To many runners, particularly the mid- and back-packers, the scale is our nemesis. Each pound overweight translates to 3 seconds slower per mile run. Hence, 10 pounds adds 30 seconds extra per mile. How about 20., 30, 50, or 70 pounds? well, you can do the math, hopefully! It not only means slower, but the weight puts the body at risk in many other ways, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and joint stress to name a few. We all have heard stories of miraculous weight loss and the transformation of those individuals into runners. I love those stories and the commitment needed to get there. In my younger days, I did it myself losing 35 pounds to run my first 5K followed up by the NYC Marathon in 1994. Frankly, it wasn't all that miraculous but still an achievement as I ran and biked my way with a new sensible eating plan to become a runner. After 94 marathons, hundreds of other races and an aging slower metabolism, I still struggle with the extra pounds, not 35 but enough to run slower and stress the body. I know the struggle and the struggle is within me as it is in all of us.
My nephew Shawn and I registered for the inaugural Baltimore Marathon after not being able to get into the Marine Corp Marathon. It was going to be my second marathon after running NYC in 1994. It would be Shawn's second marathon after running NYC in 2000. Through the late 90s and in 2000, I had gained half my weight back. The struggle persisted. I had a non-running hamstring injury that took forever to heal and my Mom was sick with emphysema, eventually succumbing to the disease in 2000. Running and the runner's diet had taken a back seat. After seeing Shawn so psyched to be running and me being a spectator at the George Sheehan Classic, I knew that I needed to get back on the course. I did in the 2001 edition of the Baltimore Marathon, the year with the toughest course (think 22 miles uphill) and just after one of the most tragic events in U.S. history, 9/11. All the runners ran with heavy hearts that day including Shawn and me. Shawn finished in 4:01:39 and I struggled to a 4:27:13.
Fast-forward a couple of years. The course in Baltimore has changed nearly every year although now stable with minor modifications over the last few. In 2002, the race director and Corrigan Sports realized that the 2001 course was just not a fair course. Wanting runners to come back they changed the course to make it fair yet still challenging. Shawn hadn't run the 2002 race but came back with a vengeance in 2003. At optimal running weight he ran his best marathon and PR in 3:36:35. After running a worse time in 2002 from 2001, I finally ran a decent marathon in 4:13:27. More than that, in 2003, he went on to run the JFK 50 mile in an amazing time of 9:06.
Baltimore 2004 and 2006
2004 was a breakthrough year for me, particularly in Baltimore as I ran under 4 hours for the first time - 3:48:01. A well-run race is an amazing experience and it feels like your feet are never touching the ground. In a running 'career', for most of us, these kind of runs only come every so often or for a stretch of races. My stretch of races was from 2004 to 2009. Not every race was fantastic but all of my PRs at all distances were set during this time. My fastest Baltimore Marathon's rank 3rd and 6th out of my list of 94 marathons completed. In 2006. I ran my best Baltimore marathon in 3:47:33.
Shawn continued to run Baltimore well. Also in 2004 and 2006, he broke 4 hours both years, respectively in 3:49:49 and 3:59:25. I've run all 16 editions of the Baltimore marathon and my times have been sporadic but like a weekend golfer who hits that one great, fantastic shot or has that one low round etched in his mind, in hope of another, I continued to come back for more - more cowbell please!
Baltimore 2007 - 2015
During this time period Shawn had taken many of these years as a hiatus, running one Baltimore marathon in 2011 and accompanying me to run my 50th marathon on my 50th birthday in New Orleans in 2010. With this hiatus and inevitable weight gain, his time in 2010 fell to 4:29:28. Being the 10th anniversary and a celebration for us 10-timers, I ran well in 4:03:42.
Shawn's weight piled on over the next 5 year span. Although mine didn't pile, I put those extra 30 seconds of weight on and combined with my age, just became slower overall. Then in 2015 tragedy struck our family when Shawn's brother, Todd, collapsed and died. We were all saddened and stunned. At 49, it was hard to imagine a life that was well-lived was taken so early.
In December 2015, Shawn's weight was at a high of 232 pounds and with blood pressure skyrocketing he was on blood pressure medicine to manage it. When I would go back to Hagerstown, it became difficult for him to run a few miles without walk breaks. I know how the mental aspect of that feels as I went through it back in 2000 when my Mom was sick and eventually died in March. I had stopped running and I had gained weight to a point where I could not run a mile and a half without walking. I distinctly remember the difficulty both mentally and physically. At a point, one says 'enough is enough'. For me it was back in June 2000. For Shawn it was December 2015. He set out on a weight-loss journey following Ideal Protein. With his wife as his weight-loss coach (who also had magnificent weight-loss on this plan) he started a journey that would change his physical and mental life.
