I’m just finishing up a 10 day trip to our Manila offices. Every time I come here I leave inspired and amazed. This trip’s biggest inspiration came from TaskUs team member Billy Jay Jacob. Two years ago, Billy decided to quit smoking, stop drinking and change his life by training for a marathon. Here’s a transcript of a conversation I had with Billy this trip. For anyone who has ever trained for marathon or overcome any major obstacle, these words ring true:
Me: What was your life like before you decided to run a marathon?
Billy: Candidly, I was a bit of a waste. I work the night shift, so I would guzzle coffee and smoke a half pack of cigarettes every night. Weekends, I’d go out drinking with my friends. Those weren’t my only addictions. Whenever I wasn’t at work, I’d play online games. I rarely slept. Didn’t pay much attention to my family. Still makes me sad today to think about how it was.
Me: What inspired you to change?
Billy: I developed a chronic cough. The realization hit me so hard. I needed to become healthy so I can take care of my family. My wife and daughter. They are my inspiration.
Me: How did you decide to start running and eventually sign up for a marathon?
Billy: It was a bit impulsive. I just started reading articles on the internet about how to quit smoking, which actually led me to more articles about running as a means for changing your life. I was intrigued, but terrified too. I could barely run a quarter mile.
Me: How was that? Quitting smoking?
Billy: Hard! I’ve planned to quit hundreds of times before but failed. I just kept thinking of my family this time. I was determined to succeed for them!
Me: When did you start running?
Billy: I began running in July 2011. At first, I couldn’t run a full kilometer without stopping every few minutes. I kept at it! After a few months, I was running 3K, 5K and even 10K fun runs.
Me: You were hooked! When did you decide to take on the challenge of running a marathon?
Billy: By the end of 2012, I had already completed 6 half marathons. The next step was to go for a full marathon.
Me: How did you train?
Billy: I worked nights, so my time was limited. A normal training program simply couldn’t fit my hectic work and sleep schedule. I would have to squeeze in quick 6K or 12K runs in the afternoons before I would start my shift. More training meant less sleep. I would maximize weekends with longer runs to build up my endurance. I loved that feeling of my feet pounding the pavement in the wee hours of the morning as most people are still asleep.
Me: What was the actual marathon like?
Billy: Well, I chose a marathon that starts at midnight to mirror my work schedule. Unlike many of the other marathoners, I didn’t have a running buddy. Just me. Deep inside a huge pack of runners.Thanks to some good advice from you (Bryce), I made sure to “start slow, finish strong.” The first part was my slowest pace ever, but that was part of the plan. Everything was going perfectly till around kilometers 33, 34 and 35.
Me: You hit a wall?
Billy: Yes! Every single step became heavier and heavier. My legs were cramping and my entire body felt awful. My mind traveled elsewhere. I found myself dreaming of my children and my wife. Suddenly, tears were rushing down my face. The next 7 kilometers were the hardest of my entire life. It wasn’t a physical challenge anymore. I was at war with my mind and emotions.
Me: Did you ever think of quitting?
Billy: For a split second, I did. I was like, “this is nuts.” The thought of my family carried me through. I kept thinking of them and moving my feet! Suddenly, I hear cheering spectators and I closing in on the finish! I was running at that point on heart alone. My wife, daughter and unborn son were the prize waiting for me.
Me: How did it feel to cross that finish line?
Billy: Unreal! My friends and family were cheering and I immediately began crying tears of joy. I had done it! I stood before them as a marathoner… a changed man. I’d sleep with the biggest smile on my face that night.
Me: What is your advice for someone trying to make a major change like you?
Billy: Do it now. Great things can often come slowly, so you have to act with a sense of urgency. A lifestyle change begins with a single vision, inspiration or thought. You have to take that first step. If this story inspires just one person to make a change, I will be a very happy man.
Me: What is next? Another marathon?
Billy: Running and life have become one for me. In life as in running, things move slow and things move fast, but I keep moving down the road. In March, my wife will give birth to my son. He is another inspiration for staying in shape, healthy and happy. I’m sure I will run another marathon, but family is my focus for now.
Me: Any advice or words of wisdom for me as I prepare for the Boston Marathon in April?
Billy: Well, I’m not incredibly religious. However, this particular verse always struck a chord with me, “So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us.” (Hebrews 12:1b TEV) Never quit. Keep running, Bryce.