Finding the Runner Inside

Gordon H. dailymile Profile Picture

Editors Note: The author of this post, Gordon H. (@disneyrunner on Twitter), is a runner from Jacksonville, AL. You can add him as a friend or view his training log by visiting his dailymile profile. I also highly recommend his Running to Disney blog and podcast (here’s the direct link to Gordon’s Running to Disney podcast on Itunes).

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been on a personal weight loss and running journey that has transformed me, added years to my life, and given me a new outlook on life and health, as well as a new lifestyle. How did I get to this point in my journey? Well, it all began with a mouse.

My family loves Disney. My wife and I honeymooned there, and when the kids were old enough, we started taking them to Walt Disney World in 2005. Since then, we’ve gone each year for a few days. Just before Christmas, 2006, my kids got the flu. My wife was panicked because we were heading to Disney on January 1. The last thing we needed was to have a sick family unable to go to Disney. Not only would we miss the fun, but also we had visions of lost dollars spent on the vacation. Although we scrubbed our hands and coated ourselves in hand sanitizer, alas, it failed, since I awoke on Christmas Eve with a fever and chills and the “burning flu eyes.” In an effort to get something, anything, to stave off this bug in order to travel for Christmas and to Disney, I went to the local Saturday medical clinic.

Gordon H. Disneyrunner

I knew something was wrong when 4 different people took my vital signs. Then a Nurse Practitioner entered the room with medication and told me to take the pills and rest on the bed with the lights off. I had alarmingly high blood pressure (162/116), she said, high enough to alarm them and possibly send me to the ER if it didn’t respond to medication. They stabilized my BP, and I rested in bed until after Christmas when was put on BP meds. That incident shook me to my core. I’d really never felt mortal until that moment, when I was told I was a stroke waiting to happen. I decided something had to change. I HAD to fix some things in my life. Mind you, I WAS active. I attended spin class twice weekly, yoga twice weekly, did aerobics and step classes as well, and I had just began officiating soccer games. BUT, I was eating loads of junk food and lucky to maintain weight (247 lbs) while slowly killing my body with the food I consumed.

So I decided that I would start running. I had run some in college, and in high school I was a wrestler, so we ran all the time. But I had never formally trained for an event, ran a race, or given any serious thought to the sport at all. It was something I did as support for other athletic endeavors. I started running on the outdoor walking path of the health club I attended. One mile felt like forever. My body had no clue what was happening as I struggled to finish a mile, then a mile and a half. But the strangest thing was happening. After the run, I felt alive! I could only muster 1.5 miles in the early days, but WOW, something was changing. And the newness of the sport to me was seductive in a way. I devoured running blogs, researched running gear, and on a whim, signed up for my first 5K in April 2007. Running that first 5K was intoxicating, and hard and tiring, and awesome. I wore my race shirt proudly. I wanted people to know I was now a runner. I was hooked

Gordon H.

This new running lifestyle, even as new as I was to it, was incredible. I slowly realized every stride was prolonging my life and helping me lose weight. I registered for three 5Ks in three months. I couldn’t get enough of that race accomplishment feeling. I laugh now when I think of it, but my brother-in-law, training then for the LA Marathon, asked me if I’d ever consider running 26.2. I laughed at the question. “No way,” I said, “I’m a short distance man, marathons are crazy. You’d have to be crazy to run one of those!”

Of course, three months later, I approached a colleague about training me for the Disney Marathon! I had realized that I needed a bigger goal. On two of my earlier trips to Disney World, my family had been in the parks during Marathon Weekend. I was struck by the level of support for these runners, how park visitors who had never run would cheer runners as they passed by. I got goose bumps just watching that! I set the January 2009 Disney Marathon as my goal, and spent the next few months building a mileage base while my friend Lisa wrote a plan designed to get me to the finish line.

I learned a lot about myself training for a marathon. When I began this running journey I created a running blog. Several months later, I started a running podcast. Both were designed to share my training for the race, and to keep me accountable. Hanging myself and my goals out there for all to see was motivating, if not a little scary. I had landed on a marathon island and burned my boat so to speak. Everyone knew my goal, and they asked me about it. I was stuck! No turning back now.

