There is nothing in my background that implies that I can run. I have four degenerating disks in my lower spine. I weigh as much as some motor scooters. When I started running, I weighed 285 pounds, had high blood pressure and a host of odd issues that only popped up when I hit my late 30s, but seemed to be made worse by the extra weight. When I was younger I'd always lifted weights. I'd always been capable of short bursts of strength over long periods. I could hike twenty miles carrying my body weight as long as the pace was slow, back when I was in my early 20s. After my back injuries, though, and after the surgery that fixed the main issue, after realizing that I'd gone soft, I sort of stopped moving.
Before running, I'd been doing body weight workouts that had rebuilt some of the muscle but did nothing to make me lighter. If nothing else these exercises increased my density and reduced my flexibility along certain long muscles in my back. So, at some point I decided to throw my old fitness memes away and try something entirely different. Running seemed to be the thing.
In that first month I was almost immediately injured, developing "runner's knee" in the first three weeks. The weather was actually cold (an oddity here in the swampy south) so it took everything I had to get out of bed, ignore the ache, and go. I addressed the knee pain by changing my stride to be more of a barefoot style, and changed my footwear to be as minimal as possible. Took about four weeks to get the muscles in my feet and ankles strong enough to work in this new config. Over the months of February and March I marked my progress by tracing the pain crawling up my legs, muscles going from atrophied disuse to built and working. First my feet, then my ankles, then my calves, then my quads and hamstrings, my hips, and finally sometime in April my back went out. By then I was covering 2.5 miles without stopping, and my lungs and heart were almost caught up with my legs. By then, I'd lost 35 pounds.
Down for a week with a badly jarred back, the muscles stitching back together with numerous exercises, I set a goal of 5 miles for May. My back being down was a reminder that what I really needed besides strength was less weight...regardless of the nature of that weight, muscle or fat. If I started running 5 miles, I could lose weight faster.
One thing to note: I have a certain amount of paralysis in my calves and feet. There are parts of my legs and feet that I can't feel due to nerve damage from my blown out disk and the resultant scar tissue from years of dealing with it. My balance isn't great because of this; the fine motor movements required to make balance don't fire as quickly as they should. I seem to make up for this with sheer horsepower, and this sometimes works but my calves are almost larger than my quads. Popeye's forearms have nothing on my calves. This does make the work a little harder, I think, than it would be if my legs and feet worked as designed.
In May, I ran five miles for the first time. My wife thought this was nuts, a distance that just seemed too far for my body. That first five miles, I did stop and walk twice...and I still stop and walk, for some very good reasons...but the walking lasted maybe 45 seconds. I was completely cashed at the end of that run, and it took me half a day to recover. From five miles. I immediately set another goal of ten miles in two months.
In the winter, I had run in freezing rain and bitter cold. I'd run wrapped in layers of cloth, and had a few occasions of face coverings freezing to my beard. Winter in central Texas is very brief, though, and I didn't have to deal with ice for long. Summer, however, covers eight months. Summer, in the worst of it, is a sauna-like humidity and heat combo that just shuts down any thought of physical activity. I run in the morning, waking at 6am to be done before the sun has too much time, but at it's depth, summer holds overnight keeping the temperatures in the high 80s or low 90s.
My first run around Town Lake was an attempt at 6 miles, which I made in June. The conditions that morning weren't bad; it was like running with a hot wet towel wrapped around everything. By July, I was putting in 7.5 miles despite the steam.
My first ten miles was also a trip all the way around the lake, a mental milestone that allowed me to really see the distance I'd come in terms my brain knew well. A problem with distance, see: five, six miles doesn't sound like a lot, but laid out and seen from above, it really is. I'd flown into and out of town enough to know what the lake looked like from the air. To run around it...in 90 degree heat and 70 percent humidity, without carrying any water? Not just crazy, but a real sense of complete success.
Shortly after that run, though, I picked up a water belt. There are water stops along the lake, but that day only half were working, and the back half of my run happened in a state of complete dehydration. My runs are always happening in a state of attrition. I don't eat before or during, and I'm normally barely awake. I'd learned my lesson, though, about running without water; that ten miles took three days to recover from, and stopped my progress: the next three weeks my max distance was 7 miles.
Then I did ten again, with water, and it was perfectly OK. Tough but not impossible. Then I did it again, in higher heat and humidity, on a day when only a few hundred people were out running (instead of the usual few thousand). I moved to the next goal: 12.5, on my way to 15.
By now you'd think, hey, after losing 35 pounds between January and May, you must have lost more weight. Nope. I stopped losing weight in May, wobbling between 249 and 252. Every single day, the same 3 pound range. Every. Single. Day. My average week was now 18 miles, and my diet, which started at 2000 calories, was lowered to 1700. I changed the frequency of my meals, the nutritional profile of my meals, and for one terrible two week period stopped drinking alcohol. My diet doesn't contain crap; I don't eat bad food. I don't eat processed sugars, I don't get any white flour into my diet (outside of the occasional tortilla). I tried high protein / high fat to low protein / low fat and every combo in between. My body had decided to be this weight, and nothing was changing it. Even when my weekly totals hit 30 miles, nothing changed.
On that first 12 mile run...my first long run away from the lake...I covered more of the city than I thought I'd ever cover on foot for any reason. Ran from where I work to downtown and back. Had to stop for water refills halfway, and had some juice to help with energy. The total that day was 12.5, after a week where my shortest run was 5.5. I never thought I'd see my car again. Just two extra miles had nearly done me in.
Two weeks later, I did it again but in my half-aware haze forgot to turn around at the right point, so I unintentionally completed 13.25 miles, a half marathon.
Since then, I've been unable to get the miles. My last 12 mile was too much; my body is finally being injured at a rate that it can't recover from quickly enough. I seem to have found a natural limit for me, for now, of ten miles.
Last week on Thanksgiving, I "ran" 5.5 miles. I didn't actually run most of it...within the first mile, I had to walk, and I had to walk for longer than I'd had to since I started. My left calf muscle was torn / separated, and my right foot was bruised, my right ankle twisted from a push off the trail I'd received from some brain dead jerk-ass amateur in marathon training who decided to play chicken with me (he won) on a crowded pavement. I struggled to make a mile at a time.
So I've stopped. While my legs heal (and I get over whatever damned illness struck me Sunday), I'm sleeping in, ignoring the itchy impulse to throw the shoes on and go go go.
In the last four days, I've lost five pounds.
That's a long way to go for a punchline, but goddamn.
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