Approximately one percent of Americans have run a single marathon. Even fewer have completed the 26.2-mile grind multiple times.
But by next spring, after a grueling schedule that will test his endurance to the limits, Michael McCaffery plans to cross the finish line in a whopping 13 marathons throughout 12 states.
The 43-year-old Cutchogue man, who only took up running about 2 1/2 years ago, hopes to run a marathon in all 50 states within eight years. If possible, he also hopes to qualify for the 2017 Boston Marathon by finishing one of those races in under 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Most importantly, however, Mr. McCaffery said he runs for something bigger than himself.
“Rather than just run for myself and selfish reasons, I expanded that,” he said. “If I’m running for my own health, can’t I run for other people’s health as well?”
In February, Mr. McCaffery joined Fred’s Team, an athletic fundraising program through Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center that has raised more than $60 million for cancer research since it was founded in 1995.
So far, Mr. McCaffery has raised nearly $4,000, surpassing his initial goal of $3,500.
“I realize everyone has to die at some point, but right now the current ways of treating cancer is as likely to kill the cancer patient as the cancer itself is,” he said. “There’s got to be a better, more humane way to treat cancer than the methods used right now.”
For Mr. McCaffery, the decision to join Fred’s Team was personal. His uncle and another immediate family member, whom he did not wish to discuss, were both treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering in the past.
Fred’s Team is named for Fred Lebow, one of the founders of the New York City Marathon who died of brain cancer in 1994. After Mr. Lebow’s diagnosis in 1990, he formed the program in 1991 as the first official charity of the New York City Marathon.
Mr. McCaffery said he began running as a way to get in shape. After completing his first race — the Cutchogue Fire Department Stuff the Sleigh 5K — he wanted to increase his distance by finding a half marathon to run in.
He signed up for the Bridgehampton Half Marathon that spring, but wanted to find an additional race. On a whim, he signed up for the Brooklyn Marathon.
Ever since that latter race, on Nov. 16, 2014, Mr. McCaffery has been training for marathons and working to raise money and awareness for cancer research.
To do so, he’s created a Facebook page to document his journey, Michael Runs For a Cure. He also plans to run 16 races — some of which are shorter than a full marathon — in just seven months. Some races will be back to back, according to Michael Runs For a Cure. In January, Mr. McCaffery will tackle his greatest challenge: back-to-back marathons in Mississippi and Alabama.
Mr. McCaffery said his ability to travel is largely due to his job as a dining room manager at a Hamptons country club.
“I work 100 hours a week during the summer months but then I work much less in the winter months, so I have the inverse of a schoolteacher schedule,” he said. “I’m insanely busy all summer long and then fall and winter I have lots of free time to go running.”
Where will he be running?
Where will he be running?
Oct. 10: Hartford Marathon
Oct. 11: Boston Half Marathon
Oct. 18: Yonkers Marathon
Nov. 1: New York City Marathon
Nov. 14: The Rocky Balboa 5K/10K & Run in Pennsylvania
Nov. 26: Mattituck Turkey Trot
Dec. 6: California Int’l Marathon
Dec. 13: Honolulu Marathon
Jan. 9: Mississippi Blues Marathon
Jan. 10: Servis1St Bank First Light Marathon in Alabama
Jan. 16: Charleston Marathon
Feb. 28: Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in New Orleans
March 13: Tobacco Road Marathon in North Carolina
April 2: Charlottesville Marathon in Virginia
April 30 and May 1: Flying Pig 4-Way in Ohio
May 14-15: Maine Coast 39.3 Challenge
When Mr. McCaffery is selecting a race to participate in, charities are always at the forefront of his mind.
“If I have the choice of two races in one state, I always choose the one that’s for a charity. So I do run for other charities [besides Memorial Sloan Kettering],” he said.
During each race, no matter the length, Mr. McCaffery wears a bright orange shirt with the logo Michael Runs for a Cure on it, something a friend designed for him.
West Virginia resident Tasha Holland plans to run with Mr. McCaffery during the Honolulu Marathon in December. The two met at the Central Park Half Marathon in February.
“It’s a great way to raise awareness for what he’s doing,” Ms. Holland said. “Having the shirt out there, and just his story — not that many people will run that many marathons this year.”
To train for the upcoming marathons, Mr. McCaffery runs seven to 10 miles a day. In Amagansett, where he lives part-time, he’s known as the “crazy runner guy” for his winter runs in nothing but shorts and a T-shirt. There have been times, he said, where he’s come home from a run with the front of his shirt frozen in ice, causing it to “crack like crème brule” when he tries taking it off.
“He’s completely driven. He has a huge passion for running and a kind heart,” Ms. Holland said. “I can’t wait to see what he does this year.”
In case running marathons wasn’t enough, Mr. McCaffery has plans to direct, or organize, his own marathon. He’s already found an ideal location, but with a full running schedule, he hasn’t had time to begin organizing.
One aspect of marathons Mr. McCaffery loves most is the social component, something he didn’t initially expect. He’s made friends at races by joining running groups on Facebook and spending time after races cheering for those who finish behind him.
To date, Mr. McCaffery’s best marathon time is 3 hours and 55 minutes. He can finish a half marathon in 1 hour and 33 minutes.
“I know how hard it is for me,” Mr. McCaffery said. “If a person does the same race in six hours they ran a much harder race than I did. They’re struggling; they probably walked a part of the race. I want to encourage them.”
While working toward a healthier life, Mr. McCaffery knows he’s helping others do the same.
“I’m not a scientist; I’m never going to cure cancer,” he said. “But by going out and running, and running with the funds going to cancer research, at least I’m doing the only thing I can do to help cure cancer.”
Photo Caption: Michael McCaffery crosses the finish line at a marathon (Courtesy photo).