By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Jason Vega experienced a life-changing year in 2010.
“I wanted to do something different,” said the 49-year-old Kearny resident. “I felt like I was getting old. My father passed away in 2009. I wanted to do something that my kids would be proud of.”
So Vega, an avid musician and guitar player who was once in a rock band, decided to become a marathon runner. Yes, just like that.
“I did a little running when I was in high school (at Christ the King in Middle Village in Queens, N.Y.),” Vega said. “But I quit during my freshman year. I put it in my head that I wanted to run a marathon for my kids (Danielle and stepson Nick Martinez).”
And Vega didn’t want to run just any other marathon.
“If I was going to do it, I wanted to do it on the biggest stage, namely New York,” said Vega, who handles receiving at a local food distributor. “When my father passed away, that was it for me. I was a two-pack- a-week cigarette smoker. I drank beer. I had to do something.”
Vega’s wife, Diane, was more than supportive in his quest.
“But she knew that no way it would happen,” Vega said.
When Vega began to train regularly, he certainly had his obstacles.
“I was horrible,” Vega said. “My mind was saying that I could do it. But my body was saying, ‘Oh, no.’ The first couple of miles, it was embarrassing. I needed to do it the right way.”
So Vega found a marathon training regimen that sneaker magnate Nike initiated.
“I followed the letter of the law,” Vega said. “I did everything that the program told me to do. I learned about the proper shoes to wear. I learned about the tools I needed.”
After following the 28-week routine, Vega felt like he was ready. So he applied to run in the New York City Marathon, entering the lottery for possible entrants. It was a shot in the dark, but Vega had the goal in mind.
“I set a goal and I had to see it through,” Vega said. “It took a lot just to get me going.” Vega eventually got the determination and got the approval to run in the NYC Marathon in 2010.
“I read my magazines and other resources,” Vega said. “I found a better way of eating. I became a pescadorian (which means Vega only eats fish one day a week). I found a root-based diet. As a runner, I started to improve. It was nothing to be proud of and was definitely ugly, but I kept going. I actually started feeling a lot better.”
However, disaster struck. Three weeks before the race, Vega suffered a strained Achilles tendon.
“I was doing some training on River Road and I felt a sharp pain in my leg,” Vega said. “I was hobbled bad, but I was determined.”
With the help of Kearny chiropractor and therapist Jim San Fillippo, Vega nursed the injury. “
Jimmy took care of it,” Vega said. “I thought that was it. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it. But Jimmy got me to the starting line.”
Vega said that the experience of running in 2010 was motivation to do it again.
“It was amazing,” Vega said. “You couldn’t imagine the amount of emotion I felt, all the things that go through someone’s head. You see all the people in the streets. It’s unbelievable.”
Vega had a host of supporters behind him, a group that he called “Team Vega.”
“Halfway through the race, I was feeling good, but then I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Vega said. “There was a whole bunch of Kearny people cheering me on. They bounced around from mile to mile. I had a huge support team.”
At one point, Vega thought he was done.
“It was around the 22-mile mark and I thought I was going to quit,” Vega said. “I hit the wall hard. I was ready to tap out. But then I saw my wife and kids and said I can’t do it. I couldn’t let them down.”
Vega finished the 2010 race in four hours, 46 minutes and 22 seconds.
“I remember seeing the finish line ahead of me and got a little boost of energy,” Vega said. “I did it.”
Vega was hooked. He was a marathoner.
He ran the Philadelphia Marathon in 2011 and Chicago in 2012. He also competed in the New Jersey Marathon in Long Branch.
But the goal was to get back into the New York City Marathon, where it all began.
“Lady Liberty beat me up bad the first time I ran it,” Vega said. “It was like she took her torch and beat me over the head with it.”
Vega didn’t apply to run the NYC Marathon the last two years, feeling fortunate that he didn’t get in two years ago after Hurricane Sandy did its local damage.
But two weeks ago, Vega was intent on being an entrant in this year’s race.
“I got an e-mail telling me that I was in,” Vega said. “Then I saw that $263 was withdrawn from my savings.”
That’s the entrance fee for the NYC Marathon these days. It costs a pretty penny to run the streets of New York.
“I’m dedicated,” Vega said. “This time, I left nothing to chance. I had a debt to settle with the race. I was going to do it again.”
Vega said that he trained five days a week, running anywhere between 30 and 40 miles a week.
“This time, I was ready,” Vega said.
Vega completed the 26.2 miles in four hours, 24 minutes and 30 seconds.
“I was so pumped,” Vega said. “I really wanted to break four hours. That was the goal. Once I started to see that slip away, then I really wanted to leave it all on the course. My time was pretty good for someone my age.”
Vega now has another goal in mind – namely the Boston Marathon.
“My kids are blown away,” Vega said. “They’ve inspired me to do more. Danielle, my daughter, wants to run with me. I’ll wait for them to finish or they’ll wait for me. But I’m not going to let them beat me.”
Vega’s next marathon will be in Long Branch in April, 2015.
“The ultimate goal now is to get to Boston,” Vega said.
Needless to say, Vega’s life has been altered over the last four years.
“No way could I have predicted this,” Vega said. “Not even close. I had no idea where the journey was going to take me. But I’m here now and loving it.”
And Vega might get his band back together as well.
“That would be something else altogether,” Vega said.