by Bill Watts
For every story of running success, there seems to be one of failure. Running is difficult, especially when you’re beginning your running program. As with any success in life, you must begin with a commitment — and as many runners can attest, the most difficult step is the first one.
At some point in one’s life, whether for health and fitness reasons or for less obvious ones, a decision is made to exercise or not to exercise; a decision is made to try a new diet plan or to avoid one altogether; a decision is made to monitor and manage your health, or to ignore it. These decisions can be the by-product of an accumulation of events or they can be a “spur of the moment” choice. They can be based on personal decisions, peer pressure, advice from a doctor or a myriad of other reasons. Sometimes these choices are difficult and sometimes they make absolute sense, giving no reason to question them. For myself, after enjoying a relatively healthy childhood and adult life, I was suddenly confronted with what seemed to be a simple choice: life or death.
That may seem extreme and dramatic for many, but for me, it was as real as the air we breathe. Sure, I could have ignored the signs, but that’s not the way I’m wired. By trade, I am a computer systems engineer and I MUST know how things work. The analogies I could conjure up in my technical thinking transitioned perfectly into what I thought about my health. I knew the data I saw in my charts were off kilter, but I also realized I had the choice to fix it.
So, I made the commitment – the leap of faith to better health – physically, mentally and emotionally. I made the choice for better health. To me, this choice was easy; however, I soon found out that the path itself was not so easy. I debated internally whether or not I could actually become healthy again, or if I even wanted to. After all, I was reaching the waning years of human health – why fight it? Logically, there seemed to be only one choice, and that choice pushed me into a whole new realm of anatomical awareness and discovery. I soon found that this significant, solitary choice opened door after door of new opportunities, successes, and sometimes, failures.
After being promoted to a supervisory role in my place of business, I found that in nine short months I was completely stressed, I couldn’t sleep, and I felt like I couldn’t eat, despite gaining over 30 pounds in such a short time. My problems seemed miniscule, however, as our great country was still reeling from the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93. The war in Afghanistan was intensifying and our soldiers were dying. My issues didn’t compare to the constant rising costs of commodities and a host of other international, cultural, financial and world-health problems. I knew I couldn’t do much about the attacks on American soil; I couldn’t fix Wall Street and all its schemes and uncertainty, and I definitely couldn’t cure the world’s diseases. Nonetheless, I knew that I could try to alter my rapidly deteriorating health. It was something that I made a choice to do and I fully committed to that choice.
Back in 2002, my LDL (bad) cholesterol had climbed to 212 and should have been below 100. My blood pressure was 154 over 110 when I woke up in the morning and my heart rate was around 90 beats per minute. I was barely able to walk the four flights of stairs at my job without feeling dizzy. And I was just 44 years old. Every health indicator and blood level I had seemed to be threatening and uncontrolled. I was weighing in at nearly 200 pounds, on a frame that was meant to hold significantly less. People said that I looked great as I was able to hide my weight with the clothes I wore, but I certainly didn’t feel great. On the inside was a growing beast that was taking over my body - and my life….
As most people do with diet plans, they like to start with a “New Year’s Resolution.” And why not? It’s a great time to put the holidays behind you and your best foot forward, no matter what your goal is. I decided to set my resolution, but unlike others who had failed before me, I was determined to be steadfast and successful. On January 1st of 2002, I hit the scale at 199.5 pounds, up some thirty-two pounds from just a few months earlier. In retrospect, I should have seen the signs. I didn’t think twice when I gained eight pounds in September of 2001, acknowledging the fact that summer was coming to a close and my activities were slowing down. In October, and without fully realizing it, I gained another eight or nine pounds. Then came November and December and all of the holiday festivities. Surprisingly, I gained another ten pounds. How quickly it crept up on me. By disregarding my health and habits, whether deliberate or not, I suddenly added on more weight than I had realized. How could this happen? How could this happen to me?
At that point, it didn’t matter. It happened, and I was solely responsible for it. Luckily, my co-worker, Keith, got me interested in running. Keith is a great friend and mentor, and he encouraged me (and sometimes tricked me) into things I never thought conceivable. Keith had well over 100 marathons under his belt and he was experienced at all of the popular race distances. He urged me to take a few laps around the track to get things going. That shouldn’t be a problem - or so I thought. I immediately went to the local track and attempted to run my first lap. I was only able to jog half way around without gasping for air and having the sensation that I would black out with the very next step. I went home that night dejected but not defeated. I vowed to go back the next night, and the next, and the night after that. During the first couple of weeks of that exceptionally cold winter, I lost a few pounds, but I really thought they would come off more quickly. Still, I was determined, so I began....