In 2005, David McGuire slipped and hit his head on his bathroom floor. He suffered multiple strokes over the course of a few hours, and when he finally awoke in the hospital surrounded by family members, they were informed he might never walk or talk again. He had also lost his short-term memory and internal sense of direction.
The rest of the story doesn’t exactly play out the way you might think. Within the same year, David completed the Chicago Marathon. In 2009, we profiled David when he was training for Ironman Canada in Penticton. Now, David is about to complete another incredible mission: running 7,230 km (4,493 miles) across Canada completing a marathon a day for eight months straight. David is doing his run in conjunction with Brain Trust Canada, raising money to fund support for those living with traumatic brain injury (TBI), and to promote injury prevention tactics such as wearing helmets.
David began his journey on April 1, 2011 from St. John’s Newfoundland, and has since been running a marathon almost every day. As a result of his injuries, many days David does not remember his runs. He runs with the aid of a coach and a Garmin as he sometimes cannot remember where he is or what he is doing. Originally planning to complete his journey in Victoria, BC in October, David is now scheduled to finish this Friday, December 9. He has run over 7,000 km to date, in all kinds of weather conditions and over formidable mountain ranges including the Canadian Rockies. You can see his full route here.
We caught up with David on his final push to Victoria to ask him a few questions about how he's overcome the hardships posed by his brain injury through triathlon and running, and how he keeps himself moving forward every day. Here's what he told us.
TrainingPeaks: You went from being told you might never walk or talk again, to running the Chicago Marathon within a year, completing an Ironman in 2009, and now running across Canada. How does someone come back after such overwhelming odds and then go and achieve such incredible athletic feats? Was there any one “ah-ha” moment?
David: First I was not told I may not walk or talk again. This is what was explained to me by my family who was there when I was in a coma. When they were asking the "what happens next" questions after the surgery, that was the response they got.
How does someone come back? I don't really know the answer to this. It just happened. I was in recovery and physically I was doing well. Mentally I was shot. I struggled with basic comprehension, memory, speaking. All these things were so hard. Simple things like reading, watching TV, or focusing on things was exhausting. I had moved into my parents’ retirement condo and was living in their office. They would go out during the day and I was left at home in a very remote town with limited transit services and unable to drive.
I remember watching some show on TV one day about how prisoners come out of prison in better shape than when they went in. I could relate as I was in this "mental" prison. Everything seemed to go in slow motion, and I was working so hard on my mental rehabilitation I wanted to have some physical rehabilitation as well.
I went into the condo gym and started lifting weights and working out. I’m not much of a treadmill guy and there was a stretch of road that went out to a ferry terminal. I could do a straight "out and back" run and it equaled about 5 km (3.01 miles). I slowly built up some repetition of this and would do several out-and-backs in a day.
I went on a visit to see my sister one day, and she read my day journal. (My speech pathologist had suggested I write my days down in a notebook as writing fires different neurons in the brain that help to improve memory and speech). She asked, "Are you really running this much?" I said I didn’t remember.
Well, within a couple of days she had me outfitted in proper running gear and we set out on this crazy idea of training for a marathon. I then finished the Chicago Marathon. Finishing the marathon was monumental to me. It gave me such a feeling of accomplishment. It was something that I did. I didn’t need assistance, I did it by myself. I was a marathoner.
On the flight home from Chicago, after doing some shopping on The Magnificent Mile with my wife, I was thinking of what to do next. I had the running bug. I thought of doing a triathlon then. I trained while trying to go back to school and trying to work, and completed the Olympic distance Vancouver Triathlon.
While going through speech pathology and moving out on my own again, I started to attend college and work and started to train for the Penticton Ironman in 2009. This is when I first got in touch with TrainingPeaks. I was reading the Triathlete’s Bible by Joe Friel and thought I would email them as I had some electronic devices to help me train. However, I had no idea of how to put all that information into a detailed training program. TrainingPeaks and Garmin were so helpful. I put my trainer through the wringer for sure. She was amazing. The specific information and the ability to load it into my watch and bike mount were how I was able to make sure I was training right.
TP: You've been running every day straight for nearly eight months, in cold and ice, through dangerous and harsh conditions at times. It must be discouraging some days. How do you motivate yourself when it's really tough?
David: Well there are hard days for sure. Extreme cold, whiteout snowfall conditions, extreme heat, hills that go on forever, and inclines that make me feel like I'm a rock climber. I've had overuse injury blisters, bunnions, food poisoning, colds. You name it, I had it. However the motivation was easy. I am doing this because others can't. I am truly so lucky to have had brain surgery and lived. I am also able to speak, run, type and communicate. So many people that have had less damage to their brain than I did will never walk and talk again. Brain injury does not affect the person in a minor way. It changes their brain - everything about them is different. All those relationships you developed in the past - those people can no longer relate to you. The challenges I face every day, that my family faces, are so trivial when you look at others who are dealing with these effects of brain injury. I run because I can.
TP: Tell us something interesting or surprising you've learned during the Run to Remember.
David: Something interesting and surprising...Hell, I can run a marathon a day. That blew my mind. I am still here. I am still moving. Our bodies are amazing. I met lots of interesting people too, almost too many to remember (ha, ha)! The most surprising thing was seeing other people with more challenges than me, and how they never let it stop them. They are the motivation.
TP: You're due to finish on December 9 in Victoria. What does a guy do after he runs across Canada? Any plans for 2012 yet?
Well my wife wants me to get a job. ;) I don't know, how do you put this on a resume? I am so close to finishing, yet I don't want to count my chickens before they hatch. I feel I might jinx it if I do. Holding a job is difficult as I do have short term memory loss. I have met some amazing people and created some fantastic connections. So I’ll see where it all goes from here. I am definitely going to take some time off though. I have no idea what my next adventure will be.
TP: You're covering a LOT of distance. How are you keeping track of all this data? Are you using a device?
David: I use several devices. One is my Garmin 405. I also have a SPOT GPS tracking device that I got so people could follow my life. The Garmin is fantastic but you have to download the information after the run. The SPOT provides a real-time GPS tracking ability so people can follow me as I run. I keep track of everything by downloading to Garmin Connect and then posting it on my blog at www.runtoremember.com.
TP: When you were using TrainingPeaks for your Ironman training, what were your favorite features and how did you use the product?
David: TrainingPeaks was such a huge part of me being able to finish the Ironman. My trainer was able to keep track of my training and I could download her instruction into my devices. I could then upload them to the TrainingPeaks website and she could analyze the data.
TP: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
David: On a very personal note, the completion of the Ironman in 2009 was an amazing accomplishment. It gave me the confidence that I could accomplish amazing things. I could not have done that without the help of TrainingPeaks, and my fantastic trainer.
Thank you so much because what you provided me was the training to accomplish my current event. I would not be here if you had not offered the assistance that you did.
Did David’s story inspire and move you? Show your support for David and Brain Trust Canada. Donations to A Run to Remember can be made on the runtoremember.com website. You have options such as buying a km for $20, or donating any amount via PayPal. Even easier, text the word “BRAIN” to 45678 to contribute $5 on your phone bill. Finally, you can send a check/money order to:
Your money will go towards funding services for brain injury survivors, and raising awareness for injury prevention. You can also check out David's blog here or see his live run stats on his Garmin Connect feed (click "Location" on the home page of runtoremember.com). Finally, share this amazing story with your friends on Twitter and Facebook.