Clearwater firefighter Pat Conrey started out wanting to honor a fallen comrade. By the time it was over, his quest encompassed 26.2 miles, flying pigs, and ultimately, life and death.
Conrey had heard the story of Cincinnati firefighter Oscar Armstrong III, who died battling a blaze in March 2003, leaving behind a pregnant fiancee and two children.
He decided to run Cincinnati's Flying Pig Marathon on May 4 in full firefighting gear to raise money for Armstrong's family.
"Firefighters have this special bond," Conrey said. "When one of us dies, we all feel it."
Conrey, who has completed 10 marathons, ran the Times Turkey Trot in Clearwater in 45 pounds of gear last year to raise money for families of fallen firefighters.
"When you run in firefighter equipment, you get people's attention," he said.
But running in full gear isn't that glamorous.
"It was hot — real hot," Conrey said. "You have to drink a lot of water."
The 40-year-old Conrey, Clearwater's firefighter of the year in 2007, trained for months, logging several 13-mile runs in his bunker coat, bunker pants, air pack and helmet.
"That is pretty out there," said local running coach Joe Burgasser. "You don't want to carry any extra weight. I would not recommend that for any sane person."
Conrey, who earlier this year finished a 50-mile run through Withlacoochee State Forest in 10 hours and 23 minutes, is used to people thinking he's crazy.
"I love it," he said.
A month before the marathon, Conrey learned two other Cincinnati-area firefighters also had died in the line of duty.
"That made me want to make sure that I finished even more," Conrey said. "I would run for all of them."
Word spread through the Cincinnati firefighting community that a crazy man from Clearwater was running for the families of the fallen.
"It really touched everyone," said Joe Arnold, a Cincinnati firefighter who ran part of the race, minus the gear, with Conrey. "To think this guy would come all this way and run a marathon in his turnout gear for people he had never met … that is what it is all about."
About eight miles into the marathon, Conrey and a dozen other firefighters stopped at a fire station to pay their respects to Armstrong's family.
"We didn't know they would be there," Conrey said. "There were lots of hugs, some tears. It was very emotional."
The unexpected stop put the firefighters behind schedule. While they were talking, a man named Bobby Edwards, a 10-year Flying Pig veteran, ran by.
Once they resumed running, the firefighters hadn't gotten a mile down the road when they came across Edwards collapsed on the pavement, a victim of an apparent heart attack.
"When I got there I said, 'It is time to go to work boys,' " Conrey said.
Arnold performed chest compressions on the 55-year-old runner as the rest of the group assisted.
"If we hadn't stopped to talk, we would have been in front of him," Arnold said. "It is little things like that make being a firefighter so special."
Conrey, who despite the gear and stops covered the course in 5 hours, 26 minutes, said he is still amazed at the difference a few minutes can make.
"When you do what we do for a living, you realize how precious time really is," he said. "I am glad I was there to help make a difference."