Recently it occurred to me that many people don’t realize why I started running. A little over four years ago I wasn’t feeling right. Tried, lethargic and generally weak. Not to the point that I couldn’t function, but I knew that something wasn’t right. So I made an appointment to get a physical.
Deep down I knew what I was going to hear, but I was hoping for better news. You see, my father had heart problems most of his adult life. I really don’t remember a time when he was not sick or in and out of the hospital. He had more bypasses than I can recall. When he was 3 weeks shy of his 45th birthday, we lost him.
Genetics play a large part in cardiovascular health and I knew that I could be headed down a similar path. Yet, I was still hoping for a different report from my doctor.
When the call came, I had a Mt Dew in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. My blood pressure was high, they were putting me on medication for it. Oh, and the cholesterol..their words were “through the roof”, medications for that too. Also, I needed to get my diet under control or we might need to have a conversation about diabetes in the near future.
The Choices We Make
I heard a story once and lately I have heard it several more times, I have even seen and reposted a video of it. The story goes something like this:
Two boys were raised by an alcoholic father. One grew up to be an alcoholic; when asked what happened he said “I had no choice, I watched my father”. The other grew up and never drank in his life. When he was asked what happened he said “I had no choice, I watched my father”.
At the time of that call, I had never heard the story so I never associated it with my plight, but I had the choice at that point; which son was I to be. I did have a choice and I chose the healthier path. That soda I had in my hand would be the last one, I have had mere sips in the last 4 years.
The Next Steps
Other changes came slowly. My diet was the next thing I conquered. Pizza and sweets were my favorite fare. I knew that I would have to teach myself to like salads, veggies and more nutritious snacks. This wasn’t actually as hard as I thought it would be, I guess it was because I had unconsciously associated the junk food with the condition that I had gotten myself into. I still struggle with portion control and cravings for sweets. I still lose that struggle occasionally, but I don’t let those foods rule me anymore.
Smoking was the biggest battle. I fought it for months. My doctor had advised me to wait until I had my diet under control before I quit. She felt that trying it all at once would be overwhelming and could cause me to fail on all fronts.
It would be six months after that phone call before I put out my last one. I struggled and made multiple attempts, for various reason all of them failed. Finally one evening I was outside smoking and it just hit me, I was done, I was no longer a smoker, I would no longer allow cigarettes to control me. I didn’t even finish that last one, I was DONE!
I had pills, gums and lozenges that were suppose to help me. I did use them for a few days, but in the end it was all up to me. These items have all helped people quit smoking, however, a person’s will power and determination that make for a successful effort. Like everything else, there is no magic pill, just dedication and hard work.
A couple of months after I quit smoking, I found myself in the local gym. I tried a functional fitness class. It wasn’t bad, it challenged me and kept me accountable. I also did weight lifting. I felt better, but didn’t see much in the way of results.
Overall, the gym was great in that it got me moving. Looking back, I realize that it just wasn’t the right place for me. Don’t misunderstand me, it’a great place to go and has it’s place in any fitness routine. Weight lifting, swimming and functional fitness just aren’t what I was meant to do as my primary sport. My true love, my motivation would soon be found, I just needed to be patient.
What all the gym work was doing was getting my body and my mind ready for running. The weights and functional fitness were building some much needed strength. They were also building mental muscle, the determination and dedication required to go long distances.
The First Steps
Every runner has some small goal when they begin. For most it is to run a mile without stopping. For me it was similar, but more specific; I wanted to do a mile in 10 minutes. For some, that pace comes easily, but for a man who at that point still weighed at least 225 and wasn’t naturally athletic, it was a lofty dream.
Many new runners set that early goal of one mile arbitrarily because it’s a mile and that’s how we measure things. I had a reason for that ten minute mile; I wanted to run a mile in the Arkansas Run for the Fallen. I set this goal right after I rode as a motorcycle escort for the run, so I had just under one year to achieve it.
As much of a social activity as running is, I didn’t run with anyone for months. I read stuff online but really didn’t put much effort into learning what I was doing right or wrong, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, alone in my plight for the magic ten minute mile.
Somewhere in all this, I thought back to when the Little Rock Marathon first started. I remember watching the runners and wondering if I could do that, but not having the drive to find out if I had it in me. That question started coming up in my mind more and more often, did I have what it took to run a marathon? Before I knew it, that question started haunting me, could I do it?
I made the decision to find out, so I signed up for my first half marathon, Soaring Wings Half Marathon. I found a generic training plan on the internet and half stuck to it. I didn’t know about speed work or cadence or form, I just put in the miles that it said I should run.
The day of the race came and I was a nervous wreck. The distance wasn’t bothering me too much, since I cheated my training a little by making my last long run of 12 miles into 13.1. It was the sheer number of people, I had only started running around others a couple of weeks before the race, I wondered if I would trip over someone. In the end, I didn’t trip, I finished in a decent time, but it wasn’t a marathon, I had only reached half of the goal.
Onward and Upward
The people I started running with were some folks from my community who were starting a running club. We began to meet on Sunday mornings and of course the marathon question came up. One lady had done it, another had tried but the course was shut down due to weather before she finished. They were going to run one called the Team Loco Marathon. I signed up for it on a whim and again trained in a method that can only be called naïveté. My longest run before the race was 16 miles and that was the one week before.
What makes this particular race unique is that it is an out and back course, out for 1.3 miles and back then repeat a total of 10 times. Yes, it sounds boring, but that’s just the face of it. The constant back and forth allows you to check in with people you know and you are never more than 3/4 of a mile from an aid station.
As we neared the 22 mile mark, my legs were throbbing, my hamstrings were beginning to seize on me and I really needed to pee but was afraid to stop for fear of not being able to start again. I walk/jogged most of the last couple of miles. It was during this time that I made a promise to myself; I would never walk across a finish line, I could run or crawl, but I would never walk.
As I came to the finish line, I started to wonder about this promise that I had made, I wasn’t sure I could move faster than a walk. Then I could hear the music and people. It was an awakening, there was an adrenaline rush, the pain left and the excitement set in, I DID have what it took to be a marathon runner.
The funny thing about all this running is that at some point, I left my health concerns behind. My focus was no longer on trying to get my numbers on control, it went into how far I could go. I had gone for another yearly physical and the results were great. They were so good in fact that several days later I got a letter in the mail from the office. I knew that it wasn’t bad news, there would have been a phone call if it was. I opened it up to see a handwritten note from the doctor, it was congratulating me on my turn around. It went on to say that I should be an example to other who were in the same situation, they could change the out come of their yearly physicals and not fall victims to their attitudes.
All of this, simply because I chose to. Because I wanted to be the son who overcame, not the son who gave into the fate that he wrote for himself by giving up. Everyday of our lives, we can choose which person we want to be, I chose to be a runner.