Anyone who has read a decent number of my blog posts has an idea of where I started from and where my journey has brought me, but after talking with a friend of mine recently the idea of putting together a different kind of post came to mind. This is my first attempt to put together that post that currently exists in my mind. I originally intended for this to be a single post but as I have progressed through my first year I have realized that this is going to take some time--and several separate posts.
It was in December 2005 that I turned 40 years old and realized that I should spend more time worrying about the things that I could control than the things I could not control in my life. One of those was to work to regain my health. I was grossly overweight and my doctor was concerned enough about my health that he believed there was a good chance that a future diagnoses of diabetes and other chronic conditions was a distinct possibility. These are some photos from a vacation (Disneyworld) from New Year's week 2006, showing how I looked around that time.
While the desire was there, for some reason the motivation to actually begin a workout program eluded me for some time. I did some reading and thinking on the subject and I even went to the gym on occasion, but I never really did anything significant. Finally, by the time my 41st birthday rolled around a year later I found that motivation. Maybe it was losing a year of good intentions, maybe I was finally fed up with the status quo or maybe it was my desire to set a better example for my family, but in November 2006 I took the literal first steps on that journey by walking for exercise. One of the books that I opened during that past year, a book that I have since passed on to a fellow runner trying to transform their own life, was John Bingham's Marathoning for Mortals. It was in this book that I learned about local races such as 5K's, 10K's and half marathons. I knew about the existence of marathons, though not much more than that they existed, and I also knew that I had once desired to run a marathon and I adopted that as my goal—although I was realistic enough to understand that the marathon would have to wait a while and I set out towards the half marathon as a stopping point on the way to that goal.
I put together a plan to move forward towards the Big D Half Marathon in Dallas on April 1, 2007. The log I kept for this period had the following as my stated initial goal:
“INITIAL GOAL: Participate in the Big D Half Marathon on April 1, 2007. Primary goal is to finish and collect finisher’s medal. Secondary goal is to finish in less than 3:30:00 hours (The Big D Half Marathon Allows a finishing time of up to 7:00:00 hours, which is twice the standard for most half-marathons, due to the fact that it shares the course with the full marathon finish.).“
My program began on December 28, 2006, and I wrote the following log entry:
“Thursday, December 28, 2006 – After having been walking for exercise for a couple months, I started to include a running element. Today I started by walking for 5 minutes slowly to warm-up, then alternated 3 minutes walking at treadmill speed of 3.5 and running 2 minutes at a treadmill speed of 4.5 for a total of 25 minutes, then followed up with a 5 minute slow walk as a cool-down period. I traveled a total of 2.0 miles.
The following morning my legs were slight bit sore and my knees were a little stiff in the morning. I think I will try a rate of 3 minutes walking and 1 minute running (3W+1R) for a couple weeks before going back to 3W+2R pattern.“
As the next months went on I slowly expanded on training and I set about learning about running at a serious level—or at least at a level that felt serious to me. On March 3, 2007, I took my training to a new level when I did my first 10 mile run and my 5K on the same day.
“Saturday, March 3, 2007 - Plan: Endurance run using 3W+2R pattern for 10 miles , with 5 minutes each for warm up and cool down. Run Spring Fever 5K in The Woodlands, TX as part of today’s running in a time of 38:26.5, an average rate of just under 12:30 per mile. I worked to keep my pace down, but let my speed carry me in the last mile. I finished 297th overall and 19th in my age/gender group. I ran 0.8 miles before the race and the balance of 10 miles after the 5K race (after staying for awards and snacking on food and drink. Overall, 1 ran the 10 miles in 2:20:21, an average rate of 14:02 per mile. Some of the later miles had to be pushed a bit; it was probably not a good idea to have eaten between the run periods.”
