Never mind the rain. Or the bone-chilling wind.
When Kevin Nolan crossed the finish line at the Newport, R.I., marathon earlier this month - in four hours, 29 minutes and 22 seconds - the moment was about as heart-warming as it gets. Surrounded by the 70 family members and friends who had come to cheer him on (29 of them ran the half-marathon or full marathon with him) he celebrated a rare feat.
Nolan, a 57-year-old painting contractor from Glen Mills, had just finished marathons in all 50 states.
He had run up steep hills, across rivers, through farm fields, along oceans. He had hoofed it through Death Valley and experienced the marathoners' complete silence - "it was breathtaking" - as they ran across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toward Manhattan, eyeing the hole in the sky, two months after the World Trade Center towers came down.
Actually, he's run 61 marathons. He's run Philadelphia four times. Boston, too.
He spoke to us recently about why he runs and how it keeps him healthy.
What was your first marathon?
Philadelphia, 1996. Three hours, 35 minutes. When I crossed the finish line, I wasn't feeling well. I was shivering. My wife asked my kids to take off their coats. They complied and helped their dad. I don't know why I wanted to do another one.
But it's a natural path if you're into fitness and you're getting better at running. Sooner or later, it gets on your bucket list. It's the next goal, the next summit.
I never was particularly good at it. That's one of the things about running. It's so inclusive. You don't have to be great at it. It's about your own achievement and personal best. When people tell me they don't like running, I wonder if they've really given it a shot. It takes me a couple miles before I feel good, but at some point it feels like a natural instinct. It feels tremendous.
How is it related to your overall health?
I always say that half the challenge of running a marathon is getting to the starting line healthy. You've got to do a lot of stuff correctly over the long haul. I didn't do marathons for the sake of marathons, I do them for the healthy lifestyle that is created around it. You eat better. You go to bed earlier. You get into a regular, structured training regime. Those things are what keep me on track in life.
As you get older, you realize you are not invincible. You need to cultivate your health. I look for any edge I can get. I stopped eating bread. I stopped putting sugar and cream in my coffee because it worked out to three pounds of body weight a year. Healthy living is about making conscious decisions.
Younger Next Year is a tremendous book I read just as I was turning 50. It's really about how to stay mentally, physically and emotionally fit in your older years. That's what I've tried to do. You're in it for the long haul, so you want to be as healthy as you can for as long as you can, so you have to make those good decisions.
This quest wasn't just about running, or even just about marathons. It was about marathons in all 50 states. What was the statement you were making?
Well, as a friend once said to me, "Kevin always hits his goals." That's become my mantra. I say it to myself over and over again. It helped me to get the confidence that I can say and set a goal and then achieve it. I do the same thing with my business. It gives all my colleagues and coworkers and friends confidence that we're going to hit our goals together as a team. Be resilient when things don't go well. Those are the things I say in my head.
Your company, Nolan Painting, has pledged to give $1 million to the community over the next 10 years. You've established a philanthropic arm, Nolan in the Neighborhood, to do it. Fitness, philanthropy and your business are all rolled into one. Tell me about that.
Well, it just sort of developed slowly, and I guess I'm defining it even as we speak. When I was raising four teenage kids, I remember feeling kind of helpless. You can't tell a teenager what to do. I finally determined that being a good role model was the most significant thing I could do. So I decided to model what is good behavior whenever I can.
Balance is what I think it comes down to. Even things like having a family and sharing things with your family has been big for me. My children actually work in the business now with me. We are really hyper-involved. I guess that this running obsession I have, I turned it into a way to do business. We sponsor about a hundred races a year, locally. We sponsor another hundred or so other community events - everything from walks to concerts. So, we're just being friends to all these different local organizations. It's really all through this running thing.
As an employer of 100 people, I model fitness and health, but I also model fairness and community and giving back. They say that it's impossible to be depressed if you're being generous and giving to other people. It creates a sense of community within the company and among our employees who go to these events. The most significant thing people say every day is how nice our people are. I always say, hire nice people and train them to paint. You can create company with all the values and culture that you want, if you reinforce it and role model it.
One of the things I learned is you have to be careful what you say, because then you have to go do it!
I will tell you that I signed up for the Philadelphia marathon, Nov. 20. I haven't done it since 2007. But I think it's a nice, local, low-key-for-me marathon. I think I'll have a fast time. That's what I'm looking for.