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Whitney keeps eye on the finish line
May 18, 2017

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LAKE PLACID - Over the years, Bill Whitney hasn't been an official finisher in every distance race in which he has competed, but then again, the Lake Placid resident certainly couldn't be called a quitter.

Back up. Whitney actually did quit living in a world of addiction to alcohol and drugs when he was younger, and for the past 13 years, he's been a battler on the endurance front when it comes to running and triathlon.

Whitney has been in numerous foot races and full and half-distance Ironman races since 2004. Although the 55-year-old hasn't completed every one of them in the allotted amount of time, he hasn't thrown in the towel, and it looks like he won't be anytime soon.

Next month, Whitney plans to run the 13.1-mile distance in the annual Lake Placid Marathon, despite a torn meniscus that hampered his efforts in April when he participated in the Boston Marathon for the fourth time. Then, if all goes as planned, he'll be back on the course in September when Lake Placid hosts an Ironman 70.3 event for the first time.

Whitney said he had a rough upbringing. He dropped out of high school in 1979, but did earn a GED. Since then, his world evolved into a healthy lifestyle that has taken him to many endurance events where he's been able to test his physical and mental abilities.

"I come from here. I was born here. We didn't do this stuff growing up," Whitney said. "I wasn't an athlete at school. I was the fat little kid with asthma. Growing up here - a recovering alcoholic, a drug addict - I never did this stuff. It was pretty rough. I stopped drinking when I was 25. I just celebrated 29 years of being sober."

A chef by trade, Whitney, along with members of his family, finished building his house in Lake Placid in October 2004, and that's when he decided to enter the realm of endurance sports.

"I was never a carpenter, but I know more about building than most people who aren't," he said. "With my father and my brother, we got the house built in 18 months. After that was done, it was like 'OK, what now?' I watched the Ironman that year, I always thought I wanted to try that."

At that time, Whitney said he weighed 270 pounds when he walked into the North Country Community College pool for his first swim class.

In 2005, he dropped out of his first Tupper Lake Tinman Triathlon with an eye injury, but came back and completed the race the following summer. He progressed to the full Ironman distance, and has since been in the race in Lake Placid four times starting in 2007. He was successful in his first three attempts at the 140.6-mile distance, but had to leave the race in 2011 on the second loop of the run course. Earlier that week, Whitney was in the hospital suffering from food poisoning.

Whitney said his road to the Boston Marathon began in 2011, when he ran in the Marine Corps Marathon with his friend, and now fiancee, Darci LaFave. It was there that LaFave qualified for Boston, but Whitney didn't get the result he needed. Whitney, however, was able to participate as a runner raising funds for charity. Since alcohol had been a serious issue in his past, he decided to raise money for the American Liver Foundation.

"Darci qualified for the Boston Marathon, and we wanted to have that experience together, so we figured out a way. I could do it for a charity," he said.

Whitney's first venture into the Boston Marathon was in 2013, the year the bombings terrorized the city and the race. Although the race was stopped before he reached the line, Whitney was given an official finish time. He was back the next year and earned a finish time again.

"The first year we ran was 2013, and that's when the bombings happened," Whitney said. It was such a mess and a lot of people got hurt, it was brutal. The first year, I was a mile and a little over a half when they cut me off. I would have finished with a 5:25, they projected my finish time. The next year, I had an official finish, but they were very generous with their times because there were 6,000 additional people. They kind of let the clock roll."

Whitney missed the 2015 version of the race, and returned in 2016 and this past April for his fourth appearance. Both times he dealt with torn up knees while coming up short in a bid to post two more official times. Despite that, he was determined to reach the finish. In addition to covering the entire marathon course this year, Whitney raised $12,715 for the American Liver Foundation.

A torn meniscus in Whitney's left knee in 2015 proved to be a difficulty leading to a late end at the 2016 Boston Marathon, and this year, he dealt with a similar problem with his right knee after tearing it up skiing this past winter.

"I had a meniscus repair in November 2015, and that forced me to miss 10 weeks of training," he recalled. "This year, in January, we were skate skiing and I did something to my right knee. I didn't have an MRI or anything like that. I did the Boston Marathon, came back and found out I have a torn meniscus in my right knee."

Despite his knee injury, Whitney hopes he'll be able to complete the two local races on his plate this summer, starting with next month's Lake Placid Marathon.

"This will be my second half marathon in Lake Placid," he said. "Right now, the goal is just to finish. If I can get three hours or less, I'll be happy. If it's three hours or more and I finish, I'll get the medal and I'll live with it. It's my hometown."

Then in September, Whitney plans to be in the field in Lake's Placid Ironman 70.3 triathlon.

"I kind of worked the Ironman stuff out of my system and then along comes the 70.3. I'm signed up. It's half of everything, so how hard can it be? I can swim and I can kind of get through (the bike,) but it's the running that's the issue. If it hurts too much, I'll probably go in and have the surgery, and I'll have to forego the races. I don't want to do that."

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