When the impossible is no more

Adam Scully-Power looks to become the first person to run the 163-mile Pan-Mass Cycling Challenge. Courtesy of Adam Scully-Power

Adam Scully-Power's transformation from out-of-shape working dad to ultramarathoner began with some unflattering photos.

Yet what reshaped his body (and his life) over the past year can't be pegged to just one thing.

When Scully-Power sets out Friday to become the first person ever to run the 163-mile Pan-Mass Challenge cycling event, every step he takes will be the product of a sort of harmonic convergence of events.

First, there was his chunky body. Then there was his tentative return to exercise, followed by his wife's interest in the documentary film "Forks Over Knives." A chance encounter with a running friend, a conversation with a co-worker about the Pan-Mass ride and the Boston Marathon bombings all combined to spark his bold proposal to run in an event that's been strictly for cyclists since it began in 1980.

The result is that Scully-Power -- who is 50 pounds lighter than he was a year ago -- will take off Friday morning from Wellesley, Mass., on a run to raise money for Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute while also honoring the victims of the marathon bombings in April.

If Scully-Power hadn't seen his 215-pound body in some photos about a year ago, however, this run wouldn't be happening.

"I'm married, I've got four kids, I travel nonstop for work and I have a really demanding job," said Scully-Power, 39, who lives in Ponte Vedra, Fla. "And like all of us, you go through these cycles. I ended up, for lack of a better word, getting fat and out of shape, and I was almost 40 and I was flipping through photos one day and looking at them and was like, 'Holy cow, that's not me.' At least that's not how I perceive myself. But then I'm like, 'No, that's me.'"

Getting fit again

Scully-Power played football in high school, rugby in college and did some marathons and Ironman triathlons in his early 20s, but he admits he'd gone dormant athletically. As he and his wife, Belen, got involved in raising their four children and his responsibilities grew with the investment firm Columbia Management -- for whom he's worked 18 years -- his waistline expanded on his 5-foot-10 frame and he said he "couldn't run 2 miles."

So after seeing his body in those photos, he decided to start eating better and working out every other day.

But his life took a big turn when Belen watched the movie "Forks Over Knives," which promotes a healthier way of eating through a plant-based diet and avoidance of meat, dairy and processed foods. After she changed her diet, she got a great bill of health from her doctor, so Scully-Power decided to do it, too, starting Nov. 1 of last year.

"The first two weeks it was like going through detox, or at least what I envision detox to be like, and then all of a sudden, I was like, 'I feel great,'" he recalled. "I really started feeling good. So I started running a little more. I had tons of energy. I got up to running 12, 13 miles."

Said Belen: "It's really been more of a lifestyle change than a diet. But it's really had an amazing change and difference in him."

When a friend asked him to help pace him in a marathon in Jacksonville, Fla., Scully-Power parked his car at the 12-mile mark, hopped onto the course when his buddy approached and completed the run with him -- but then had to run back to his car.

"I was like, 'Holy cow, I just ran a marathon,'" Scully-Power said.

"Off-the-charts insane"

A few days after his makeshift marathon, Scully-Power walked into a Starbucks and saw a friend named David Green who "has done all these crazy ultradistance races." As they talked about Green's next run, the 110 With Donna Ultramarathon in Ponte Vedra, in February, Green suddenly stopped and said: "You should do it with me."

"I thought he was insane," said Scully-Power. "Like off-the-charts insane."

But the more he thought about it, the more he liked it. Green sent him a copy of his training schedule and Scully-Power followed it, drastically ramping up his miles.

To Belen, the fact her husband had gone from mostly sedentary to training for an ultra -- bypassing marathons -- wasn't a total shock.

"Adam's the type of person that once he's done something, he needs to do something beyond that," she said. "So I sort of knew if he'd do a triathlon, he's not going to be happy with a regular triathlon, he'd have to do an Ironman. And if he started running, a regular marathon was just not going to be enough. He always goes to the extreme," she added, laughing.

Two months after his encounter with Green, Scully-Power completed the 110-miler in 24 hours, 40 minutes. Then in May, he ran a second ultra, a 100-miler down the Florida Keys called the Keys 100, finishing 15th in 22 hours, 57 minutes.

Honoring Boston

Before his second ultra, however, came the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April.

