This morning I dragged myself out of bed early for a 5-mile run because I was so eager to accomplish 3 major goals today that I did not want to wait till after work to run. The 1st goal was to complete a solid year of running regularly. The 2nd goal was to run 1,500 miles in that year. The 3rd goal was to run 200 miles in July 2014, by far the most miles I have ever run in a month (my previous monthly distance PR was 162 miles in May 2014).
A year ago this week was when I decided to listen to my gut, which was rather large, to follow a deep calling I had within me to start taking care of myself physically. While it is easy to see the physical need to start exercising when you are obese, it was more than that for me. I am a father of 3 energetic young kids, and I wanted to be able to keep up with them and be involved in all their activities. I am a leader in the church, a person that kids look to as an example, and in a culture driven by Instagram and on-demand everything, it is easy for kids to develop sedentary lifestyles. I want to challenge young people to embrace God’s calling in their lives, and one of the ways people can do that is to respect and honor themselves and their bodies. I am a husband who wanted to lead my wife and my household by example. Also, I was fat and hated looking at myself in the mirror, but that was the vein side of me. It was shocking to look at pictures and see my beautiful wife Jennifer standing with this man who looked nothing like the man in our wedding pictures.
*Let me pause right here to say that if you are struggling with weight and obesity, be encouraged because there is a mighty God who can handle all of our struggles. Not everyone was designed to be toothpick skinny. Even after a year of running, I am nowhere close to toothpick skinny, and I am ok with that. The point is that we should seek to honor God with every part of our lives, and that includes the way we eat and take care of ourselves. Certain things like genetic dispositions and medical conditions are beyond our control, but we can still do our best to honor God with the way we treat ourselves. No matter what our physical condition or appearance, every one of us are God’s original masterpieces. Never forget that.*
Sure I did not like the way I looked physically, but I also felt a tinge of guilt everytime I realized how far I had let myself go. I did not like knowing that I was dishonoring God with my lifestyle and my body, so I finally listened to all these feelings and starting running (or slowly walking) again at the beginning of August 2013.
Running was not new to me. As a competitive soccer player in middle school and high school, I ran to get in shape for soccer. Then I ran high school track for 4 years and cross country for 1 year. After I got fat in college, I ran for a few months my senior year and lost 60 lbs. Then I started grad school, started a full-time job, got married and had our 1st son Will all within a quick 2-year span, and over those very busy 2-years, running became a distant memory. So I got more and more out-of-shape. My belly got bigger, and the needle on the scale went further and further. When my XL shirts were getting tight and I really didn’t want to replace my wardrobe with a bigger size yet again, it was becoming too much.
As my slow walks turned into slow jogs, and those turned into longer slow jogs, I finally started to feel some confidence that I could do this. As the slow jogs finally got a little faster after a few weeks, it started to feel really good to be running again. I had more energy. I had less indigestion. Weight was pouring off my body as I increased my mileage. I still was not a runner, but I was someone who just wanted to do something, anything, to get my body into better shape. I chose running because I had history and experience there. I also chose running because I could not afford a gym membership, plus it takes less time to walk out your front door to the sidewalk then to drive to a gym. I needed the simplest solution, and for me that was walking and running.
At first I was definitely walking more than running. I built up to 5-6 mile walks, often pushing little Sam in a plastic push-car. I started working in half mile jogging segments, and then mile jogs. I became a pretty fast walker, but a VERY slow runner. For example, it took me about 6 weeks or regular workouts before I got my mileage pace under 10:00/mile for just one workout. I remember how excited I was to run a 5K in under 30 minutes (9:17/mile pace) on September 12, 2013. That was a huge accomplishment at the time. A couple days ago I ran 7 miles at a 7:49/mile pace, and a few weeks ago I ran a 10K in 45:35 (7:20/mile pace). A year ago, I was walk-jogging at a 14:00/mile pace on a fast day, and a couple months ago I ran a mile in 5:53. I have come a long way, but it has been a long journey over the past year.
