Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The road to 26.2

Running has changed my life.  I started running in August of 2013 on my 40th birthday, after repeated efforts to lose weight and maintain.  I was 256 lbs. at my heaviest and at one point in 2011 got all the way down to the low 200s, but could not break the below the 200 lb. mark. 

In late 2011 my dad's health started declining rapidly.  We had to put him in a Memory Care center just before Christmas.  Then in April of 2012, my mom's health started failing as she was diagnosed with cancer, Multiple Meyloma.  By August 1st of 2012, I found myself alone with my Dad at a rehab center as he breathed his final breath.  My mom was at home bed-ridden at the time, her body ravished by the chemotherapy.  Over the months following, I was with my mom morning and night on a daily basis, and trying to raise 2 boys in their early teens.  This was in addition to trying to keep up with responsibilities at church and at work.  I had a lot of support from my wife and others, but it was a very tough time.  By June of 2013, I found the cycle had repeated and my weight had steadily increased to 246 lbs. I knew I had to start taking better care of myself.  I struggled for 2 months to lose weight and it was not happening nearly as fast as it had in the past. 

So, on the weekend of my 40th birthday, I decided to take my first attempt at running, inspired by mainly my pastor.  I made it about 1/4 of a mile, but it was slow and difficult.  Within a week, I had set my mind to doing a 5K some time in the next year.  There were a couple of setbacks, but I worked as hard as my body would allow.  By December 14, 2013, I could run more than mile at a time and this was a notable day because I actually ran/walked 15K at a 12:30 pace.  It also turned out to be one day short of a year before my first MARATHON!!! 

By March 2, 2014, I was ready for my first race, at a weight of 216 lbs.  I ran the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) 10K...yep, not a 5K.  It was HARD, but I did run the entire way and finished with a 11:32 pace, a bit slower than I had trained.  This inspired me to focus on speed and by April 8, 2014, I ran my first 5K and finished under 30 minutes with a 9:22 pace.  Also during this time, the Bridge Street Half Marathon had reopened their registration and I went for it.  I had done this distance once in training and had 3 other walk/runs over 10 miles.  I finished it successfully at a 10:46 pace, with a lot more walking than I had hoped. 

Again, I set my mind to work on pace.  On May 3, 2014, I ran the Decatur, AL, Steeple Chase 8K in 45:45 seconds, a 9:09 pace.  This was a significant day because I experienced the elusive negative split.  At this point, I started to branch out in my training and finally take on some hills, which I had avoided like the plague. 

Another significant day in my training occurred on May 24, 2014.  It was my first group run.  This was the Saturday Morning crew at Panera Bread at Bridge Street.  This led to a new skill starting to develop, talking and running.  This was probably one of the most significant turning points in my development.  I didn’t realize it then, but now I know that runners are a special family.  We don’t judge each other.  We encourage, challenge and motivate each other.  We look out for one another so that no one is left behind.  We struggle together.  We share in excitement over successes. We hurt for each other when we have setbacks.  We pray for one another and share our life experiences.  

My next race was a doozy, the Mountain Mania 15K in Decatur.  During the first 5K there is 300’ of ascent across a distance of 1.75 miles.  Then, after some rolling hills, there is another climb of 275’ in about 1.75 miles.  The concept of negative splits was a distant memory, but I finished at 1:31:59.

Then on June 28 I ran the Firecracker Chase in Fayettville, TN.  This is a 10.2 mile race with a not-so-easy climb about half way through.  It was a challenge in some warmer weather, but I managed almost an almost perfectly even split and even had the energy to come home and push mow the yard that day.

By this time, I had branched out and started running with more groups: Tuesday at Bruegger’s in Madison and Thursday at 4:30 at the Indian Creek greenway and even Sunday Morning Hills in various locations.  I was even leading the Saturday morning crew at Panera on occasion.  All these people are awesome!

Then came another race day I will certainly never forget, August 2, 2014, two years and one day after I watched my dad draw his last breath.  It was the 10K Race for Hope in Madison, AL, for a very good cause, Autism research.  Although there were only 130 people in the race, I was happy to be 28th overall and 1st in my age group with a pace of 8:11, 3:21 per mile faster than my first ever race, a 10K that was exactly 5 months earlier.  The next weekend, I tried the 5K distance again, this time with some trail mixed in at the Run to Rescue 5K at Bob Jones High School.  I was trying for under 25 minutes and ended up with 23:45.   

