FITNESS: Brother's cancer inspires 365 days of running
It was a year ago this month that Kevin Schaefer and the rest of his family received the bad news. Kevin's older brother, Keith, was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
"It was 5 a.m. when I received the text from Keith that he had cancer, and I was just headed out for my morning run. I ran most of that 6 miles tearing up and just ran on pure emotion," Schaefer said.
He had heard of the "RUN 365" before (running 365 consecutive days), but his brother's cancer diagnosis really hit him hard and fueled the desire to participate.
It was also six years ago this month when he and his wife, Angela, signed up for their first half-marathon. "I had no idea that half-marathon would lead to this," he said.
Kevin's actual quest to qualify for the Boston Marathon started about 18 months ago.
Schaefer had run the Austin Marathon in February 2012 on a whim after a fellow runner encouraged him to.
He had run other marathons in the past and had been somewhat training but didn't really have the Austin Marathon on his racing radar. He ended up running a 3:29, setting a 21-minute personal best at the 26.2-mile distance.
"I wasn't really trained up for that race, but it gave me an idea of what I could do and gave me a target for what was needed," he said.
Schaefer decided to start on an 18-month marathon train-up starting the summer of 2012 and ran consistently that fall.
But after his brother's cancer diagnosis, the 365 days of running was ignited, and qualifying for the Boston Marathon became a more concrete goal.
"I spent January through July of 2013 building a big base, increasing my mileage from 30 miles per week to 60 to 65 miles per week. Once August came, I went into more marathon-specific type training," he said.
Schaefer continued to increase training mileage and peaked out at a few 80- to 82-mile weeks, throwing in four 20-milers during his train-up.
"I would warm up for 5 to 6 miles and then aim to run the remaining 15 to 16 miles at 7:05 per mile pace. Those runs really paid off during the marathon. I knew my training was aggressive, and I was taking a chance on it backfiring, but I had to go for it," he said.
What is even more amazing is the fact that Schaefer almost didn't get to see all of his hard months of training pay off during his scheduled marathon race.
He was set to run the Dallas Marathon on Dec. 8 and had made the drive to Tyler to pick up his best friend, Jason, who would be making the trip with him.
That's when the bad weather hit, and he received the news that the Dallas Marathon would be canceled.
Schaefer and his buddy quickly started searching the Internet in search of other Boston Qualifying marathons in Texas and came across the Bryan-College Station Marathon, which unfortunately was sold out.
Then, as if by some miracle that was meant to be, the race director announced 450 additional slots would be available for the marathon.
"That 60 seconds of blazing through the registration page in an attempt to get a slot was as big a rush as any skydive I've ever had," he said.
So the journey was redirected a bit but was still on course as Schaefer and Jason made their way to Bryan-College Station to meet up with Schaefer's brother, Keith, in hopes of a Boston qualifying run.
Those tough training runs and the confidence built during them came in handy when Schaefer began feeling bad around mile 11.
"For some reason, I starting feeling horrible and was hurting way early. I told myself I've done this before, and I know what my legs are capable of. I left my heart and brain in charge and forgot about how my body felt," he said.
Schaefer said he ran on emotion that day with his brother as his inspiration, as he had in previous races this past year, setting personal bests in the half-marathon in April (1:31) and in the 10K at the Living in the Light run in November (38:00).
Schaefer's three years in the Army infantry unit and his previous experience training and racing in two Ironman races also came into play.
"I've learned that the more realistic the training is, the more it counts in preparing you for race day," he said.
Although Schaefer's wife, Angela, and two children didn't join him at the race, he says her support the past year was a crucial part of why he succeeded.
"She sacrificed day in and day out, helping me to get all my runs in every single day of the year, and when I was struggling, she would leave encouraging notes on my windshield. She was the most consistent supporter I had. She also was the one who inspired me six years ago to take up running as a hobby," Schaefer said.
On race day, Schaefer's brother, Keith, and his friend, Jason, were both there to cheer him on.
"I saw them numerous times throughout those 26.2 miles, and it made a huge difference in my energy level each time I heard them cheer and high-five me," he said.
He stayed strong knowing his brother and best friend were there for him.
"I didn't want to let them down. It is a circle of inspiration for the three of us. I inspired Jason to begin running, and now he and my brother are both training for their first Ironman. I am inspired by them both, and in turn, I wanted to inspire them," Schaefer said.
He did just that when he moved through the miles, one by one, hanging on to a blazing pace and crossing the line in a time of 3:08:51, averaging 7:12 per mile, a pace qualifying him for the Boston Marathon by more than five minutes.
Schaefer still has 22 days left to go in his quest to run 365 days straight.
The day after the marathon, there was no off day. Instead, he found himself doing what he loves the most: running.