Here are a few highlights (or lowlights in some instances) of my first year back into running:
- In August 2013, I walked/jogged 90.4 miles. In July 2014, I set a distance PR for running 201 miles in a month.
- I ran 1,501 miles over the past year, a goal I worked very hard to reach. This is why my mileage was so high in July 2014, as I really wanted to reach 1,500 miles for my 1st year.
- Even in my younger days, I don’t recall ever running over 10 miles in a day (maybe it happened a couple times), but now 10+ mile runs are a regular part of my schedule.
- My 1st walk-jog in 2013 was 3.2 exhausting miles in 45:00. In July 2014 I ran a distance PR of 14 miles in 2:10:54.
- I lost 50 lbs.
- I never gave much thought to running half marathons, but now I have run the distance twice (not in races but just me and God and the road), both times running in under 2 hours.
- I set my PR for 13.1 miles in April with a time of 1:51:40.
- I am very proud of that time, and the 2nd time I ran 13.1 miles was 3 months later and 8 minutes slower. Here’s the difference though… in April I could barely run for a week after pushing myself to that distance. In July, I took 1 day off, followed by 7 consecutive days of running (including 7, 8 & 11 mile days).
- I set my PR for 13.1 miles in April with a time of 1:51:40.
- On November 2, 2013, I was attacked by a dog (a vicious beagle) in my neighborhood while running. It was painful and humiliating, and I still flinch every time I hear a dog bark and panic every time I see a dog loose.
- I chose to start running right before the coldest winter Indiana has seen in over 50 years. I am talking multiple weeks where the temperature stayed in the negative teens and sometimes negative 20s & 30s.
- Amazingly I survived the extreme winter without giving up on running. I ran outside as long as the temperature stayed above 10º, but below that it was frostbite waiting to happen.
- I ran who knows how many times on thick ice or in 6-12 inches of snow.
- I acquired all kinds of cold-weather running gear, my favorite being my very 1st balaclava to cover my face while running.
- I think God foresaw the coming winter and knew I would never make it all winter running outside, so somehow I found a perfectly good, barely used treadmill at a yardsale down the street for $25 in Fall 2013. This was a HUGE blessing, and I spent many long hours in my garage running on the treadmill and watching Netflix on my iPad.
- My first year of running has seen plenty of injuries: terrible shin splints, plantar fasciitis, strained muscles, multiple issues in my bad knee, debilitating back spasms. Every single one of these issues and injuries has been handled carefully with patience, prayer, and new techniques to work through and recover from these issues. God has literally been with me every step of the way.
- Somewhere along the way over the past year, I changed from someone trying to lose weight and get in better shape to a runner.
THIS YEAR, I BECAME, NOT SOMEONE WHO RUNS, BUT A RUNNER
I no longer run to lose weight. My weight loss plateaued months ago at 50 lbs lost. Now I run because I love running. I run because I want to push myself to accomplish great things. I run because I feel like it is one of the things God designed me to do. I run to encourage and challenge my kids and others. All my Facebook friends and Twitter followers probably get sick of my constant posts about running, but I have found that good things are contagious. People need to know that they can change their lives for the better and that God will help them. I run because it gives me 60-90 minutes/day away from a computer or TV. So many conversations with God happen on the road, and I would hate to lose that time with God because it would be difficult to replace if I stopped running. Sometimes I listen to fast, heavy music on a hard run, but my favorite music to run to is praise music, more specifically music that helps me learn and memorize scripture. God’s word speaks to me, encourages me and pushes me quite regularly on runs.
I start every single run with the same prayer… “God please be with me on this run today. Give me strength, energy, endurance and speed. Keep me free from injury… Protect my feet, my ankles, my shins, my knees and my body from pain and injury. Do not let me get chased or attacked by any dogs or other animals. Do not let me get attacked by any humans. Do not let me get hit by a car. Help me reach my goals and push myself to new limits.” Some of that prayer may sound silly, but anyone who spends as much time as I do sharing the road with cars, other people and animals knows that there are legitimate risks every time you walk out the door. I really cannot do any of this without the strength I get from God.
