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Never Stop Running

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Maintaining 100 Reasons to Win


In With the New photo 400

It was one of those spring days in Chicago that reminds you why you put up with so much winter for so very long. It was that first day after the snow had completely melted away. The sun was shining over the lake, and the lakefront path was packed with runners. I was in my car on my way home from work and all I wanted to do was pull over, abandon my car, and start down the path on foot. That was the moment I realized I was becoming a runner.

This new “runner” identity came with so many descriptors that had never previously applied to me: athletic, courageous and determined. It came with abilities such as perseverance and going the distance. It would push me to tackle six long-distance races over the course of that year, including my first full marathon.

But rewind to six years before that moment near the lake, long before I ever crossed a single starting line, when I weighed over 300 pounds and would have lost my breath trying to run across the room. When I look back at that time in my life, I see descriptors such as disgusting, weak and miserable. My abilities? Stuffing emotions down my throat with food.

I have previously written on Oy!Chicago about how I sought support from coaches and Weight Watchers and the process I undertook to lose over 100 pounds (Read 100 Reasons to Live and 100 More Reasons to Live). What I haven’t quite written about is what inspired me to start running, and consequently, my success.

Never Stop Running photo 2

Then and now

Reading the book Ultramarathon Man, Confessions of an All Night Runner, by Dean Karnazes was one of the biggest reasons I started running in the first place. Dean describes himself as an “ultrarunner,” someone who regularly races at distances beyond human comprehension. His book chronicled some of his most difficult races from finishing more than 100 miles of desert heat in Death Valley to running a full marathon to the South Pole. He also described in detail the 226-mile trek he made for a charity run, without stopping. That is 48 straight hours of running.  

I got to thinking that if he could run 226 miles without stopping, maybe I could at least make it to the end of the block, so I started running. At first, I could barely run for minute before I had to stop and catch my breath. It was a slow process of trying to get to the next milestone: five minutes without stopping, five blocks without stopping, five kilometers without stopping, and so on. The more I ran, the farther I was able to go. The farther I went, the more I changed.

As I began to change, I found that it had a strong impact on my identity. Because my journey to lose weight took several years, I was in a constant state of change and my identity had become fluid; change was my new normal and I had grown accustomed to it. Then I had that moment along the lakefront and I realized that the change had essentially taken place. I was no longer “becoming” a runner – I was one.

One of the greatest challenges of stepping into this new identity was accepting I had become what I had sought to become, and to feel comfortable being the same for a while. To force monumental change and turn my life around was one thing; to stay that way was another matter entirely. That is not to say that one was necessarily harder than the other, it was just different. Regardless, something felt off about this newfound identity: the guy who is a runner versus the guy becoming one.

That perspective changed last spring when I had the chance to meet Dean, my hero and inspiration. A friend invited me to help his promotional company with a public event that offered free workouts with some of the world’s most elite and extreme athletes. Dean was one of the athletes, and my friend made sure that I got to meet him face to face.

Never Stop Running photo 1

Andy with his hero and inspiration, Dean Karnazes

I thanked Dean for inspiring me and shared how without running, I would never have lost the weight. He graciously sent the love back to me and thanked me for sharing my story with him. It was an experience straight from the movies. I was sharing my story with the individual whose own story inspired me to just get to the end of the block at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure I could make it out the door. Naturally, I had my copy of Ultramarathon Man with me and asked for an autograph. On the title page he wrote,

             You are an inspiration!
             Please, never stop…
             Best always,
             Dean Karnazes

That inscription brought it home for me. Where I was in the process of changing into a runner didn’t matter as long as I kept running. Runners have various experience levels and capabilities, but essentially it’s the same exercise of putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. If becoming a runner was instrumental in losing all of that weight in the past, then staying a runner was the key to maintaining it now and in the future. Running is no longer the vehicle for creating change in my life – it’s the activity that helps define who I am today.

Why do I run? I run to remind myself that I can. Every time that I run, I prove to myself that I can do anything I want as long as I find the inspiration to get off the couch and get started. Running reminds me that any part of me or my life can change over time. A while back, I ran my second marathon in Chicago, finishing in just over four hours. Ten years ago, when I eclipsed 300 pounds, I couldn’t spend four hours on much of anything; now I inspire myself and others to never stop.

To learn more about Andy, his story and how he inspires others visit www.100reasonstowin.com

To read more posts in the "In With the New" blog series, click here.

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