So we have gone through the dramatic opening chapter of my running story, the rather blase middle years, and up through the start of 2008. As I mentioned I had accepted a job with Corning, which meant selling our house and picking up the family for a move … more of a challenge because I started work a month before our house closing!
One note on this post – the pictures often don’t go with the text, but they are in strict chronological order from spring 2008 through the end of 2013.
So as we hit the spring of 2008 here is where we find ourselves:
– I’m starting work at Corning
– I have no energy and am waiting to see a new primary care doctor.
– Lisa and the boys are at home prepping the house for closing.
Just a quick bit on the house – as I have found is entirely too common, the home builder was a slimebag who wanted to build more houses on the chunk of land he bought, so he moved a brook. Yeah, really. Water has this way of not giving up so easily, and as a result some of the houses in the neighborhood had water issues – and so did ours every now and then … and with increasing frequency. When we bought it was completely undeclared and not found by the inspector, but when we sold we fully declared.
That didn’t make the massive melt and moisture any more pleasant for Lisa to deal with while I was in Corning, and she has basically said that she spent pretty much all of March angry at me, but felt (a bit) bad when the new primary care doctor talked about just how bad my condition was with my thyroid.
We also decided to put our boys into the new schools for the end of the year so they wouldn’t be ‘new’ in the fall. I’m not sure it was a bad idea, but neither was it good! Danny was stuck in the ‘leftovers’ class, which had trouble kids, transfers, and so on. It wasn’t a great 6 weeks for him; for Chris it wasn’t as bad, but nor was it great.
My First Gym Membership
One great thing with my job at Corning is that I had a 15-20 minute commute. Another great thing is that the YMCA was right next to the engineering building. Yet another great thing was that they offered subsidized memberships with great family benefits! So I joined the Y and got started with my workouts soon after I started on thyroid medications.
Joining a gym was really interesting – the Y had a bunch of stair machines, ellipticals, bikes, treadmills, and a double set of circuit machines as well as an indoor track, pool, weights, classes and so on. For me, what I keyed in on was the elliptical and Nautilus circuit. Doing 30 minutes on the elliptical, 15 minutes on the bike, and a full set of upper and lower body weights on the circuit was an amazing workout.
The gym time along with my thyroid medication meant I dropped weight quickly and got into pretty good shape. It was different because suddenly I was doing stuff other than just running. Things went pretty well for the first year, then I needed to get my thyroid meds adjusted as my energy was starting to drop and my weight was going up.
Shifting Schedules Means No More Gym
Then suddenly in the fall of 2009 both boys were in the middle school and the change of schedule was such that getting to go to the gym and still make it to work was problematic. My work project work had me in different Corning areas that made the schedule just unworkable … so I tried to get back into running – but it just wasn’t really happening much.
During the 2009 – 2010 time, I hit the gym a couple of times every couple of weeks … and eventually we canceled the membership. I tried to keep up running, but it was sporadic at best. My energy was good due to steady thyroid levels, but I couldn’t really seem to ‘get back my mojo’ for running like I used to have.
I blamed my failed thyroid.
The Marathon Challenge … of 2011
Now here is the thing – by this time, my brother’s marriage was seriously failing, and he was re-asserting his independence in many different ways. He was working hard getting into shape, and had decided to run a marathon. He had hoped that we could run together so he chose the Corning Wineglass Marathon. I gave a half-hearted ‘yeah’.
But I just never got myself going … if anything I kept gaining weight a little at the time. 2011 was not a year where I did a lot of exercise … I would try to run every now and then, but it never stuck.
Come October of 2011, my brother became a marathoner … and challenged me to join him in 2012. And I really wanted to do it.
The Marathon Challenge … for 2012
As we entered 2012, I had gotten even heavier but wasn’t running. I knew it was getting bad – the year before I had bought size 40 dress pants and jeans … and I was starting to feel they were getting tighter. At New Years my big goal was to get running, lose weight and get running.
But what I did was ‘make a resolution’ … NOT set a goal.
If you want to know why I feel so strongly about goal setting rather than resolutions, THIS is why. I knew what I wanted to do – but I didn’t set up a plan to make it happen. I just kind of thought I could go out running and it would stick and I would lose weight and then by the fall I would be ready for a marathon.
What a moron.
The Easter 2012 ‘Reality Check’
As I’ve said, I kept trying to restart my running, but instead I found a different pattern – I would run 4 days in a week while drastically restricting calories during the day, reward my hunger on Friday, then sometimes get out there again the following Monday. In late March I started what seemed like the same cycle yet again, and quite frankly RUNNING SUCKED! It was a hard push, but I was doing it. I had managed three weeks of 4 or 5 days with mediocre eating habits when my brother came to visit over Easter (2nd weekend of April).