As I have a solid year of running almost daily under my belt, I have new goals for the future. My kids now know that running is part of who I am, and they love that. They want to run with me, and sometimes they do for a mile or two. I am trying to raise them, not to be super athletes, but to be people who care about fitness and health. If they become incredibly talented at a sport, that is great, but really I just want my kids to find ways to enjoy exercising and taking care of themselves in ways that honor God. I want them to learn work ethic and how to push themselves beyond what they think their own capabilities are. My biggest goal with running this past year was to change my lifestyle to better honor God, and that is a goal I have for my family as well.
MARATHON CHALLENGE FROM A 5-YEAR OLD
So a few weeks ago my oldest son Will said, “Daddy, I can’t wait to see you run a marathon.” This surprised me for 2 reasons: 1) I did not know that Will had ever heard of a marathon. 2) I had not seriously entertained or discussed the idea of running a marathon. Sure I have been putting in some serious miles, but I always felt like a marathon was a totally different beast than the 6-10 mile runs I was doing. However, when Will said this to me, it felt like it is something I should aim for. I know it will make my family proud if I can accomplish this, but I also see it as an opportunity to show Will that through hard work, dedication and most importantly dependence on God, you really can accomplish big things in life. Running (and any sport) is great because you can see results from your efforts. That means my children can see the results of my efforts, and I can teach them that my efforts would not have been possible without God carrying me through all the pain and all the long workouts.
So my biggest goal for year 2 as a runner reborn is to run my 1st marathon, and to run it in under 4 hours. That is an average pace of 9:09/mile. This pace is much slower than my normal runs, but the marathon is not like my normal runs. I have been reading different training plans, and I have actually been shocked to find out that I am already running as many miles (probably more miles) than most marathoners (with the exception of the elite and professional runners). The biggest difference between me and someone training for a marathon is the ever-important “LONG RUN.” I can run 6-9 miles/day 6-7 days a week. I do it all the time. What my body is not used to is running 15 miles, 20 miles, 26.2 miles at once. So the last few weeks I have adjusted my training and started planning for these “long runs.” I ran 14 miles a couple weeks ago, and I am hoping to do a 15-16 mile run this weekend.
On this run, I am for the 1st time going to try eating a snack mid-run because that’s what every running website says I need to do to replenish carbs & energy so that my body can avoid the dreaded “wall.” I also just got my first handheld water bottle to carry on my long runs so that I can rehydrate along the way. There is actually a lot of planning and strategizing when it comes to long runs and marathons. I’m used to running hard 10Ks with no water breaks or rest, but now I am teaching my body to slow down a bit, take a gulp of water every 10 minutes, eat a snack every hour and just keep going and going and going at a pace that feels a bit snailish.
I am hoping to run a marathon before the end of 2014, and I think this is an attainable goal now that I have a solid base of running so many miles per week and month. It will not be easy, but God will carry me through. One thing is for sure, a year ago when I was 220+ lbs and in the worst shape of my life, I would have thought you were crazy if you told me I would be within reach of running a marathon a year later. Now I just have to take things to another level to finish the race and accomplish this monumental goal. By the way, despite the crazy number of hours I spend running, I have not run a competitive race since high school. Most people start with a 5K, then maybe a 10K, eventually maybe challenging themselves with a half-marathon. My very first race in 12 years will very likely be a marathon. Part of the reason is because running races can get expensive, but even more than that, I just love running alone with God. I don’t want to lose the purity of that time by being overly competitive, but a marathon is something I think has to be done with others around me. It will be such a huge challenge for me that I look forward to the encouragement I will gain from running with thousands of other people who have the same goal as me, crossing the finish line. I just hope that God will not only carry me across the line, but also that God will help me use this time to reach other people in His name.