From couch to 27th marathon in half a decade

He’s not Forrest Gump by any stretch of the imagination, but local marathoner Dave Emilio sure enjoys his long distance runs, as he has for the past six years.

Dave Emilio with wife Anita, daughter Sarah, 18, and son Cam, 11 in Boston for the 2012 Boston Marathon.

Emilio, who now has 27 marathons under his belt, says that his obsession with running began in 2006 after realizing how out of shape he was at the age of 37.

Having been an active youth, Emilio lost interest in exercising in his mid-twenties as he worked at – and then owned – the Chopping Block, the popular butcher shop on Queen Street.

He later became a web developer at a downtown firm, and sitting behind a desk all day sure didn’t help his health.

“Instead of getting into drugs, me and my co-workers got into junk food,” he joked.

“And then one day the elevator at work broke down, and for about a week we had to walk up five flights of stairs. It was at that time that I realized how out of shape I was,” said Emilio, who then weighed over 240 lbs and was still smoking.

“If I want to see the kids graduate or get married I better do something,” said Emilio, who has three children.

And so it began. He kicked the smoking habit to the curb, and started running with his neighbour, Guy Heritage, who pushed him to continue through the initial struggles.

“It was awful, I hated it,” said Emilio, recalling his first few 4k runs, which had many walking breaks. But with reassurance from Heritage that all the pains and aches would go away if he persisted, Emilio pushed on and was eventually running the entire stretch with no breaks.

Heritage told Emilio he should sign up for a race, although at the time he thought only professional hardcore runners participated in races. That was how Emilio ran his first half-marathon.

Many runners have often said that running is an addiction. And even though Emilio didn’t quite enjoy the aftermath of his first race, within a week he signed up for a full marathon, something that he had always dreamed of doing.

So Emilio ran his first marathon, the Ottawa Marathon.

“To celebrate it, I run it every year and will be there again at the end of May,” he said.

Emilio lost 50 lbs in the first year of running, and he hasn’t looked back since. His competitive instinct took over, and he started switching gears from weight loss to improving his form and speed.

“Every time I beat my own time I would train harder to beat it again. Now the clock is against me,” he explained. “I became competitive with myself and with my peers.”

Emilio first qualified for the Boston marathon in 2009.

“My first Boston was quite a thrill, because it is the holy grail of all marathons which many runners hope to qualify for,” he said.

He explained how the city of Boston comes alive for the event, with hundreds of people flooding the streets wearing running gear, talking strategies, and just having a great time. One of his most memorable moments was running past the schools and seeing all the students lining the streets and cheering the runners on.

“You feel very honoured to be there because you know that it’s by qualifying only, and that you’ve earned your spot there,” he said.

His time that year was well off his qualifying time because of an injury he suffered while training. This year he finished with a time of 4:06:46 while running in 32˚C weather which affected most of the racers, including last year’s winner, who dropped out.

His best marathon time is 3:18:00, achieved in 2010 at the Toronto Marathon.

Emilio doesn’t travel to Boston alone these days. Two of his children, Sarah and Cam, as well as his wife Anita all participated in the Boston 5k run, which took place the day before the big event.
Sarah, 18, finished first in the Under 19 division with a time of 18:53, while Cam, 11, finished seventh in the Under 14 division with a time of 19:50.

Emilio’s other son, Josh, 23, is not a runner due to back problems.

In 2010, Emilio started the Toronto Beaches Runners Club which has grown from its initial membership of 15 to over 150 today. The group trains regularly and about half of its members are marathoners themselves.

He hopes to get more youth involved in long distance running and start a coaching program within the club.

“It would be great to have kids join so they can learn to run properly and have fun,” he said.

Emilio now runs about 120 km a week as he trains for his next marathon in Ottawa. During off-peak periods he will run 70 to 80 km a week.

His next milestone? The 100 km Ultra Marathon on June 23 in Niagara-On-The-Lake, which he recently signed up for.

And so Emilio will keep running, forever.

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