Jan 2002 after completing my 1st Marathon
By Brad Layland, CEO and Senior Consultant
When I turned 30, I was a very different person from today. I had been married for only about five years and didn’t have any children yet. And if you knew me then, you would certainly not have described me as an athlete.
Although I had no experience training for a long race, thirty-year-old me set out to run my first marathon on January 9, 2002. Shortly after that first race, I set a goal of running 50 marathons by the time I turned 50. If you knew me in high school, you’ll know just how ambitious this goal was. I wasn’t an athlete!
Last week I ran the Houston Ironman, completing my 50th marathon – after I swam 2.4 miles and biked 112 miles. Even though I have been training for 20 years, this race proved to be my hardest ever. The combination of the heat, humidity, and wind in Houston created a scenario where my last marathon was also my slowest and most difficult.
When you run an Ironman, it comes down to the details – you’ve got to do everything properly so you can stay hydrated and fueled. This was my second Ironman (and my last), but this bike experience was excruciatingly hard. We had to do two laps on a closed interstate, biking 20 miles directly into the wind twice. The winds were blowing at over 15 miles an hour and I exerted every bit of my effort to bike at the extremely slow pace of nine miles an hour. The bike leg of the race took me about 8 hours to finish. I was completely depleted, but I still needed to run 26.2 miles so I could finish my 50th marathon.
I knew I was going to finish because I had run 49 races before, but I also knew that my tank was empty. It didn’t hurt to run; I just had no energy. I kept going because I knew I needed to finish what I started when I was 30. I pushed as hard as I could and finished the run in about six hours. It was officially my slowest marathon, but I had finished what I had started. I was now 50 pounds lighter, 20 years older, the father of four kids, and the husband of my amazing wife of 25 years.
May 2022 after completing my 50th Marathon
What keeps you going when things are hard? When I think of my fundraising experiences over the last 20 years while I have run all these races, there have been so many times where it felt like my tank was empty and I still had a long way to go.
When I was serving as the executive director of a large ministry in Orlando, there was one extremely hard summer where we were significantly short of our financial goals. I remember realizing that if I did not raise an extra $100,000 within the next couple of weeks, we would need to lay off several key staff. The realization came at the end of a long hard summer, and my tank was pretty empty. Yet, for the sake of the people we were serving, I could not allow us to miss the goal.
I remember one major donor offering me a match for any amount of money if I could get a particular church to give to our work. The only problem was that the pastor wouldn’t see me. Because I cared deeply about the organization and the people we were serving, I went to the office of the church and when the receptionist said that the pastor could not see me, I just sat and waited. At the end of the day, the pastor finally saw me. I made the case for them to support our work, shared about the opportunity and the need, and told them about the match. In the end, the church gave nothing, but when I shared the story of my ‘church sit-in’, that same major donor responded by giving the largest gift they ever gave to our organization, resolving our funding crisis.
Sometimes we cross the finish line a lot slower than we think we will, and sometimes the conditions are a lot harder than we expected, but this is the journey we have been training for, so we must press on.
What am I going to do now that I have run 50 marathons by the time I’m 50? 100 by 100 years old? Who knows?! Exercise goals aside, I want to tell you and others that you can do far more than you ever dreamed or imagined by taking small steps each day.