On my 55th birthday this summer, I stepped on the scale and watched it top out at 205 pounds. Since I’m just 5'8", the Body-Mass Index scale put me in the “obese” category. Awesome.
I’ve never been a very healthy eater, but I had always worked out regularly until 2014. That’s when I got married, moved into a new home, wrote a 400-page book in eight months, and had a son – right as I started a nationwide book tour.
Along the way I replaced my hockey habit with pizza delivery, workouts for Oreo Double-Stuffs, and my desire to be healthy with my desire to finish the damn book. Good times.
Add it all up, and I gained 20 pounds that year – after I’d already gained 20 pounds a few years before that. Something had to give. Unfortunately, all I could come up with was diet and exercise.
I needed a goal: drop 40 pounds before my next birthday. To do that I needed another goal: run a marathon.
The only easy thing about it was finding motivation. My wife is a decade younger than I am, and she’s made it clear that she’d prefer I didn’t die. At least, not so soon. (You can see why I married her.)
Our son turned four this fall. I’m not running just for my life. I’m running for his, too. Whenever he says, “Let’s go play!” my answer has to be “Yes!” When I pick him up from school, I don’t want to hear his buddies say, “Hey, Teddy, your grandfather’s here!”
I started running a couple miles a day, a few days a week – though it looked more like a senior shuffle. Champion runners seem to skip along on the balls of their feet, while I looked like a construction worker plodding through wet cement with my boots on – and about as happy.
When someone said, “Enjoy your run!” I’d answer, “I never do!”
I enlisted the help of Michigan’s former cross country coach Ronnie Warhurst, who won 18 Big Ten titles. Ronnie, now 76, has a son now applying for college, so he’s even crazier than I am.
The best thing he told me was the simplest: When you’re starting out, don’t worry about how fast you run, or how many miles, or how bad it feels. Just keep putting your shoes on, and after a while a lot of things take care of themselves.
Now I can run up to six miles a day, and 20 miles a week. Instead of running just one speed – impossibly slow – I’ve added a second gear: Not Quite As Impossibly Slow. Still, it’s nice to have options. And sometimes, I find myself actually enjoying it – despite my efforts.
But I figured out pretty quickly that you can’t outrun a bad diet. I tried veganism for a couple weeks, which proved to be pretty straightforward: You Cannot Eat Anything. Once I grasped that, it was easy.
I lost ten pounds, just like that. But I knew I couldn’t keep that up. Instead, I cut back on bread, dairy, and my Achilles heel, sugar. My secret? Cheating – lots of it. But I was still eating better than before.
I’ve also learned I can eat as much as I want, if I eat healthy. Or, I can eat just about anything I want, if I don’t eat too much. Just don’t be stupid.
Four months after my birthday, I’ve dropped 25 pounds. I can wear clothes I haven’t touched in five years. People say I look better – not good, mind you, just “better.” But I’ll take it.
My son smacks my belly and says, “You’re still fat!” True, but I’m less fat – and if I stick with it, he’ll never remember his dad being fat.
Of course, running 26 miles in a week isn’t the same as running 26 miles in a day. There’s no guarantee I’ll be able to finish a marathon, especially when my knees have started making clicking sounds for no apparent reason, as if detecting low-grade radiation.
But the risks are clearly worth taking — and the rewards are more than I could have imagined.
John U. Bacon is the author of seven national bestsellers. The latest, OVERTIME: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football, is out this fall.