He and I went out for a run on Saturday, and it was then that – thanks to his Garmin – I discovered that I had been running only ~2.25 miles each day. I also found out that the pace I was running was SLOW … because we did 11 minute miles for those 2.25 miles and I thought I was going to die.
My brother dropped me off and went back for another loop – at a more reasonable pace.
I did weigh myself just after my birthday, and was ~275lbs. The second heaviest of my life, and the most I had weighed since 1989.
Starting Over … Again
On the following Monday I got up, and headed out to run for about 4.5 miles. I had plotted out my route, knew that just changing how I got to the main road added 0.75 miles, then another mile to get back to where I started, and finally I was able to tack on an extra half mile by running down one cup-de-sac off my main route. To confirm the mileage, I put my Motorola Droid 4 GPS to good use.
Still not loving it, but there was NO WAY I was giving up.
That week I slowly started increasing my mileage, and over the next two weeks I was up to running either 5.75 or 6.25 miles per day.
And you know what – with each day, with each mile I could feel it happening. I could feel my body getting stronger, I could feel my eating habits getting better.
But most importantly I could feel my running mojo coming back. Just a bit at a time, but by the end of April, I was hooked.
I Run My First Race … a 5K at 46. Then another … and another …
And right around that time, a woman in my department at work sent out a general email about a Komen 5K in our area, and I knew I needed to learn about running in public before I could hope to do a marathon. So … I signed up to run, and Lisa and the boys were doing the 1-mile walk.
The day before, I decided to do a ‘training run’. That would mean two things: running on a weekend in daylight, and also tracking my pace for real. My goal was to do better than a 12-minute mile average pace. I went out the day before and things went well, and for my 4 mile run I just barely exceeded 12 minutes pace.
At the Komen 5K … I had two fears, that I would be dead last, and that people would laugh at me. All of that goes back to my childhood, and were ‘demons’ I carried into adulthood.
But guess what? I fell in mid-pack felt great the whole time … and finished with a 10:18 per mile pace. Wait – WHAT?!? I was so surprised at that time I really couldn’t believe it!
Two weeks after that there was a 5-mile (8K) race as part of the Corning Glassfest. This was definitely a much warmer day, and Chris came along to take pictures for me. I had been running more than 5 miles most days, so I wasn’t concerned about the distance. Again my only goal was breaking an hour (better than 12 minute mile). I pushed a bit harder and ran out of steam at mile 4 a little and ended up at a 54:43 time – just under an 11 minute pace.
The following weekend there was another 5K, this time as part of a local Catholic school fundraiser. I dragged Danny out with me – and it was cold so he was miserable. That is just how things go in June – you can go one weekend at 75 degreed and the next at 45! It is funny looking at pictures of myself then – I was still close to 250 lbs and for me it really shows. At the time I could see how much thinner I got … now I see how fat I was. That pretty much sums up my life. Oh – and this time I broke 30 minutes for the 5K. Not impressive on a grand scale, but I was happy – making progress.
The following weekend there was another 5K, starting at 10AM with temperatures already over 80F. My goal here was to again break 30 minutes, and I certainly did – I ended up with a pace that was just over 9 minutes per mile. That was actually my last race shorter than a half-marathon.
Learning About Eating … the Hard Way
At that point I had increased my daily runs to close to a 7 mile average, running 6 days most weeks, meaning I was doing 40 – 50 mile weeks, and feeling pretty good. The weight continued to come off, and by the time I took a trip to Park City Utah to review the new Hyundai Santa Fe (I know, tough life, eh?) I was close to 200 lbs. That meant I had lost 75lbs in about 4 months – which averages to more than 4 lbs per week. Of course weight loss isn’t linear, you lose more at first and slowly plateau.
My next race was a half-marathon (yes, I have never run a 10K), and here is something interesting – I had absolutely no idea about planning to run a half marathon. I had run distances up to 14.5 miles on weekend runs so I wasn’t worry. But here were a couple of key elements missing:
I knew enough to buy some Gu, but I was still eating in ‘weight loss mode’, and I was also running full out the whole week before. You can probably see where this is headed, right?!?
I headed out on the Catherine Valley Trail Half Marathon in 60F temperatures (in late August no less!), and absolutely cruised through the first 6 miles, passing people left and right and feeling great. I had forgotten my GPS watch, and learned how little I knew about my pace without it (yet another mistake!) – and I decided to hold off taking a Gu pack until the half-way point, also skipping a water table along the way.
