3 years ago this weekend I crossed the line of my first half marathon. For some it’s a huge accomplishment. For others it’s a training run. And for most people its “impossible”…. It’s not too often that I want to look at certain things from my past, but the other day a friend of mine asked me if I had ever written up what the last couple years has been like. So, I guess there’s no better way to celebrate the day I became a runner.
I woke up late as usual and step on the scale once again hoping it went down. To my surprise I saw a number I never thought I would see… How could I let myself go? What had I done to myself? Was I really that unhealthy? I was on a fast track to a heart attack by age 35.
I walked out of the bathroom and told Nikki I had had enough. I don’t know what to do or how to do it but I was going to change once and for all. No more B.S., this was it, I’m going to get healthy. After a day of “thinking about it” and developing a strategy, I decided the best way to move forward to was to eat less. So, that’s what I did, starting that day. I found a 4 oz salsa bowl and made the decision that I could fill it up and eat out of it. Anything that went in to me, had to go through the bowl. This was my only idea, I had no idea about nutrition or what “good” food was supposed to be. This was the best idea I could come up with that day that I could start taking action with, NOW!
For the first couple days I struggled, a lot. It felt like I was always hungry. I would fill up my bowl 2, 3, 4 times at a meal. I would eat a few more times during the day. I could no longer skip breakfast. In a way, I thought I was eating WAY more than I ever had… But I started noticing a few things right away. Even when I would fill up my bowl 4 times in a sitting, I would think more about how much I was eating every time I would leave the table to fill it up. It forced me to think more. I would sometimes take 30 minutes going back and forth before going to the stove for more food. After a couple weeks I noticed a huge difference from how much I used to think I needed to eat to how much I actually needed to eat.
I noticed I would eat less cake and ice cream and sweets. When started to portion control my M&M’s that wasn’t always easy… But instead of sitting down and eating a huge bag, I would get the satisfaction of eating one at a time until my bowl was gone and I eventually stopped getting the urge to go back for more. After a couple months of daily repetitive effort I noticed my habits were beginning to change. I was beginning to make progress with what mattered most, my actions. Yes I was losing weight, but it wasn’t as important as the new habits and actions I was developing on a daily basis. Not every day was good, but the days I would over eat became less and less and the amount I over ate become less and less. What was next? You have to start going to the gym, right?
I wasn’t going to step foot in a gym. It was partly because I was lazy. But the biggest thing that held me back was what other people would think of me. I didn’t want to be seen without a shirt on. I didn’t know how most of the machines worked. Treadmill? No thank you… A walk couldn’t hurt. We have a nice paved trail near our house, what could it hurt to make my way to it? Out the door we went. A couple blocks to start. It wasn’t hard, but it wasn’t easy. My first walk wasn’t long, but for some reason I had more energy than I had had in a long time. I started to realize I enjoyed walking and being outside.
A walk outside started to become a daily ritual. Time to get some fresh air, exercise and time I didn’t have to fight my urge to walk back into the kitchen. I think the time away from the kitchen was more important than the exercise I was getting, but to no discredit to the walking, I started making more progress. I wanted to be able to walk 18 holes of golf without struggling. I wanted to be able to carry my clubs and carry on a conversation without having to worry about if I could make it or if I would be huffing and puffing the whole 4 hours. It took a couple months, but I got to my goal. In fact with the little daily effort it took to start and the continued daily effort, I was able to walk the 4-5 miles on a hilly golf course, carrying my clubs in about 4 months. It felt so good to get out and be able to play golf that I wanted more. I moved my goal to being able to play two 18 hole rounds in a day and walk both of them. I continued walking the golf course and walking after work all summer until I was able to do it. It took a while, but when I would take a day off from work, that is exactly what I would do with my time by the end of the summer.
Everything seemed to be going great, but I had some reservations about what was to come. We have brutal winters here. The wind blows 20-30 mph on a pretty steady basis and snow, ice and subzero temperatures are common for several months. For years and years it didn’t matter. We would huddle into our house for the winter, watch football for several months and order take out or eat fun food that went with “the game” perfectly. We knew this winter had to be different. We dumped our satellite TV subscription, ditched our habits of sitting on the couch on Sundays, and decided we could make a healthier version of any type of “comfort food” we wanted. We spend more time experimenting, trying, cooking, and looking for new ways to eat the food we thought we wanted than at any other time in our life.
The best part is we did it. We found ways to create new recipes that were similar to what we ate before. We ate more fresh veggies than we ever had before and all in all we were eating more than we had in the last 6 months, but it was better quality food, cooked properly and our overall food intake was better for us. This went well through the winter and into the next spring. It was tougher to get out and walk because of the weather and we did notice we were letting our exercise habits slip a little. We did our best to get out and we didn’t always succeed, but we didn’t always fail…
Nikki saw a program called couch to 5k. She was never a runner before so I was a bit surprised when she said she wanted to start running. In a way I thought she was crazy for wanting to run 3 miles, but I gave her as much support as I could. I knew I didn’t ever want to run so more power to her! She picked her program and started. I watched her get out there and follow her schedule every day. Walking, crawling, taking laps in our backyard, it was actually really inspiring to hear her story of the day.
