cold, standing around because the ground was too wet to sit due to the all-day rain the day before. Sitting in the port-a-let, and on the bus ride in, was the only time we were really able to get off our feet.
At about 10:40am EST we got into our corral. By 10:50 we were off! With “Eye Of The Tiger” playing over the p.a. system, as we crept toward the start-line, Jonathon and I were understandably, outwardly-audible and fuckin pumped! Then “New York, New York” came over the speakers, a tune I was expecting to here, per all the YouTube videos I’d watched leading up to the race. It was GO TIME. The Garmins chirped as we finally started our NYC Marathon experience.
Mile one is uphill on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. We just eased into a soft pace exactly like we had been talking about for months. Then, came the downhill. I’m a heavier guy than Jonathon, and I find it easier to just let it fly on downhills. It’s hard work for me to slow myself, so I just pick up my cadence and lean into the downhill. But as we clocked mile 2, I could hear my boy Jonathon behind me: “dude! Mile two, 7:56! Chill, bro!” A statement I expected to hear a lot from him, as I have tendency to come out too fast in races. Jonathon is a lot more controlled, and frankly, intelligent than I am. We did eventually “chill” and found a nice little grove as we traversed Brooklyn. The crowds there were amazing! It was hard to hold back with all those people cheering you on. But we did, kinda, thanks to Jonathon.
I was expecting the ups and downs on the bridges, but the long inclines(sometimes a mile or two at a time) on the streets were something that had not really entered my mind. They were in my mind by 5th Av, but I digress, back to Brooklyn. I was feeling strong in Brooklyn. Taking in NY while running side-by-side with one of my closest friends was simply amazing. We clicked off mile after mile. We high-fived strangers along the streets. I knew we were probably moving faster than Jonathon thought were going to, or should, because he kept asking if I felt o.k.; almost as if I probably shouldn’t given our current pace.
The 10k mark came and went before I knew it. Then 10 miles. I actually said to Jonathon, in a surprised voice “10 miles already, bro?!” At this point we were still clipping along at whatever pace. I didn’t know our pace. I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to run 26.2 as fast as I could. Jonathon was still checking in with me from time to time, tugging on my reigns (Clydesdale reference, lol). At this point I was noticing the hills, but they still were not hurting me.
The first time it started to feel like work was the Queensboro Bridge. The incline was fairly steep, so trying to keep the pace we had established was, for the first time, grueling. Plus, at this point, we started to encounter runners who were now walkers. They were clogging the roadway a little. And people were taking pictures of the magnificent views of Manhattan from the bridge. The views were spectacular, but we were there to DO WORK and represent our brothers and sisters back home, so we leaned in and pushed hard up the bridge. And, again, I flew down the backside of it with abandon, Jonathon on my tail in quiet protest.
At the bottom of the Queensboro Bridge we came onto 1st Av where the “wall of sound” I’d read so much about was supposed to be. It was not even close to the decibel level of Brooklyn, they BROUGHT IT, Ya heard! But it was still cool. It was still loud. I guess I may have built it up too much in my head. Anyway, next is that mother fucker of a long stretch up 1st Av toward the Bronx.
By this time I’m definitely working hard. And the hills and headwind are starting to get to me. I’m feeling my right hamstring wanting to cramp. My elation is gone and I’m officially grinding. Somewhere in mile 19, after a long, slow, asshole of an incline, my right hamstring locked up. I immediately yelled out “oh no!” Jonathon stopped with me for a second or two. He wasn’t cramping, I was. But he stopped and helped massage my hammy. That’s a fuckin friend! All bullshit aside, I started to cry. I started apologizing because I just knew I was done. I also knew what kind of dude Jonathon was, and he was not going to leave me, which meant his PR was going bye-bye. I felt terrible. He’d been trying to slow me down since about mile two, and now my fast start was gonna cost my friend his PR.
Up until this point Jonathon hadn’t said much. I could tell he really felt for me, even though we both knew I’d done exactly what we said I shouldn’t: come out hot. But, as I was trying to get my leg back into walk mode, and hoping it would eventually be able return to jog mode, and maybe eventually to run mode, Jonathon says,” brah, I know you don’t want to know your pace, but we are so far ahead of a 4-hour marathon we could walk/jog the rest and still make it.” Those words sat on my brain for a second. At first they were comfort. It only took seconds, though, for them to spark me. I didn’t want a sub-4-hour marathon; I knew that following this man around Thibodaux for the previous 18 weeks had prepared me for more. I knew it would hurt, but I also knew I could still run. We hadn’t come all this way to settle for a seven-mile walk-jog finish. Fuck dat! I took off with an audibly concerned Jonathon behind me suggesting we “pull it back a hair, just get loose first.” While it may have seemed reckless to my concerned friend, I wanted to empty the vessel, and by-god, it was time to make it fuckin hurt!