Naturally I started running out of fuel and the too-fast pace going out also caught up with me – along with other runners. By the time I hit mile 11 I was in rough shape, but I kept running. I finished in 2:03, which was definitely slower than I hoped – considering the first half I was done in about 55 minutes! My estimate was I ran a 8 minute pace the first half and 10 minute pace the second, since my overall was about 9 minutes.
I. Felt. Awful.
Lisa wanted to hug me or high five me or … something. But I just had absolutely no clue what was going on. I had overdone it, and couldn’t eat anything. I had some water and tried to eat a bit, but as soon as I felt a bit better we left.
I learned a lot about running an endurance race that day … including that I had done pretty much everything wrong.
Oh yeah, My Eating Habits CAN Get More Stupid
Leaving the half marathon, I was determined to do things better for the full marathon that was in 5 weeks, so I learned more about fueling, hydration and tapering.
At the same time I had the opportunity to review a ‘juice cleanse’ product, so I did. I made up the ‘tea’, the ‘protein drink’, bought the fruits and juices, and got ready. I started on a Friday night and decided to take the weekend off … so I could spend it on the toilet. I love fruits, so the eating part wasn’t bad – I was never hungry.
But come Monday morning I went to head out for my morning run, and didn’t make it a half-mile down the road before I had to sprint back … yeah, THAT ended my ‘cleanse’. Of course, the reality is that no one needs to do a cleanse, most of the ‘benefits’ have been debunked, and the best course of action is just to eat healthy. But I am not going to lie – going to the bathroom SO MUCH really does make you feel lighter and fresher in some ways … but it also makes you feel like you have dysentery.
Marathoner … So I am a REAL Runner?
Now I had a month before the marathon, and had never run more than 20 miles, but I also knew I needed to allow two weeks to taper. Aside from my running 50+ miles every week, I really needed a long run under my belt for confidence. So I set myself a goal of a super-long run two weeks before the race. I actually ran 27 miles that day, broken up because I needed to pick up the kids from something at school. That worked well since it allowed me hydration and potty breaks.
Tapering is … interesting. Since I was now down 85 lbs from April but wasn’t quite done, I still had a weight loss mindset. This meant that every day was a struggle. Every meal was a struggle. I had to force myself to eat for fuel, and as I was tapering miles I needed to maintain my fueling levels. Now that I have done it a bunch of times it is ‘easier’ … but I still recall that struggle – I was sure I was gaining weight every meal and was undoing all of my hard work. I definitely give myself credit for persevering.
Running a marathon with my brother was one of the best days of my life, not up with our wedding or having kids, but still a major life-changing event.
I was really ready, and nervous as hell. We had throw-away sweatshirts, I had a Gorilla Glass hat I could lose as I warmed up and my running gloves, and the forecast had it starting at 40F and finishing near 60. The goal was to go out with the 4:20 group for a steady 10 minute mile. The Wineglass Marathon is incredibly scenic, happening at the end of September / beginning of October in the Finger Lakes of New York. Just gorgeous. And the course is mostly flat with just a few minor hills. Nothing like what I run on a daily basis, so I knew hills wouldn’t be a challenge.
The pace felt great and having my brother there was excellent. However, after about mile 6 and definitely at mile 8 I noticed he was lagging coming out of the water stops … and wasn’t feeling great. We had dropped back behind the 4:20 group by a decent amount, and by mile 10 he sent me ahead. I protested, but he insisted. He could tell I was ready to run … and that he wasn’t.
I spent the next two miles catching up, but eventually was back with the 4:20 group! The race was just fantastic – the weather was perfect, the pacer was loads of fun, and overall we just were cruising along, and I stayed with them throughout. She had us doing deep breaths and working out our arms and other things to keep from tightening and cramping … and basically preparing us for ‘the wall’.
By the time we got to mile 20 I was still doing great, and was just ahead of the pace group. I was slower through water stops so they would get closer, then I would run a bit faster. And suddenly we were in Corning, and I realized … just over that bridge and I would be on Market Street headed to the finish … I had DONE IT!
And as I rounded onto Market Street the cheers rose up and I felt swept along – I spotted Lisa and the boys cheering me from the side, and I sprinted my way home, passing several people who were out of gas. I cruised across just under 4:20 for what officially was a 9:57 pace. I walked through the finish area, had the best chocolate milk ever met my family and was ready to eat. Lisa had no idea what to expect … but I looked and felt great.
I had done it – I had run a marathon without ever stopping to walk. I could finally call myself a ‘real runner’.
Yes, I know how stupid that is, but that was my mindset. My brother? Well, he did more than a bit of walking, really didn’t feel well at all and finished more than an hour later. But hey, considering he had a near-fatal heart attack 6 months later and was likely running with 90%+ blockages, not too bad really!
