Coming off a particularly bad training week, I was desperate for motivation. I had begun to question my personal drive to run a marathon and I felt as if my own will to complete my goal just simply wasn’t enough anymore.
My answer would arrived in a nondescript Amazon box late in the week.
This box contained two copies of a book titled ‘Moments That Took My Breath Away‘, an autobiography written by J’s uncle, Phillip Timp.
Phil is many things – most notably a loving husband and incredible father to 3 fantastic children – but he was also an astounding and inspirational runner. And I’m not talking just ‘above average’, as Phil is a go big or go home kind of guy. No, Phil does unbelievable.
So I began to read… and didn’t stop until I finished late into the night. Transitioning between awestruck, devastated, inspired, and hopeful, my emotions (mixed and frustrated from my mediocre training week) began to transform as I was able to begin to put things into perspective. I’d like to share a particularly poignant and personal excerpt that I know I will be returning to countless times between now and October 27th.
The year is 1980 – Phil had just run his first marathon after a mere 2 months of training. A strenuous affair that ended in a finishing time of 3 hours and 56 minutes. Certainly not a time to be ashamed of and one I personally hope to end around. But Phil had other goals in mind…
“I learned a lot about the body during that trying experience. It was a brutal experience; was it something I’d want to even try again?
I began running more miles and began mixing speed into those miles that spring and summer. Then I put my application in to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. in November.
The cannon boom made me jump at the starting line in D.C. and it kicked up my adrenaline…East Potomac Park and Hains Point near the main branch of the Potomac River was the toughest stretch for all us runners. The crowd was slim to none; it was a place in the race – miles 17,18, and 19 – where “the wall’ can rise up suddenly. I struggled through it, but kept up my sub 7 minute per mile pace.
The last 10K was a mental mountain to climb; I had to push my legs and arms from my brain. I was no longer on automatic pilot. I passed runners and runners passed me. I was alternately surging, then slipping back.
Then came the Iow Jima Memorial half-mile hill to the finish line. Those Marine Corps soldiers hoisting that American flag gave me the momentum I needed to surge across that finish line in 2 hours, 59 minutes and a few seconds. I broke 3 hours!
Better yet, I knocked 57 minutes off my marathon time in a mere eight months! I dropped my average per mile pace from 9 minutes in March to 6 minutes and 52 seconds in November.
I was a Boston Marathon qualifier! In the running world, that was the ultimate gold medal! Yes, that was breathtaking!”
Phil went on to run and PR with a 16:05 5K, 33:40 10K, a 1 hour 15 minute half marathon, and a 2:41:25 marathon. He ran 20 miles with J’s dad during his turn at the Marine Corps Marathon, pacing him and helping him qualify for Boston with a time of 2 hours, 49 minutes, and 59 seconds – a second to spare at the time.
He ran through a lifetime of stress and responsibility upon discovering his daughter was born with a rare and debilitating disease, Rett Syndrome: a disorder of the nervous system that leads to developmental reversals – to finish in the top 1% of any race he ran.
He trained with Olympic hopeful, Teresa Ornduff during her 1988 Marathon and 10,000 meter Olympic trials and would go on to run 40,000 miles during his lifetime.
It was a devastating blow to the family when Phillip was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in July of 2011.
We have watched helplessly as Phil physically deteriorates before our eyes, slowly losing his ability to walk, talk, eat, and breath. A shining light radiating eternal optimism, even in the face of death, as his life is slowly taken away from us.
Something that remains clear however, something that this disease will never touch, is his spirit. His incredible ability to look upon death and a lifetime sprinkled with great pain and see only joy, accomplishment, and love.
So no more feeling sorry for myself. No more questioning my ability or my will. No more complaining. I will run the course that Phil ran so many years ago by himself, then again at J’s father’s side. And the second I cross the finish line, that moment that will certainly take my breath away, will be for him.
You can find Phil’s book for sale here