As I ran I was throwing my right leg way out front, keeping my toe pointed up, trying to stretch my hammy with every stride. This was actually letting me keep what I felt like was a decent pace.
In mile 20 we passed a man wearing a I RUN FOR ALZHEIMERS t-shirt. Once I got around him, I gave him a thumbs-up and attempted to tell him about my Bam Bam’s dementia, but started crying very hard instead. “Bam Bam” became my mantra. I started talking out loud to him: “Hey Bam, get the fuck up, we going for a run, brah!…I love you, Bam Bam…we are running through NYC, you crazy son of a bitch!…5.5 miles, Bam!…lets get it!…me n you!”
As I was having my imaginary Bam Bam conversation, I heard Jonathon, who hadn’t left me in his dust just yet, say “Tiki!!! We just passed Tiki Barber, brah!” So, I told Bam Bam, “we just passed Tiki fuckin Barber! 5 more miles, buddy!” I was hurting, but encouraged.
Then, somewhere in mile 21, Jonathon started to pull away. I was so happy! The finish was looking like it would pan out like I’d hoped: me chasing Jonathon on his way to a PR. Now I just wanted to keep Jonathon in our sights (you know, me n Bam).
5th Av was fucking torture. This was kinda the homestretch. We had just clicked through mile 22 at a painful but quick clip. Four miles left! Now I’m running the way I’m used to at the end of difficult long or fast runs: behind Jonathon, watching his bald head bounce away out in front. It was my proudest moment. We’ve been running together for a year, and in that moment, I knew he really was the ANIMAL I’d assumed he was. I watch the bald head and the RUN THIBODAUX shirt out in front of me as a beacon of where I want to be as a runner, and, as usual, I chased. But somehow, not long after we made the turn into Central Park, I lost sight of him. It was just me n Bam now.
By this time folks were giving up on their efforts to keep running, en masse. And on the narrower roads of Central Park it made it necessary to work from shoulder to shoulder of said roads to keep any kind of a decent pace. I may have been considered rude by some at that point, but I hadn’t come all this way to be “courteous” and walk, as to avoid a slight nudge as I passed people in mile 25 or 26. I got some dirty looks. I get it. But I also got some, “you got this! Go get it, big man!” A helluva a lot more of the latter, I must say.
Turning right at Columbus Circle was almost as awesome as the finish line. I’d seen it on YouTube videos several times. I knew this was it. Then came the 400m-to-go marker, then 200m. I heard someone scream “JOSHUA!!JOSHUA!!!JOSHUAAAA!!!!!” But I’d heard that name called all day. As it turns out, I was not the only Joshua in NYC. So, I stayed focused on the finish, thinking another dude named Joshua was finishing near me. My lovely wife corrected this incorrect assumption post-race. But, at the moment, I was trying to hammer that last little kiss-my-ass uphill to the finish.
At the finish line a guy in front of me dropped to his knees and kissed the ground. As I went around him, crying loudly and uncontrollably, I simultaneously thought if I’d tried that I wouldn’t be able to stand back up. The clock at the finish didn’t give me my exact time because I started in Wave 3 with Jonathon, and our wave left some 50 minutes after the clock had started. Then I realized, “shit! I didn’t stop my watch!” When I finally did, after walking for a bit, it said 03:49:33! So, I knew I had been faster than that! Que the fuckin waterworks again. I walked to the medals, was donned with that beautiful, surprisingly heavy son of bitch and my Mylar blanket. I ran into Jonathon, who told me he had, in fact, PR’d! Holy shit! We didn’t say much after that. We just hugged it out like bosses. Then we separated as I went to the Team For Kids area, and he walked back to our hotel (a beastly feat I still don’t know how he managed).
For the first time ever I ducked into a post-race medical tent. I was completely spent. I made a sobbing video for all the people I knew were watching, who had donated to help me get here, who were on my mind if not part of my mantra throughout the entire race. I calmed down, got hydrated, and made a few new friends. I even met a guy, who after listening to me tell him my story, told me he had done almost the exact thing; He’d read Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra, he’d fallen in love with running and plants, and his weightloss was in the triple digits. We exchanged contact info, gave each other a loud, proud, PLANTPOWER high-five, and my official race experience was over. Simply fucking EPIC.
I can’t thank you enough. Whether you donated money, or gave love and moral support, or both. Even if I don’t know you personally, I can say this with complete honesty: I LOVE YOU. Here are some pics set to Tab Benoit’s Night Train.
And I want to give a special thanks to my and Jonathon’s families. While we were running, recovering, and repeating, you were steady in your support. You held strong for us. You fought through what must have been frustrating at times, confusing at times, and downright irritating at times. Yet, you leaned in and beasted out. To the real badasses in this story: love, kisses, gratitude.