Going the distance
Young runner takes on marathon challenge
A 16-year-old Amador Valley High student is learning first hand about Benjamin Franklin's quote that "persistence and energy conquer all things."
The young runner hopes to complete his first marathon tomorrow after rising to a challenge laid out by his mother and stepfather.
Tomorrow, Jon Gray and his stepfather Chris Springmeyer will be among an expected 9,000 runners taking part in the Oakland Running Festival.
Jon's training for his first marathon -- a run of 26.2 miles -- began in November, when he started getting up to run with Chris before dawn four or five times a week.
"Commitment is hard," Gray said. "(But) if I stick with something, it pretty much guarantees that I will be able to do it. It's important to stay committed to something if the outcome affects you greatly."
Springmeyer, a marathon veteran, was impressed with Jon's willingness to get up and out, rain or shine, warm or cold.
"I expected a lot more resistance. He's been resilient," he said of his stepson.
It's fair to call Gray a reluctant runner. Last year, he had two accidents in his Honda, a silver hatchback that's he's spent a fair amount of his own money to improve. Springmeyer and Gray's mother, Jill Schaub, took the car from him and were trying to decide what to do. Then Springmeyer came up with what he described as an epiphany: Jon could earn the right to drive if he completed a marathon.
Schaub said she's impressed and proud that her son rose to the test.
"I was truly shocked when he accepted our challenge. As his parent, I have been incredibly moved by his commitment and willingness to stick with the training program. He has inspired me every step of the way from getting up at 4:30 a.m. to run before school, to rarely complaining, to his 'let's get it done' attitude," she said.
Gray said he's learned about dedication from the experience.
"I need to be committed, not just Chris, because if one of us doesn't get up then we won't run," he said. "It's tiring and you need more coffee."
Ideally, Gray would have emerged from the experience as a dedicated runner, but that hasn't happened, at least at this moment.
"Honestly, I hate the running, and every time we go run I just think about getting my car back," he said. "I've never done this before and I really don't know how I am going to feel after the marathon. I just know that I want my car back and that's going to happen after the marathon."
Gray admits he's learned some lessons from training. He said he's healthier now, and is able to get up on time. It's taught him persistence.
"I've been able to stick with something for a long time," he said. "At first it was hard mentally, but now it's easy."
Gray said running helps him relieve stress and gives him something to talk about with his friends. He added, "It's taught me a lesson: Take care of my car."
The marathon in Oakland may hold another lesson along the route, which will take Gray and Springmeyer to some of the city's less pleasant areas; over the last month or so, either on or near the route, there have been at least a dozen crimes, including robberies and aggravated assaults. The route will also cover some of the nicer areas of Oakland, such as Temescal and Rockridge.
The city brought back its marathon in 2010 after a 25-year hiatus. That event drew more than 7,000 runners and spectators who lined Oakland neighborhoods and the finishing stretch. The races begin and end at Snow Park near Lake Merritt. In its first two years, the event generated close to $5 million in economic impact for the city of Oakland and nearly $500,000 for local charities, including one for young runners.
For Gray, the marathon may be mainly about getting his car back, but Schaub said she and her husband respect the effort it took.
"Chris and I know the time and dedication involved in reaching for this goal is teaching him more than a million lectures from us ever could," she said. "We decided at the beginning that if he doesn't complete the training program or never runs the race, it won't matter because the fact that he had the courage the start is good enough for us."
Springmeyer said he's looking forward to finishing the race with Gray.
"To cross the finish line the first time, it's just transformative," he said.
He's enjoyed the months of training, adding with a laugh, "Honestly, I thought we'd talk more."
There's a surprise waiting for Gray at the end of the marathon. In addition to getting his car back, there will be a crowd of well-wishers, friends and family, some of whom have flown in for the event and to cheer him on as he finishes.
"I have tears in my eyes just thinking about seeing the two of them cross that finish line," Schaub said. "I honestly don't think I could be more proud of either one of them."