Gordon Disney Marathon

Finishing the Disney Marathon was a life-changing thing (Editor’s note – you can read Gordon’s full Disney Marathon race report here). I didn’t run it fast (6:10), but my goal was to cross the finish line. I did, proudly and with tears streaming down my face. I had taken myself from borderline stroke candidate with “industrial strength” high blood pressure, and had completed a marathon. I floated for 2 months. I wore my marathon hat and shirt everywhere. I sipped coffee from the marathon mug.

But there was something missing from the equation. The early weight loss I had experienced when first starting running had stopped. I had even gained some weight. Long training runs became an excuse to eat to excess. My running stagnated, and I entered a funk that took 6 weeks from which to emerge. I needed some new direction, a new emphasis. I needed a more aggressive training plan and I needed to run another marathon. I also had to do something about my weight. I was 5’9” and in my 230s. Not the body weight most conducive to running growth.

So, with a marathon goal in place (Rocket City in Huntsville, Alabama) and a new eating plan (reduce meats and dairy, count calories, lose weight), I entered the late summer and fall with a renewed purpose. Enter a new friend, Megan, @veganrunningmom on twitter and host of the Run Vegan Run Podcast. We had become friends through my podcast, she was a listener from the beginning, and she offered to assist me with nutritional improvement, and with running growth. Through this process we became close friends as I realized that having a goal and solid support from friends, family, and this great running community is essential in running and personal growth.

I started to lose weight and my running times improved. I had greater stamina and my legs and joints weren’t as sore after long runs as they had been when I was heavier. I went into the December Rocket City Marathon 27 pounds lighter than I was on July 20, the day I started my new nutritional lifestyle. Rocket City was amazing. Megan flew from California to support me, and she and my wife followed me along the course offering encouragement and support. Megan wrote a GREAT race plan and I was able to shave almost 40 minutes of my Disney Marathon time. I ran Rocket City in 5:33. Solid coaching and a new eating lifestyle began to pay dividends in my life. What was even more amazing than all of that was that Megan had been suffering a rough patch in her running and training, and supporting me in the race, and seeing my success, and understanding her role in it, energized her, renewed her happiness and love for running, and she has been rocking her training ever since. Runners need other runners. I LOVE this running community!

Gordon H. Disneyrunner

I now weigh186 (and falling – see a recent picture to the left) can fit in size 36 waist pants (both numbers I haven’t seen in 25 years!), and have lost 45 pounds so far. I’ve adopted a plant-based diet, and no longer eat meat or dairy. In the past 8 months, I’ve eaten more fruits and veggies than I have in my first 42 years of life. My cholesterol has dropped, I have more energy, my BP meds were cut in half, I’m wearing clothes sizes I haven’t even thought of since high school, and my running has taken off. I am proud of what I have done.

It has taken a while for me to wrap my head around what has happened to me, my body, and my outlook on life. It all became so real to me last week, after a tremendously successful 12-mile run (ran it in 1:54, which was 5 minutes faster than I ran the same distance one week earlier). This was a hard run, as I tested a pacing plan for an upcoming half marathon. I was totally depleted at the end of the run, mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. As I finished the run and turned off my Garmin, I bent over and wept like a child. Big sobs and many tears flowed. I’m not sure why. I sat on a curb in my neighborhood and wept for several minutes. I wasn’t particularly sad. In fact, I was ecstatic about the run and my weight. I now realize that these were tears of happiness; that I’ve gone through an incredible transformation over the past 8 months. And I don’t’ think I’ve stopped to let it really sink in what has happened. So out there, early on a Sunday morning, I wept and wept, filled with joy, pride, and a sense of self-worth I haven’t felt in…well, I’ve never felt.

But I’ve realized that none of this was MY accomplishment. We are a community. We support and encourage each other. Without friends and family and fellow runners supporting, encouraging, motivating me, I do none of this! I consider these changes to be OUR accomplishment, not mine. Of course, I have my friends, my wife and sons, my twitter “tweeps,” and the folks here on dailymile. There is nothing more empowering and energizing than having someone tell you they are proud of you. I need that and crave it. I am proud to of this band of runners to which I belong.

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