Saturday, May 5, 2007

How I became a runner and fitness nut

Hi all,

After weeks of procrastination this is my first post and attempt at this "blog thing." Anyway, how and why do I do what I do? Sometimes I ask myself that, which is normally right after I run a 30 plus mile training run just to see if I can. I've really been a runner since the 6th grade, mostly sprint type races from 50 yards to a mile and a half. For the heck of it I ran a half marathon(13.1 miles) in 10th grade because my older brother wanted too so I just winged it. It was fun but I still didn't have the desire to run just for the sake of running. After high school I got involved in weight lifting and later power lifting. My career choice had always been to become a State Trooper so I figured I needed to be big. This continued even after becoming a State Trooper in 1988 and soon my uniforms weren't fitting very well; I found it necessary to go "up" in sizes periodically which I thought was a good thing. It didn't help that I really didn't watch my diet too much either, thinking the more I ate the bigger my muscles would get. This is not always the case unfortunately, meaning it can be a bad thing. The act of simply reaching into the back seat of my work car sometimes resulted in ripping out a shoulder seam or bending over to pick up something also meant ripping my pants. This resulted in several trips to the Tailor for repairs. I wasn't really fat, just getting big all over and I was starting not to like it.
I can almost remember it like it was yesterday. It was late April 1997 and I was walking upstairs to get something and got to the top and found myself breathing heavily. Was I having a heart attack? No, I was just totally out of shape, cardiovascularly out of shape. I was strong as an ox, but I couldn't run too save my life, or chase down a bad guy. My wife and I had also been talking about having children (yikes, now their 6 & 9 years old) and I wanted to be able to run and play with them when they got older so I knew I had to do something. I was 190 plus pounds, could barely fit into my uniform and had a hard time walking up I started running. Two miles to start, some times three. I ran very slowly and still always ended my runs sucking wind. But I kept at it. A mere three weeks later I decided to run a State Police sponsored race, a 5K, which is 3.1 miles. I figured I'd be able to do this with no problem, even be competitive, maybe place in the top 5 or something. Yea right! I was barely passed the the 2 mile marker and thought that maybe I was going to die. I was breathing so hard that I was probably depriving the other runners around me of oxygen. So I slowed to a crawl, almost literally crawled, and finally made it to the finish. Alive but I felt embarrassed. My time was decent for having just started running (25:30ish), but being somewhat of a perfectionist I was mad that I didn't do better. So I ran more and more. I also began reading about running and studying nutrition books. My obsession with running had begun. The weight, was now dropping and my clothes were fitting better. I was also feeling more energetic. I was slowly transforming my body from weightlifter to endurance athlete. So I ran more. I ran numerous races that summer and continued to lower my 5K times. So I entered a 5 mile race, and found that they felt much farther than 5K's, because, well, they are further. So I entered a 10 mile race to increase my stamina and finished in 1:15.40 and it didn't feel too bad. So I kept challenging myself by training even harder, now incorporating speed workouts called intervals into my regimen. In the fall of 1997 I decided to run another half marathon. I ran one in 1980 in a time of one hour and 20 minutes so I figured that I had to be faster now. Well, it took me 1:48.45 to run it. I wasn't very happy with that so to punish myself I entered the Philadelphia Marathon in November 1997 figuring that I would just take it easy and finish. Well, I decided to run fairly hard for the first 15 miles before running out of gas, also called hitting the wall, and really suffered for the next 11 plus miles. Luckily, although my wife would beg to argue, I'm extremely bull headed. My motto has always been never give up, and I didn't. I struggled painfully to the finish in a time of 4:29.51, see picture at the right.

Although I finished, it was a time that Oprah Winfrey would beat by a few seconds when she ran the Marine Core Marathon in Washington DC. Therefore I was disgusted with myself. So I continued running, and reading numerous books on running, fitness and nutrition. It was almost like being in school, but of course it was something I wanted to do this time. The increased training and acquired knowledge made me both fitter and faster. Still I wanted to test myself more and see how much further and faster I could go.
In February of 1998 we had our first child, Brett. I now ran for him too, to be there for him and hopefully run with him as he grew up. It was a little tough fitting it all in; work, family and training but my wife was patient with my still new "hobby." I ran the New York City Marathon in November of 1998 and lowered my marathon best time to 3:52; an improvement of nearly 40 minutes. I was happy but not yet satisfied. I decided to train harder and attempt to qualify for the 2000 Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon is the only marathon in the United States and I believe the world that you have to run a certain time to be able to participate in the race. My time to beat was 3:15.00, over 35 minutes faster than my most recent best time and 1:14.51 faster than my first marathon. Was I too ambitious? Many people train their entire lives and never run Boston . So I began training harder and set my sites on the 1999 Steamtown Marathon. I was nervous at the start of the race which was compounded by the steady rain which eventually turned into a downpour. To make matters worse, 20 miles into the race my right foot became tangled in the laces of my left foot and I flipped head over heels down a small hill. I layed there a moment thinking what the heck I was doing this for. I also began checking myself for injuries. I'd sustained only a few scrapes and "road burns" so I got up and continued running. It didn't feel good a first, I was scraped up, my shoes were full of water, and my momentum had been broken.
So I got mad and just ran. When I made the final turn onto the road that lead to the finish, I finally looked at my watch and realized I was going to make it. My time was 3:06.41, a nearly 45 minute improvement.....I was going to Boston!

