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An East Sider's Resolution to Run

East Side resident Jeff Padwa fulfils his New Year’s resolution to run an ultra-marathon in South Africa

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As January settles in, many of us turn our attention towards New Year’s resolutions. But while the desire for self-improvement is close to universal, the actual chances for success remain pitifully low, about 12% according to some internet sources.

East Side resident Jeff Padwa is an attorney who currently serves as the solicitor for the City of Providence. About this time last year, Jeff found himself featured in a column by ProJo political writer Ed Fitzpatrick... not for his legal work or for any of his specific political views... but rather for his New Year’s resolution. Turns out he was approaching his 50th birthday and was thinking big. So to help him reach his more modest goal of losing 30 pounds, his New Year’s resolution was to enter one of the world’s most grueling physical challenges, competing in the annual South African Comrades two-day ultra-marathon. Billed as the oldest and one of the most difficult ultra competition of its kind, the event attracts thousands of participants from around the world. Mind you, this is not something Jeff had ever tried before. But what the hell, he reasoned, you only turn 50 once.

Lest you think Jeff was a seasoned professional ultra-runner, months of work went into his preparation. Though he had run in traditional marathons before, he admits he was just your average two to three times a week runner who’d regularly jog up and down the Boulevard. “Over time I began dividing up my run into half mile sections and time myself as I gained speed. Then I shifted to full loops around the boulevard sometimes up to seven or eight loops as we got closer to the competition. Later I moved over to Lincoln Woods for even longer jaunts.”

The race itself is a killer, a 56-mile run from the City Hall of Durban to central cricket oval in Pietermaritzburg. Because the race is held in June, the weather can be searingly hot as well. To even qualify, you must have run a marathon in under five hours and you must also hit time goals at five points along the route lest you be disqualified during the race. But unlike some races, this one isn’t just about competition. It was first organized in 1921 by a South African veteran to honor his fallen comrades who died during World War I and has been held annually ever since.

Approximately 20,000 participants begin the run and are given 12 hours to finish the two-day event. And organizers mean it when they limit the race to 12 hours, because at 12 hours, one second, the course is closed. As a result there is a built in support system for the runners as the crowds of onlookers and fellow participants all cheer them on to cross the finish time before shutdown time. About half of the field does.

This past June, Jeff went off to Durban to see how he’d measure up. He did just fine and finished in a little over 10 hours, He also used the race opportunity to raise over $20,000 for the Ronald McDonald House here in Providence. The race, he says, turned out to be “the adventure of a lifetime.” He went on to describe how many who participate in the race unabashedly describe their lives as “before-Comrades” and “after-Comrades.”

So what’s on tap for this year’s New Year’s resolution or was it once and done for our city solicitor? Jeff still believes setting goals is good. “This year I plan to participate in the Chicago Marathon in September... and I want to do it averaging seven minutes and twenty seconds per mile. In fact I started training December 1 so I gained a month on the New Year,” he laughs. But he admits the real challenge was that initial all-in commitment to celebrate his big birthday by doing something special.

Does he have any advice for us mere mortals who seek out more pedestrian New Year’s resolutions? “Seek out something that is of interest or importance to you personally but think big. Then share your goal with your friends so they stay on your case to help you achieve it and not give up” Sounds like good advice to us. Though a pledge to drink a little less wine or eat a lot more vegetables also sounds a lot more doable.