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Run Again, from Standing Still to Marathon Runner in Sixteen Months

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Sixteen months ago, tired of being overweight, worrying I would be too unhealthy to see my children through school, and sick of living a sedentary life, I decided to take action and start running.  That evening I ran a loop though our neighborhood and barely jogged a half mile.  I kept at it and slowly built distance by alternating between walking and jogging a half mile.  At the time I weighed 280 pounds.  When I would finish running my legs felt as if someone bashed them with a base ball bat.  They hurt so badly!  I would sit in the chair with a ice pack to tolerate the pain.  Every other day I would venture out and run my loop.  Afterwards, I could barely walk up the step to my house.  I was running six loops, or about three miles, in about 55 minutes.

Though it hurt I kept at it.  Slowly I reduced the amount I walked, after several weeks I was walking quarter a loop and running the rest.  This continued and my legs knew nothing but being sore for two months, then, one day while running, I broke free from my loop and ran beyond my neighborhood.  I decided I could run 5K!  As I ran I kept looking at my GPS.  I ran, I ran and ran.  I got very tired.  Then, around the 4.5K  mark, my GPS flaked out!  I panicked, I didn’t know how much further to run, I thought I could go one more loop, but the tech failure was too much and I just stopped…  I panicked and experienced a mental breakdown of sorts.  Lesson learned… don’t rely on technology, always have a route planned and know when to stop.  Also, I experienced firsthand that a mental failure could just as easily stop me in my tracks as physical exhaustion.  Two days later on my second attempt, I ran 5K in 41 minutes.

This is what I looked like after 6K… Yikes!


Knowing I could run 5K, I signed up for the Ann Arbor Turkey Trot 5K.  Thanksgiving was several months away and the event presented itself as an excellent goal and motivation.  I started reading about running on Runner’s World and used their smart coach program to construct a twelve week training program.  My goal was to run 5K in 31 minutes.  The program started out slow with three and four K runs, a longer run on Sunday, easy runs during the week, with the occasional speed workout, such as intervals mixed in, for good measure.  To be honest, for a beginner it was a relatively complicated training program, but it taught me the basics and reintroduced me to key workouts.
One Sunday after recovering from a 10K run I discovered the documentary “The Spirit of the Marathon.”  I watched that move in awe.  How could someone possibly run a Marathon?  It was such an impossible feat.  I was entranced by all the runners, how fit they were, and then this “old guy” entered the movie.  He was on his sixth marathon, ran for the heck of it, and was slow.  I decided, if this guy could run a marathon, so could I.  That afternoon I vowed to run my first marathon in 2011.  I figured I needed two years to get in shape.
I watched the movie six more times throughout the year.  I also bought a running hat.

I started running at Kensington Metro Park, venturing out from the east side on short out and backs.  My long term goal was to run around the lake on the eight mile bike path.  As the week progressed, the training plan’s mileage slowly increased.  The summer turned to fall, and in October I made my first run around the lake.  The last mile was tough!  I was so thirsty and my legs cramped all the way to mile eight.  I ran that first eight miles in one hour thirty nine minutes.

Kensington in the fall is beautiful
Another view of the lake.  I’m blessed to live so close to this park


As the weather turned cold, I started running in the dark sometimes in the snow.  I had to learn what to wear.  I usually wear gloves once the temperature drops below 45.  After 40 degrees, I put on running tights, below 30 and I’m wearing my awesome saucony running pants.  The rule of thumb I learned and stick by is to dress for twenty degrees warmer than the outside temperature.

Speaking of running gear, my running hat is the most important piece of gear I own.  It keeps the sun out of my eyes, the rain off my face, the sweat dripping neatly off my brim.  It’s a place to attach a blinky light for late evening runs.  With the proper gear and my training completed, I was ready to race.

On Thanksgiving morning  my fiend Paul and I arrived in Ann Arbor, warmed up, lined up at the start, and then ran the Turkey Trot.  What an awesome experience.  I was euphoric after the race.  All that talk about endorphins is so true!  It was the best feeling to complete the race.  My training paid off.  We finished the race in 32:06.  I figured it would take me 35 minutes to complete the race.  I was happy to beat that goal.  My sense of accomplishment at fulfilling the training plan and beating my goal was overwhelming.

Ann Arbor Turkey Trot

The next week I signed up for the Traverse City Bay Shore Half Marathon.

I was regularly running eight mile long runs on Sundays.  I loved running around Kensington metro part.  As it go colder less people frequented the park.  On some runs I would see just a handful of people.  I felt like the park was mine.  I ran on Christmas Eve and saw no one.

I started training for my half marathon in February.  Again, I used Runner’s World Smart Coach and selected a fifteen week program.  My initial goal was to complete the race in two hours and thirty minutes, but half way through my training, I settled on shaving fifteen minutes from my initial goal.  I bought my second pair of running shoes in March.  It was a sunny, Saturday, and 45 degrees.  I got home, took a picture of my shoes, posted it on facebook, and took ‘em out for a spin.  On that day my new shoes and I ran on slushy streets, muddy dirt roads, and snow covered trails.  They never looked clean again.  They were good shoes.  I got one nasty blister, but it wasn’t their fault.  Those shoes lasted five hundred miles, before retirement.