I ran Boston in April of 2000 with no pressure for racing or time. I did feel extremely guilty for leaving my wife, who was due to deliver our second child in May. I was also nursing a pulled calf muscle that I obtained by over zealous training. So I ran Boston and the infamous "Heartbreak Hill" for fun and had a decent time of 3:09.50.

I was now faced with what do I do next. It seems that I always need to be challenged or have some sort of a goal to keep me motivated. So I just kept running. My next goal be to run a marathon in under three hours. I'd heard it was the bench mark for being a casual marathoner and a real marathoner. It wasn't enough to just run the 26.2 miles, now it had to be done in a time that I once had believed to be unattainable. I guess I hadn't tortured myself enough in the past so now I had to up my training even more and incorporate more specialized workouts. I mean, in my first marathon I ran at a pace of 10:35 a mile and my most recent was at a 7:05 a mile. To run a sub 3 hour marathon I'd have to run at a 6:51 pace per mile for 26.2 miles. It kinda blew my mind, but hey, it was a challenge and now a goal. So I began researching and developing running programs not only for myself but for others. I was also getting the reputation as the "food police" from friends and family members. I fortunately or unfortunately began studying nutrition more intensely and couldn't help but let people know what they were actually eating. Most welcomed the input and advice but others got a little indignant. I've heard more than once, "if I want cheese on my fries AJ, I'm gonna have cheese on my fries, I don't care if it plugs up my insides." So now I try to refrain from the unsolicited advice but mostly I can't help myself. Anyway, back to the task of a sub 3 hour marathon. I ran several marathons after Boston but always had near misses. I would for some reason develop cramps in my hamstrings somewhere around 23-23 miles and just couldn't figure out why. I then began researching body chemistry and the causes of cramps. Electrolytes!!!

Without these in the proper ratio a variety of things can happen to you, the worst of which is death (hyponatremia), and the least of which is cramps. So as not to bore you with the details I figured out my electrolyte issues. So in November of 2003, the week before my 40th birthday, I went back to the Philadelphia Marathon to hopefully gain revenge on the race that nearly destroyed me during my first marathon in 1997. I ran a well paced race and finished in 2:59! Another goal accomplished.
Anyway, fast forward to 2007. I've been running now for just over 10 years steady, five, but mostly six days a week. I've run 19 marathons and ultra marathons (races in excess of 26.2 miles, I've ran a couple of 32 milers and a 50 miler). I'm know longer fast, but that's what I choose. I just like to go out for long runs once or twice a week and mix in some shorter runs between 45 minutes to an hour. What I am finding I like most is introducing people to running or just fitness in general. I still bug people about what they are eating, and along the way have helped quite a few clean up their diets and lose some weight. I have several friends that I have harassed sufficiently enough that they took up running. My friend Steve has been running for a few years now and is becoming pretty fast. I paced him through his first half marathon and then we ran the Jersey Shore Marathon together in 2005. I expect to see him in front of me at some point in the near future at a local 5K race. Jeff, another friend, has surprised people the most. He probably just got tired of me talking about running and just decided to give it a shot. He has steadily improved his 5K times as well as his times in the last two 10 mile races he has entered. He kinda shocked everyone he knows by running the Ocean Drive Marathon just this past March. I believe he now knows what I felt like during my first marathon in 1997; it can be painful but extremely rewarding to finish a marathon. My friend Ray, who still hates running but heads out for a run three days a week anyway. At one point, a mile and a half intimidated him and left him breathless. Now he does fast repeats on a track during a 3-4 mile run. This is what makes it worth while now. I'll probably keep running forever and have intentions of running in races further than 50 miles, but now its watching others becoming fitter and faster that motivates me. So why do I run so much and so far? I run because it invigorates me, calms and destresses me. It is escapism, your mind becomes freer to concentrate on the important things in life, or think of nothing at all. I run to see how far I can run, to test myself, to explore areas that you can't get to by car. I run to hopefully inspire others to do the same and probably live longer and happier lives because of it. It is my fountain of youth, hopefully enabling me to be around this world for as long as I possibly can so I can be with my wife and children for as long as possible. Therefore I run for them. Until my next post, thanks for reading.
PS: please click on the inspiration link and read the story and watch the video

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Excellent writeup. The best thing about a runner is that they always they give back to the sport. My first race ever, you ran back out to finish with me and I'd never have a great half marathon PR without your pacing help, Thanks!

Your limits have not been reached yet...Go Ajinator,