On my 41st birthday, I began a 16-week training plan for the Rocket City Marathon (RCM), but I decided not to sign up until I was sure I could add the distance and avoid injury.  At this time, I had crushed 200 lbs. and was down under 180, where I have maintained since.  (I thought that running a marathon would mean I would lose 20 more pounds, but came to realize that marathon training and weight loss don't go together that well.  This is good as far as my friends and family are concerned, because I've had a lot of people tell me not to lose more weight.)

Next up on the race calendar was the 2nd of 3 half marathons.  This was the Hartselle Half Marathon in Hartselle, AL.  This time I was experiencing the beginning of some moderate hamstring tendonitis, due to over-training.  I managed to snag 3rd in my age group and get in under 2 hours with a 9:03 pace.  There were only 5 in my age group, though.  There was no sign of the negative split and I felt terrible after the race.  The next week was spent on complete rest due to doctor’s orders because of the hamstring, but I started back running and resumed my plan soon.

In October, we had a family vacation, so I didn’t get the miles in, but I think I needed a little extra rest.  I did get in 7 miles along the coast of Carlsbad, CA.  We came back in town late Thursday before the Monte Sano 15K in Huntsville, AL.  I felt horrible during this race, as I carried my water bottle, but could not bring myself to drink from it for fear of loosing that pre-race banana.  I ran slightly positive splits, though I started slow...the average pace was 9:12, which was worse than the half marathon.  I spent the remainder of the day in bed with a fever and was still feeling bad on Sunday.  One interesting note: this was the first time I had been sick since I started running more than a year before, and I recovered quick.  Running has been great for sustaining my immune system.

The next thing I knew, it was getting close to the next price increase for RCM, so on the last day before it went to the highest price, I finally committed.  But I had one more race that I had already registered for.  This was the Huntsville Half Marathon, it was a relatively even split race and kept my string of PR’s alive by finishing around 1:55.

Now, the only thing that stood between me and my first Marathon was 5 weeks of training.  The highlight of this was the opportunity to run the awesome new RCM course in its entirety on November 22.  It was a beautiful day and I ran it in 4:35, but there were only four of us who ran the whole course that day.  The others finished in under 4 hours.  Nevertheless, I finally had my goal time, 4:21 (so I could get in under a 10:00 pace).  There was another VERY cool benefit to this: We Run Huntsville was out taking pictures and they got some of me just after I passed the Saturn V rocket at the Space and Rocket Center.  The sky was absolutely gorgeous as the rocket towered behind me.  The next day, I discovered my picture was featured in the weekly We Run Huntsville newsletter…then it was still there then next week.  And it was even printed out and laying on the table at their booth at the RCM expo.

After a few weeks of tapering, the time had finally come.  Even the date was historic, 12.13.14.  It was cold, I think 28, at the start, but the forecast was for sunny and mid to upper 50s before my planned finish.  I don’t know how the forecasters missed it so badly, but we saw very little sun and the temperature on my phone at the finish was 43 degrees with a cold, steady breeze from the north.  I finished with even my gloves still in place.  As for the race, a couple of miles in, I caught the 4:10 group and then several more miles I caught sight of the 4:00 group. I passed them briefly, but I knew that I was too fast.  I felt great and was taking it easy at the aid stations, just as I had planned.  By mile 16, the 4:00 group was starting to fade in front of me.  I knew not to try to keep up with them because I had to run my race.  As I walked through the final aid station and got ready for the last mile and a half push, I looked back and thought I caught a glimpse of the 4:10 group.  I felt strong and after taking one more look at my watch and about 30 seconds extra walking, I made my push to the finish.  As I turned the corner to the finish line, I saw the final seconds of 4:08 ticking by and made a dash to come in at under 4:09 by the clock.  The chip time was 4:08:25, and put me a full 30 seconds per mile ahead of my goal. 

16 weeks of marathon training with about 500 miles had culminated in what I consider a huge success.  I can’t take credit for this and the other running successes.  There really are too many people to thank, but you know who you are.  I do want to thank my wife for putting up with me being gone so much on the weekends.  In the end, though, all credit goes to God.  I don’t know why he has given me this passion for running, but I must be aware to use it for His glory and not allow it to hinder my relationship with Him.  This relationship was made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  So as we celebrate His birth this season, I find myself not knowing what is ahead for me and running.  I do know for sure that I don’t want to stop.  In fact, the thought of quitting is scary to me.  

I am also very thankful to have my mom still.  Most of my weekend runs and races end with me driving home talking to her on the phone, and I hope to continue that for a long time.  At some point I would like to be a part of a race to benefit Multiple Meyloma research—maybe even I can find a way to help in organizing one. 

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