54 marathons in 52 weeks

Tony Gaspar of Paso Robles is an inspiration

As someone who has completed a few marathons, I know firsthand how difficult the 26.2 mile distance can be to complete. The mileage takes a toll on your body and becomes a battle of mental toughness as you push yourself to finish the last few miles and receive your finisher’s medal. Motivated by the cheers of the crowd and the congratulatory praises of your friends and family, you feel a sense of pride and accomplishment as you look forward to a couple of weeks of well deserved rest and relaxation.

Imagine someone running a marathon without the encouragement of cheering crowds urging you to the finish. No balloons; no medal; and no beer at the finish. Maybe just a quick shower and off to work for the day.
Now, imagine someone not just running one marathon, but running one marathon a week for 52 weeks and you will meet 48 year old Tony Gaspar; husband, father and businessman from Paso Robles.

I met Tony one Sunday when I was finishing my run. When he told me that he was running 26.2 that day I was impressed and intrigued. He ran with me to my finish and then continued on to finish his marathon.

To say that I found Tony inspirational is an understatement. You might ask why on earth someone, assumedly in their right mind, would want to do a marathon once a week for a year. This is exactly what I asked Tony when I met with him in his Paso Robles office. His answer was simple, “I needed to get uncomfortable.” He needed to get out of his comfort zone.

As a runner I understand that long distance runners develop satisfaction pushing through fatigue in order to test their limits in the “uncomfortable” zone or as I like to call it “The Hurt Locker.” However, wanting to do this for a year is truly a test of mind over body requiring a passion for pushing your limits and “upping your game” as Tony states.

A bit of history:

Tony is no stranger to challenges. In 1994 he ran and completed his first marathon in Los Angeles.

Following this 1994 achievement Tony settled back into being a recreational athlete, running the occasional weekend five miler, cycling with friends, and primarily focusing on work, family and the usual requirements of being a husband and father of two growing children.

It was in 2006 that his pace began to pick up a bit. Tony’s friend and cycling partner, Andy Hays, discussed the possibility of doing an Ironman Triathlon.

An Ironman Triathlon is a race where athletes swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run a 26.2 mile marathon.

What began as a discussion turned into a challenge of, “I’ll do it if you do it.”

Tony’s athletic life was now back in high gear training mode.

Tony and Andy met the challenge and completed their Ironman in Arizona in 2007.

During the next four years, Tony went on to complete another five Iron man Triathlons and six full marathons.

As I said, Tony is no stranger to a challenge so it seems only logical that he would eventually decide to embark on another demanding physical challenge. The only question was what form it would take. In any given year there are hundreds of races that are offered to athletes, starting from the 5K distance to the marathon and beyond. Tony began to wonder, what it would take to be able to run a marathon on any given weekend, should he decide to run one. How physically demanding would it be; how much mental toughness would it take? The Game was on.

Most marathon training requires a commitment of at least 20 weeks of increased weekend mileage, three to four mid week runs as well as cross training. It is demanding and time consuming.

There is also another way to get into marathon shape. This defies all the training programs offered to runners, and that way is the Tony Gaspar way. Just run a marathon a week and you will be ready to run a marathon on any given day.
Tony decided that if he were to undertake this challenge he would not allow it to interfere with his work, family or social life. This would require that some runs begin at 2:30 AM in order to be finished by 7AM. Other runs required running after dark struggling to finish.

He decided that he would run a year of weekly 26.2 mile or longer runs. His week would begin at 12:01 on Monday and would end before midnight on Sunday. All runs were either GPS confirmed or else certified marathon course distances. He would not skip a week and there would be no personal comprises of work, family or friends.

His year of marathons began on New Years Day, 2012 with friends Scott Gower and Field Gibson.

It wasn’t the best of beginnings for a challenge that was to last a year. January 1, 2012 followed the typical New Years Eve revelries of excess, bringing with it a desire to sleep rather than get up and run a marathon. However commitment of this nature requires personal sacrifice. As Tony describes it, “It was a brutal first run; ugly.”

