By Jay T. Wittmann
On a cool winter day about five years ago I realized something that would change my life forever. If I didn’t start making better choices in life, there was a good chance I might not get to see my beautiful son grow up, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to be active with him. In those days it was normal for me to wake up, get dressed, and go to work. I would sit at my desk all day and then come home to eat dinner. After dinner I would get down on the floor to play with my son…and fall asleep. My wonderful wife would then wake me up when it was bedtime for him. I’d help get him ready, we’d say our prayers, and then I would head down to our room and go to sleep for the night. After several months of this routine and my son becoming increasingly mobile, I realized it was time for a change.
- I like to say I took the “Forrest Gump” approach when I started running. One day I got up off the couch, headed to the bedroom, picked out my nicest pair of sweatpants, layered on several shirts (it was a cool winter day) and the only athletic shoes I owned (a pair of heavy basketball shoes that were a couple years old), and headed out the door for a run. When I got back from that first run I felt like I was on top of the world. I had always been an athletic kid, so I knew based on the effort I put out I must have run at least 4 miles which would have been about a 7-minute per mile pace. Sure I was tired afterwards, but man did it feel good. The next morning I set out to confirm just how far I had actually run. It was a far cry from the 4 miles I had expected. Turns out, I ran about 1.5 miles. In the past that would have been enough to make me say it wasn’t worth it, but this time I was motivated by my little boy. So every day I would set out on that same path with the goal of making it a little further before I had to walk. I read books, talked to friends who were “real” runners, and kept putting a plan together. The best advice I got was to find a training plan and follow it, even if I didn’t plan on running the race at the end. It would just help as a motivator.
- Now you can find all sorts of online training plans and one might think a couch to 5K plan would have been a good place to start. But remember when I said I took the “Forrest Gump” approach? No, I didn’t select a couch to 5K plan but went straight into training for a marathon. Yeah, a little crazy, but if I’m going to do something, I’m going all the way. To start, I got all the best gear from Achilles Running Shop in Mentor, Ohio. It soon became increasingly clear that I had to drop some weight to continue running since near 250 pounds was a bit heavier than an ideal weight for my 5’8” frame.
- Running wasn’t going to solve all my problems and I knew it was imperative to eat better. At that time I thought the four food groups were red meat, potatoes, beer, and ice cream. If that had been true, I had a very balanced diet. When I realized that those aren’t the real food groups, I joined the online Weight Watchers community for a year and started a competition with a co-worker to see who could lose the most weight. Now, anyone who knows me knows I HATE losing. So I was diligent. I adhered to the program, kept with my running plan and really worked hard to lose 2-3 pounds a week. A healthy and sustainable rate of weight loss that kept me motivated.
- Over the course of the next several months I continued to see progress. From that first 1.5 mile run in February of 2012 where I stopped and walked about 10 times, to October of that year, I lost over 60 pounds and trained for my first marathon. I ran the Columbus Marathon that year with the goal of completing finishing in less than 4 hours. The race was anything but easy, but I finished it. I loved running through that great city, seeing so many people coming together, all cheering each other on, and getting to run through the “Horseshoe” (the Ohio State University football stadium) for the very first time. All the funny race signs and great crowd support really helped keep me moving forward, and seeing my wife cheering for me on the route was truly inspiring. I finished the race in 3 hours and 38 minutes, far exceeding my goal.
- At that point I could have checked it off my list and been very proud of myself, but I knew if I did that I would fall right back to where I was before I started. Plus, I knew I still hadn’t lost all the weight I needed to be considered “healthy.” So I did what any crazy runner would do; I started a new training plan. As of today, I have run 7 marathons including qualifying for and running the 2015 Boston Marathon where I set my PR of 2:48 (that’s holding a pace faster than 6:30 per mile for 26.2 miles) and the 2016 New York Marathon. Later this year I will be looking for a new PR at the Chicago Marathon.
- In addition to running the marathons, I have lost 100 pounds and am very healthy and happy now. I can play with my kids whenever they want, I don’t have problems with staying awake when I’m supposed to be playing with them and most importantly, I am part of their lives. Running became such a significant part of my life that my friends and I founded Great Lakes Race Timing. We time our own races and races for other organizations, provide training plans and coaching for all levels of runners, and are always looking for fun and unique ways to continue building the running community.
- For anyone saying “I wish I could run,” I will tell you, “You can.” It isn’t always easy, but you can do it! I know that the key is to find a selfish reason for the change. Mine started with wanting to be healthy enough to see my kids grow up, and now it’s to improve my fitness. No matter what it is that motivates you, make sure you remind yourself why you are doing it. When you want that less healthy food option or you don’t want to go to the gym, remind yourself why it’s important that you make the right choice. Set a plan, find a support team to help you stay committed, and hold yourself accountable. You can do it, I know you can!
- If you would like to discuss more about how you can take steps towards your goals, check out our website at www.greatlakesracetiming.com or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- From the Couch to a Marathon