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From the Bench: Bridgeport's Holden Cross' Amazing Journey to Conquer America's Toughest Road Race

By Jeff Toquinto on May 12, 2019 from Sports Blog via Connect-Bridgeport.com

If I just started and finished with the fact that Bridgeport resident Holden Cross just completed a marathon five years after having his 12th back surgery, most would be impressed. In fact, anyone that has endured any type of back ailment would be pleasantly amazed.
 
With Holden Cross’s story, the back surgeries are just a part of it. In fact, what he did last month on the marathon circuit was something that, more than once, made me shake my head as I learned about it and then was told more details about it by Cross himself.
 
Understand, after roughly a quarter century of writing it takes a whole lot to put my jaw in drop mode. And since I’m a novice at running – or anything for that matter involving physical activity – I broached Holden Cross’ story with Bridgeport High School track Coach Jon Griffith who had a bit of a perplexed, jaw-dropping moment himself.

Not that I totally doubted my own instincts, but this was the reinforcement to let me know the information I gathered was unique. It was worth sharing to anyone who opted to click on to this blog.
 
Cross, by any measure, comes across as a normal resident of the city. He’s 29-years-old and he and his wife Abby have three kids. The 2008 graduate of Bridgeport High School is also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and works local at the FBI CJIS facility just beyond the city’s borders in Clarksburg.
 
A pretty cool resume, but nothing that would make you think there’s anything out of the ordinary. On April 13, that was going to be blown up in a process that was already blowing up to make what Holden Cross has accomplished through will and determination – and not bowing to the aforementioned back surgeries – uniquely extraordinary.
 
Before we get to April 13, when he took part in his very first double marathon, a look at how he got there. And for those thinking it’s going to be a long history of competitive running dating back to his school days, you would be wrong.
 
“I actually don’t really run at all. I guess I started running a year ago and wanted to try a 5K and I remember not only going super slow, but getting beat by an 8-year-old,” said Cross. “I decided I needed to do better.”
 
Better mean exercise. Better meant doing something he loves – ju-jitsu. Better meant getting back into more races.
 
“I ran another race and got faster. I kept up with my extracurricular activity and then got into the Cecil Jarvis 10K and was noticeably faster,” said Cross. “I was exercising, but I wasn’t specifically training to run. I did like the challenge of it and decided I needed something a bit harder than a 10K.”
 
Roughly one year into running competitively without any real running regimen, Cross took part in the Marine Corps Marathon in October of last year.
 
“I did pretty well there,” said Cross of his time of 3 hours, 40 minutes and 3 seconds. “It was pretty tough, but I never hit the wall there.”
 
Cross finished in his very first marathon in 1,486th place. That’s not bad considering there were 29,556 runners.
 
“Since I did pretty well at that I wanted to push myself. I really wanted to set an example for my children that anything that is worth doing can be hard, but you can still do it,” said Cross. “I was looking for a bigger challenge.”
 
Cross found it what he called a challenge. I would call it insane.
 
He decided to enter the Blue Ridge Double Marathon in Roanoke, Virginia. An athletic event dubbed “America’s Toughest Road Marathon” was about to have a local entrant who had just six races – and one marathon – under his belt.
 
But this was a double marathon – or 52.4 miles. Sure, he trained for six weeks prior to the event, but the most he ran leading up to that was 13 miles and there simply was no way to not only to mimic the conditions, but what he encountered.
 
“I wanted the hardest road marathon because you’re not required to have a ton of gear. All I needed was a pair of shoes and a backpack; nothing fancy,” he said.
 
As for the course, here it goes. Along with the 50-plus miles, there were six total mountains to climb. The elevation difference during the run surpassed 14,800 feet.
 
“The steepness was like running up Lowndes Hill and for seven miles at a time,” said Cross. “Some of the areas were so steep you couldn’t run and had to power walk. There was an upward gain of 7,400 feet and then back down.”
 
The double marathon is actually a single marathon completed twice.
 
If the two-lap course sounds daunting, it is. Only 79 people started and only 54 finished
 
“You start at either 1 a.m. or 2:30 a.m. in the morning – and they highly suggest the 1 a.m. start – and I chose 2:30 a.m. because I timed it where I didn’t really want to stop. I finished the first lap in 4 hours, 45 minutes; just before the next lap started,” said Cross. “It was about a 10-minute break where I talked to my wife, got a quick bite to eat and started with a much larger group of about a thousand runners that made up a single marathon and our second lap of the marathon.”
 
Even to his own surprise, he didn’t blow up. Although he had faith in his abilities, he was not only in unchartered territory, but in territory even the most seasoned of runners have issues with.
 
“My lungs were already good, but my legs did want to quit a few times. That cardio gave me the solid base to do most of this,” said Cross.
 
There was something else that makes this even more unique. Around the 41st mile, Cross began having some pain. Not typical pain, mind you, but something to cause more than just casual discomfort.
 
“I fractured the cuboid bone in my foot,” said Cross. “That made things a little more interesting.”
 
Yet, not enough not to finish. What you ended up having was a Bridgeport resident, not formally trained in running, competing in his seventh race, his second marathon, his first double marathon and arguably the most difficult road marathon in the country and he finished the last 11-plus miles on a broken foot.
 
None of it mattered. He finished the race 15th out of the 59 that completed it. Cross posted a time of 10 hours, 30 minutes and 34 seconds.
 
“After it was over, I couldn’t hardly walk at all and had to limp. I guess with everything else hurting during the race it didn’t seem too bad,” said Cross.
 
After that, even the recovery time wasn’t what one would expect. He took a couple days off from the gym until his joints felt better and then has resumed his regular activities. He’s not only doing ju-jitsu three times a week at Ground Zero in the city, but he’s helping teach and doing cross fit as well.
 
“Ju-jitsu and cross fit are difficult and require you to push yourself and I think that, as much as anything, helped me out,” said Cross, who wore a boot on his foot for a few days before giving it the boot against the advice of his cross fit partner and podiatrist.
 
I was thinking Cross may be finished. After all, what else could there be for a guy who’s overcome back surgeries in the double figures and conquered road races with little training that few dare enter?
 
“My wife is making me wait to try something else,” said Cross. “I’m thinking about a 100 miler for my next one.”
 
That may sound crazy for most. For Holden Cross, it’s just another day outside.
 
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Holden Cross on the course in Roanoke, while the third photo is him coming to the finish line. In the second photo, Cross is shown with his family and the boot can be seen on his broken foot. Bottom photo shows Cross after completing the race.


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