Returning from a vacation a few years ago at age 53, I stepped on the scale and it read 199 pounds.
And I felt awful, often not bothering to tie my shoes because, well, it was just easier not to.
Faced with “turning 200,” I decided to try again at some exercise and dieting. I’d occasionally run before, but not consistently enough to do much good.
I adopted ex-Gophers coach Glen Mason’s mantra: “I hate to run, but I love to eat” and set off jogging (or trudging) a 1.5-mile loop near our house.
This time, I was able to keep at it as well as restrict meals to moderate amounts with no snacking to make a difference. Within a few months, I had lost 30 pounds, the equivalent of carrying two bowling balls around, and felt tremendously better.
So I stuck with it. The next year, my daughter Chelsea talked me into running one of the local 5k (3.1 miles) races. It was free, so I agreed.
Then things got out of control from there.
I’ve always liked sports. I gave up softball after trying to field ground balls with bifocals. Even golf became pretty difficult with carpal tunnel.
I found running to be an easy, cheap, and convenient alternative.
For one thing, you can literally step out your front door and go running at any moment that suits you, not having to wait for a scheduled time or be dependent on any other factor.
You can also make it as competitive or keep it as casual as you wish, from striving to win your age group in large races to never looking at a stopwatch.
(Warning: competing is fun, but no matter how good you think you are, there are many many others of all ages who will be faster than you. Keep your expectations in check, and it will be more fun than frustrating.)
And although there are numerous opportunities and gadgets to spend money on, you really don’t need much more than a decent pair of shoes and comfortable clothes.
I say it’s easy because you can go at your own pace. No one plays defense against you. It only takes the willingness to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
So when I mastered the mile and a half loop, I increased it to two laps, as well as entering some more 5ks.
Then I heard about the Twin Cities 10-mile, from the Metrodome (at that time) to the state capitol. Still inexperienced at the finer points, I proclaimed: “I run three miles, I can do 10!”
Turns out that each additional mile is just as long as the previous one. There’s no volume discount or anything like that.
Eventually, Chelsea and I reached the goal of running a 10-mile race.
You see where this is going next was a half marathon (13.1 miles). Repeat after me: each additional mile is just as long as the previous one.
Then I read about the Loony Challenge, which is a 10k and 5k back-to-back on Saturday and 10-mile on Sunday, for a total of 19.3 miles. The best part is that it guarantees an entry into the Twin Cities 10-mile rather than having to go through the lottery process, because, yes, there are that many people who want to run 10 miles.
Actually, the really best part is that you get to do three races in less than 26 hours, including the gorgeous finish stretch from the St. Paul Cathedral looking down to the capitol. The atmosphere of the whole weekend is sort of like getting to go to a state tournament at the end of a season.
Of course, this story wouldn’t be complete without one more progression.
There was talk of a group from our church doing a marathon. That didn’t materialize, but truth be told, I was a year away from changing age groups (meaning I would compete against older runners), so I signed up myself.
Twin Cities Marathon was a natural fit because I was already familiar with the start and finish areas, plus it’s close enough to drive in and out rather than dealing with hotel logistics.
So I trained and read everything I could and learned how to ingest gels while moving and which flavor of Powerade to drink and went to physical therapy for an injury and almost passed out from dehydration and met some professional runners at a group run and studied the course and got there and plodded through the first half and then had several miles that were a joy and then crossed the river and my back hurt and feet hurt and ended up walking most of the last four miles while my family was wondering what happened to me after the last tracking checkpoint, but I made it to the finish and then said I wouldn’t do it again . . .
And I haven’t yet. But I would like another shot at it because I think I can do better.
In the meantime, I’m getting older every day, preventing the scale from starting with a crooked number, and running more days than not because, as I’ve stated many times, “It feels better than not doing it.”
Things a non-runner doesn’t understand
If you don’t run, it’s easy and common to scoff about running being “fun.” My favorite part is, after a race, dripping with sweat, chowing down on the post-race food and feeling like I have done something.
You’re not being tackled by a 275-pound linebacker or beaned by a 100-mph fastball, so how can you get hurt running? There are a variety of pains that come from repetitive use or overuse.
PACE AND TIMES
So how long does a 20-mile run take an hour? (Even the Kenyans don’t come close to that.) It takes some experience to be in tune with what’s considered a “good” time. For the elite runners, even reaching a personal best by a second can be a significant accomplishment.