Friday, February 17, 2012

How Running Saved My Life

Before I begin this post, I promise you it's not necessarily a fitness related one. It has more to do with personal experience and growth, and it just happens to involve running, that's all!

By the end of 2010, I was not at a good place in life. I felt stuck in the job I had at the time, I was very hard to get along with, which was driving my wife and kids crazy, and I was very moody and impulsive in both my demeanor and my behavior. I was also really overweight, out of shape, and starting to feel the effects of it, which made me even more moody and broody (is that even a word?).

By January 2011, I had begun successfully tackling the issues related to my behavior. I'd begun therapy and was diagnosed with ADHD, which is something I'd suspected I'd had for many years but never done anything about. I started taking meds and paying attention to my behavior and the change was almost immediate and very positive!

But I probably hit rock bottom around my birthday in February of 2011 when I went to my doctor's office for a checkup. When they took my weight, I was 360 lbs, which was the heaviest I'd ever been. I had constant knee and back aches, and I had high blood pressure. My blood work showed I was almost in the range of the onset of diabetes, my cholesterol was high, and I'd been having chest pains. They took an EKG and everything looked ok, but it opened my eyes and really hit me square in the face. I'd just turned 31 and had a wife and 4 kids, and was in such bad physical shape that I was on the path to where I might not be around past 45 yrs old to see them.

I was determined then and there to do something about it.

The first thing I needed to do was tackle my eating habits, which were not very good. I tended to not necessarily eat too many bad foods, but way too much of everything, and constantly throughout the day. I found a free app called LoseIt online and for my iPhone and started using it. What you do is enter your height and current weight and it tells you how many calories you should eat for the day. The goal is to stay under your alloted number, and any exercise you do can be entered in so you can "earn" some calories back. You also track your weight with the program, and as you lose weight, your daily calorie allotment will decrease slightly accordingly. But the best part is that it's not really a diet. You eat whatever you want, but tracking and staying under your daily goal number makes you think about what you're eating, how much you're eating, and how much exercise you'll have to do to compensate. In the end, it helps you develop better eating HABITS, which is by far the most important and beneficial part of it all, and why it ultimately works.

I started doing this and, while I was developing better habits, I found it hard to stick to every day and I was still not really losing any weight. Then, something happened that set a chain of events in motion that changed everything...

My oldest daughter was in kindergarten at the time and her school had an annual 5K race that she wanted to run in. The deal was that a parent had to run with the kid. My wife was interested, but she had just given birth to our 4th child and she had not yet been medically cleared to resume exercising yet. However, God bless her, she signed *ME* up to run with our daughter. At this point I had about 3 weeks to get ready for it.

Now, in my younger, more in-shape days, I had been a good distance runner...I ran cross-country track in high school and used to regularly run 3-10 miles/run as a teenager. However, I hadn't done that in YEARS! Even so, I figured I needed to get started right away so I could run the race with my daughter and actually make it all the way to the finish line.

At first, I was miserable...I could barely run a mile, although I'd walk another mile afterward to get a bit more exercise. One thing that I did differently from other aborted attempts was I stuck with it! It was tough, but I forced myself to keep going out every day for runs, and what I noticed was that not only did it start to feel better, but I could (very) slowly but surely notice slight improvements in my performance.

I managed to run that race with my daughter and I did it without having to stop. I also noticed that in the 3 weeks leading up to it, I'd lost about 10 lbs just tracking calories and running. I thought to myself, "hey, that wasn't so bad...what if I keep it up?"

I spent the rest of the summer and fall running, eating better, and entering some 5Ks. Along the way, as my weight went down, my running performance got better and better and I got smaller and smaller. I felt better, I looked better, and that only motivated me more. By October, I was down to 255 lbs and even had to buy ALL new clothes because I'd shrunk so much that all of my clothes were now much too big on me!

I'd gone from a 44 waist to a 37, a 56 chest to a 46, and a 20 neck to a 17 1/2. I continued running and also added in some weight lifting to my routine, and while my weight has plateaued a bit (I've been stuck at 255-260 lbs since October), my waist has gotten a little smaller and I've added some muscle to my shoulders, arms, and chest from all of the weight lifting.

The main point, however, is that it really did save my life in just about every way. Physically, I weigh less. My blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc are at perfectly ideal levels. I have no more back or knee pain. My heart and lungs are as healthy as can be. I don't get headaches anymore (I'm convinced my daily headaches when I was fat were due to my high blood pressure). I sleep much better, don't snore anymore, and just overall feel so much better than I used to.

Mentally, running is the ideal way to release stress, tension, anxiety, or excitement at the end of a long and/or stressful day. I find that after running, the combination of the adrenaline/endorphin rush and the energy release improves my mood and just puts me in a good place, body and mind. This in turn, along with my meds, has improved my life and my interactions with my family, friends, at my job, and just about everything else.

Currently, I am running 5-6 miles/run, and my times are averaging 8:30-8:45/mile (down from 14:00+/mile when I started). This winter I've been more or less in maintenance mode due to the weather, but once the Spring finally arrives and the weather is consistently better, I'm going to run as much as I did last spring and summer. My goal is to get my distance up to 8 miles/run by the end of the year, get my time to 8:00/mile (which was my fastest time in high school), and reach my target weight of 230.

The amazing part of it all is that, in 1 year, I was able to totally turn my life around, and all it took was a pair of running shoes, loads of support, understanding, and love from my wife, and a bit of motivation and self-discipline. In all honesty, it was so much easier to do than I ever thought it'd biggest regret is that I wasted my 20s being in such awful shape and waited until I was 31 to get in shape. Better late than never, as they say!

I urge anyone else who wants to get in shape to do the same thing! It really works! You don't necessarily have to run, just find something that works for you, stick with it even though it might seem so tempting to give up (especially at the beginning), and keep track of your calories. It WILL work, I promise!