It’s the final week of Marathon Month, a time we get to spotlight our patients who are running this year’s TCS New York City Marathon! In this entry we share the story of a special SPEARunner treated at our Chelsea location: 51-year-old Kenneth Festa. He has battled through a torn Achilles with Laura Muzzatti, DPT to walk his 13th NYC marathon! Determined to complete 15 marathons by 2016 to qualify for lifetime entry, Kenneth is the epitome of grit and SPEARIT!
Why do you run?
I run for all of the usual reasons…health, fitness, problem-solving, family time (my wife and two sons are both runners), to get to work without having to use the subway (I live about 6 miles away from my job), and because people were just plain born to run.
How long have you been running marathons? I’m 51, and I think I did my first marathon when I was 30, so a little over 20 years. I’ve done 16 of them, in total.
Which physical therapist do you see at SPEAR and what treatments have you been doing for training? I primarily see Laura (although I’ve had others in the office work with me, and they’re all excellent!). Been doing a lot of calf raises, balance exercises, massage, and flexibility exercises. Laura has encouraged me to supplement my PT program with yoga and barefoot conditioning workouts.
Do you have any words of wisdom or training tips for anyone thinking about doing their first marathon? Words of wisdom for a first timer? Enjoy it. Enjoy every minute. You may have last-minute doubts–a little voice might whisper in your ear that you’re not meant to be a marathoner, that you should have done a couple more long runs, and more stretching, and more strength training. Know that this voice will evaporate at the start of the race, and you will feel like a superhero (at that point, don’t get too overconfident–relax and flow easily through the first half of the race). When you’re done, you’ll be a marathoner for the rest of your life!
More than earning that achievement, though, you’ll learn something about yourself… I’m planning to learn a little acceptance and humility in the 2014 NYC marathon. This past spring, I was running the best that I can remember, attaining age-graded percentages that I’d never reached in over a hundred NYRR races. I was beginning to think about (possibly) qualifying for Boston for the third time (not an easy goal for me). Then, in late May, I had a surfing accident and completely ruptured my Achilles. Even as I was lying on the surfboard just after it happened, I knew what I’d done, and I could see my marathon drifting out to sea. In the emergency room, they basically told me to forget about the 2014 NYC marathon.
I had another thought at the time–related to the fact that if you do 15 NYC marathons, then you have guaranteed entry for the rest of your life. I’ve done 13. They’re ending that program in 2016…so I’d still be able to get my 15 using the 2015 and 2016 races. But there’d be no more room for error. No more surfing accidents.
I spent a couple of days feeling sorry for myself (I’m not proud of that, but I’m human). Then I had a thought…if Zoe Koplowitz, who has severe MS and uses a walker, can do the marathon in 30 hours, then I can walk it in 10. If you don’t know about her, see her website at www.zoekoplowitz.com. She’s a wonderful lady, a real NYC treasure and an inspiration to many.
Laura was the first person to tell me that walking the marathon this year might be possible, that it wasn’t the dumbest thing she’d ever heard. Important: She made me promise not to tell my doctor that she’d just cleared me to do a marathon, because she hadn’t. But if I could get approval from my doctor, then she’d help me work toward that goal. When I ran it by him in September, he assessed my progress (he was very impressed by the strength I’d regained in the foot), shook his head and said that no one had ever asked him if they could do a marathon 5 months after Achilles tendon repair. Then he said yes, but I need to stop if my heel starts hurting. Deal!
So, yeah, it’s been a huge amount of physical work, from taking those first few halting steps in my living room in August, to my longest walk of 21 miles, around the perimeter of most of the island of Manhattan. Just as hard, though, has been learning to accept my limitations. I’m not a great runner, and never have been, so I didn’t think it was that big a part of my ego. I learned otherwise in the 5th Avenue Mile race this past September. I needed to do a few more races to qualify for the 2016 marathon, using the NYRR Club’s 9+1 entry path.
To put it in perspective: in a race in April, I came in 20th out of over 200 guys in my age group. In the 5th Avenue Mile, I came in 3rd from last out of 5200 athletes. The sidewalks were crowded with spectators, and they were encouraging me to run (which I couldn’t) and the race course was empty, because all of the other runners in my heat were long gone. There was just nowhere to hide. I had to keep my head up, keep smiling, and keep walking. It was one of the hardest things I can remember doing. Surgery was WAY easier.
I expect that I’m going to encounter a longer, harder version of that experience on November 2nd. And I think it will be good. As Zoe Koplowitz says, you can either go through life with your arms open, or you can go through life with your arms closed. I’m going to try my level best to embrace this marathon with my arms open. It’s still an immense privilege. And that would be my final bit of advice–embrace the experience, whether you’re a 3-hour or a 5-hour marathoner. Or a 10-hour marathoner.