Guest Post: The Pursuit of a Marathon

Through Twitter I have met an inspirational person who recently ran his first marathon. Philip Shelley is a fellow Kansan, runner, and overall incredible man who in spite of physical limitations has accomplished something that not many can say they have done. This past week, Phil completed his first full marathon, or 26.2 miles. I hope you enjoy reading his story as much as I did. Such an incredible journey. If you are interested, Phil has his own blog at
Philip before the Garmin Marathon.

The Pursuit of a Marathon
Life before the marathon
My desire to embark on the journey to a marathon began about three years ago. Of course, even then I had no idea I would end up running a 26.2-mile race in three short years! However, before I explain how I started training for a marathon, I need to give you some background on who I am and why running has become one of the things I love to do.

When I was born, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP). This was caused by a lack of oxygen to my brain at birth. In some cases, CP can mean severe physical and mental limitations. Although my family might argue the mental limitation part, God allowed me to have what is considered a very mild case. Even so, I have had and continue to face challenges on a daily basis: I am legally blind in my left eye, have limited use of my left hand and my left leg is a little shorter than my right. All that to say, I don’t drive, so getting around can involve a lot of walking or rides from Uber or friends!

As a result of these limitations, using my feet for exercise seemed to be a great fit. I started working out in the gym but just couldn’t get used to lifting weights, the elliptical, or the “dreadmill," so I began using an indoor track and a 5K training app. I was also inspired to start running when several in my family were running, and my sister-in-law, Dawn, was even doing full marathons! This inspired me to give it a shot and push myself in a way I never thought possible. As I started to train for a 5k, which was the Sprint Campus 5K in October of 2013, the spark to keep running began.

How I got to the marathon
As I started down the road to running, I had no clue what I was doing and ran that first 5K in just under 30 minutes. Boy was I worn out! I didn’t pace myself but rather gave it all I had. I would soon learn that was not the best approach from an endurance standpoint. I then ran the Thanksgiving Day 5K a month later and a 10K after that. The spark of the first 5K and subsequent 10K now had become a burning flame, and this running thing became not only a hobby, but a habit too. I had a “hobby” that was good for me, and I could just “run out the door” and keep challenging my limits.

After the 10K, the next goal was a half marathon. So I started training with my Nike+ app and Hal Higdon’s training app. Here again, I’m not sure I really knew what I was doing, but I put in the miles, and in October 2014 I ran the Prairie Fire half in Wichita, KS with my brother and sister-in-law. I was sore for two days after, but finished in under 2:30, and I told myself this would not be my last long race. So I set a goal to run 2-3 half marathons in 2015. The year 2015 came, and I kept running and enjoyed it, connected with runners on Twitter and even at my doctor's office. I loved to talk to anyone who would listen about my passion for running and learned all I could!

My goal of running 2-3 half marathons ended up being 5. The Heartland 39.3 series was a great adventure and allowed me to experience 3 great races the KC Metro has to offer. In the fall, I did a small half in St. Joe, MO, which was fun, especially when I found my brother and 6-year-old nephew chasing me at the end! My last race of 2015 was another half marathon at the Indianapolis Marathon. This was a beautiful course, and I ran most of the race getting to chat and learn from an experienced marathoner!

After running 6 half marathons and learning more about running, I was finally able to wrap my head around attempting a marathon. After running Indy, I decided to run the Garmin Marathon. My experienced sister-in-law, Dawn, told me to stay local so I could have the encouragement of friends and family. This proved to be some very valuable advice.

As I embarked on training, the Run Walk Run method taught by Jeff Galloway proved to be a great way to conquer 26.2 one interval at a time! I did some looking around and found that Runkeeper would allow me to set up running intervals, which was great because I could start the app and my music and RUN.

My training officially started in November, but I was fresh off a half marathon, so I didn’t have to start from scratch. The mileage each week began to grow, and I would average roughly 2-3 short runs of 2-4 miles each through the week and then a long run on Saturday on the beautiful Indian Creek Trail. Part of the adventure was to see how far I could get before I needed to turn around.

As February-March came, I had made it to the end of the trail & back and was able to get several 20+ mile runs and even a full 26.2 under my feet! Now that I had run the distance, I knew I would not surrender and would conquer the marathon.

