The pain in Jeff Calene’s right ankle was excruciating.
“It felt like a knife cutting through my ankle,” Calene recalls.
The podiatrist he visited was not optimistic, telling Calene his ankle bones would have to be fused and that his days of running 5Ks and 10Ks were history.
That was nearly nine years ago. Fast forward to Saturday’s United Airlines Rock ‘n’ Roll Washington D.C. Marathon and 1/2 Marathon a 43-year-old Las Vegas resident, Calene ran his 100th Rock ‘n’ Roll event. It was his 96th Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to enjoy the running lifestyle,” says Calene, a software engineer and data-base architect. “I didn’t think I’d be able to run at all. Now, it means the world to me.”
Calene didn’t pout when the podiatrist delivered his dour prognosis. Instead, he headed to a shoe store. A salesman recommended that he change from a light-weight shoe to one with more stability.
“Basically,” he says, “I’ve been able to run pain free.”
Raised in Moscow, Idaho, Calene admits he was not athletic growing up. By fourth grade he was learning to program computers. He bought his first computer with money earned from a newspaper route.
While his father didn’t run road races, he did jog most mornings.
“That always stuck with me,” he says.
Despite being woefully undertrained he ran his first half marathon in 2002. He didn’t know it was a trail race, the first eight miles uphill, the last five slamming his quads on the descent.
“I could barely walk after the race,” he says. “Uphill, I thought I was going to die. Downhill, that was even worse. I just felt beat up.”
He waited more than six years before tackling his next half marathon. By then he had moved to Las Vegas, joined a running group, knocked off the Las Vegas Half Marathon in 2:26 (the precursor to Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas) and the man was hooked.
His first Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series event came in January 2009 at Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona in the half marathon. On May 31, 2009, Calene ran his first marathon and he tells a hilarious, self-deprecating tale about the experience.
Signing up for the race nearly a year in advance, he intended to run the marathon, but work got in the way and his training wasn’t of marathon quality.
“I got blisters by Mile 3,” he says.
He phoned a friend, who promised to deliver new socks by the half marathon. The buddy arrived with the socks.
“I’m not going any farther,” Calene said.
“Just go one more mile,” the friend said. “I’ll meet you there. If you still want to quit, fine.”
Calene jogged another mile. The friend was no-show. Onward Calene trudged.
“By Mile 22, I was in rough shape,” he said. “I’d have to sit on a park bench for a minute or two every mile. By Mile 24 and 25, it was five minutes on a park bench, five minutes walking.”
Come afternoon, 7 hours, 33 minutes and 27 seconds after crossing the start line, Calene finished. He placed 13,278th.
His fastest Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon came in Philadelphia, a 2:25:56 finish. The next month he raced Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose, determined to PR on his 36th birthday. His finish time: 2 hours, 25 minutes, 57 seconds.
He laughs at the absurdity of missing his personal best by one second.
He once trained 25-30 miles a week. Work demands have cut that back to 10 miles, sometimes only five. At 5-feet-9, 230 pounds, he’s XL as runners go. Still, he’s a runner, knocking off 23 Rock ‘n’ Roll events last year.
Philadelphia is his favorite Rock ‘n’ Roll event.
“I think it’s just one of the most beautiful courses, running along the rivers,” he says. “In September, the leaves are changing.”
Edinburgh, Scotland, was his favorite international race.
“It was beautiful countryside,” he says. “I kind of climbed out of my shell and wore a kilt.”
He likes San Diego, too, the birthplace of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series.
“The different communities, people come out on their porches and cheer you on,” he says. “It’s one of the more unique races in the entire series.”
But more than the sites, what he loves most are the friendships he’s developed along the way. Like Kamika Smith from Hawaii, who waits at the start line, lets seemingly everyone pass him as the gun goes off, then catches up with runners, trading conversations along the way.
Recalls Calene, “He’ll tell me, ‘C’mon, Jeff. Run with me for a little while.’”
“More than anything,” adds Calene, still up well past 1 a.m. after flying into D.C. earlier in the week, “it’s about the friendships I’ve made.”