Before he began his NFL coaching career last year directing the New Orleans Saints’ running backs, before embarking on his 15-year college coaching career, Joel Thomas lined up at running back at the University of Idaho.
Despite playing his last game for the Vandals in 1998, Thomas is still Idaho’s all-time leading rusher (3,929 yards), career leader in carries (765) and school record holder in rushing TDs (51).
But all the head-on collisions, jarring tackles and brutal shots didn’t compare to the punishment Thomas’ body absorbed on June 18. Thomas, 41, ran his first marathon, the Alaska Airlines Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Marathon.
After finishing in 4 hours, 39, minutes, 21 seconds, an exhausted Thomas said, “It was tough, I’m not going to lie. The most challenging physical thing I’ve ever done.”
Thomas grew up in Port Angeles, Wash., 81 miles northwest of Seattle, so the marathon was a return to his roots.
“The weather was great,” he said. “But there’s not a hill in New Orleans. The hills here, they got me.”
He said there are similarities to training for a marathon and preparing for a football season.
“It takes great mental strength to push through this or a season. There’s adversity.”
Soaking up the post-race atmosphere, he looked around, absorbed the diversity and said, “What’s cool about this thing is that it comes in all shapes and sizes.”
As to whether there will be a second marathon in his future, Thomas paused, considered the pain that was wracking his entire body and said, “Let me think about that one.”