This is a repost/rewrite of something I previously wrote for my old project, a few different words. I’m rewriting it here as it’s been in my mind lately as I get back into a running routine and prepare myself for running in 95% humidity.
The corner from 66th was a small incline as I made the right turn. Very small, hardly noticeable perhaps, but it came after a mile of a constant uphill, and I was tired.
Three blocks left.
I was running. The weather was a rare sunny and warm Portland autumn afternoon. A good day for a run. Perhaps one of the last of the year, as the infamous Northwest rain loomed in the forecast, an ominous word made more so.
Three blocks left.
I attacked the hills that day. The course I took that day starts with three early hills followed by a long smooth decline and then this, this final incline. Trying to push myself, I had tried to keep up a faster pace up those first three inclines, trusting that I could recover for the final stretch.
Gravel beneath my feet, my eyes keeping an eye out for unsteady terrain, something had caught my eye and then, my imagination. Three bird’s feathers lay on the ground, spread out like fingers.
Three blocks left. Wouldn’t it have to be?
I have, to be perfectly honest, not led the most active of lives prior to this past three years of cross country. While most would not think it, at least perhaps not say it if they had, I’d reached a truly staggering number. A scary number, one that I wasn’t truly sure if I could, literally, live with. I weighed 300 pounds.
Oh, I had justified it. I am 6 foot, three inches tall. I am broad of shoulder and large of frame. As mentioned, perhaps it would be a shock to most because I didn’t “look” obese. I wore my weight well, I am simply “big boned”, et cetera. In other words, yada yada yada.
There again, three again. Wouldn’t it have to be? There are many goals that I have. Ultimate goals of losing weight, not the least of which is actually living past 40 or 50 years. But the first goal, the very first was to take on that ugly three. No more three.
My sister and her husband had, as a Christmas gift, given me Wii Fit, the well esteemed workout program for the Nintendo. Emboldened by my resolve, I stepped up on the fit board, while the cheerfully animated version of that upon which I stood proudly (and perhaps with a bit too much good cheer) announced that I was, definitely, profoundly and in all other ways, Obese.
That fucker. Well, I suppose it’s only fair. It was the one being stood upon by someone who by the barest of margins fit under the weight limit for the stupid thing.
Still, I was undeterred. And after three (of course) months of constant running, pushing my limits (then a mere mile and a half run was “the long run”) and doing yoga upon the silly board, I cheered for the first time in over ten years my weight was recorded without that awful goddamned digit.
I ran my first 5K since high school not long after. Two months after that race, I ran another and beat my time by 10 minutes posting up a 9 and a half minute mile average.
And then, I stopped.
Oh, there were reasons. There always are, aren’t there? My knees, a concern with merit for sure, began to ache in ways that worried me. I resolved to cut back to two or three times a week, to monitor and ice my knees, and thought that maybe I should start bicycling more. But these were all excuses, and I knew it.
I haven’t stepped back on that silly Wii. I have made an effort to reign in my eating, an area I had already begun to pay attention and make changes. I’ve lost two pant sizes since I began running. I’ve maintained at least once a week running, but I haven’t stepped back on.
Of course there were three black bird feathers. Of all my crimes, fear is hardly the least of them.
Three blocks left.
In all my races, I’ve always sprinted across the finish line. I was never the fastest or the best runner. In high school, my cross-country coach always liked to joke that I had been given the body of a distance runner1to be fair, I had more of a body of a linebacker, but in the spectrum of distance vs. sprinting, I was solidly more on the ‘distance’ side. but the mindset of a sprinter. This was well before the number three had any special significance to me, when my weight was, as a football coach described, 180 pounds dripping wet. I was six foot tall then and seventeen years old. Sometime after my 18th birthday, my final growth spurt awaited me, when I grew three more inches and gained 30 pounds my freshman year of college.
I panicked. I was mortified. I had heard of the freshman 15, but as a constant consumer of Sonic burgers and anything else greasy I could shove down my craw, I had never feared weight gain. I was active, and still so in college. To make matters worse, nothing seemed to work. I couldn’t get into a pattern of working out. I felt intimidated and ugly at the pool, ashamed, for the first time at my body. I started to drink a lot, and my grades fell, for the first time, below 3.0.
