My Road To Boston
For me, running entered my life much later than most (at the age of 44). My first run was in 2016 and I recall that ½ mile being one of my most uncomfortable moments. However with time my appreciate and love of the sport grew quickly and in October 2017, I ran my first marathon in 4:47 (Marine Corps in Washington, DC). I was so excited in accomplishing this goal but I felt incomplete due to running the event injured. In my mind, I didn’t (or better yet couldn’t) give it my best effort.
So in December 2017, I applied for the Chicago marathon and found out later I was selected. I began my training immediately. In May 2018, the Carlton family moved to Jacksonville, FL. I went from one temperature extreme to another but kept my regimen moving forward through the hottest months.
However, it was not my time as 3 weeks before the marathon I injured myself. I tried everything to make the race (seeing a physical therapist daily for 2 weeks). It crushed me after training for 8 months. I remember breaking down into tears searching for why this happened. What made it worse was I was too late to defer my entry to 2019. So in December of 2018, I reapplied for acceptance and was denied. In 2020, the marathon was cancelled due to COVID-19. In December 2020, I made another attempt to re-apply. To my surprise, I was accepted. I felt redemption.
Once again, I started training immediately. And I worked myself up to long runs of 27 miles. I would be ready for October 2021.
However, my life would all change on February 7, 2021. It was Super Bowl Sunday. I went to mass at 8am with the goal of returning home to get my long run in. I left the church at 9am. Traveling south on I-95 I was in the middle lane. 2 weeks prior we had moved from Jacksonville to St Augustine and I was trying to determine which exit to get off at. The vehicle in front of me was 6-7 car lengths and began pulling out of the middle lane to the passing lane. Seemed normal enough that I didn’t think twice about it. Until I recognized the reason he did was to avoid a parked vehicle in the middle lane. By then, it was too late for me. I crashed into the parked vehicle going 65-70 mph. In that moment, my life flashed before my eyes. I was awake through the whole thing. On that day, God saved my life. I like to believe that he has other plans for me and that my work is not done.
In the weeks to follow, I deteriorated physically, emotionally, mentally. I had a team of doctors (from spinal specialist, psychologist, physical therapist, chiropractic specialist). I was left unable to walk and the sciatica nerve pain in my legs was so bad that they put me on Opioids which never touched the pain. In meeting with my spinal specialist, he informed me that I had a massive herniated disc. In explaining to him that I was training for the Chicago marathon in October, he informed me that those plans had now changed. No running until August. He said I want to send you to physical therapy. I will give you 30 days and if things don’t turn around we may have to consider surgery. Upon hearing no training until August, my heart sank. I would not be able to train for a marathon in 2 months.
Once again my dream was shattered. It caused me to think, I’m turning 50 in June, maybe it’s not meant to be. At the time, I made a contract with myself, I would go to physical therapy with the goal of getting better one day at a time. The 1st day I couldn’t walk a quarter of a mile. But I never gave in. It was grueling - lots of tears. I missed a month or more of work due to the pain. I would have panic attacks in all car rides with my family. At the first sign of brake lights it would send me back into flashbacks and I would shake uncontrollably and start crying from the post-traumatic stress.
But I kept moving forward and finished physical therapy. At the time, I called the spinal specialist and asked him if I could start running. It was 4 months earlier than he recommended but agreed after hearing on what I was able to accomplish in physical therapy. I trained for the next 5 months and got back to where I was in January before the accident. Only this time, my journey prepared me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually for the challenge that a marathon brings.
In Chicago I set a personal best by over 40 minutes from 2017 finishing in 4:05. In January of this year, I ran the Disney marathon and finished 3:42 (25 minutes faster than Chicago). And in December I was selected to participate in the 126th running of the Boston marathon on April 18, 2022.
What Made Running The Boston Marathon So Memorable?
Boston to me signifies history, triumph, resilience and love for the sport of running.
Heading into Monday April 18th (the day of the marathon), I was just a boy with a dream. By day’s end, I changed my family’s legacy forever by becoming a Boston marathon finisher! While drawn to tears on the final stretch between Hereford and Boylston Street towards the finish line, making it to the starting line that morning was all but uncertain up until hours before the race. In stark contrast to what had been a wonderful 3-4 months of training, my marathon taper (which is the 2-3 weeks leading up to the race) was not what I planned for. I found myself dehydrated and suffering from inflammation and muscle cramping as a result of the months of intense training.
Having arrived in Boston on Thursday, April 14th, I tried everything to manage the pain and ease the tension in my hips, hamstrings and calves in hopes that it would subside. When it did not, I expressed my concerns to my wife and let her know that I would carry my iPhone on the run (something I never do) in fear that I would not be able to complete the first mile let alone the next 25.2 miles. It was during this moment of hearing myself talk in the middle of the hotel room that I became paralyzed in fear and uncertainty. What was I to do? I had come all this way. All I kept thinking was how disappointed I would feel in letting this once in a lifetime opportunity slip away from me and/or worse yet that I would be letting down all those people that supported me. If that were not enough emotional baggage to be bringing into race day, I had taken inventory of the race day elements which included a relatively cold day in the upper 40’s, stiff headwinds of 13-15mph and a course that was known for breaking the spirits of its finest competitors with challenging hills start to finish.
My Defining Moment
Before boarding our team Greyhound bus to the starting line in Hopkinton (50 minutes outside of city of Boston), I forced myself to fully commit to the race and let go of my fears. When the starting gun went off at 11:15 that morning to begin this epic journey, I drew my inspiration and determination from all of the kind words of encouragement and support I received from the many people and organizations prior to my departure. Over the next 4 hours, I managed to slowly but methodically navigate the course’s relentless terrain. With each passing mile, it became a battle of heart over mind. One that broke me physically, mentally and emotionally to the point that putting one foot in front of the other became the goal. I am proud to say I never stopped or lost focus that afternoon. I centered my thoughts on how this example of living outside my comfort zone could be shared later. For it is during times of such adversity, that we come to know ourselves and find our true potential. There is always a silver lining. Prayers will help you find it.
I’m thrilled I was provided an opportunity to “Pay it Forward” through the B.A.A. (Boston Athletic Association) charity team to support health & wellness programs for those living in and around the city of Boston.
I hope that in sharing this story it helps you to find the inspiration and encouragement needed to test your own beliefs of what’s truly possible and/or lies on the other side of your fear and reservations for taking the road less traveled.
“Self-confidence is a superpower. Once you start to believe in yourself, magic starts happening.” - Anonymous