The Chances

How a 250+ Pound Couch Potato Got Healthy

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Shall We Get Autobiographical?

This post has been a long time in coming, so please forgive me for a long indulgence.

Growing up, I don't think I was much different from other kids. Certainly I wasn't an ugly child, nor was I dumb. I like to think I was above average intelligence, but at this point, there's no way to know for sure.

Somehow though, I ended up being "that kid". The one who's picked on, the one who becomes the focus of every other kids' fears, angers, and annoyances. I wasn't particularly athletic, which isn't to say it couldn't have been developed. Since I didn't have a natural ability, this lent me to be picked last on teams, to be made fun of when I'd even attempt something physical. I was afraid of the ball in little league, so I'd become a statue at bat. In the field, I played left field, and the once or twice the ball came to me I wasn't able to catch OR throw it into the infield. I ended up being pressured into quitting the team, then made fun of for being a quitter.

High school wasn't any better. In PE, once again I didn't have any natural abilities, which led to me doing poorly. Rather than working with me, I was punished in the only way the coaches knew: running. I think I spent my entire Freshman and Sophomore years running laps. No, excuse me, not running. Plodding, walking, with the other losers such as myself. That year was one of the worst I had in my life, and PE was hell.

Then in 1984 I got the reprieve I was looking for: I was in a car accident with my mother. It wasn't major for me, although my mother ended up in traction for a short time. By doctor's excuse, I was excused from physical education, and said goodbye to physical hell forever!

Or so I thought. In my Junior year we moved to a new town where I attended a new town, and during the second semester of my Senior year, found out the doctor's excuse was only for one year. To graduate I had to take a year's worth of PE in one semester. So during that second semester, I had a 7am PE class and a 4:30pm PE class, the "extra" one designed for jocks to get a little more workout time during their day. You can guess how it went.

After high school, that was it for me. As far as I was concerned, physical activity was the least appealing thing in the world, something I would never be doing again. Of course, I was still eating like an active teenager. The pounds packed on.

As I matured, moved out on my own, and became my own person, I ate anything I wanted, in any quantity I wanted. Who were my friends? People like me, of course, and in many cases, people who'd taken my lifestyle to other extremes! My eating began to mimic theirs, but since I was only 5'6" tall, the pounds kept coming on. 170 pounds, 180, 190, 200. It didn't stop until I was over 250, and stayed there for another couple decades.

Then something happened. A friend of mine introduced me to a plan that he'd lost 20 or 30 pounds on, so I decided to give it a try. The exercise that went along with it wasn't difficult at all, they just said to walk 10,000 steps a day. My first day with the pedometer, I didn't add any walking to the routine and found I was walking 2000 total. The next day I walked around the block where I work, and found it was exactly 1 mile. I walked 7000 steps that day, and burned 125 calories doing it! Still, I wasn't at 10,000, so I decided to walk around twice. That walk, I was out of breath, tired, and sweaty, but I'd walked 12,000 steps, and burned 150 calories! The weight had also started coming off.

So I started walking every day at lunch. Back then, it would take me 50 minutes to walk 2 miles. I was burning calories, so I didn't care! After a little while, the walking became easier, so I started speeding up. I tried to finish the two miles in 45 minutes, and when I succeeded, tried to finish in 40. In 35. When I got to the point where I could do it in 30, it was getting harder to go any faster without jogging. How would I continue to improve?

I found myself at a wildlife sanctuary one day, and was on my way back to the car when I got a crazy thought: what if I ran? It was only a quarter-mile to the car, and I'd been walking for a while. What if I can run? So I did. It was slow, and I got out of breath, but I ran to the car, and didn't die!

I knew what I had to do next, but run outside? Please. I was still a fat guy! So I moved inside, and onto the treadmill. I turned on the TV, and started to jog. The first minute was great! The second minute, mmm, not so great, but liveable. The third one? Dear God, why wouldn't it end? When 5 minutes was over, I walked 25 more minutes

I also found that I burned more calories than I had been burning when I walked! Well then, what if I did more running? The next day, I ran 5 minutes, walked 5, then ran 5 more. I walked the last 15 minutes. Rince & repeat!

Eventually I worked my way up to jogging 30 minutes nonstop on the treadmill at about 4.5mph. Not the fastest in the world, but who cares? I was doing it, and burning the same amount of calories I would have burned, had I been walking for a full hour! I was pretty satisfied with this.

Then the announcement came that my company would be moving. The kicker was that there wouldn't be room for a workout facility. But I was enjoying running on the treadmill! At the new office, out of necessity, I found a route for myself around the office. It was a bit farther, 2.5 miles, and for the first time, I ran outside.

There were people, but I didn't care. I was running outside, and didn't care what people thought! This was a completely novel thought, and for the next year, I ran that route 5 days a week. I did take a few breaks for hernia surgery. When I took up running again, I'd lost 70 pounds and was in the best shape of my life.

To celebrate my weight loss, I planned a trip to Yosemite with some friends to climb Half Dome. This would be quite the accomplishment, but also would involve a lot of pulling myself up a rock by ropes. Again, out of necessity I took up another activity and began weight training. I joined a local gym and started alternating days between weight training and running.

The trip went wonderfully! It was hard work, some of the hardest work I'd done in my life, but I got the job done.

On the way back down from the dome, my friend Bob said, "So what are we going to do for a major activity next year to keep up the momentum?" I responded in jest, saying, "What about Mt. Whitney?"

Over the next few weeks, we started talking more and more about it and finally decided to go. This would be a more difficult trip, requiring better fitness, so of course I trained more and worked out more at the gym.

It was around this time I decided to run my first 5k, the Sacramento Zoo Zoom, and finished in about 27 minutes. It was a BLAST! The kids got to run their own races as well. I also realized that the scrawny, nonathletic kid who became a 250-pound man was now a 158-pound runner. [i]Runner![/i] I was not only doing the activity I had found so hellish in my youth, but realized I enjoyed doing it.

Once I ran the 5k, I started trying to get faster and faster, as well as lengthen my runs at work. See, the faster I ran, the farther I could run, and the more calories I could burn, in the same amount of time. I took up a training program and made a new goal: I'd run the Humboldt Redwoods Half Marathon in October (2008), with the goal of a full marathon the following October (2009).

Then the long backpacking trips came in preparation for the Whitney trip. This was long run time, so I had to back off the half marathon training in order to focus on backpacking. We went to Mt. Whitney, and while we were unable to summit due to circumstances beyond our control, we had another great trip.

Once back from Whitney, I dove right back into running. On the date the half marathon would have been, I ran 13 miles on my own. In essence, I would have been able to complete the half, even though I thought I wouldn't be able to! This got me into some serious thinking. If I could run a half marathon once, I could do it again. The next 6 Saturdays in a row, I ran 14 miles.

I also started researching possible marathons. I went back and looked at the Humboldt Redwoods Marathon, and found out that there were actually two marathons. The second one was in May, specifically, on my dad's birthday. A marathon, on my dad's birthday, in one of his favorite places, the Humboldt Redwoods. It was as if he was looking down from heaven, telling me to do it for him, and so on the first of the year, I started training for the May 3, 2009 Avenue of the Giants Marathon.


Ali said...

I can really relate, but I'm not quite as far on the journey as you. Total inspiration. :)

The Valle's said...

Great story, I lost just 25 lbs... 160 5'9"... Feel great, run 25 miles a week. Contests to you!