My New Shoes

My longest run during training was thirteen miles.  I ran a hilly course starting and ending at our home.  It incorporated Island State Park and Kensington.  I about died on the way home.  The long hill up Grand River smoked me.  I remember struggling to complete the run.  I was spent.  When I stopped, I bent over and just gasped.  Someone actually came out of their house and asked if I was OK.  I proudly straightened up and answered, “I’m OK, I just ran thirteen miles!”  Satisfied, they went inside, no doubt thinking I was crazy.  I still felt like crap, just really proud crap.  I look back and realized I wasn’t adequately hydrating.  I wasn’t drinking enough water.  For that run I carried ten ounces, that’s crazy.

Memorial Day weekend came upon us fast and my family and I made the journey to Traverse City for the race.  If you ever decide to run a half marathon, I would recommend the Bay Shore.  There aren’t any tight time limits, the course is flat, and the course runs along East Traverse bay.  The views are nice.
I was at the starting are an hour before the race.  It was so cool to see the racers in their running gear getting ready to run.  I had a banana, did some people watching, and hit the porta potty several times.  Near the start of the race I ran three quarters of a mile to warm up.  I lined up three quarters back in the pack and waited for the start.

 About five minutes after the gun, we started moving; before you knew it I was running nine minute miles and feeling good.   After mile three still maintaining the pace, I began to think I was going to break two hours.   What’s fifteen minutes?  I was feeling great and moving fast, only ten miles to go… well at mile six, two hours was just plain crazy talk, my legs hurt, my  breathing was getting harder, I lost my rhythm.   Around mile ten, the marathon leaders, who ran out and back, passed me.  They were fast, I was struggling.

Then at mile twelve the coolest thing happened.  A lady came along side and said I could do it.  I starting running at her pace and we coached each other through the last mile; two strangers, one goal.   I crossed the finish line in two hours sixteen minutes.  I missed my goal by one minute.  I was glad to finish, but a little bummed I missed my goal.  I had the “I can’t believe I just ran a half marathon feeling” going, but no 5K afterglow, my legs hurt too much.  That same weekend, my neighbor ran the marathon and qualified for Boston – he is a semi-pro in my mind.

Running to the Finish Line

Remember Marathon goal I had?  I wanted to run the Chicago Marathon in 2011, well now that I ran a half, and I figured I could pop out a full Marathon one year ahead of schedule.  Why not?  So far that year I had ran 495 miles and completed a half marathon.  Doubling the distance shouldn’t be too hard, just more training.

The Detroit Marathon is October 17th, 2010.  I started training for it in June.  July is muggy, so muggy that I really wished I was running in the winter.  Winter running, especially when it’s blazing hot, seems so nice.  I was not used to running in muggy weather.  I would head out to Kensington for a 6:00 AM twelve miler, to beat the heat, and end up running in 70 deg 90% humidity weather.  When done, I could wring sweat out of my hat.  I was soaked.  I would usually drink forty ounces of water during these runs.  It was also during this time that I discovered chafing.  The problem with chafing is, that you don’t notice it until you get in the shower.  A couple of times I thought I was going to hit the ceiling.  Chafing hurts!

The training plans are typically built on a four week cycle; three weeks of increasing mileage followed by a recovery week.  During the three week build-up I would apprehensively approach each weekend long run; each being a new personal distance record.  Fourteen miles, turned to sixteen, eighteen, and eventually twenty miles.  It got to the point where I would cache water bottles the evening before my runs.  When you’re running, distance is time, it’s easy to abstract the distance and just speak in terms of pace and time.   The distances just creep up on you that you really don’t think about twenty miles really being TWENTY miles.  I got the point when it took me forty minutes to drive the route and cache the water.  That’s when it sunk in, that I came to believe what TWENTY miles really was.

I haven’t run 26.2 miles yet, but I have run twenty, those remaining six are a mystery.  I hear there is a “wall” somewhere in there that I’ll want to quit, that my legs will cramp, perhaps give out, and will have to mentally push myself to finish.  I hear some people don’t finish.  I hear some collapse and need medical attention.

I know how to run twenty miles, my legs feel hammered at mile sixteen , there’s ten miles to go, my breathing get rougher, my heart  rate slowly creeps up from 140 BPM to 160 BPM and I want to drink lots of water.  I also know that the last time I ran twenty miles I ran it thirty minutes faster than my first go.  I’m getting better, the training works.   I’ve been told it’s simple, trust the training.

Sixteen months ago I couldn’t run a mile, today I can run twenty.  Next week I’ll tell you I can run twenty six.  If you’re wondering what this has taken, consider that over the past year and a half I have:

·         Ran 233 times for a total of 1,360 miles.

·         Burned 286,212 calories.

·         Gone through three pair of running shoes.

·         Ruined four sets of head phones.

·         Listened to “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black eyed Peas 214 times.

·         Ran in -20 deg wind chill, the rain, blazing sun, and muggy mornings.

·         Ran six miles in snow covered trails.

·         Ran for a total 151 miles in one month, 40 miles in a week.

·         Said “Go Blue” to every runner wearing MSU garb.

·         Ran on dirt roads, bike paths, paved streets, and grass.

·         Slammed a thirty two ounce Gator Aid in less than a minute.

·         Figured out the best way to eat GU.

·         Worn runner’s tights, to the horror of my co-workers!

·         Lost forty five pounds.

·         Become a faster runner.

·         Become healthier and happier.

·         Motivated others to start walking

·         Encouraged my wife to start running.  She can now run three miles!  YEA!

This Sunday is the Marathon; I’m so ready and so excited.  I’m ready; I knew this after my last twenty mile run.  It’s a great feeling.  I don’t know what to expect in those last six miles, but I’m confident if I can hold my pace steady, I’ll work through it.


Wish me luck!



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