October 8, 2012

Teaching My Mind And Body Who’s Boss

I just celebrated my 47th birthday by completing my first competitive run in 28 years. After losing 40 pounds over the summer, (see the accompanying “before-and-after” pictures at left) I ran the Sleeping Bear Half-Marathon here in Northern Michigan where I live. It was cold, and sleet actually fell, but it was also exhilarating and fun and I am proud of the accomplishment.

Also keeping me going were thoughts of my mother, who died of cancer over the summer. I wanted to accomplish this for her, as well as for myself. I thought of how she had struggled for breath during her last few days of life. As I ran, I thought of how my labored breathing during a run is nothing compared to what she had to endure. So, I gathered all the cold air in my lungs for the both of us, telling my mother that life continues through me, through my brothers and her grandchildren.

The trees seemed to be on fire with vibrant fall colors in the Most Beautiful Place in America (I wrote about that here and here).

My biggest worry when I woke up early Sunday morning, was the run’s no-headphones rule. During training, music was how I was able to escape into my own world and forget about the pain of running. To take this away from me on my first competitive run troubled me greatly. Just me and my thoughts, with no soundtrack, for a couple of hours, sounded like a nightmare.

Fortunately, when I got there, I saw about half the other runners cramming earbuds into the sides of their heads, so I did not feel so sneaky.

At the run, I saw the healthiest-looking people ever — not only skinny, but people who looked as though they have been that way all their lives. As I huffed and puffed the first few miles, I wanted to explain the difficult road that brought me to this point, how I had let myself go into obesity and all its accompanying health problems before I decided I wanted to live to see my grandchildren. Then, again, it seemed presumptuous of me to think that running has been easy for everybody else, or that nobody else had a similar story to tell.

The last time I had run any long distance was back in 1984, when I did the Detroit Free Press Marathon with my dad. After that, I lost the determination, the focus necessary to continue running. I allowed my body to rule my actions rather than the other way around.

Taking control of my body again, losing weight, enduring pain, telling my legs, my lungs, my mind, who exactly is running the show … these are the lessons of the past few months of serious running and smarter eating.

Back to the run. As it has always been with me, the first few miles is the most difficult. I puffed and groaned until my body got used to the run. Children and old ladies with walkers seemed to be passing me between miles 1 and 3. Then I finally hit my rhythm and miles 4-8 were beautiful, easy, like coasting.

Then I cursed myself for not training on enough hills. Just after the Dune Climb, a major two-mile-long hill just kept going and going. What pulled me through were those “banned” headphones. Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” Beastie Boys’ “Sure Shot” and, of course, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” kept my legs pumping up the hill.

I finished in 2 hours and 23 minutes. No world records were set. I placed sixth in my age group. But I finished. A few months ago, I could barely walk up the stairs without getting winded. I’ll probably go for a full marathon next year. What is important, though, is that I am beginning the second half of my life with a satisfying accomplishment. Makes me wonder what else I can do if I really tried.

Image Credit: Howard Lovy (before and after his obsession with diet and exercise)

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