Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Marathons: A Means Of Helping Us Become Grown Ups

Dale Matson

I would never call running a marathon a panacea for all of life’s ills but a marathon may be just what the doctor ordered for you. When I transitioned from the work of a plumber and heavy equipment operator to that of a student, I began to gain weight. I went from 175 to over 200 pounds. I also gave up smoking and the downside to that was the addition of an additional 25 more pounds.

I went for a post lunch walk with one of my older professors and when we were done, she walked up four flights of stairs to the psychology department. I needed to take the elevator and was embarrassed that someone old enough to be my mother was more fit than I was.

I decided at that point that running would be my replacement behavior for smoking. At age 42 and at 235 pounds, I began walking a mile a day and then two miles with a goal to run a mile. One thing led to another and eventually I completed a 5K race. I began to lose weight along the way but my eating habits were terrible. I was still eating too much, eating too many processed foods and depending too much on exercise to eliminate extra calories.

My doctor was happy that I had quit smoking but wanted to put me on cholesterol and high blood pressure medication. I resisted and decided to lose more weight. I went on the American Heart Association diet and lost 20 pounds. It put me at about 200 pounds. It’s a funny thing but being in occasional races and around new running friends makes one aware of an entirely different world of normalcy. When I went past a store security camera, I was still embarrassed at my gut but could finally run for an entire hour. Some of my friends had run a marathon and urged me to try. It seemed like such a daunting challenge.
I bought Jeff Galloway’s book on marathon training. Wow, there was the training schedule with incremental increases in distance, speed work and hill work. I became more careful about my eating and began to see food as fuel.

In 1991, a friend Tom Wilcox from East Troy and I drove up to the American Odyssey Marathon near Athens Wisconsin. I will spare you the 6 hours and 20 minutes of suffering on this hilly course! I came in dead last. A thunderstorm had washed away the chalk finish line on the pavement. Someone came out of the bar and gave me a finisher’s tee shirt. It was a long drive home and Tom had to spell me at the wheel. I barely made it to the house but I was elated. I had done something that seemed impossible only months before.

I have never met an individual who said that they were sorry that they had run a marathon. Yes, things like shin splints and sore knees can develop. But some of my best longstanding friendships have been fellow runners. My wife is not a runner but loves to travel. She has got me to travel all over the world by finding marathons to run in exotic locations.

Marathon training requires discipline, patience and focus. The byproduct is weight loss, self-efficacy and a sense that most goals can be reached if one is willing to break them up into manageable bites and persevere. The marathon effort helps one become a grownup. Many will attest that completing a marathon is a life-changing event that transfers to other aspects of one’s life.

Marathons are kind of like Tai Chi. You are always working on the form. What is the best weight? What is the best diet? Should I do intervals or tempo runs or both? How long should my long run be? What are the best running shoes?

There is a certain self-confidence that comes from being able to run a marathon. It will be a personal breakthrough for you. For someone stuck on a job ladder, struggling with health issues (weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, chronic indigestion), feeling kind of lonely or questioning a career choice, training for a marathon may be the best prescription. Running a marathon will expand your horizons. Get clearance from your doctor first!


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