The Man Who Planned on Bear Crawling the NYC Marathon Will Stop at Nothing to Do It

Dave Holmes
Photo credit: Courtesy

From Esquire

The 2020 TCS New York City Marathon, the 50th annual outing of the largest marathon in the world, has been cancelled due to…well, common sense. Perhaps over 50,000 people packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a corral, then huffing, puffing and sweating on each other for hours is a thing to be avoided as we try to beat back a pandemic. So it will be there next year (if we’re here next year), and those of us who had signed up will get the benefit of bragging about it without ever having to have run a single step. (Do you see how I just subtly did that there? Behold a master at work.) It’s actually the best-case marathon scenario, when you think about it.

That is, unless you’re Devon Levesque, the New York City personal trainer who had planned to complete the entire 2020 NYC Marathon on his hands and feet, in a 26.2 mile bear crawl to raise money and awareness for veterans’ mental health. But as you might expect from someone who had an idea like this at all, much less put it into action, the minor hurdle of a major cancellation will not slow him down. “It's something that I obviously truly believe in,” says the 27-year-old Levesque, “and just because COVID-19 stopped the marathon doesn't mean it's going to stop me.”

As those of us who have survived relationships with CrossFit (once you have completed a marathon—as I have, did I mention?—the soft gym boast is as natural as breathing) can tell you, a bear crawl is a grueling exercise, a cardio move that uses every muscle group in the body. It is as it sounds: you walk like a bear cub, on your hands and feet, keeping your back flat and low to the ground. It’s typically used as a warm-up for a workout, but since it engages the core so intensely, it can form the basis of a longer abdominal routine. Ryan Reynolds reportedly swears by them. But even he keeps it to around 10 yards, back and forth a few times.“You don't see people just bear crawling, because it is so difficult,” Levesque says. “It’s the most strenuous, it's the most annoying, it's borderline impossible.”

But doing the borderline impossible is the whole point. “My buddy Ross Edgley swam around Great Britain in 157 days, the first human to ever do that. And he put the idea in my head that you want to do something that's going to impact society in a positive way, to change the way that people think and cope with different things.” Levesque made the plan to bear crawl the New York City Marathon to benefit FitOps, a program that helps veterans re-acclimate to civilian life by training them as fitness instructors.

Photo credit: Courtesy

Levesque’s mission is to bring attention to mental health, particularly among veterans, and it’s intensely personal: his father died by suicide when Devon was 16. “I’d really never been able to talk about it, but once I did, I noticed that I felt better. You’ve got to talk about it, you can’t keep it all bottled up inside your body. And then knowing about FitOps and going to the camps and seeing these veterans struggle, made me want to bring awareness to mental health and suicide.” He pauses. “So all those things kind of led me to think: let’s do a bear crawl for a marathon.” Maybe it’s the abs, but it makes sense when he says it.

He’s been training on treadmills and on suddenly-empty city sidewalks with special training gloves; the secret is a running-shoe insole slid into the palm. But since this is not a guy to take anything easy: “A lot of it is on sand. I bear crawl a lot on the beach. Really hit those tiny little muscles.” Right now his fastest mile is around 22 minutes— honestly not too much slower than me on two feet at around mile 18— but when doing long distance, he averages about 45 minutes. A lot of time to be in that much pain on purpose, though he says a CBD muscle cream made by Thr33 applied every mile or so helps.

The original plan was to start around dusk the night before the race, just as the streets get blocked off, which answers the question of how he was going to negotiate that crowded starting line. His projected pace would have him completing the mission in early afternoon, just as most of the amateur runners begin to cross the finish line, perfect for publicity. “It was going to be exciting, there were going to be millions of people watching.” On to plan B: “Now it’s got to be a little more digital.” He’s scoping out routes as we speak, hoping to stay true to the spirit of the race and visit all five boroughs. “If that doesn’t work, then I'll find a low traffic area on the East Coast somewhere, and I'll still do a 26.2 miles. We're going to use different platforms to amplify it, and we can amplify it just as much this way, if not more.”

For those of us who had planned to run the Marathon and now think we’re clear to take the year off, I have an inspiring message that’s going to ruin your day. “I wouldn't let a world virus hold you back. I say continue to train, because that's the only body you're going to get.” Levesque continues, because I have not hung up on him, “Do it for yourself and your own mental health. That's even harder to do, because there's no extrinsic motivators on you, it's all internal. You start to learn a lot about yourself when you're only doing something for yourself.” So I guess I’ll see you at the finish line, wherever that ends up being.

Levesque is doing his longest bear crawl- 13.1 miles around a local football field- this Saturday, and will be posting regular updates on his Instagram. To donate to his bear crawl marathon, visit https://fitops.org/bearcrawl/

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