From Office Chair to Half Marathon

Staying in shape was not a problem in my growing up years. Between working on the farm and playing with my friends at school, I did a good job of staying on the move.  But when I reached the age of 20, things started to change.  I started a business of fixing computers, something that soon was keeping me busy for long hours. Still, I found time to play softball one or two nights a week, plus some volleyball now and then.

By the time I hit 30, there were more changes.  I was a husband and a father, and other priorities had crowded out my playing of sports. Now it was just time at work and time with the family.  I got more into hunting and fishing, but that doesn’t add up to a whole lot when it comes to building physical fitness.  Life was great, but physically some undesirable things were happening.  By the time I was approaching 40, my waistline was steadily growing.  I could not run more than 50 feet or climb a flight of stairs without getting out of breath.  It was time to take action.

In April of 2016, at age 39, I signed up for a local 5k, the Strawberry Stampede 5k.  I didn’t like running, but I had to do something.  And I still had enough of a competitive spirit that having the race on the calendar would keep me running even though I would hate it.  I used my vehicle to measure out a roughly 3.1 mile section of roadway, and I started to train.  At first, it was mostly walking, with a little running mixed in. It was brutal.  Before long, I started getting a variety of running aliments.  Sore calves.  Shin splints.  Runner’s diarrhea.  It seemed my whole body was unhappy with my decision to run.

Landry crosses the finish line

By the time race day arrived, I had worked through most of those ailments.  The race was brutal, like my training.  I pushed myself as hard as I could, but still had to walk much of the way.  I finished in about 30 minutes – right in the middle of the pack. I was delighted to get an award  for finishing second in my age group.  Then I realized that I was one of only two 30-39 year old males in the race, so the medal was basically a finisher’s medal.  My 9-year-old son Landry finished in around 27 minutes, good enough for first male under 12.

I still didn’t like running, but crossing that finish line was rewarding, and my competitive spirit kept me running for a few more weeks. I rewarded myself by purchasing a pair of Altra Instinct running shoes. Soon I found I could “run” the whole 3.1 mile distance.  It was quite slow, more like a jog, but nobody wants  to be a jogger, so I called it running.

And then the unthinkable happened:  I started to enjoy it. Running was still hard, but physically it started to pay off.  I had more energy. I didn’t need as much sleep. In fact, the amount of time I spent running was more than made up for by the extra time I was awake. I could actually sing in church without running out of breath or getting light-headed. Over time, running became easier and my speed increased.   In July I ran the Shippensburg Fair 5k and finished in 25:45.  In August I ran the Bremenfest 5k and finished in 24:45.

When Crystal turned 40, she and I had taken an overnight trip to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad to celebrate.  With my 40th birthday looming, it was my turn to decide on a destination.  When I stumbled on the Runner’s World Half and Festival in Bethlehem, PA, I knew that was the place.

Crystal ran the 5k and I ran the 10k.  I had set a goal of finishing it in under 50, and it took everything I had to finish in 49:48. It was probably a bit too ambitious of a goal, because within a few minutes after crossing the finish line, I had a severe case of IT band syndrome that left me hobbling for a day or two and then fighting with it during my runs for several weeks.

On thanksgiving day Crystal, Landry and I all ran the Greencastle Turkey trot.

Then I took the plunge and signed up for the Chambersburg Half Marathon, which was scheduled for March 11, 2017.  My plan was to train for distance and use the Chambersburg Half as a training run to prepare for the Garden Spot Village Marathon in April.  But my plans took a turn for the worse in December when I rolled my ankle during a run and pain shot through my knee.  I suspect I had a mild LCL sprain.  I never got it diagnosed, but it made running more than a mile impossible for about a month.  It was February before I could start building mileage again.  I still wanted to run the half, but I knew it was foolish to plan for a full marathon in April.

I had to ramp up my mileage rather quickly in order to be ready for race day.  I did weekly long runs of 6, 8, and 10 miles in the weeks leading up to the half marathon in addition to my usual two 3-mile runs each of those weeks.  Somehow, I made it to race day without any further problems.  I knew better than to set an ambitious goal this time, so I decided to shoot for a 9 minute mile pace, which would put me at the finish line in just under two hours.

Race day turned out to be cold.  At the starting line, it was about 18 degrees F and 10 degrees with the wild-chill factored in.  I had never run a race in this kind of weather but somehow I ended up wearing just the right amount of clothing.  Once I started running, I was comfortable. The easier pace made it a very enjoyable race.  I felt great until about mile 12.  At that point, my legs started telling me it was time to stop.  But I kept them moving and crossed the finish line in 1:57:54.  My family was cheering me on as I approached the finish line.  By the time I had collected my finisher’s medal, they had escaped to the vehicle to warm up.  Landry collected a few video clips and put together a nice highlight reel of the race.

Running has been a life-changing experience for me. It has become a form of therapy.  My weekend long run is something I look forward to all week. Running is a time to enjoy nature, to reflect, and even to worship.  And in the process of doing something I enjoy, I’ve lost 25 pounds and feel about as good physically as anytime I can remember.

This Saturday, I plan to once again run the Strawberry Stampede 5K, the race that started it all a year ago.   My goal will be the same as it was a year ago, to cross the finish line.


Note: Because running is a bit off-topic for my Great Cove Adventures YouTube Channel, I have started separate channel for my running-related videos.  To visit and subscribe, click here