He felt dehydrated having to take a brief nap on the trail in order to finish. But finish he did.

The following week was better and by the third week “amazing run” describes his best marathon to that date when he ran the Auburn Quarry Trail north of Sacramento with his little sister and some friends. That made 78.6 miles down 1,283 more miles to go.

As the weeks went by Tony would occasionally run with friends who would meet him at different points along the course to support and encourage him. However more often than not he would run alone, experiencing the solitude, peace and pain of the long distance runner.

Many endurance runners find the desire to repeat this process despite the obvious drawbacks of fatigue and body aches. As Tony and I discussed, you can’t be active and not expect the body to respond to the stress of a hard workout. It’s just something that you take in stride. No pun intended.

Week 13 brought Tony to the San Luis Marathon and the following week he ran from Idyllwild to Hemet. Have marathon will travel.

One of his most difficult runs occurred at week 17 when Tony and three friends met to run the east Cuesta Grade to Pozo. That day they ran a total of 28 grueling miles, 6 of which were trail running through knee high poison oak. He suffered through the discomfort for the last 4 miles and had a terrible poison reaction for three weeks. Passion and perseverance are a good combination to find out what just how much commitment you have to accomplish your goals. That run lasted almost 7 hours, but it was in the books.

On April 29th, a week later Tony ran the Big Sur Marathon, a very challenging course. He finished with an awesome time of 3:43:21. If there was any question as to whether or not he was “marathon ready“, the answer was obvious. He was ready.

However, dark clouds were on the horizon in the form of the dreaded “overuse” injury that all distance runners experience and fear. This is where the heart overtakes the reason of the brain and you either stop running or run through discomfort hoping that there is no permanent injury as a result of your decision.

While on a solo run at week 25, Tony experienced such intense calf pain that he had his leg x-rayed the following day. No visible breaks meant that it was likely a muscle pull or worse, a tear. This is a do or die moment for a runner. Running with calf pain can be excruciating and often requires weeks of rest and recovery. It can also lead to more serious injury should you continue to run injured.

This of course breaks all the rules of convention regarding running while injured but if it isn’t apparent by now, despite his six foot four stature, clean cut looks and straightforward manner, Tony is no conventional man.

However, willpower combined with a passionate determination to continue, he was able to find a “hobble” that allowed him to run through the pain. On Father’s Day he was in such pain he didn’t think he could finish, but he did.
It was six weeks before the pain subsided. To celebrate, Tony ran the 50 mile Tahoe Trail in 13 hours and 36 minutes which he describes as,” 50 miles of fun.”

A couple of weeks later on August 4th, Tony ran the First Annual Paso to SLO Run. He ran 32 miles from downtown Paso Robles to the Firestone Grill in San Luis Obispo with stopping. He was the promoter, organizer and only participant. He humorously states that “attendance was light but I am expecting more participants in 2013.”

From weeks 37 to week 52, Tony had varying start times of 2:30AM; 3:20 AM; and 5AM starts followed by church. On week 42 he ran the City to Sea Half Marathon….both ways! He called it the Sea to the City to the Sea Marathon.
For a year he pushed through the adversities of stomach issues, cold weather, feeling terrible, and finding out that his waterproof jacket was not waterproof when he ran at 3:45 AM in a pouring rain for his 49th marathon of 2012.

The date was December 31, 2012 when Tony started his 54th and last marathon of the year. He was in Lake Powell, Arizona. It was 6:45 AM. As he began his run in the darkness of the early morning the snow began to fall. He ran 26.2 miles on a snowy trail for a final finish time of 3:59.

“I never felt better; the way you do anything is the way you do everything.” Not Tony’s quote but one that we can all admire and live by.

Debbie Blossom–Miles, Ed.M - is a certified personal trainer with 28 years in the fitness industry and teaches her “I Hate to Run” class in the Paso Robles area. For information: call (805) 550-0090.