Flying over the unknown en route to Tucson. A trip that, less than a year ago would’ve seemed odd, or at least toward the bottom of this guy’s bucket list. I mean, what’s in Tucson, besides sweltering temps that make you feel like you’ve driven deathly close to the sun and maybe some cacti? Cacti, I’ve always wanted to use that word in my writing. Anyway, so here we are, 32,000 feet above the clouds in a piece of winged-aluminum going really, really fast headed for a daring adventure (okay, not really all that daring). We have actually had the trip planned for months. I’m a planner; it’s what I do.
A few years back, I stumbled into this crazy sport called running. After getting out of the military in 2002, I led a pretty sedentary lifestyle for a few years. In doing so, I put on a few (45) pounds over the course of two years. Then one Sunday, I couldn’t button my pants…again and I became disgusted with myself. I spent a week wallowing in self-pity wondering how the “fatness” had happened so quickly. No one intentionally seeks to become overweight, but it can happen to the best of us if we aren’t careful. By the way, this wasn’t just about being fat; it was that I had slipped into a very unhealthy lifestyle of bad eating habits, a general lack of physical activity, and well…beer.
That kind of a lifestyle can put you on the wrong side of a belt buckle in a hurry. So one Sunday, after waving goodbye to another pair of khaki cargo pants, I decided that it was time to make a change. That’s when my commitment to a healthier lifestyle began. In 2005, I began the long journey of weight loss and exercise. After a few weeks, I found that I actually enjoyed working out, especially weightlifting. In less than 18 months, I had dropped almost 50 pounds and was in the best physical shape of my life. The problem with lifting, for me, was that it was never enough. I lifted 5 to 6 days per week and the weight that I worked out with got heavier and heavier. I was addicted. Then in 2011, I began having problems with my joints and was constantly rehabbing some body part, tendon, or muscle.
Weightlifting started to lose its attractiveness to me because I realized that I was working for something that would never have a reward. The only reward was looking good in tank tops (that’s a selfish goal). I didn’t have the drive to want to compete, so where would it ever take me? What other fulfillment could I get from it? I couldn’t answer those questions and really began wrestling with my commitment. As the tendonitis and joint pain increased in frequency and intensity, I knew that I had to do something different. I needed a new outlet. Cue the shorty shorts and get me a visor.
After a heart-to-heart conversation with my brother, one of the best motivators (and salesman) that I know, I was introduced once again to the idea of running. Admittedly, my first thoughts of running harkened me back to 6 am Physical Training runs in the military. I loved the military, except for those early morning runs (styling in cotton shirts and shorts). If I hated running then, why in the world would I take this up as a new hobby? I mean let’s be honest, running sucks…or at least it can. Remember all of that, my brother is a great salesman talk? Yeah, he’s also extremely persistent. The problem was that he lived in Dallas (that’s a long way from Chicago). So if I were going to take up this new “awesome” habit, it would have to be on my on or so I thought.
I did go on a few runs by myself at first, but soon found that they were all around me. You know, those crazy runner people. I had never encountered one up close, but all of a sudden they were everywhere…everywhere! They were neighbors, friends of friends, co-workers (one even stumbled out of a porta-john during one of my first early morning runs). There was literally a store, completely devoted to runners, less than a mile from my house! Seriously, how had I been so blind? I’ll tell you how. It’s because running can really blow and it can also intimidate the heck out of you. People shy away from it because they associate it with punishment and pain learned in gym class, or after baseball practice. Most people think runners are crazy (that’s actually true), but it’s not a Charles Manson kind of crazy; it’s more like a Marilyn Monroe-John F. Kennedy relationship kind of crazy.
Anyway, so my brother sold me on giving this running thing a shot, so I did. I went for a few easy runs alone and not only did I not die, I actually really kind of enjoyed it (not the first mile though…no one ever enjoys the first mile). Then I started to meet others who loved the sport and asked me to come along on a few longer runs. I developed a consistent habit of pushing myself out of the door and every time I did, it got a little easier. After a few months, I was up to 6 and 7 mile Saturday runs and that’s when it happened; the hook, my friends. A dear friend of mine had signed up for a half-marathon, but couldn’t run it because of an unfortunate injury. When she realized that I had gotten my base mileage to a certain point, she called and asked if I would be open to running in her place. I nervously, but graciously accepted her offer. After a couple of more months of training with some friends, I stepped to the starting line and had the time of my life. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I loved it!
The hook still has me, only now I have many races including half-marathons, full marathons, and even a 50k under my belt. Which is why I am on a plane right now somewhere over the Southwest United States. I am flying to Tucson to get my coaching certification through Road Runners Club of America (RRCA). I will also be coaching the marathon program for Fleet Feet Schererville this summer. When I look back, it is like an absolute whirlwind. I am not sure I can even tell you how I got here, but I couldn’t be more excited about the future!