GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Nearly 4,000 people ran 26.2 miles Sunday morning in the Grand Rapids Marathon. Five of those runners were men recovering from substance abuse while living at Guiding Light.
Running marathons is not a part of the Guiding Light program. But these five men have been going through the program and running races together.
Four of them sat down with 13 ON YOUR SIDE to talk about their experience: Ryan Kosmatka, 43, Chad Liske, 33, Derek Amshey, 26, and Daniel Irwin, 27. Amshey describes their group and the program at Guiding Light as being a "brotherhood."
Irwin helped bring everyone together and organize the runs. He said he got to the program right when the River Bank Run was going on, and since then he has continued to find more 5Ks and 10Ks to participate in.
"Everyone when I brought up the idea, was like no," Irwin remembers proposing the idea of the marathon.
"I was dead set on not doing a marathon," said Derek Amshey who has been with the Guiding Light program for six months. But "after doing the 10 mile bridge run, I said, 'I think I can push myself to do something like that.'"
Similarly, Ryan Kosmatka said after running other shorter races, the idea of a marathon became more manageable.
“We did a few other 5Ks and then we realized, we might as well keep going with it," said Kosmatka. “We just worked our way up and suddenly here we are.”
Chad Liske has been in the Guiding Light program for 7.5 months.
"Yeah, the races got addicting in a good way,” he jokes. Liske said after completing the first race, he instilled a feeling of accomplishment and he started setting the bar higher for himself.
"It was a healthy way to narrow my focus," he said.
The Grand Rapids Marathon course brings out runners from across the state and the country. The route is relatively flat, which means runners can use it to set personal records or qualify for other races.
The five men from Guiding Light said accountability is one of the tenants of the program, and it also became an important factor in completing the marathon. As the race day drew nearer, none of them wanted to be the one who dropped out, despite their reticence about running for hours.
"Once you actually get to where the race is at, the excitement is really, really cool. Then it kind of just gets going from there," said Irwin.
The men started the marathon together, which kicked off on Winter Street near the YMCA, but as the miles passed by, they separated into smaller groups. Amshey said he felt himself starting the slow down from the pack, but Irwin slowed his pace to run with him.
"There is definitely an internal war. Right around mile 14, I’m like 'there is no way I have 12 more miles.' All my body was hurting," he said. "There’s no way I could have finished with a smile on my face without [Irwin] running with me.”
With all of the 5Ks, 10Ks and now this marathon that the men have participated in, they were given registration discounts in exchange for having other men from Guiding Light volunteer at the races.
For Kosmatka he said that was one of his favorite parts.
"You see some Guiding Light guys around a curve with water and they’re cheering you on. That is one of the best things for me," he said.
The five men are starting to transition out of Guiding Light and into the residential housing. But Irwin said they are still planning on running together, and he is already planning on seeking out the next race.
Guiding Light also had five men participate in the marathon relay race and one man completed a half marathon.
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