Do you ever wonder how you got where you are? How you ended up doing things that you never thought you would do, or heck, could do? My journey into running started at a critical point in my life. I was faced with a crossroads, if you will: Do something, or keep heading toward an early exit. So…I chose to start running.
A little background
With turning 40 on the horizon, I was 39 and had been recently diagnosed as pre-diabetic with high blood pressure and bad cholesterol. I wasn’t significantly overweight, but I had plenty of ‘skinny’-fat to go around. To top it off, my job at the time was riddled with stress. Growing up I did not participate in sports and was your normal overly intelligent nerd in school. With no athletic background, I didn’t really have a fall back plan to get myself in shape. As a side note, this lack of an athletic background can cause all kinds of mental challenges during an ultra. More to come on that in a future post!
A friend/coworker of mine at this juncture in my life was a triathlete. He was fit and 26. Yeah. A kid. We worked together and he had heard about my health at the time. When I brought up the subject of needing to do something he was incredibly supportive. He recommended that I start running as a means of getting healthy. He gave me some ideas and encouraged me to just lace up my shoes and give ‘em a spin. Personally, my “plan” was to get to where I could run a mile. That, for me, was as good as any place to start.
Over the next several months, I was getting more and more motivated because I felt I was making real progress. When I first started, I could barely cover a full mile and eventually I was getting up to 2 to 3 miles. After a few months of running 3 to 4 times a week, I figured I should let the kid know about something that was bothering me.
I mentioned to the kid that when I was running, I often felt like I couldn’t catch my breath at any point during the run. Not just when I would start running, where the body is accepting the fact that it is being pushed and begins to level out. But, after that leveling out, I always felt out of breath. In talking with him, he thought it was odd that I was still struggling to that degree. The fact that I was regularly running 2-3 miles each time out and still struggling to breathe that much was confusing to him.
That can’t be good
The following day he let me borrow his heart monitor strap, showed me how to pair it to my basic Garmin 10 (top of the line right?) and wanted me to wear it during my next run. Don’t change a thing, just start running like I normally do and then send him a text with the data.
Like a real athlete, I took the strap. I cinched it to my chest and paired it with my watch. It was time to run. After the first few tenths of a mile, I was breathing hard and huffing along. I discovered in looking at the data was that my heart rate had skyrocketed to 212 beats/min during the first half mile. Eventually it settled down to a sky high 190 average for the entirety of the run. You don’t have to be a doctor here. Let me go ahead and tell you. That is way too high.
Time for a reset
It was time for a new plan. I started over with me monitoring my heart rate during my run. If my heart rate reached a certain point, the rule was, I needed to walk. I say “rule” here because as he ‘coached’ me, he made it clear that things would not ever improve if I didn’t build some sort of aerobic base. Without any athletic background, my only aerobic conditioning came from my day to day job. That job consisted of spending at least 50% of my time sitting on my butt.
So, walk I did. For the next few months, I did more walking than running. I started calling it “jalking,” a combination of jogging and walking. I practiced my form of running and walking for weeks. Eventually I got to the point that I could run a single mile without my heart redlining. What was cool about my friend is that he didn’t laugh at my jalking but instead encouraged me through it. Plus, I think he was slightly worried that he would feel responsible if I keeled over and died of a heart attack. The amazing thing about it though was that over this first year, my overall health numbers improved and my mileage picked up.
Fast forward eight years, at the time of this being written in the spring of 2020. I am 47 and have completed a variety of events like Spartan races (yeah I have a few of those trifecta thingies), 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, marathons and ultramarathons. And, of course, I have had a sprinkling of DNFs (Did Not Finish) to keep my pride in check. I am not an elite runner. Heck, I barely even consider myself an average runner. I am a middle of the pack runner at best. More often than not, I enjoy being a part of the back of the pack crowd.
I hang out with the others that are not looking to win, but are looking to push themselves beyond what they ever thought they could do in their life. The back of the pack runners run just as hard as those at the front, we just have better stories of our suffering than the fast runners. We get our money’s worth!
One thing that I will never forget is that 1 mile is a really long way to go. Never underestimate the distance…any distance. We all start somewhere, we just have to start. I truly believe that if I can do this, so can you.
So regardless of where you are on the running spectrum, if you are striving to cover any distance, you are an inspiration to me as much as I hope that my story may inspire you. What about you? What’s your story? Are you looking to start running or do remember back when you did?
Feel free to leave a comment below, catch up with me on Instagram at @winchesterjeff or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you. And be sure to check out our Blog and Videos pages for more content!