Over the next year, I worked on improving my eating…and going slightly farther. The weight slowly came off – 5 lbs, then 10, then 15, then 20….I eventually got down to my high school weight. Other people started to notice, too. When asked, I’d say – “I’m trying to get to my original weight – 7 lbs, 7 ounces.”
But, truth was, the numbers only told part of the story. Sure, I was in better shape, and my clothes fit better, but the big change was – I felt GOOD. I was eager to get out the door in the morning, and sad when I couldn’t get outside. Just being outside and taking in the scenery as I walked, jogged or rode my bike felt like a new lease on life.
As I got stronger, I took on more races – not because I was fast. I was mostly a back of the pack runner, but I was just happy to be out there. My first 5K was in late March, which was in cold weather, but as Spring came in, had fun collecting shirts from all the races. My daughter and I even ran a Father’s Day 5K together, where we wore coordinated Batman and Robin shirts.
I went further and further. The 5K’s were fun enough, so I moved up to an 8K (roughly 5 miles). The finish was fun, because it started downhill, then rose up for the last quarter-mile. I felt strong enough to pass several runners on the way up. Later, I moved up to a 10K / 6.2 mile run. When that proved to be uneventful, I signed up for a 10 mile race.
The Reston 10-miler started out easy enough. A lot of runs in the area were started in cooler weather, so I’d start out in a hat/gloves, and multiple layers, shedding clothes as I went. The only problems were having to make a choice between carrying my laundry for several miles, more making a ‘donation’ of something I didn’t want to carry.
In this race, I saw that the weather forecast was going to be overcast, and that temperatures wouldn’t be too tough during the run, so I wore what I thought I’d finish in. Turns out…the sun didn’t listen to the weather report. It was bright and sunny…and the temperature went up accordingly. By the time I got to mile 6, I was hot. By mile 8, I was dehydrated, and in the last mile, people were asking me if I was OK.
I said that I was, but I was swearing under my breath. I couldn’t wait to get off the course, and sought out every opportunity for shade. Mercifully, I was able to finish the race and get off the course, but I made a mental note to wear cheap layers next time, in case I had to ditch any clothes.
By October, 2013, I was down to 180lbs, and signed up for the next level challenge. I entered the Indianapolis Monumental Half-Marathon. 13.1 miles, in my home state of Indiana. I put the commitment on Facebook, so now I had peer pressure to keep me honest and working towards the goal.
On November 2, 2013, I woke up in Indianapolis at 4:30AM, just East of the State Capitol, where my sister and brother-in-law joined me for the race. I stood in the early morning chill, wearing my sacrificial sweatshirt and sweatpants, a warmer hat and an extra pair of gloves. When the race started, I’d ditch the outer layer at the start, and shed gear as temperatures dictated and modesty allowed.
Once the sun came up, I pulled out my sunglasses and ran on. I actually felt pretty good, and it was a very friendly and supportive crowd. If you had a logo on your shirt or hat, people would shout those names in encouragement. Bands played on the side of the road, and there were plenty of water and energy stops, with first-aid check-ins, every few miles.
Fortunately, I didn’t need any first aid, and the course was very flat, which I was thankful for. I made sure to get some water at every stop, and slow down to walk or stretch when I needed to. As I reached the half-way point at 6.5 miles, the course split in two, with the full marathon runners heading off into the distance.
I turned onto the next section of the 1/2 marathon course, one step in front of the other. I had my iPod Shuffle clipped to the back of my hat, and my running rhythm changed with the song. Some songs were faster, some were slower. When Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” came on, I surged ahead, and when a slower song came in, I caught my breath.
At each water station, I slowed down to a walk to make sure I could drink without coughing, choking or tripping. Once I cleared the station and threw away my cup of water or Gatorade, I’d start walking faster, and ease back into my pace – no longer just jogging, I was actually running.
As I wound through the Indianapolis neighborhoods, I thought about how far I had come, and that this actually felt ‘normal’. It had been over 9 years since the accident, and I found myself surprised to be thinking about the accident at all.
I rounded a turn on to Meridian Street, and headed South towards Monument Circle. I had made it past 10, and later, 11 miles. There was only a little over 2 miles to the finish. I started to push harder, but my body started telling me, “Sorry, this is all you’re going to get.” I slowed my pace a bit, and my lungs and legs agreed that this was the best decision.
Even though the course wa almost completely flat, the later blocks seemed to turn slightly uphill. I turned off of Meridian on to New York Street, then on to Capitol. I started pushing harder towards the end, but I didn’t get any faster…but at least I was still going.
I rounded the final turn on to Washington Street, and charged towards the end, only to see some other runners blast by me as they went across the finish line. Fine. As my high school coach told me, if they have that much energy at the end of the race, they weren’t pushing hard enough.
As I pushed across the line, I looked down at my watch. 1 hour, 53 minutes…and a sub 8:40 pace. I had just finished a half-marathon.
I thought…if I can do a half-marathon……