The marathon and beyond
After running Rock the Parkway on April 9, race week was finally here. After six months of consistent training and 500 miles, I was excited and ready to RUN! I went to get my packet on Thursday and cruised the sponsor tables where I met Traci (of Mamagottarun) and Bubba (Garmin Race Director), who graciously provided me the opportunity to win a free entry! It was just great to take it all in and yes I was nervous, but after all the hard work and encouragement of family and friends, I knew it was just a matter of getting it done!

With packet in hand, I went home to get my running gear laid out to make Friday a simple night since I'm not one to leave things to the last minute. On Friday, my sister-in-law, Dawn, who has been an inspiration and encouragement throughout my pursuit of running, came to help and cheer me on.

The coveted restful night before a race does not always happen, and Friday proved to be no exception. I got up at 4:15 and surprisingly, got ready on auto-pilot. I showered, got geared up, grabbed a breakfast burrito, and we headed out the door. We got to the convention center with no problems around 5:15 and just waited until about 6-ish. Shortly after 6:15, I joined the other runners as we waited for GO TIME at 6:45!

We were off, and as the race unfolded, I continued to use Run Walk Run (1:30 run/35s walk). I was averaging an 11:30 pace through the first half and really felt great! At mile 11 my sister-in-law met me, and we ran together for a bit. Then at mile 12, we parted, and I started down the Mill Creek Trail.

Things were still going ok, but I was starting to feel the miles pile up on my legs. Also, my average pace was slipping a few seconds every mile. At mile 16 I really started counting down, not only because I was getting tired, but I knew I only had 10 miles left. The turnaround at mile 18.5 finally came, and I headed back down the trail, continuing to feel my heavy legs and even started walking a bit more.

I called Dawn to tell her I was headed back, and she said she was around a couple of corners, but those were some of the longest corners! I kept moving and running when I could, but I was heading toward "The Wall."

From a nutrition standpoint, I was alternating Stinger gels and half a Clif Bar every three miles and a SaltStick pill every couple of hours, so I knew my nutrition was ok. I just had to keep moving and pushing myself! I knew I could do it since I had done it before.

At about mile 23-24, I saw Dawn and was so relieved since I knew the end was even closer, and now I had the best encouragement, help and motivation I could ask for. She stayed by me, encouraged me, and told me to stop talking and just breathe. We walked, ran some, and after a "ridiculous hill" the finish line was in sight. I gave it all I had to finish my first marathon in 5 Hours, 41 Minutes and 47 Seconds.
Phil and Dawn.

It was a great feeling to have accomplished my goal. My brother Adam, his family, and my runner friend Laurel were there to greet me after many months of encouraging words. It was fantastic to see them, but boy did I hurt. You name it, and it probably hurt! We walked around a bit, and I got my results. Then I finally felt like eating. What better place to go than IHOP.

After a couple of hours, some stretching, foam rolling and a cool bath, I was feeling human again. I slept like a baby that night, but was pretty sore the next couple of days, even with a massage on Sunday. I kept stretching, and I woke up Wednesday with no pain or soreness. I still took the rest of the week off from running, but my first marathon will not be my last.

Even before running Garmin, I had registered for Running with the Cows Half Marathon on May 14 and then the Rock & Roll Marathon in Seattle on June 18! I've always wanted to go to Seattle, and what better excuse to go there than to run a Marathon? It's amazing what opportunities running can present, both personally and geographically.

Phil and Laurel.

Pursuing a marathon has proven to be a challenging but fulfilling learning experience. I have learned that "I can do all things through Christ which strengthen me." (Philippians 4:13) The Lord allowed me to be born with limitations, but running has taught me that He is able to strengthen, protect and enable me to do things I never thought possible. With a grateful heart I thank my Lord, family, friends and fellow runners (Traci, Stephanie, Liz, Laurel and many more). Your advice, encouragement and motivation have helped me to achieve something few have even attempted!

So keep running to finish!


The best finisher medal ever, made for Phil by his niece.

Crossing the finish line! If you have trouble viewing this
amazing video, click here.

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