For a long time it didn’t seem like she was really getting anywhere from the outside, but I watched her continue on and stick to her schedule. As spring approached and she was weeks and weeks into her schedule, I noticed her successes were getting bigger and bigger. She started to have more wins and her running distances were getting longer and longer. It was incredible to watch and see how much progress she was making in what I saw was a short amount of time. As I look back at the daily effort she was putting in I know it wasn’t fast and it wasn’t easy, but she took the action she needed and was going to reach her goal.
I started to wonder if I could start running… I wondered if I would even care to run… At first, I really had no care in the world to do it. I had always hated running in every sport I played and it was always such hard work. I was still trying to wrap my head around a race and why you would pay money to go out and run 3 miles. When she ran her first 5k race, I was at work that day but when she was done she was so excited. She did it. It was hard and it was slow, but she finished. I could hear the excitement in her voice. The achievement she got out of it was unbelievable. She really seemed to be enjoying this whole “running thing”. In my head I was still trying to figure out “why”, but I guess in the end it didn’t matter to me. It made her happy. It gave her a reason to eat better and exercise so it was good.
I watched her continue making progress. It was unbelievable how much faster she was getting and how much farther she was running. She stuck with it and never gave up. Then she decided she wanted to do a half marathon. Ummm…. Was she crazy??!! Yeah, she had to be. I remember asking her how far it was and shouting WHAT!!! When she told me it was 13 miles… Who in the world would run 13 miles for fun?! And pay to do it! But she said she had a friend that was going to train and do it with her so I gave her my full support and she signed up.
By this time I was starting to get a little jealous and thought maybe I should give this running thing a try. I had lost over a 120 pounds at this point but I still wasn’t in shape. I still had a lot of pressure on my knees and I hadn’t run since high school sports… And I hated every single second of it too. So one freezing cold morning I bundled up and headed out on my daily walk. Off I went thinking this is the day I’m going to do it, I’m going to start running. I couldn’t help but feel eyes on me the entire time. No one was up, but I felt people staring at me and laughing at me. I could help but feel the judgment of how slow I was going to be. They would all see this fat guy trying to run and he wasn’t going to make it very far before he had to stop.
When I got to the dirt path close to my house I said this is it, time to start. I started moving my feet faster and faster. I had never been so uncomfortable in my life. I was out of breathe almost immediately, my knees hurt right away, and I just knew I had to keep going. Only a few more steps, one more, one more. And all of a sudden I looked up and saw a group of warehouse workers outside smoking and laughing. I didn’t know if they could see me in the darkness but I didn’t want to take the chance. I didn’t want them to see me quit… I knew they would laugh at me. I knew they were judging me. I kept repeating to myself, “you can’t stop, don’t stop, they’re all looking at you, don’t stop, keep moving…” As soon as I got out of sight I stopped completely… I couldn’t go one more step. I felt like I was going to have an asthma attack right there. I was so ashamed of myself.
I knew I couldn’t turn around and go home because I would have to pass the warehouse workers again so I took the greenbelt home. It was a long 2 miles. I was crying out of fear, doubt, insecurity, failure, and a million other negative emotions… I had come so far, but couldn’t go one block. Why would anyone run? This is stupid. At that second in time I wanted to quit trying. What was the point? It could take months to go one mile at this rate. Why did I even want to run? What was my motivation? I didn’t even care about a race, I just wanted to get where Nikki was and be able to go out a run a little… I wanted to lose more weight. I really just wanted to be able to get healthier so I could play with my kids without getting fatigued…
Being able to play with my kids. I realized that moment in time that had been my real motivation the entire time. I was tired of being a sideline parent and watching everyone else spend time with their kids. My goal had moved from trying not to die to being able to live. One step at a time, one day at a time, one week at a time, one month at a time, I put in the effort day in and day out. I was on a mission. I had no distance goal, no race goal, no other goal than to be able to play with my kids… When I changed my mind, I changed my action. Fighting past my biggest fears, working through my toughest challenges, finding what was most important to me melted the physical pain away… It was never easy, but it became worth it.
