I cannot quite remember exactly when I started running, but it was sometime in the 70’s. I recall that I was working at the School of Public Health at The University of Michigan, as a secretary to the chairman of the Department of Health Planning and Administration. My boss incessantly pestered me on a daily basis to give up smoking and to start running. After years of his “abuse” and prodding, one day I decided to take him up on it, as much to quiet him as to see what it would be like. The quarter mile track conveniently located across the street from my office beckoned me. I began going there three times a week, while working my way up to being able to run a mile. Wow! Pretty soon, I found myself clicking off longer distances until I was able to run and complete a local half marathon. However, I still never envision myself as running a marathon. But circumstances or destiny eventually disabused me of that reluctance.
In 1981, I backpacked more than 3,000 miles along the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico, over a period of five months. I had never backpacked before – not a single step – not a single day – prior to finding myself at the trail head in Waterton International Peace Park, Canada. It was a good thing too, that ignorance being bliss thing, because had I known what backpacking was “really” like – not at all the fantasy I had concocted in my head, I would never have agreed to take on such a challenge.
Our three men and one woman expedition, called “Sight Trek” was designed to raise money and national awareness for the then fledgling and small non-profit organization known as “SEVA,” whose bold mission was to alleviate blindness in Nepal. The Continental Divide Trail and all of its awesome, amazing and inspiring mountain ranges wonderfully represented the rugged grandeur of Nepal’s native ranges. By the time our small group of trekkers reached Mexico, we had raised close to $50K – enough seed money to carry SEVA forward towards its continuing growth – and its eventual relocation from Michigan to California, where it continues its world-vision mission.
After the expedition, I recognized my restlessness and need for a new challenge, and decided that I could seemingly “do anything.” That anything became my commitment to run a marathon – and that marathon became running a very small one, not unlike the Leading Ladies Marathon, in Hell, Michigan. Not having trained for the backpacking odyssey, but nonetheless completing it, I didn’t think I needed to do much – or to even train – after all, what is 26.2 miles but a pittance compared to 3,000 miles of mountains. Wrong! I found out about the “wall” at the 20 mile mark, had to drop out of that first marathon attempt, and came to appreciate that the necessary mental and physical components could only be conjoined as co-equal stars through training. Disappointed but undaunted, I looked into the limited training programs then available and was pleased to find that while I wasn’t far along enough to have tried to run a marathon, I was actually well into a solid training schedule and in good shape to realistically run a fall marathon. On a beautiful autumn Sunday in 1982, I completed my first marathon, the Detroit Free Press Marathon. It was love at first (well almost first) sight, and the Detroit marathon, now the International Detroit Free Press/Flagstar Bank Marathon, remains my all-time favorite.
I love training for marathons. I love running marathons. I love the idea of marathons. In the more than 20 marathons I have run, I have been privileged and blessed to have been part of some exotic and special ones, like the Moscow International Peace Marathon in 1982, Big Sur, New York, Boston and now, the Leading Ladies Marathon. What a life! What gifts. I may not be the fastest one out there, but I am consistent in desire, pace, and commitment.
Running is my form of meditation. Footfalls, my mantra. Running in general, and running marathons in particular, have taught me about the importance of setting goals, about overcoming challenges – external and internal ones - to achieve those goals, and about life. Running removes me from the realm of nay-sayers and “not possibles” to “yeses,” “possibles” and completion, and to the unique personal satisfaction of saying to myself alone “good job.” Running not only helps me formulate and recognize dreams, but affords me the time to figure out ways to make them a reality.
It’s been quite awhile since my first marathon, since then I discovered that I didn’t want to be a secretary for the rest of my life, and I discovered that setting my sights on a goal is the first and most crucial step towards attaining it. Since that first race, I’ve been the vice president of sales and marketing for a computer controls company in Ann Arbor. I’ve given birth to and had and have the joy of raising an awesome and precious human being, my son, Bergen. I went back to college as recently as eight years ago to complete my undergraduate degree, and graduated Summa Cum Laude. Five years ago I accepted the position as Director of the Detroit Free Press Marathon and have had the pleasure of enabling thousands of runners – to share in and realize the extraordinary experience of running marathons.
I turned 50 in March of this year, and I haven’t run a marathon in almost 4 years. I decided that it was time to remember why it is I do what I do – why I put on marathons for others – to experience what I have enjoyed and wanted to experience again. While searching the internet, I happened to learn about this race – the Leading Ladies Marathon and thought to myself: “Now, this is worth committing to.” I look forward to meeting you all.
Patricia Ball Dlugokinski
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