I remember that day fairly well. I felt out of place and awkward, especially since I felt like the only slow, fat guy there; but I was also determined to successfully run this race. It was not an easy race for me, as evidenced by the nearly 39 minute race time; but it was also a good day. I felt like a real runner having done this race. On March 16, 2007, I ran the Bayou City Classic race in Houston, TX. I completed the race in 1:16:45. I remember it being a good experience, but I also learned a lot about doing a longer event and pacing myself as I ran a negative split that day. Finally, April 1 rolled around. The reason I chose this event as my half marathon was that it was the last half marathon of the season that I could find. Fortunately this late season event worked (barely) with my training plan. As an added benefit, my brother who lived outside of Dallas joined me in the event.
My log post reads as follows for that date:
"Sunday, April 1, 2007 – Plan: 13.1 miles at 3W+2R rate in Big D Half Marathon. Pick up rate near end of race if I can. Do not start out too fast. Remember the original primary goal is to finish in any time and the secondary goal is to finish in less than 3:30:00 hours. The goal set just before race day is a finishing time of less than 3:00:00 hours.
Actual: Ran the 13.1 mile half-marathon in 2:58:23.95, meeting all goals for completion and time. Ironically, there were many troubles at the start…befitting the date of this event."
On the morning of the event there were several issues that came up. As we neared the race site, all traffic on the freeway came to a halt when a tanker truck turned over. We eventually made it through, parked and got to the start line about 25 minutes late. They had already shut off the timing mats and most of the runners were long gone, and we were far from the only runners still arriving. In the end I asked which way the course went and I headed that direction. In a couple miles we hit the first aid station, where they were surprised to still be seeing trailing runners coming along, and I followed the trail of discarded cups along the road that were being picked up. Every now and then we would pass another runner and my confidence would pick up a bit more. In the end we successfully completed the event, although my official time was based on the true race gun time and was almost 3.5 hours, however I recorded the time of 2:58:24 on my own. The other thing that happened that day was that I was hooked on a lifestyle that would lead to many more races in the coming years. The photo to the side was taken just before I approached the finish line.
As summer approached I stayed with my running program and kept the fitness I had gained. During this period I learned more about running and discovered the USA Fit program and its local chapter, The Woodlands Fit. I joined this program which had coached groups based on ability and goal races. I entered with a goal of completing the Houston Half Marathon in January 2008, but left far exceeding that goal. During that late summer through winter that led up to the Houston Half Marathon I entered and completed a series of events throughout the rest of 2007. In September I completed the Chevron Houston Marathon Kickoff 5K in 38:38, a slight improvement over my earlier 5K on a hot and humid evening. In October I completed the Ten for Texas 10 mile race in 2:01:11 (pictured left). Later that year I was introduced to trail racing in the Huntsville state park with the fall Rocky Raccoon 25K, which I completed in 3:46:26 (pictured right). Completing these races, plus the urging of a friend encouraged me to enter a December race for which I was not prepared, the Sunmart 50K on December 8, 2007. Up until this date I had not gone farther than 25K at all, and only once a few weeks before at Rocky, but I was excited to be trying a really long event about which I had heard a lot of positive things. The day was long, and it was warm for December (in the 80's). I had a great time that day, but was also ill-prepared for the distance. However, I had all the determination in the world and I continued, mostly walking with blistered feet through the last 8 miles or so so of the 50K (roughly 31 miles). I finished the event as the next to last finisher at 10:19:52, certainly much slower than I had expected and having had a much harder time than expected. However, in completing this event I learned a lot about completing distance events that still serves me well through today, starting with believing that there isn't any event that I can't complete if I try hard enough.
While the year was filled with numerous successes and a lot of personal growth, it also held a big lesson learned through failure. I had gained about 8 - 10 pounds from the start of the year as my weight had gone from 255 to the mid 260 pound range. When I took stock of the reasons for this failure I had to come to terms with the fact that my belief that running many miles gave me a license to eat anything I wanted. I had proved this to be a false premise and resolved to make improvements in my diet for 2008.