It’s just over 2 days away. I’m on a plane from Nashville to Dallas where I’ll work tomorrow then hang out with friends. Then Saturday morning, hop on another flight for the short trip down to San Antonio. Sunday morning, bright and early, the race begins, There’s no turning back now. I’m a little anxious because I;ve never run this far before but my heart and motivation are all I need now.
Let me be clear so there’s not any misconceptions about me. I am not a runner. I in no way or shape resemble those ectomorphic Olympic athletes that post sub 3 hour marathons. I am a 40 something, overweight guy with a mission.
That said, this is not the same 40 something, overweight guy you’d have seen 4 years ago. Back then, I had just started a new job that required me to get on airplanes and fly all over the country. On that first trip as I sat in the back of the plane, wedged between two other similar men I knew I wasn’t going to survive this job in my current physical state. I deplaned with my legs in a constant cramp, an aching back, bruised hips from being crammed into the seats, and a goal: be able to sit comfortably within the strict confines of an airplane seat.
I wanted to do something. I have done lots of bicycling in the past and that works ok when I’m home. It’s just not feasible to take my bike on a plane. I walk a lot too but I needed to burn much more calories than walking could afford. So I decided to take up running.
At the time, my wife reminded me “But you hate running”. In actuality, it’s not that I hated running. In high school I could run a 6 minute mile. What I hated was the process of getting the body used to running so that it wasn’t wheezing, gasping for air and panting. Whenever I reached that point, running was fine.
So I set off on my “training”. I started going to my apartment gym and I hit the treadmill. I’d walk a few minutes to warm up, then bam… The next thing I knew I had the treadmill set to a 9 MPH pace (a little longer than a 6 minute mile). Lo and behold, within a quarter mile I was dead. I slowed the treadmill down, walked a bit to recover, then sped back up. I couldn’t make it the next 1/4mile . And so the process continued: walk, speed up, crash, walk, speed up, crash. I think I finished my mile in about 12 minutes but my face was beet red, I felt my chest heaving as if my heart were jumping out of my chest. And what did I do? I went back the next day and tried again. My goal was to slowly increase my running time and decrease my walking interval until I could do a mile nonstop. And this was what I hated about running. And each day I felt like I was going to puke. And I was about to give up.
After a week or two of what felt like torture and thinking “I’ll never be able to do this” I talked to a friend about it. This friend happens to be a serious runner. One who does things like marathons. And not just marathons, triathlons. And not just triathlons, but ULTRA triathlons. Those are where you swim 2 to 4 miles, bike 100 miles and THEN run a full or even DOUBLE marathon!
After telling him about my experience he looked me right in the eye and said “well, you’re running all wrong!”
What? I’ve been running for 40 something years. I would think I know how to run by now. I was about to explain my indignation when he said “No, not that. You’re running too FAST. Why do you think you need to go from sitting on a couch to running an 8 minute mile?” Then he taught me how to run. I say run, though in reality it is a jog. Based on his recommendation I bought a heart rate monitor and started off the next day. My goal? Not run a mile, but to “run” for 15 minutes at a pace where I could breathe without panting and to carry on a conversation with someone. And the result? I finished the 15 minutes without wheezing, gasping for air and without wanting to puke.
To motivate myself to continue, I looked at running events coming up over the next few months. My goal was to be able to complete the Bolder Boulder 10 K by June . It was currently the end of January. Halfway in between there was a 5K event in Dallas in April. I signed up for both.
By the time the 5K rolled around I was easily “running” 3 miles nonstop. Not that I was breaking and world records but I was doing it. My official time was 41 minutes.
six weeks later I strolled across the finish line at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado in 90 minutes. I had accomplished my goals. In the meantime, I was starting to get hooked on running. Since then I’ve dropped close to 60 pounds (I’ve put 30 back on this year with all the stress around my dad’s lymphoma, work/travel and an inconsistent training schedule) but I still go out.
Now all that’s immediately ahead of me is this weekend’s event. Can I do it? Yes. Will it be fast? No. But I will finish. My goal is under 3 hours.
And after this? Well, I’m not gonna let anything stop me. I will be mentoring the Summer season for TNT and running the Wounded Warrior half in Dallas in June. I am “rewarding” myself for last year’s pain and misery by going to Ireland and running in the Dublin half.
I will keep on running. And maybe one day, instead of being the middle aged, overweight guy on the plane, I’ll be the skinny, middle aged guy on the plane.