Running a marathon is no easy task. At 26 miles, they’re so long, and require so much focus and commitment, that many of those who start one fail to finish.
First-time marathoners, especially, often suffer such excruciating pain – in their knees, feet, and every muscle in their body – that they’re forced to drop out. Meanwhile, those who do complete a marathon commonly find it takes days, if not weeks, to recover.Knowing all that, it might come as a surprise to learn that last fall, Darryl Blakely, a senior at W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences in Philadelphia, finished the first marathon he ever attempted by winning his age group. Darryl, who serves as chapter FFA reporter, took part in the run as a member of Students Run Philly Style, a city-wide program that helps youth succeed in life by teaching them to set goals, make healthy choices, and, ultimately, to run long distances.
“Before I started running I was out of shape,” Darryl says. “I was unhealthy, kind of fat. Now, with Students Run Philly Style, I know what’s good for my body and what’s not.”
Up for the Challenge
Joining Darryl in Students Run is his classmate, friend and fellow FFA member Roy Bowser.
“Running is something I’ve had to work at,” Roy says. “I can play football or basketball or baseball, but running has been one of the hardest sports for me.”
Still, he says, he loves it.
“It’s hard to do by myself,” he explains. “But when I run in a group, or with friends, it’s a lot of fun.”
Like Darryl, Roy says he was out of shape before he started running, and only came to the sport after a teacher challenged him to the task.
“I wasn’t the healthiest kid,” he says. “So my teacher bet me I couldn’t run 10 miles under a certain time, and said she’d pay for me and my friends to go out and eat if I could. I wasn’t going to back down from a bet, so I decided I’d do it.”
Roy says he joined Students Run, started training and, months later, tackled that 10 miles.
“I finished in around two hours, and I won the bet,” he laughs. “Then I joined the cross-country team, and I’ve gotten more and more active ever since.”
A Natural Match
The resolve it takes to be a runner, Roy says, is similar to that it takes to succeed in FFA.
“To be in FFA, and to be a leader, you pretty much have to learn to make your own decisions,” Roy explains. “It’s the same thing with running. When you’re running, you might see somebody in the race who needs help if they’re going finish. So maybe you make that decision to instead of trying to beat them, to help them along.”
And that is what leadership is all about, he says.
“I think anybody who runs is a leader,” Roy says. “A lot of people might choose to just sit at home and watch TV, but a runner will decide for himself, or herself, that I’m going to get up today and run, because it’s good for me and will benefit me.”
Nearing the end of a race, Roy says, almost always requires him to dig deep.
“I usually run my steady pace for the first two or three miles, and then for the last three or four I pick it up a little bit, and then I really push myself near the finish,” he explains. “When I can see the finish line, I’ll pick people out of the crowd and just try to catch up to them as fast as I can. At the start of any race, I feel like I have butterflies in my stomach, but at the finish, when you look back at how far you came, it really makes you feel a lot better about what you did.”
Darryl, for his part, has taken running to the next level. For him too, leadership is a big part of the sport, but now that he’s learned to run fast, competition is also important. The top runner on the W.B. Saul cross-country team, he takes every race seriously. He’s in it for fun, but he’s also there to win.
“I wasn’t always a competitive person,” Darryl says, “but when I started running, and as I got healthier, I got more confident in myself.”
The transition to an athletic lifestyle, has led both Darryl and Roy to new heights in their personal lives, in school, and in their ambitions for the future.
Roy says he hopes to one day become a large-animal veterinarian. Darryl, on the other hand, would love to own a farm and raise livestock.
Their advice to new runners? Take it slow.
“Don’t go out and try to run 26 miles the first day,” Darryl says. “Start off walking, and gradually work yourself into shape.”
That, and once you start, never look back. He adds, “If someone tells you there’s no way you can be a runner, prove them wrong.”
– Chris Hayhurst