I have a mantra that I live by when competing in long distance running.  I believe in always making Relentless Forward Progress - no matter how good or bad I am feeling, I need to keep moving forward toward my goal.  You can easily draw the parallels to pursuits in personal and professional life.  A couple weekends ago I had the opportunity to witness another person making Relentless Forward Progress.  This is the story of what happened.

It was the day before the Colfax Marathon - Denver's only city marathon - and I still had not decided whether to sign up or not.  I logged onto FaceBook to see what cool stuff people were up to that weekend.  A buddy who is a Marathon Maniac (Othman Doblany) was posting pictures of himself with other Denver runners from the marathon expo.  I got the urge to run the marathon.  So, I looked up the race on the internet and realized I had about 5 hours  to register before the expo closed.  I jumped on my tandem bike with my son and we pedaled feverishly to the race expo and arrived with a couple hours to spare.  I found my Marathon Maniac buddy and even got a couple cool selfies with him and my son.  After registering, my son and I pedaled home at a much more relaxed pace.  

I reached out to my cousin, Mikey, to see if he was interested in guiding me last minute.  My cousin and I have ran the Colfax Marathon together 3x.  He ran his first marathon at 16 and wanted to run another with me.  Much to my surprise, Mikey agreed to guide me at 5 pm, about 13 hours before the start of the marathon.  I told him he had to be at my house in 12 hours, and we would bike to the start together.  I thought I was the only nut in my family - deciding to run a marathon with less than 24 hours notice.  Well, somewhere in our bloodline that gene exists and Mikey definitely has it.

Sure as clockwork, Mikey was at my house at 5 am.  We did some quick catching up.  Mikey told me he had been running and had gotten in an 18 mile run recently.  Mikey is on a lacrosse scholarship at the University of Northern Colorado.  He always seems to be in pretty good shape, so I figured we wouldn't have a problem with the marathon.  Then, Mikey told me he wanted to PR.  His PR was around 3 hours 45 minutes.  I thought I could hit it since I'd ran Boston a month prior and hit 3 hours 10 minutes with so so training.

We biked to the start line at City Park, just a few miles from my house.  Before we knew it, we were running.  Our plan was to hold an 8:45 min/mile pace for the first 13 miles, then see how we felt and fire the jets on the second half of the run.  Mikey ran well, really well for the first 13 miles.  Our route took us past historic East High School, through downtown Denver, through a fire station and around the field at Mile High Stadium, where the Broncos play.  We snaked into neighbor hoods and around parks.  Given how good Mikey was running through the first 13 miles, I figured we had the race in the bag.  I knew at mile 17, we had about 4 miles of a long gradual downhill where we could put the hammer down.  We decided to keep running at our 8:45 min/mile pace up until we hit mile 17.

I didn't realize that Mikey had stopped talking.  His breathing had increased a bit, but I figured that was normal - after all we were running a marathon.  Due to my tunnel vision and need to look directly in front of me, I was not able to look at Mikey's face to see his grimace.  He was suffering bad by mile 15.  I kept verbally checking to see if he wanted to go after his PR, and he kept telling me "yes".  By the time we hit mile 17 and a long straight away, viewing downtown Denver in the distance, Mikey was spent.  I told him, now was our chance to fire the jets and go after his PR.  He told me he couldn't run any faster.  I took the lead and told him to stay with me - he was falling behind and was just not able to keep pace.  We were falling off PR pace.

I stopped and waited for him.  I looked him directly in the eye and asked if he wanted to go after his PR still.  He said "yes".  Then, I asked him how bad he wanted it.  Without hesitation he answered, "BAD!"  Our mission had just been set.  We would hit that PR together, or both blow up in the process.

I told Mikey I was going to grab his shirt and pull him.  He willingly obliged, as he was not able to propel himself.  I knew for 4 miles, I could propel us at a fast enough speed that we still had a chance at the PR.  And so I lowered my head, grabbed Mikey's shirt, and we ran as hard and as fast as "we" could.  Mikey still had the energy to work with me, and we were soon running 8:15 min/mile.  We were passing people left and right.  I would call out whether we were passing left or right, while trying to avoid tripping people as we overtook them from behind.

By the time we got to mile 21, we were under PR pace and still moving good.  Mikey, however, was not doing good.  He was complaining of knee pain and side pain.  He didn't want to stop, and wanted to keep running.  After 4 miles, I had to switch hands and I started pulling Mikey with my right hand.    I was beginning to suffer by mile 22 and occasionally we would get passed by a runner.  The course had flattened out and gravity was no longer our ally.  Mikey wanted to stop, but I wouldn't let him.  He had told me he wanted this "BAD!"  We were going to go into the pain cave, together.  His leg was cramping.  He cried some, but he kept running.  I wanted to stop pulling him, but I would be giving up on him if I did.  With about 2 miles to go, we hit a 3 block hill that was super steep.  I told him we could walk the first half, then we needed to run the rest.  Well before we were half way up the hill, Mikey told me to grab his shirt and start running.  This caught me off guard, as I was hoping for more of a rest.  I dug deep and started running up the hill.  I told Mikey he needed to help me and pump his arms as hard as he could.  He sounded like he was going to burst into tears at any moment.  I knew he was hurting bad, and going deeper into the pain cave than he ever imagined.  Soon we crested the hill and I pulled as hard as I could for the last mile and a half.  

We finished in 3 hours 52 minutes, missing our mark by 7 minutes.  After looking at our splits, I realized that we were on pace up until the last 3 miles.  Then, we both blew up.  We did not walk, and ran as fast as we could, although that must have looked like a slow jog to passers by.

All I could think was how odd this must look to people.  From the outside, it probably looked like some blind guy was pulling his guide for the last 9 miles of a marathon.  When in fact, what was really happening was something really monumental.  I had the honor of taking a family member with me - deep, deep into the pain cave.  It is a place where most people stop at the entrance and refuse to even enter.  Modern society thinks pain is to be avoided, and being comfortable is the goal.  This is in fact wrong.  Life begins when you step outside of your comfort zone.  Mikey ran through tears, through cramps and through more pain than even he thought he could tolerate.  I think he discovered that he can go much, much deeper into the cave when he needs to.

I was so honored and proud to have witnessed Mikey make Relentless Forward Progress.  I know he will always have the memory of knowing he can keep moving forward, despite experiencing overwhelming amounts of pain.


4 Colfax Marathon finishes with Mikey

Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 10 world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found @  


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