Chasing My Kudu

by Gerard Falotico

I am Gerard Falotico and through a series of unexpected events I started running marathons when I was 57. I ran 12 of them, the last at age 65. Some of the marathons I did were the Shires of Vermont, Wineglass, Hudson-Mohawk (twice), NYC, Paris, Chicago, Ottawa, New Orleans and Houston. I ran many, many half marathons too. I also wrote a book about running my fist marathon. It's called Chasing My Kudu. It can be found on Apple Books and Amazon Prime.

My story starts in the spring of 2010. I was 56. I lived in Saratoga Springs with my wife Anna. I have always tried to keep active and fit but I always had a weight problem. Sometimes I managed to drop a significant amount of weight but this was not one of those times. I was at my heaviest, about 280 pounds.

One Sunday morning I woke up in bed alone. My wife would go to sleep with me but when my snoring started she would move to the other bedroom. Something was different this morning. I had a funny feeling in my chest. A sensation like butterflies dancing. Being in the medical field I know just what it was, Atrial Fibrillation. I knew this was bad and I would soon be in the Emergency Room. And I was.

The doctors tried several different medications to break the irregular heart rhythm but none of them worked. The most definitive treatment for A Fib is a Cardioversion. That is where they put the paddles on your chest and shock you. I was waiting for the Anesthesiologist to come and sedate me. At the very last second I converted back into Normal Sinus Rhythm. There was no need to shock me and I was discharged.

As I left the hospital I was feeling dejected and depressed. I know my entire life just changed that morning and not for the better. I was thinking of all the things I wanted to do and would most likely never get to do, like to hike to the headwaters of the Hudson River, Lake Tear of the Clouds. I looked at my wife and said I will never get to do that. Anyone else would have said "well that's your fault" or "that's not important" or "too Bad". But instead she looked at me lovingly and said "let's make that our goal for the year."

I worked hard at losing weight and started going to the Y again. We hiked up Hadley Mt and I thought I would die but we persisted. I worked out, we walked and hiked, the weight dropped. In September I  was down to just over 200 pounds. That is when we did a grueling 11 mile hike to Lake Tear of the Clouds and then up the backside of Mt Marcy. It was one of proudest things I ever did and fulfilled a long time dream.

During the summer of 2010 National Public Radio was broadcasting a series about how evolution shaped the human body. Each segment of the series focused on a different body part. One day it was the hand, the next day the foot, and so on. One of the topics was how and why humans became built for endurance as opposed to speed running. The reporter ended his report with words to this effect: “So next time you are around mile 16 or 17 in the marathon and you are losing steam, think of our distant forefathers and how they would be chasing their kudus.” For some reason these words stuck with me.

I continued my weight loss and work out regime. Mostly I swim and do cardio at the Y. The pound dropped as the seasons passed and I was getting more and more fit. My mind kept going back to the words "chasing your Kudu".

In the back of my mind I always had a dream about running a marathon but never thought it would happen. I had a good friend who ran multiple marathons in his 20' and 30". He and his wife were coming to Saratoga for New Years Eve. He wanted us to run the First Night race at Skidmore College. It was a 5K. 3 miles I thought, how hard can it be so I agreed. I was talking with another friend about the race and he Asked "you're not going to run it faster than me are you?" He did it in 30 mins. I assured him I was very slow and I was lucky if I even finished it.

The gun went off and the race started. My friend paced me so I would not tire too soon. When we reached the 1 mile point the timing clock said 11 minutes. I realized then that if I tried I could beat my other friends' time. Something clicked then, I picked up the pace and pushed it. I finished the race in 29 minutes and changed. I beat my friend's time and somehow I became a runner. The next race I did was  my first marathon. It was only 5 months later.

I won't dare tell anyone what I was thinking, it was so far-fetched it just couldn't happen. But after my New Year's Eve race the thought started to consume my waken hour, could I do it? Could I run a marathon? I began spending more and more time at the Y. I was regularly doing over 2 hours on the elliptical machines. My wife began wondering why I was up to it. I lost lots of weight and was spending more and more time away from home. Girlfriend?? Finally I sat her down and told her I wanted to run a marathon. She was nice enough not to laugh but the whole thing was so impossible that she didn't argue with me. All she said was "don't get hurt." That was my green light, I was off and running literally. My first run was 4 miles. When I got home I began a training log, this evolved into the middle section of my book.

My wife and I really love Vermont. We often drive there just to look at the hills and to fish the Battenkill. When I heard about the Shires of Vermont Marathon I knew this was just what I was looking for. This was the very first year they had the race, it was to take place on May 15, 2011. The race began near the Bennington Monument, passed through Arlington, hugged the Battenkill and ended in Manchester.

I did most of my training at the Saratoga Battlefield. I knew I needed hill work to run in Vermont and the Battlefield was hilly. Especially if you ran counter to the flow of traffic, 6 out of 10 miles were uphill. It was hard. it was cold and lonely but I was determined. I sweated, I shriveled somedays, I had pains and even  muscle spasms in my legs where I couldn't walk let alone run. But they passed and I got stronger. Here is a excerpt from my book where I talk about one of my long runs.

"By now my shirt and hat were soaked through. Luckily, I had left a bandanna along this part of the route for precisely that reason. Sweat was pouring off my head and dripping into my eyes. Once again it felt good to put on something dry.

Rounding the next corner, I was greeted again by a strong wind, but I just kept running. My pace had slowed greatly by now, and I wished for just a fraction of the strength I had had at the beginning of the run. But I had no choice but to work with what I had left in me, little as it was. I prodded myself on with this thought: One more hill, and you’re home.

It’s funny how one can drive the same road every day and not pay attention to little details. When I reached the turn at what I thought was the top of the hill, I realized that the hill kept going. To make matters worse, once I created the actual top of the hill, I was hit by a steady blast of wind. It blew hard enough to stop me dead in my tracks. Then a rumbling started in the pit of my belly, rose up through my chest, and burst from my mouth in the form of what can only be described as a primal growl. It came out in defiance of the wind, of the cold, of the snow, and in defiance of everyone who had ever told me, “You cannot.” The growl came out so hard and loud that it split the wind. Putting my head down and pushing with every ounce of strength remaining in me, I stepped into that opening. I moved. I was running again.``

AS the day of the race drew close I tapered my runs and rested my legs. I thought I was ready for everything. Then the weather turned for the worst. They predicted rain all day. That is the one thing I did not think about nor plan for. It really spooked me. I was a wreck, what would I do?

Race morning dawned gray and damp. There was not much talking between my wife and I. Finally I  lined up at the starting line just as the rain began. The gun fired, we started and I was on the greatest adventure of my life. We passed the Bennington monument, then through the cover bridge and past the bagpipe players and off into the hills of Vermont.

My wife was planning on meeting me in Arlington (about the 20 mile mark). It rained steadily most of the time. My shirt was soaked and clung tight to me. It rubbed on my nipples so much they began to hurt and then bleed. It wasn't very much blood but with the rain it ran down my wet shirt in a long smear. It looked like my heart burst! A couple of Band-Aids and a dry shirt and I was on my way.

I am a slow runner. At about the 5 hour mark I could hear cheers off in the distance. I was spent but this gave me strength, I knew the finish line was close.  I pushed on. Finally I could see the park where the race would end. I turned in and saw the finish line banner. Everything was a blur. There was music and announcements and cheering. When I crossed the finish line I accomplished something that only 1 year before seemed totally impossible - I am now a marathon runner!!!

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