If you ask Greg McQuaid what he’s doing this weekend, it’s a fair bet his answer will be some variation of “I’ll be running.”
McQuaid, 47, has been running every weekend for the past 33 weeks. Not that unusual, you say? Well, what if I told you he’s run a marathon every weekend for the past 33 weekends?
On Sunday, he’ll attempt to keep his streak going at the Santa Rosa Marathon.
But it’s less a streak than a commitment.
Last November, McQuaid, a former radio DJ (he was “Irish Greg” on KFOG) who lives in San Francisco, decided to run a marathon every weekend to benefit Breathe California, a nonprofit clean air and anti-smoking advocacy group he had joined as a board member.
In some ways, McQuaid doesn’t seem to fit as a Breathe California booster. After all, he spent 20 years as a pack-a-day cigarette smoker.
But in other ways, it makes total sense. He’s dealt with asthma his whole life and he’s now a decade into being cigarette-free.
So McQuaid tried to think of something to both mark his 10 years without a cigarette and also garner a little attention for Breathe California. A longtime runner and veteran of between 25 and 30 marathons before this quest began, McQuaid committed to running a marathon every weekend for all of 2017.
Then he told people.
“When you put it out there on social media, you are kind of stuck doing it,” he said.
His marathons are not always official; they are not always wicked fast — but they are always 26.2 miles or more and they are always documented on social media. Sometimes people following his journey will join him on runs, either running with him or riding bikes.
He ran the Los Angeles Marathon in 4:23, the Oakland Marathon in 4:12 and the Big Sur Marathon in 4:12.
When he runs official events, like the Santa Rosa Marathon, McQuaid inevitably gets questions about his shirt advertising his pack-a-day past and his commitment to 52 marathons in 52 weeks.
He’s happy to share.
“Even clean air has become political,” he said. “The Paris Climate Accord is under threat, the people running the EPA don’t care particularly about the clean air … but the wonky side of climate change and clean air takes a back seat to my narrative of not smoking and giving up smoking.”
McQuaid started smoking at 15, growing up in Dublin, Ireland.
“It was Ireland in the ’80s; it felt like everybody smoked, it was always around,” he said. “I had been a tennis player and suddenly discovered music and girls and my whole world changed.”
He added, “I also have asthma, so I’m an even bigger idiot.”
It all made him feel rotten, but he did little to change his lifestyle until he decided a decade ago to go cold turkey on the cigarettes.
“You get sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he said.
Without cigarettes, he turned to other fixations.
“That’s when I did the classic addition thing, I got all into this,” he said.
IF YOU GO
Who: Greg McQuaid running the Santa Rosa Marathon
What: Quest to run 52 marathons in 52 weeks
Why: Raise money and awareness for Breathe California
When: Start 6:30 a.m. Sunday
Where: Old Courthouse Square