Editor’s Note: Though FMS missioners do not return to the US during their two years on mission, if they end up renewing for a third year or longer, they are allowed to return home to visit family and friends. Fourth year missioner Jeff Sved returned home in May to run the Pittsburgh marathon and attend his sister’s graduation from college. Below he shares his reflections from the marathon and on being back in the US. 

How did the marathon measure up to your expectations?

Easily one of my favorite things I’ve done in my life. Such a cool experience that exceeded expectations across the board. I had family and friends along the course cheering me along; I was able to jump back in and join my cousin for her last mile of the marathon; I beat my goal time by over 8 minutes; the support in the city was phenomenal.

I’m not sure what I expected from the race, but the entire experience was beyond anything I could’ve expected. I can’t wait for my next marathon.

The marathon route goes over 5 of Pittsburgh's bridges so Jeff and his cousin Casey (who also ran the marathon) took a picture on one of the bridges the day before

The marathon route goes over 5 of Pittsburgh’s bridges so Jeff and his cousin Casey (who also ran the marathon) took a picture on one of the bridges the day before

You mentioned the altitude difference during your training period. How did that translate to the marathon? Did you notice a big difference in your breathing?

I was pleasantly surprised by how my lungs handled the transition. I had no problem breathing at all and was talking for most of the race… maybe too much! In a few of the neighborhoods, I was passing as people were still transitioning into cheering mode – so I started a bunch of PENS and BUCCOS chants. My lungs definitely enjoyed having so much more oxygen, and it allowed me to enjoy the race experience even more.

One of the biggest differences I noticed though was the hill. There was only one real climb – from mile 11 to 13 that everyone had warned me about. I finished the hill and looked back thinking “that was it”? Training on the hills here (in Cochabamba)  made a course known for being “hilly” seem flat.

Going forward, what are your plans with running? Are you going to start training for something else?

At this point I’m settling into a new running routine, but not training specifically for anything at the moment. For the time being I’ll probably maintain 40 miles a week and then bump that up to 50 or 60 if/when the date is announced for the Santa Cruz marathon. Last year was the first, and I’m hoping they’ll host another one in September. Now that I have some race experience the goal is to actually qualify for Boston, and at some point to run a sub-3hr marathon.

Running continues to be a huge part of my own self-care, so with or without races I’ll still be looping around the laguna a few times a week.

What was the biggest challenge in returning to the US?

The biggest challenge this time around was simply time. Lots of people to see and not enough time to spend the quality time I wanted with everyone. With that, it’s incredibly exhausting to go from goodbye to hello at such rapid fire pace as one visit transitions to another.

How was the transition back to Bolivia? Was it bizarre to jump back and forth between worlds in a relatively short span of time?

The transition was much smoother than I imagined. I landed on a Tuesday morning and was back in the San Antonio prison that day, followed obviously by a sunset laguna loop. Both Bolivia and the US are home and so returning to Cochabamba was a nice home-coming. Besides, I had been craving a trancapecho ever since the marathon.

What were you most excited about to return to the US?

Seeing my sister! Since dropping her off for 2nd semester of her freshman of college I had seen her once. We skype and email, but there is something different between online contact and being in each other’s presence. Her college graduation was the entire reason for my visit to the US so seeing her and spending quality time together (for real, for the first time in almost four years) was a major cause for excitement!

What is your favorite memory about being with your friends and family from home again?

I could easily share a memory from each stop along my trip, because the entire visit was one “favorite memory” after another. I’ll keep with the running theme though and share my favorite memory from the race itself.

One of my training buddies in Bolivia was Patrick, a Maryknoll volunteer who spent a year in Cochabamba and has since returned to the US. Before the marathon, we had been joking together about him running a chunk of the race with me.  Patrick is a huge reason that running has become a part of my life and was constantly challenging me with our training together.

Well, joking about him coming for the race turned into real conversations about logistics once I was in the US. He arrived in Pittsburgh the day before the marathon, and seeing him was the first time I saw a friend from Bolivia in the US; his presence in some way started to bridge two very different parts of my life.

Patrick

Patrick

The plan had been for him to bike around the course and yell support to me in as many places as possible, but that changed when we saw the pace I was maintaining (he wanted to be there with me if I did indeed qualify for Boston during my first marathon). We had a quick chat on the stretch before mile 11, and planned for him to jump in and start running with me at mile 17. Well, I passed mile 17 without seeing him and started to worry that I’d be solo for another 9 miles. That disappointment was erased less than a half mile later, as I felt a hand in the middle of my back physically pushing me to keep up the pace. We had missed each other at marker 17, but he was able to catch up and run with me the rest of the way. Almost three months after our final run together in Cochabamba there we were running together through the streets of Pittsburgh.

The entire marathon was an incredible experience, but I’ll never forget Patrick’s support – especially the literal push!

See the video of Jeff crossing the finish line!

Read about how Jeff first started running: http://ow.ly/4C38301hXTg

Read about what it was like training for a marathon in Bolivia: http://ow.ly/4epk301hWZc