“OK, seriously, I’m going to have to start telling you to gain weight.” That was the opening line of my laugh filled annual physical today. Having lost 47% of my bodyweight in the past two years (43% of that having been lost in the first year and 4% this second year), it was great to hear. The scribe accompanying the doctor looked quizzically, not aware of the inside joke being exchanged. It was two years ago yesterday when I was told I was close to diabetic and was morbidly obese. Now jokes about gaining weight could be made. Just jokes mind you, not serious. Still, it was good to hear. Going to keep pushing for another few pounds to officially become “half the man I used to be”. But, if I live the rest of my life at 145 LBS, it will not be too bad I guess.
I’m on track to complete 12 marathons in 12 months, October 18, 2014 to October 11, 2015. My October 11 is scheduled to be the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, PA. Just for good measure though, I’ve signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon on October 25 in Washington.
It was literally two years ago today that I stepped on that scale and saw that very scary number. It was two years ago today I learned diabetes was on my immediate horizon, that if trends continued, I may not see 50. It was two years ago today that I decided I had to change.
My walking and running – mostly inside, was done watching a lot of episodes of THE BIGGEST LOSER. I know – lots of problems with that show. Losing massive amounts of weight over just 20 weeks is dangerous. One of the things my Doctor told me on my one year anniversary (June 24, 2014) was that I would keep the weight off because I did it right. Sometimes the folks on that show keep it off, sometimes they don’t. I hope she’s right and work everyday to ensure that’s the case.
People ask me what I’ve learned going from “morbidly obese to marathon runner”. Here, in no particular order, are 24 things I’ve learned in 24 months:
1. It’s not too late to start. Just because most of your life was spent overweight, obese, or even morbidly obese, doesn’t mean it has to end that way. Your life is now.
2. As your fat goes away you will feel hard things below your chest – they are supposed to be there. They are called ribs.
3. You are going to relapse. You will eat some bad food. Maybe even a lot of it. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t give up. Get back on the treadmill and do an EXTRA few miles. Now you are even for the day. It’s like the sin never happened. The extra exercise is like confession, except for the body.
4. When you sleep on your side, your knees will hurt because it’s bone on bone not fat on fat. It hurts a bit at first. Deal with it.
5. The most miserable thing to do at the start of the diet is to exercise. As you go on and are successful, the most miserable thing to do is to skip a night of exercise.
6. An hour at Planet Fitness is better than an hour at Planet Wings.
7. You can have TWO bowls of Cheerios with Almond or skim milk, and an apple, and you’ve still had LESS calories and fats than just one bagel.
8. There are people who can’t run. Be grateful you can. Think of what those who can’t, would give to be able to do it, just once.
9. You really don’t miss soda.
10. Low fat Greek yogurt – blueberry or cherry or vanilla is much better than a bagel for breakfast. South beach diet bars are delicious substitutes for candy.
11. When you make hotel reservations you look to see if they have a fitness center first. Yes, even before checking the free breakfast buffet . . . It’s a good thing.
12. When you can coach your kid’s team instead of eating a bagel on the sidelines, it’s worth it.
13. You can have more fun with your spouse. Lots more fun. Get your head out of the gutter, I didn’t mean it that way. Ok. Maybe I did.
14. Your family will have to sacrifice as part of your diet. They will lose you to a treadmill or gym but ultimately gain much more of you back, even though there is less of you. But they are sacrificing too.
15. Get the bread off the table. It is your enemy. No bagels. No butter. Fight the carbs.
16. Almost everything else in moderation. Yes, including pizza.
17. You don’t miss sugar with your coffee if you add some sugar free flavoring.
18. That thing with the belt that goes at a certain speed with rails on the side is actually not a place to hang clothes on. It’s a treadmill. Use it.
19. You can watch The Biggest Loser without embarrassment.
20. Your blood sugar score is not to be feared.
21. Your life insurance costs drop. A lot.
22. You will probably live longer, but even if not, you will live better.
23. After you start losing weight, particularly if you lose a lot, some people you only see once in a while won’t recognize you. Some of my wife’s family I see just once a year thought she remarried. Some were even happy about that.
24. After the pounds start to drop off, you might be annoyed that you didn’t start earlier. Not meaning to annoy you, people will ask you “now don’t you wish you did this years ago”. Don’t be annoyed. You weren’t ready to start yet. Whatever got you started, at whatever point in life you did, be happy. YOU started. Congratulations.
Some people ask about my marathon times. Look, I couldn’t walk up two flights of stairs two years ago without breathing hard. I will take a finish of a 26.2 mile race in ANY time. For the record though, I average around 4:20 for a marathon. My favorite marathon, however, was my slowest. My cousin Tericia, who I hadn’t seen in 18 years is a friend on Facebook. She started running last year and on my way home from my Maryland Marathon, while she was visiting my parents I said to her, “run a marathon with me.” She wasn’t sure, but agreed.
So for the first time in 18 years, we met at the start of the first ever Walkway Over the Hudson Marathon. She told me her time would be somewhat north of 6 hours. Who cares. The Walkway Marathon was my favorite for lots of reasons: 1. It’s in my Hudson Valley – how lucky am I. 2. It crosses the Hudson River – awesome. 3. It’s on a paved rail trail, which is just awesome. 4. It was crowded with lots of excitement and great support. 5. Most importantly, I got to catch up with 18 years worth of family history over a nice long run/jog and sometimes bit of a walk and skip. What great fun.
I don’t care what your actual time is. For recreational runners – particularly those who have overcome obesity, I’m going to suggest to you the goal should be simple: finish with your heart beating. We both did.
On June 7, 2015 I ran my first 10k. For those used to American distance calculations, that’s 6.2 miles. The Orange County Classic10K is the historic running route of Frank Shorter – the 1972 Olympic Gold medalist in the Marathon. Mr. Shorter grew up in Middletown, NY. Since I was there on behalf of the County Executive, I was invited to share a few words with the crowd. Given that I’m the County Attorney, responsible for defending the County in all litigation, my advice was simple: have fun and run safe. In my head though, I was planning on pushing for a finish line of under 50 minutes, which is a pace of about 8 MPH over those 6.2 miles. My previous best 10K on a treadmill was 53 minutes, but this was a road race, and you do run faster outside I think. I was very pleased to sneak in under 50 minutes by a whopping 19 seconds. Even a greater thrill, Mr. Shorter ran the 10k himself. To run briefly with an Olympic gold medal marathoner is a rare privilege. Mr. Shorter, somewhere over age 65 made one request, when and if we passed him we were to tell him he was looking good. No question, 43 years after winning the Olympic Gold medal he was looking good.