On father’s day I ran 5 miles straight. It was unbelievable to me. I had worked so hard day in and day out, but the thought of running 5 miles wasn’t even on my mind 6 months ago. As I watched Nikki continue to train for her half marathon I gave it a thought, but I was comfortable with 5 miles. I wasn’t even interested in running 5 miles again. I did it once and that was good enough for me. I would have been perfectly content going back to my 1-3 miles most every day and continuing to work on my fitness and health which is what I did. Well, until I came home one day and Nikki said her friend wasn’t going to run the half marathon with her… She was upset and was really looking forward to it. Then she started to get doubts about if she could do it. I started to sense her urge to throw in the towel and pass on her goal of a half marathon. Without even thinking about it I told her I would run it with her… I could see my statement come out of my mouth and as I was saying it I began to realize what I had just done and immediately regretted my decision… I wish I would have at least thought about it for a second… My next thought was “oh shit. What did I just say and commit to?”…
She immediately brightened up and what was said was said. There was no turning back now. I had made the commitment and I couldn’t back out. I hadn’t even run a 5k race. I wasn’t training for anything. I didn’t even know the first thing about training. At this point, I had never read a book on fitness, running, weight loss, diets or anything else that pertained to what I had just got into. I hadn’t even Googled it. And quite frankly, I still had no interest in the subject of training or racing…
The next couple months were tough. I seemed to stop running on the weekends so I could play golf. I started missing days during the week. I wasn’t increasing my distance and wasn’t eating like I should. As I look back I’m not sure if I was trying to fail on purpose or if my motivation changed so my action fell off. Either way, it wasn’t looking good heading into the 6 weeks before the race. I was in a panic. Nikki was in a panic. Our home life had just been turned upside down because we both left our long time employers and we had almost completely uprooted our family and daily lives within about 4 days. The only thing we didn’t change was the house we lived in…
As both of us were falling off the wagon with our running and readjusting our lives we both got worried as to how life was going to flow… Running got put on the backburner and I think both of us had given upon our goal. There was some small talk about not running the race. Throughout the next couple weeks we tried to get out and run and we weren’t making the progress we needed to feel good leading up to it. The week before the race we decided to go out and run together. We were going to get 10 miles in because that’s what she read would be a good distance and would give us the confidence we needed for the race.
It was hot, unusually hot. We were dehydrated, the water fountains at parks around town had been turned off, our legs were tired, I went to fast for her, she went to slow for me (because of the length of our legs, not competition), it was the most miserable running experience I had up to that point. We didn’t even make it 8 miles before we quit. We both lost a lot of confidence that day. On our way home we talked about skipping the race. I was just going to quit all together. I didn’t need this pain. I had no interest in feeling like that again. Running was stupid any way, why was I even out here? I was only running this race because I have a big mouth and said something I shouldn’t have…
After some deep discussion we decided to go ahead and show up to the race. If we had to walk, we’d walk. If we had to drop out, we’d drop out. If we hated it, we’d never do it again… But we had already paid for the race and hotel room so at least we would have some time away.
We arrived at the expo and felt out of place. We had no idea what we were doing, where to go and so we started walking around. We looked at booths, sampled some stuff and started to enjoy ourselves. There was entire running world we had no idea existed. Foods, drinks, real running shoes (yeah, I had a 3 year old pair of shoes I was wearing…) and so much more. The atmosphere was great, we laughed and had a good time and started to realize we made a good decision to come anyway.
We showed up to the race an hour early not knowing what to expect and froze. We had no idea about anything and it showed. We didn’t know anyone, we got lost, what is this 100 person long line at the porta potty all about??!! As we got started we got nervous. We crossed the starting line and off we went. The first 5 miles went pretty smooth. Nikki got into a groove and started her music. I started to look around at all the people cheering and started to get energy from them. I put on some music about mile 3 and started smiling like I’ve never smiled before. The people, the signs, the atmosphere was like nothing else I had ever seen. The more people I saw the better I felt. There was a point that I didn’t want to leave the course I was having so much fun dancing around and singing. A couple miles later Nikki started to get a knee pain she had been dealing with… We stopped and she got it taped up and we walked for a while.
We started again and the pain kept coming and going for her… At mile 8 she said to leave her and she would finish under her own accord. Part of it was she was annoyed with me. Part was because I think she felt better being alone with the pain. So we split up at mile 8. Compared to the week before I felt like a superhero! I danced and smiled. I watched the people cheering us on. I smiled and said hi to pretty much everyone I passed on the way to the finish line. The last mile was tough… I had burned all of my energy screwing around and knew I had to get just a little farther. The pain started to build and became a challenge. I kept watching the crowds grow toward the finish line and the cheers got louder and louder. I came around the corner and got a glimpse of the finish line. I was almost there. I had made it. I started running as fast as I could. I wanted to be done. As I got closer and the cheers got louder I felt something.
Something I had never felt before. This feeling of joy came over me. A sense of accomplishment. Memories from the last couple years raced through my head. I began to lose control of my emotions. I started to cry. I couldn’t stop running faster and faster. I was out of breathe. I was in so much pain. But as I took the few final steps across the finish line I realized, I am a runner…
Run Epic my Friends
Published by Gary Stotler