The courage to become a runner
David Hay Jones describes the long road that took him from being overweight at 47 to slim and a runner at 51. He lost more that 30 lbs in three years by improving his eating habits, cutting out alcohol, and running up to 60 miles a week.
When I moved from Sweden to the United States 10 years ago, I was 40 and weighed 155 lbs. That was pretty slim on my 5' 10" frame. It gave me a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 22.2, almost smack dab in the middle of the normal range which stretches from 18.5 to 24.9 (calculate your BMI here).
Seven years later, and well adjusted to American life, I weighed 185 lbs, giving me a BMI of 26.5, which meant I was overweight (the overweight category ranges from BMI 25 to 29.9. Beyond 30, you're classified as obese).
Not the biggest
Even at 185 lbs with a distinct gut, thick neck, and wobbly chest, I was slimmer than most of the men I knew. They were up around 190 lbs and heavier. Some of them weighed well over 200 lbs.
They had that look of an NFL player 15 years after his career has ended -- you know the kind of guy, the ones who anchor football shows on ESPN.
They look like they were once fit, but their guts are huge, you can't quite see where their neck begins and ends, their chests are barrels, and their arms are thick as tree branches.
When an athlete, especially heavy athletes like football players, stop exercising, slump into a desk job, eat too much, and drink too much soda and beer, they become, well, huge.
My body found out that American portion sizes are much bigger, maybe twice as big, as European ones. Restaurants compete against each other with eat-all-you-can deals. Soda refills are free. Appetizers are a big as a main course.
Hanging out with friends always involved eating food, usually high-fat snacks and bar garbage, and drinking lots of beer. It never involved exercise of any kind.
Then add the fact that suburban living involves lots of driving and almost zero walking and you've explained how middle-aged men become overweight and obese.
On October 26, 2006, I decided I wasn't going to do it anymore. I didn't want to be fat and lethargic. I didn't want to feel bloated from too much beer and too many brats.
I wanted to play soccer with my kids without my belly bouncing as much as the ball. I wanted to be able to climb hills and stairs without feeling my heart hammer in my chest, without wanting to pass out through lack of air.
I stopped drinking alcohol altogether on October 26. I made, and kept, a promise to cut out fast food, junk food, bar snacks, processed food, regular soda, huge portions, and anything else I thought was contributing to my weight problem.
Following through on those decisions wasn't difficult because I never really liked any of that food. I don't like eating a lot of red meat. I don't like hot dog and burger buns. I'm not a huge fan of pizza. I don't enjoy eating drive-thru meals from a paper bag.
I'd done all that because to me it was an essential part of my new American way of life. I wanted to know what it was to be a regular American, doing regular things, eating regular food.
Only later did I find out there is a huge fitness, running, triathlete, and exercising community in the States, millions of people who won't touch fast and processed food, who'd rather go without than force down a Big Mac, fries, and a huge soda.
That was the diet part of my life dealt with, which not only included saying no to food, but a big yes to fresh and whole foods, fruit, vegetables, and water.
Big bang for buck
Next step was to find a form of exercise that would give a big bang for my buck. I'm not a gym person, so the
Y and treadmills were out. I'm not a team sport type, so I wasn't going to take up soccer or even racketball, badminton, or tennis, all of them fine sports by the way.
I wanted something simple, inexpensive, easy to do anywhere at any time of year, which didn't require paying membership to anybody, and which I could do on my own when it fitted my schedule. The answer was running. I would become a runner.
My first efforts were miserable. I couldn't jog 10 minutes without stopping. My legs felt strong enough, but I just couldn't relax and get enough air into my lungs. And my heart felt incapable of pumping blood to the places that needed it.
I felt so old and useless and decrepit. Onyl 47 and I couldn't even run half a mile without stopping!
For a month I walk-ran, slowly building up to running a mile without stopping. It took about 9 minutes for me to run that first mile, but I was beginning to feel like a runner.
Three months later, I was running 3 to 4 miles at day, six days a week.
About eight months after beginning my new life as a runner, I ran my most memorable race in Chicago, a big 5k by Lake Michigan.
I set off hard, intending to hold the pace. About half way, my chest was hurting and my mouth was bone dry, but I tucked behind a young runner for a quarter of a mile and recovered.
I then left him for dust and pushed hard for the last mile, even adding a sprint when I could see the finish line.
I finished in 20 minutes 57 seconds, the first time in my life I had ever run a 5k under 21 minutes. I was elated. I was not only a runner, I was an athlete. There was no going back... I even received a medal and $20 for finishing third in my age group, men 45 to 49 years. What a day that was!
By David Hay Jones