But … Can I keep it Going?
Running that marathon changed my life. It changed my relationship with my body and running, and gave me the realization that I should be proud of myself as a runner. It was a major paradigm shift for me.
A month later I had signed up for a half-marathon in Corning called the Red Baron Half Marathon. Combined with the Wineglass you could do a ‘dual finisher’ package and get a cool shirt:
I did it in under 2 hours, which was really great and made me happy. Then I took a couple of days off, and with all of the tapering I had been doing, I felt fat and lethargic and wondered if I was losing my mojo.
Right around that time I heard about the Runner’s World Streak, and I saw an opportunity. I documented it here so I don’t need to go into more details.
2013 – A Year Of Sustaining and Learning About Myself
Suddenly we were into 2013 and I could look back and see:
– I had lost nearly 100 lbs
– I had run my first road races
– My pace by the end of the year was 33% faster than in April.
– I had run 1975 miles during the year
– I’d run two half-marathons and broken two hours.
– I ran a full marathon and broke 10 minutes per mile
– I had completed a 65 day running streak and done about 500 miles during the streak
So what did I want out of 2013? Basically to break 2000 miles, run two marathons and at least one half. I had put doing an Ultra as a 2014 goal, but I really wanted to do it in 2013.
But in January I learned from work that I was being assigned a project that was located mostly at the Harrodsburg Kentucky Corning plant, meaning I was going to spend a lot of time traveling. And while SOME travel is nice … weekly travel when you have a wife and kids you actually like spending time with? That sucks.
Two things came from that: I got to run more ‘doubles’ and some great trails at the Shaker Village; and I decided not to run many races. Really, the thought of chewing up weekend family time with races was out of the question for me. Plus we were sending Danny to Europe for the month of July, so those race fees had a better destination!
But I did run three races in 2013 – the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon Marathon, Wineglass Marathon and Red Baron Half Marathon.
I did full reports at the links above, but I did manage to PR at both full and half marathons, so I consider THAT a victory. I also learned about my priorities:
– Family comes first
– The ability to ‘get up and run tomorrow’ trumps any pace, race or other running goal.
What else did I learn? I learned a lot about running shoes, about compression, that I could wear running tights, about nutrition, and more. I also learned that I really wanted a personal blog … and was finally willing to make the effort.
I also decided to not do a running streak – by mid-December I had run 37 of 39 days since the Red Baron Half, but that was by choice. Not doing the streak freed me up.
So … What Does 2014 and Beyond Hold for Me?
For 2014 I have already laid out my running goals, and have gotten on the wait list for a 50 miles this summer. Right now I am in the ‘week to week’ mode that comes with an average temperature at 4AM hovering close to zero for most days this year. I am really looking forward to breaking back into truly goal-oriented weekly runs when spring arrives.
Who knows other than that – I would love to do a couple of 5Ks, maybe a 10K as well. I also want to re-do that Catherine Valley Half Marathon this year and do it much smarter than last time. I already decided NOT to run the PA Grand Canyon – too expensive, too much of a hassle … and I would rather do something new. Wineglass? Haven’t signed up yet, but it is so close and so much fun I count I will pass it up!
February also marks the 25th anniversary of my running, and I will write about that in the upcoming weeks – and that gives me much to celebrate. This year is the 150th anniversary of my Fraternity founding at my alma mater, and some people will see me thin for the first time ever. It will be an interesting time.
So … that is my story – and I hope that in another 25 years I will be able to report about how I have kept running through the years.
Hi Mike-congratulations-you look great.-Good luck with your running
I can’t tell you how many goosebumps I got reading every single word of this. It is all completely amazing and inspirational! From the photos (wow you’ve changed a lot – love that they’re in chronological order so we can see the progression) to the fact that you had to re-start so many times (that is reality … very few people can just turn the corner and never look back) to the fact that it was a race that did finally ignite the lasting change in you. I am so glad you chose to share this – thank you so much!
Thanks so much Megan! The support of the community on Facebook, my family and work, and now through the blog has been incredible and always makes a difference!
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So inspirational as always! I think we all have a different benchmark of when we allow ourselves to be called “a runner”. I am still pretty intimidated by the full marathon distance, but I felt like a runner when I stopped needing a specific playlist to run. The ability to just enjoy the scenery, maybe have some tunes in the background but nothing that needs to motivate me to move, is what made me feel like I’d “made it”. Cheers to you and this year’s goals!
Thanks Laura! Isn’t it funny how we are so hesitant to ‘allow’ ourselves to think we are ‘runners’? And once you do, looking back seems so silly – yet it was serious stuff at the time!
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you are really awesome.
Thanks Eva! I do try 🙂
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