With Ideal Protein, there are phases one goes through for optimal weight-loss and they must be strictly followed. The early phases do not include any exercise which means no running. There are definitely good stories out there of runners who lost weight by including running (or other forms of exercise) in their weight-loss program. However, the more one runs or exercises, the more calories need to be consumed to maintain the regimen which can lead to overeating as the body craves calories.
From December through April, being disciplined and focused, with the help of his Ideal Protein coach, the weight melted off - 232, 220, 200, 190, 170 to 162 - a loss of 70 pounds. After hitting his goals, he could start running again and run he did. Seventy pounds off of the joints, de-stressing the heart, and mentally knowing that what he just did is harder than running any marathon, he got back out on the road and trails. There was no more need for blood pressure medicine. The heart works as it should when the body is how it should be.
I saw the excitement again - new running shoes and watch, scouring the internet for races, joining the social media running sites. It was all there again. Frankly, it was motivating for me as my motivation started waning after aging starts to take one's best runs away from them. I needed to see that excitement in someone else so I could see that excitement in myself again. Although I had not stopped running since 2000, 16 years running 5-6 days a week, 94 marathons, 31 half-marathons, 8 ultras, intense personal struggles, the nagging aches and pains and enough weight gain to make a difference, I found my motivation levels waning. Shawn re-energized me seeing him so excited again.
He found himself wanting to do the difficult runs on trails and roads to make a statement not only about his weight-loss but the discipline it took to get there. Running is about discipline and consistency. It is the same with eating. There are no quick fixes. One does not get off their couch one Saturday and run a marathon just as one doesn't wake up in the morning weighing 70 pounds less.
One of the first difficult challenges was to run the Quadzilla 15K. This is how it is described.
Quadzilla is pure guts. It will test your limits. This is a trail race: there are hills, rocks, roots, and water. You think you’ve run hills … until Quadzilla. This course is a BEAST! It will take you to the middle of nowhere and back. It will test your spirit, try your patience, and keep throwing a curve ball at you again and again.
|Shawn (in yellow) making the climb|
Reading the description of the Quadzilla, this is the very essence of weight-loss. "It will test your limits...test your spirit, try your patience and keep throwing you a curve ball time and again."
I invited him to Durham to run the Running of the Bulls 8000, a premier road race in Durham - fast and challenging at the same time. It was going to be our first race together in years and we were both pretty excited about it. In the usual Durham heat and humidity, we both ran decent races.
The Quadzilla and this faster 8000 meters proved to Shawn that he was good to go and back in the saddle again - 70 pounds of weight-loss running 8 minute miles. At that point I also knew that the Baltimore Marathon, one that we had run 5 times together was in his grasp. I also knew he was going to do well. I received two free entries to the Baltimore Running Festival the previous year for being a 15-time Baltimore marathon runner. I offered one up to Shawn to bring us back together again for another run in Baltimore.
Of course, training in the summer is not the easiest road to a fall marathon, particularly in North Carolina where the heat and humidity are unrelenting. Even for the east coast as a whole, it is a challenge for runners. In June I ran the Banff Canadian marathon so I started the summer in nice cool weather but most of the summer saw temperatures above 90 degrees. I could see the times that Shawn was running and the training that he was doing and it was right on track for a really good marathon.
In September, we decided to put it to the test with a 20 mile race called Revenge of the Penguins organized by Marathon Charity Cooperation. The course was primarily flat on the C&O canal near Washington in Potomac MD. However, the weather had not reached fall-like temperatures yet and was nearly 80 degrees at the finish on race day. I sort of melted but Shawn kicked butt. He ran 2:53:24, 8:40 pace, placed 3rd in his age group and 15th out of 109. This is when I knew that his marathon in Baltimore was going to be great! This picture shows the difference between his run and mine!
Here we are lining up for the Baltimore Marathon for the 6th time together. Shawn's journey has been full of patience, faith, perseverance and relentless forward progress both with his weight-loss and running. He is living proof that it can be done and that weight matters not only when it comes to running but when it comes to quality of life.
Shawn said he was a little nervous. I'm still nervous even after completing 94 marathons so it is to be expected. But, these smiles show how wonderful this moment is.
|Altra's and Saucony's|
|Contemplating the big race|
|Standing at attention?|
|Garmin 235 strapped to our wrists|