Approximately six years ago, Lee Byram was headed out to enjoy a winter afternoon, eager to tackle some snowshoeing. Despite the frosty temperatures, he savoured what the season had to offer and, as was often the case, he set out for a light round of exercise. But on that fateful day, something happened. He bent over and when he stood up, he felt dizzy, nauseated and realized he was not as fit as he thought.
In his mid 50’s, he’d seen enough of life events that affected friends and family and as a result of his incident, he knew he needed to make significant changes in his lifestyle.
“When I stood up, I thought I was going to pass out,” he recalled. “I had a massive headache and I was 205 pounds at the time.”
Eventually, he started cycling and, in that environment, met a friend who was training for a triathlon. That relationship opened his door to running and he’s thankful for what’s happened since.
“I never ended up doing the triathlon but I got into the running and through that, I lost 60 pounds,” he said. “I’m looking at the longevity of it; I have a bunch of friends who are not around the planet any longer, so …”
Since he started, the former long haul trucker conquered smaller distances at first but eventually he crossed the finish of his first marathon in 2010. And then another, and another.
And earlier this month, he competed in the Baystate Marathon in Lowell, Massachusetts – his ninth successful attempt at the 26.2 mile distance.
After his promising beginnings, it did not take long for him to tackle a marathon distance, and for his first attempt he picked Hartford, where he has family and many friends from his youth residing there.
“That was my first one and I swore to God I would never do another one,” he said of that run, which he still ranks atop his personal accomplishments list.
“It feels good to be part of a small group to do something like that. I do not know too many people who finish their first one who do not have tears in their eyes when they cross the finish line.”
Through it all, he transformed into one of the most active runners in the province, winning the 60 and over category in the Run NB Super Series a year ago – thanks to 18 race results. This year, he will likely finish second with 14 races in the series under his belt.
Born in Fort Fairfield, Maine, he grew up in Hartford, Connecticut before he applied to a job with the New Brunswick Department of Transportation, where he worked for 27 years while living in the Glassville area. He moved to Fredericton after he retired and he works part time now for UPS.
It was in the Glassville area that he met others with various running goals and he’d often make the trek to Fredericton for Running Room Clinics with several folks from the area, more than three hours roundtrip to gain knowledge and experience.
He eventually became an instructor, leading others through the same paces he went through.
Another big moment came in 2014, when he challenged himself to break 48 minutes for the 10 k distance at the Fredericton Fall Classic, a goal he achieved with a final time of 47:12.
Last weekend, Byram travelled to Lowell with four others, highlighting the social network that appeals to him. He’s made journeys when he participated in races and also when he wasn’t, offering his encouraging support. One of those dates included the 2013 Boston Marathon, where he cheered on others near the finish line.
“We were about 45 paces from where the bomb went off,” he said of a important decision to leave the area moments before the attacks occurred. “About 20 minutes before, it was getting a little cool and windy and I had to work the next day so I said to my wife (Donna), ‘let’s go home.’
“Once we got home, it really hit us. We got a lot of phone calls that day.” He has a few more races to tackle this year, part of a hectic campaign of approximately 20 events. It included the Lorneville Loop in Saint John in April, which he registered for early, but was an event that was jeopardized when he later found out he needed hernia surgery. So he purposely scheduled the trek to the hospital after that race, so he could start the season strong (he finished fourth in his division).
“I figured I wasn’t going to run for a while and I went down to the run,” he said. “People were asking me if I was nuts. But I signed up for it, so I was going.”
As for next year, he is not going to slow down and has a goal of eventually qualifying for Boston, not just watching his friends. “I am going to try to get better and faster,” he said as he continues his training efforts in a group setting.
“I know when I do not run for a little bit, I feel sluggish,” he said. “With adrenaline, your body craves it.
“That is one of things I enjoy about the races. Even though I may not finish first or second, it is the competition. It is hard to explain unless you do it – it is such a rush.”
Kevin Barrett Kevin Barrett’s column appears every other Saturday. If you have a suggestion for a feature story, email him at email@example.com or visit barrettkevin.wordpress.com.