Oh, it’s all so perfect when you look for the symbols after the fact, isn’t it?
Three hadn’t stuck in my head though. It took years – after college, when I truly sank low, mired with the idea of actually working for a living and being an adult, when I sought out my most childish of vices – EverQuest.
It took years. It wasn’t until I was with my wife, then girlfriend, at SeaWorld, where they had a scale as part of an exhibit. When it registered that my weight was a not insignificant percentage of that of a manatee, it hit me. It hit hard, and I shook with the numbers reverberating within my mind.
I weighed 330 pounds. Me! I lettered in three sports in high school!
I had tried to stick with a plan at 24-Hour Fitness down the street from our apartment in California, but it didn’t take. Gyms never have worked for me. Our wedding came & went, and the pictures tell the tale of someone carrying far more weight than he does now.
I don’t know what sparked running, to be honest. I’ve always enjoyed it, always enjoyed cross country and the idea of just running to a place instead of in place on a treadmill. I had given up on it, though, claiming that my knees would never take the strain of jogging, that I had to lose weight before I could run. I think that after years of those excuses I finally got tired of making them, strapped on some shoes, and tried to run a one-mile loop around our neighborhood.
I made it about a half mile before I started walking.
But I didn’t stop. I didn’t dare stop. I walked and ran out the whole mile, including the brutal climb to the top of 64th Ave, where I finally stopped and caught my breath. Two days later, I made it to the top of the first hill, just three quarters of a mile in. A week after that, I added another half-mile and two more inclines to my route, and I was off.
I stopped running after that second 5k for a few months. I finally came back to it that fall, pushing myself into a 2 and a half mile loop that included the push up Garden Home where I encountered the feathers. I continued doing 5ks while Bev pushed herself to greater distances. The following summer, I was doing a 4 mile loop and finally had bought a bike, which I used to commute to my job.
One year after I saw the feathers, I did my first 10k. It was the farthest I had ever run in one go, 6.2 miles, and I ran the whole thing, only stopping due to a train crossing the route2Downtown Portland is an amazing place for races but you do have the occasional train or pile of shit to watch out for.. I was ecstatic, and felt that finish was the moment that I would never back down from, that I had finally made that turn in my life that I had been looking for – for years, it seemed3said moment is recorded in the photo that graces this post – the race was called “Run Like Hell“, a halloween-themed race for which I dressed as Mario, and Bev ran dressed as Princess..
And then, my knees started to ache worse than ever before. I took a week off from running, and then a week again. Two months later, Bev & I did the “Jingle Bell Run”, a 5k that came during a cold snap, and we ran in 19 degree weather. My knees ached worse. That winter was cold, and I stayed away from running. I ran a few times after work around the bridges, but every run was more painful than the last, every run shorter and harder than the last.
I gave up. For the first time in three years, I had finally stopped. My new job spiralled into a disaster movie and I spent hours pouring over jobs sites, polishing my resume, writing, dreaming of new careers, playing video games, being an activist and getting involved with the local elections; anything but running. I haven’t stepped back on that scale, but I didn’t need a number anymore. I could feel three coming back.
On a whim, I went to Portland Running Company, whose sales people are well-trained on matching style to shoe, and I professed that I thought perhaps my shoes were to blame. The woman helping me agreed4well of course she did, she was trying to sell me shoes, and after watching my running style, felt that while the Nike Vomeros I had been using were a decent enough fit, that a pair of Brooks might be better for me. She asked me how old my current Nikes were. When I told her two years, she shook her head. “Small wonder,” she said, “that you even have knees left.”
And what a difference those new shoes have made. It still took months – my first few tries back out at running were brutal, gasping affairs, reminiscent of my first attempts years ago. I’m still not back at the level I used to be, but that alone gives me hope – if I got there once, I can get there again.
Three blocks left. The race isn’t over yet.