Yesterday I completed my first marathon. It was incredibly painful, filled with mistakes, and at the same time one of the more fulfilling things I've done in my life. And while the race "only" lasted a few hours, the preparation for the race has taken years.
Most people who meet me now laugh when I tell them that a little over two years ago I was seriously over-weight and suffering from poor overall health.
How overweight, and how unhealthy?
Well in January of 2012, at 36 years old, I weighed in at 278 lbs and had just been diagnosed with severe high blood pressure (171 over 120).
While the health concerns had been bothering me for awhile, I had all kinds of reasons for not doing anything about them...
- I was too busy leading a rapidly growing church to take time to "get healthy".
- I'm genetically predisposed to being overweight.
- I'm too far gone to "get back" into shape.
- My body wasn't capable of handling "serious exercise".
- In the past few years I'd suffered a badly broken left leg, and totally blown out my left knee playing basketball (ACL replacement, MCL repair, and partial meniscus removal).
- Additionally, I have a large bone cyst in my left leg, leaving me susceptible to another broken leg in the future.
- And honestly, I kinda liked being able to eat what I wanted to eat and do whatever I wanted to do.
Only problem was, I couldn't really do what I wanted to do.
- I couldn't play with my kids for more than 10 minutes without getting exhausted.
- I couldn't sleep well.
- I couldn't find clothes that fit well.
- I couldn't know with any certainty that I'd be physically able to be there for my family.
- I couldn't speak with integrity about anything dealing with physical stewardship.
- And, as I found out in the fall of 2011, I couldn't fit into most roller-coasters at Cedar Point!
A number of things came together in January of 2012 that led to me making a decision to do something about my health.
- My doctor said I needed to go on blood pressure medication...(I really don't like taking pills)
- My kids were tired of having a dad who was always tired...(I really love my kids)
- My clothes didn't fit anymore...(I really didn't want to buy a 3X shirt)
- My congregation expressed concern for my health...(I really wanted to lead & love them well)
- My devotional and prayer times kept pointing me back to the connection between my body and my spirit...(I really desire to please God and be a good steward of all the the resources he's given me)
So in the middle of January I made a decision to get healthy and to take as long as I needed to in order to start living a physically healthy lifestyle.
THE WEIGHT LOSS
The first decision I made was to start tracking everything I ate using an app on my phone called "MyFitnessPal". Our Family Life Pastor Connie had introduced me to it, and probably more than any other tool it helped me to take control of my eating habits. For the next 700+ days I would log everything I ate...I missed one day this past February and haven't missed another since.
It amazed me to discover that I was eating anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 calories per day!
No wonder I was continuing to gain weight. Eating for me was a way of dealing with stress, and boy was I ever stressed.
I cut back to 1,700 calories per day and immediately began to lose weight...by May of 2012 I'd lost 30 lbs.
Once I weighed less than 250, I decided to begin working some limited exercise into my life.
THE RUNNING (WALKING)
I thought I'd try running as an easy way to exercise. I didn't want to have to get up early and drive 20 minutes to a gym in order to exercise, so running made a ton of sense. Get up. Put some clothes on. Go outside. Perfect!
Only problem was, I couldn't run.
I took 10 strides and was out of breath.
So I started walking.
We had a 3.3 mile loop around the lake in our subdivision and I began walking around the lake.
It took what seemed like forever...usually about 1 hour.
But before long (1 month later), I was able to jog the flats and the downhills and only walk the uphills.
Three months later (July of 2012), I could jog the whole thing.
By now I was about 235 lbs and I signed up to run my first race, a 5+ mile trail run with my friend Bill from church.
I didn't break any land speed records, but I did finish in a little over an hour, and walked away thinking maybe I could run after all.
Following this race, I simply continued to do what I'd been doing...
- Eating about 1,700 calories a per day.
- Keeping a food diary using "MyFitnessPal"
- Walking or running 3-4 times per week (usually 2-3 miles)
By January of 2013 I had lost 85 lbs.
I decided to set a goal running a half-marathon in 2013 and began training for that goal.
By September of 2013 I was down to 175 lbs (100 lbs down), in the best running shape I'd been in, and ready to go for my first half-marathon.
