Every once in a while you meet a person who is so nice, so kind and so positive she doesn’t seem real. To top it off, these people are usually beautiful and talented too. I often secretly wonder what their flaw is. Maybe they don’t make their bed every morning, or they pick their nose, or maybe their house is really dirty (crap, I’m describing myself). I want to find out something, anything, to make me feel better about my cynical and sarcastic self. Something that evens the score, so I don’t feel down a few points with my impatience or my lack of the shiny happy vibes that they have.
Unfortunately I’ve had to accept that not everyone has a hidden evil flaw. My friend Patti Tomasello, for instance, has a laugh, a smile and positive energy that fills a room before her foot even crosses the threshold. Patti is a nurse by day, a talented runner by crack of dawn and a loving wife, mother and grandmother. She’s currently training for her third Boston Marathon and her training has been anything but “according to plan.”
Never a runner herself, Patti was her daughter Dana’s biggest cheerleader at cross country races, and marveled as Dana went from a struggling student to an organized, goal-oriented, straight-A young teenager. As she watched it change her daughter’s life, she became intrigued with running. So at the age of 48, the same exact age at which both her mother and sister were each diagnosed with breast cancer, Patti decided to do whatever it took to be healthy. In February of 2012 she laced up her running shoes for the first time, completely ignorant of the amazing journey about to begin.
Like most new runners, Patti started off with a few short runs between two and three miles each. Unlike most new runners, she was up to 16 miles a mere five weeks later. “I have no idea how it happened, but the distance just felt natural and I went with it.” She signed up for her first half marathon that April and the Akron Marathon, her first 26.2, the following September. At the time, she was so new to running that she didn’t know anything about Boston, but nonetheless completed her first marathon just under 2 minutes shy of a BQ. Following the advice and encouragement of an ultra-runner friend, Patti decided to see if she could shave those two minutes off her time at the Columbus Marathon just three weeks later. She ended up cutting eight minutes off, giving herself a six-minute cushion.
And then of course Patti went on to run the 2014 Boston Marathon. She had a strong year and re-qualifed there, and again at two other marathons, giving herself a 15-minutes cushion for 2015. Unfortunately, fate had other plans in store. When Patti began training for her second turn in Boston she developed leg pain after almost every run. After a negative x-ray she continued with her normal training plan. Then, with only seven weeks left until race day, the pain got worse so she went in for an MRI, which revealed a stage-3 stress fracture that meant no running or weight-bearing activities for 6-12 weeks.
“I was told if I did run, I could fully fracture the leg and have to go through surgery, and possibly never run again. I was told that there was no way that I could even think about running in Boston with my leg injury.”
Ever positive and hopeful, Patti found a doctor who, with help from an AlterG treadmill, formulated a cross-training plan to get Patti to Hopkinton anyway. She knew in the back of her mind if her leg started hurting she would have to quit, or risk never running again. Around mile 15 her leg started to throb and by mile 20 she knew she had make the heartbreaking decision to choose a lifetime of running over finishing the race. “The hardest decision for me was to turn into the medical tent, but it was probably the strongest thing I have ever done in a race.”
After healing, Patti went on to qualify several more times for Boston 2016 and is eager for redemption from last year. But this training cycle has thrown everything it can think of at her: she injured her hamstring horseback riding, lost five weeks of training to a stress fracture in her femur, and was plagued with endurance-draining sinus infections all winter long. Just as she was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel the training cycle threw one more hard hit at her, and this time the hit was literal. A truck with a snow plow rear-ended her car. With her ever-positive attitude, Patti skipped one long run, dealt with the headaches caused by the accident, and did the necessary physical therapy to get herself back to Boston this year. “I have had obstacles but others have gone through much more. My goal for 2016 is honestly to have fun, and finish with a smile.”
I asked Patti what her best piece of running advice would be.
“I think my best advice is to never give up. Even when you think you are performing poorly, you never know who you are inspiring. Being able to run a marathon is really a gift and sometimes we are so hard on ourselves, but why? We committed ourselves to being healthy, setting goals and hopefully achieving them, we have so much to be thankful for, remember that at mile 24.”
What does the future hold for Patti? As easy as the long runs have come for her, the short, fast distances have given her more of a challenge. She plans to focus on those as she gets older, and also dreams of traveling the country to complete half marathons in places she’s never been.
We wish Patti the best of luck and, personally, I am so grateful that I will get to stand on the starting line with her on April 18th!