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Dan Malinski's Inspiring Journey to Complete the 2010 Chicago Marathon

Kevin Fishbain
Running can be the great equalizer in life. A race across the playground, a lap around the track. At all ages and sizes, running brings people together. When we talk about the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, usually we discuss the elite runners and the records they break. Any runner can enter the Chicago Marathon. and sometimes it's those runners whose stories are really worth talking about.  Dan Malinski's courage to change his life, the friends he has made and the people he has inspired remind us of the power of running.

Malinksy (second from left) made the bold statement to his friends in April 2008: "I'm going to run the Chicago Marathon in 2009." While completing the marathon is lofty for anyone, at 330 pounds, Malinski's goal may have seemed more like a pipe dream. And when October 11th, 2009 rolled around, Malinski was not running but at his daughter's baptism. His friends did not forget his pledge and busted his chops.

Malinski then drafted an email to David Wallach, author of the Chicago running blog "Pace of Chicago." He saved the email for a few days before sending it, telling Wallach his story and asking for help to train for the 2010 Chicago Marathon. Soon Wallach became Malinski's running partner, he got a coach in Jen Harrison, picked a charity—the American Heart Association, and got sponsored by Runners High N' Tri.

It has been over 8 months since Malinski finally sent that email. He has lost over 90 pounds, run in a half marathon, and is on pace and ready to achieve his ultimate goal—finish the Chicago Marathon in under 6 ½ hours.

"It's hard to forget that email," said Wallach. "It was such an honest email. It made me jump when I read it. I wanted to help him."

Malinski, 34, lives in the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Chicago with his wife and two daughters, ages five and one. They moved back to Chicago so his wife could go to graduate school. "One of the hardest parts was selling my wife on the idea, in addition to balancing work, training, and being with my family. But she sees that it's working and it's great. I notice that she's got my back and is supportive," he said.

The first run Malinski and Wallach took together was four miles. It took Malinski, who was pushing 330 pounds at the time, an hour and seven minutes to run the four miles. "Now he's knocking out half marathons in two hours and 40 minutes," said Wallach. "I'm fortunate enough to get the director's cut of Dan's progression and travel along the journey."

The running partners have run through snow, rain, and heat. They ran the Halloween Hustle, Shamrock Shuffle, and Soldier Field 10 mile. "That was pretty fun to finish on the field. I kind of paused when I entered the stadium to enjoy it," said Malinski. His favorite race so far, though, was the 13.1. He ran it on his own to get used to finishing without Wallach.

Along the way, Malinski has chronicled his training and weight loss on his Chicago Now blog, "Cubicle Dad." He began the blog five years ago when his first daughter had open-heart surgery two days after she was born. The blog allowed him to keep up with family. Since then he has blogged on and off as "Cubicle Dad." One of the deals as he started training was to blog about it, and he posts daily.  But it's not just updates on his races or training, Malinski posts a graph and an Excel document showing his weight loss. "It keeps me accountable to put it out there and show the progress I've made," he said.

Malinski's workout schedule is obviously affected by his other jobs and roles in life. "Balancing my workout, two daughters, my wife's graduate school schedule, my Google calendar is like six in one and very colorful," said Malinski, laughing at the amount of "stuff" going on in his life. He does a low heart rate zone or walk on Mondays, speed work on Tuesdays, and a recovery run Wednesdays. Malinski hits the gym Thursdays, varies with hills on Fridays, rests on Saturdays, and does long runs on Sunday, doing 14 miles this past weekend. "It was kind of intense. After the run I changed, ate, stretched, and then had to go grocery stopping with my family. It never stops."

The "Cubicle Dad" is inspiring friends, families, and strangers with his mission. He had cousins who came out to run the Santa Shuffle with him and has created "Team Cubicle" as a way to motivate others to start running. On its Facebook page, Team Cubicle was "created to provide a spark, a push, to help people get active and improve their quality of life by generating a change in attitude; to strengthen and support each other."

"The Team Cubicle thing is another way to motivate others. If I can do it, anyone can do it. Get out there, get active, and support each other," said Malinski.

His support has been Wallach and Harrison. The two coaches help keep Malinski on track for his goal. "Some days it's overwhelming, but I wouldn't be here without their help. Jen sets the plan and answers all my 'noob' questions about running without poking fun, and Dave is one of the greatest running partners to ever have. He knows when to cheerlead and when to shut up," said Malinski. "Working with the two of them has been amazing, I'm grateful for their help."

Wallach runs slower than normal in races so that he can run alongside Malinski. "It does hurt, to go that slow," said Wallach. "But I've learned that being a mentor is not about you, it's about them. Running with Dan is more rewarding, even at a slower pace. The pain goes away by knowing that you're helping him."

One of Malinski's goals is to raise $5,000 for the American Heart Association, always remembering his daughter's open-heart surgery five years ago. A father first, when things get hard in training, his mind focuses on his family. "I think about both my daughters and my wife. I want to grow old with them; I don't want be that guy to keel over at 50 because he has a sausage stuck in his artery," he said. "I think about my Dad too. He had a heart attack at 49 and didn't exercise. Now he goes out, walks, and rides bikes—he's getting active."

Thanks to his blog and social networking, Malinski's story is spreading. "Everyday I hear from people on Twitter and Facebook. If I inspire someone, it's motivating to hear their story." Malinski and Wallach plan to put the names of everyone who donates and who they hear from on shirts so they are "carrying them with us" in the Chicago Marathon.

You can count Wallach in the category as someone Malinski has inspired. "I tell my daughter and son every night that you can do anything if you believe in yourself. It's so hard for people to take that first step in life, but Dan's living proof that if you believe in yourself, everything becomes easier," said Wallach. "As long as you're moving forward, you're ok."

Wallach wrote a column called "No Longer the Fat Guy" about Malinski after their Shamrock Shuffle to continue to spread his story. "He might be slow, but he's changed his life around completely. He is a role model for his kids and other people. Dan is a shining example of what you can do when you decide "I can change,'" said Wallach.

With three months of training to go before the big day, Malinski is on the right track. Not just in terms of shedding pounds or seconds, but in life. You can hear in his voice a man who has found self-confidence, a man who loves his family, and a man determined to accomplish his mission, and more. He wants to try a triathlon next year, and an Ironman the next. He says he is more focused and knows he can complete the ten miles up and down hills, and the 26.2 miles in downtown Chicago. And it all started because Dan Malinski did what so many of us still have trouble with—he admitted he needed to change, and he finally sent that email.

"Workouts may be hard, but the hardest part was starting and sending that email to Dave. I needed to make a change; I was scared of doing it," he said. "Anyone can do what they put their mind to, but the hardest part is getting started on that path. And if you make the decision, don't look back."

Click here to read the "Cubicle Dad" blog to follow along Dan's journey
Click here to read David Wallach's "Pace of Chicago"
Click here to view the "Team Cubicle" Facebook Page

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