It was a tragedy that touched Scully-Power for a number of reasons. Columbia Management is headquartered in Boston, and he went to college at Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., so he knows Boston and his heart went out to all who were touched by the blasts.

Also, his friend, Green, was running in the marathon that day. Shortly after Scully-Power heard reports of the bombings, he texted Green to find out if he was OK. Green answered he was fine, but he was near the finish line when the bombs went off, and took one photo with his cell phone before putting it away to help the victims. (It turned out Green's photo, later sent to the FBI and released to news media, captured the clearest image of accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.)

Over the next couple of days, Scully-Power's mind was working, trying to come up with something he could do to honor the victims of the attack. At some point he recalled a conversation with a co-worker at Columbia who had told him about the Pan-Mass Challenge and had suggested they might put together a company team to ride in it.

So, Scully-Power emailed Billy Starr, the founder and executive director of the PMC bike-a-thon, to suggest he do something that has never been done before: run the 163-mile cycling event that's scheduled this year for Aug. 3 and 4, in honor of the runners and bystanders in Boston.

The next day, Starr and Scully-Power talked and began to work out the details. Starr, who'd never had anyone propose running the event (though he's had proposals from inline skaters and early 20th-century "High Wheeler" cyclists) was amenable.

"Well, knowing that first of all, we're a bike event, I was intrigued," Starr said. "But my first thought was we're not a running event, so how do we make this work within the parameters of what we do? Upon meeting [Scully-Power] and recognizing what he intended to do, I realized he sort of falls into the category of being a PMC virtual rider. He wasn't impacting the course, he's starting Friday morning and he's raising money for our cause. So he was easy to get behind."

"The goal is to finish"

The two agreed that Scully-Power would have to be on a different schedule than the cyclists, who depart Saturday, stop for dinner at night and then continue on to the finish Sunday in Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod.

Scully-Power will leave Friday morning, run all Friday night and all Saturday with the hope of finishing Saturday night. That will allow him to be at the finish Sunday when the bikes come in.

Though the forecast is for warm weather and 163 miles is 53 miles longer than his longest run, Scully-Power believes he can do it. He'll have the help of his support crew that includes his wife, brother, father and father-in-law. The one thing he's learned as he has prepared for this quest is that "these things are all about team."

Plus, noted ultramarathoner Lisa Smith-Batchen has been coaching him, and three-time Boston Marathon winner Uta Pippig called him up one day out of the blue just to offer advice.

"How cool is that?" he asked. "Who am I? I'm a normal guy with four kids who a year ago weighed 50 pounds more than I weigh now, and here we are. Amazing."

How long will it take? Scully-Power's not sure. But he's certain he can do it.

"Someone the other night was asking me, 'How long do you think it's going to take you?'" he said. "I said I have a number in my head, but I don't really know. I said, 'Let me ask you this: If it took me whatever, make up a number, 40 hours or it took me 50 hours, would you think any differently of it?' She goes, 'No.' Then it really doesn't matter. The goal is to finish and hit my fundraising goal."

His target is to raise $25,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which is the beneficiary of the PMC. Each year, every rider must commit to raising between $500 and $5,000 to ride in the event, with the money going to Dana-Farber through the Jimmy Fund.

Through his website (whywerun.com), Scully-Power -- who has lost three grandparents to cancer -- has raised nearly $18,000.

Starr is grateful for what Scully-Power is doing, but can't imagine anyone running that far.

"I ran for 10 years and I always assumed I'd do a marathon," Starr said. "By the time I got up to 15 miles, I was so bored I discovered bicycling and I never looked back, so I have no idea why he wants to do this."

To Scully-Power, it seems this is something he has to do. One thing has led to another to lead him to the starting line.

These days, he says his life is "like a fire hose, coming at me 100 miles an hour," because he has just received a promotion, is in the process of moving his family to Boston and is selling one house and buying another all the while training for a run "across the state of Massachusetts." In order to cram everything in, he often gets his runs in at 4 a.m., or he runs to his kids' sports events on weekends.

But, Scully-Power says, life has never been better. Challenging himself to become fitter and take up long-distance running -- and a seemingly impossible 163-miler -- has given his life more zest.

"It sounds corny, but things have never been better," he said. "Not all of it comes from running, but you know what happens when your mind changes -- as far as the perception of what's possible -- and your outlook changes? I really believe it manifests itself in all parts of your life."