Then we got a phone call that threw off all my plans...a church in Medford, OR wanted to talk with us about the possibility of becoming their next pastor...oh and the date for us to visit...just happened to be the same date as the half-marathon I'd been training for all year...bummer.
Steph and I both felt like this might be something God had for us, so we flew to Medford and forsook the marathon (well it was a half, but you get the idea).
Fast forward to 2014.
Steph and I accepted the role of Lead Pastor at Medford First Church of the Nazarene and hit the ground running...or should I say not running.
From December of 2013 to April of 2014 I hit it hard at church...early mornings, long days, late nights, and minimal days off. Not a great long-term strategy for health, but one we knew we were agreeing to at least for the first 6 months.
Our days were filled with breakfast meetings, lunch meetings, and dinner meals as we met our new congregation.
All of this left little time for training, and led to giving back about 15 lbs of weight loss.
By March of this year, I knew I had to get back into running and eating better.
I determined the best way to do that was to register for a race.
I wanted something big enough to keep me motivated.
I thought about the Eugene half-marathon, but since two of the other pastors at church were going to be running in the marathon, I thought, why not train for the full.
I began looking for a marathon training plan that would get me in position to at least finish the Eugene Marathon which was a little over three months away by the time I registered. This meant that I'd be training for 13 weeks instead of the 16 which is usually recommended. Not only that, but I had little base left from having taken off nearly six months from running.
While it wasn't probably the wisest decision, I can say with confidence, I'm really glad I decided to go for it.
I began training in early May, and then just two weeks into training developed a severe pain in my right foot. I couldn't run more than two miles without stopping because of the pain. I decided to shut it down for two weeks and prayed that the pain would go away and whatever injury I had would have time to heal.
Thankfully it did.
So I began training again, now two weeks behind on my already abbreviated training plan.
The first week back training, I began second and third guessing myself.
But I kept going.
And my training kept improving.
I was running two shorter tempo runs early in the week and then running my weekly long run on Fridays or Saturdays.
Because I'd never run longer than 10 miles before, I was surprised when I found myself feeling relatively good on runs of 14, 16, and 18 miles.
As good as I was feeling, my longest training run of 20 miles was a complete disaster (fueling problems, clothing problems, and cramping problems) it all really began to mess with my head going into the marathon.
Steph and I were thrilled to have our friend Becky fly into town for the weekend to run the half in Eugene and to be a part of my first marathon. What an encouragement!
The night before the marathon I slept pretty well getting 3-4 hours of sleep before my 3am alarm went off.
We arrived at Hayward Field about an hour before the 6am start time.
My nerves had finally started to kick in.
I started thinking...
- "What if I go out too fast..."
- "What if I mismanage my fueling..."
- "What if I cramp up..."
- "What if I can't finish the race..."
All of the above happened except for one by the way.
I'd trained for a 10 minute mile/pace which would get me in around 4:30:00.
I went out at a 10 minute/mile pace.
I felt great through the 5k. I thought, "I could run like this all day."
I felt fantastic through the 10k. I thought, "Seriously, running marathons is a cake-walk."
I felt incredible when I saw my wife and "The Best Cheering Section in Eugene" at the top of the hill at mile 8.
I felt relatively good through 13 miles. I thought, "Wow, I could have smoked the half-marathon today."
Then it happened.
Shortly after mile 13 I started cramping.
Not just in one leg, but in both.
By mile 15 I had to walk up a hill.
By mile 17 the cramping had intensified and now, in addition to the cramping, it felt like someone was taking a hammer and smashing my left foot with every footfall.
My pace slowed to 13 minutes/mile.
Finally by mile 20 the cramping began to let up and I'd begun to tune out the pain from my foot.
Thankfully, at mile 23 I ran into my friend Becky who had decided to run with me for the last 3 miles.
I run/walked the final three miles into Hayward Field.
And I did it.
I finished my first marathon.
I ran (read "walked") around the field, cried when I got my finisher's medal, found Steph, and gave her a huge hug. (fyi...she cried more than I did).
I made tons of mistakes in my training.
I made tons of mistakes in my race.
But the biggest mistake I could have made would have been not trying.