People take up running for a variety of reasons. Some pledge to get fit for the New Year, while others hope to improve their mental vitality; a search of a balanced body, mind and spirit.
For 38-year-old Aaron Vagelatos, there was never an exact explanation as to why he laced up his Asics one day and hit the pavement.
At 5-8 and 240 pounds, Vagelatos joined the JP Morgan corporate challenge in Chicago, a 3.5 mile run/walk for charity. That event two and a half years ago unintentionally sparked his fire for fitness. A commercial loan officer, Vagelatos completed the event alternating between intervals of running and walking.
Following a few days of soreness, the Crown Point resident hopped on a treadmill and began his journey, not knowing where exactly it would lead him, nor with a specific goal in mind. Quickly, the distances increased and his times dropped, and five months later Vagelatos competed in his first race.
And then another, and another.
“I don’t know what inspired me to tell you the truth,” Vagelatos said. “I did my first 5K and was like, ‘Wow this felt good.’ It was a fun time, and then I signed up for another run and got hooked on that kind of racing and that mentality. I realized I could run eight miles without stopping, and then nine miles and then 10 miles.”
Four marathons and 80 pounds lighter, Vagelatos ran Sunday's ING New York City Marathon that stretched from Brooklyn to Manhattan’s Central Park — the latest surprise in an unlikely journey.
“I looked at New York and said, ‘Let me throw my $11 in for the lottery; I’m not going to get picked, but you never know,’” Vagelatos said.
A month later he received an email: Congratulations, you’ve been accepted. “I was like, ‘Oh, I guess I’m doing New York this year.’”
Hot on the heels of a 3 hour, 8 minute finish at the Chicago Marathon, Vagelatos was in for a quick turnaround with just three weeks separating the two marathons. So, he continued his training — involving almost daily, hour-long speed drills and conditioning practice — through the Chicago marathon.
The father of two young children commutes from Crown Point to Chicago for work, and squeezes in his training as early as 4 a.m. or as late as 10 p.m.
“There are a lot of sleepless nights,” Vagelatos said.
Vagelatos' New York City Marathon run didn’t include setting any records. Rather than pressing for a new personal best, he only wanted to “enjoy the crowds, enjoy the city, running the five boroughs, running the bridges, and so when I’m finished my body’s not destroyed,” said Vagelatos prior to the race. “But, a part of me knows, standing on the bridge, coming through Queens or coming down through Central Park, I’m going to push.”
Pushing him along on the 26.2-mile journey was a marathon playlist of 100 songs, ranging from the harsh guitar rifts of Metallica to Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop.” But the beat of his music was not the only form of support driving him forward to his finish of 3:17.
“The Queensboro Bridge didn’t seem to end, but getting off and entering Manhattan and hearing the crowds was amazing,” Vagelatos said. “It just hit you when you turned the corner and the crowds and the noise seemed to come out of nowhere. Those parts certainly help as running can be as much mental as physical.”
After checking off the New York City Marathon from his growing list of running feats, Vagelatos has no plans to slow down. On Thanksgiving, he plans to run a local 10K, while a 50K (equivalent to about 31 miles) may also be in the works for December.
The Boston Marathon is the most notable race left on his runner’s to-do list, and, after earning a qualifying time at the Chicago Marathon earlier this year, he expects to accomplish that goal in the spring of 2015.