Trotting down Beaver Loop Road, sweat leeching down my jiggling body as I fist pumped to “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees, that was what entered my mind’s eye.
A big box of Cheez-Its.
When I was a kid, I used to eat box after box of those cheesy crackers until my stomach groaned in pain. To this day I still cite my gluttonous appetite for them as the reason I’m overweight. That and four years of college and then eating food that can either be cooked in the microwave, comes in a wrapper, or is otherwise labeled “pizza” as a recently graduated bachelor.
So as the sweat continued to drip down my beard, past my “Kenai River Marathon” bib indicating I was chasing a half — 13.1 miles — I imagined the droplets trailing behind were actually individual Cheez-It crackers.
Then I got to mile 10. My stomach seized and my core shuddered. I knew this feeling — once I ate an entire box of Cheez-Its before breakfast, hid the evidence and ordered a big plate of huevos rancheros at Aunt Alice’s Country Kitchen for breakfast with my family. Needless to say that meal didn’t stay down and the parking lot outside of Aunt Alice’s had a new coating.
So how did I get from being more than 40 pounds overweight to running a half marathon? First the doctor had to scold me — my liver was chocked full of fat. So I cut the carbs, tried to go gluten free, started eating organic, eliminated fast foods, cancelled my television service and got a gym membership.
I, like most Americans, was headed to an early grave coddled by the couch and spurred by diabetes, high cholesterol and unhealthy eating habits.
At first my legs howled. My body was plump and my muscles were soft. But I kept running. With the encouragement of friends and co-workers, I signed up for a 5K and finished in 40 minutes. Then I did another a month later and finished in 32 minutes.
I finished the Kenai River Half Marathon in 2 hours, 47 minutes as the last man through the chute. Yes, I finished last. No, I don’t care because only 23 other men ran that same race (61 women ran the half, which is quite impressive).
I made it through the mile 10 stomach pains and past mile 12 when my feet felt as heavy as boulders and somewhere between there and the finish line I thought I just couldn’t go anymore.
And after all that suffering, I felt great.
I called my grandparents to report the news and my grandfather was very impressed with my race. I told him this: until I started using my body for good, I never knew how good it could feel.
There are people who run 100-mile races. The human body is the greatest creation and most of us would rather park it on the couch and punish it with bad food, tobacco and booze. Then we wonder why we feel bad all the time and why we are depressed — something I struggled with a lot.
When I was growing up, food was a treat. Exercise was punishment. Now I see it as the other way around. My morning runs help me think clearly, they subdue my temper and when I do them, I feel better about sneaking a cookie, but I rarely have that impulse.
Running has helped me immensely in all aspects of my life, but I never would have guessed. So here I’m offering the same advice I was given when I needed a push out the door — what are you waiting for?
Get mean. Lace up those sneakers and run to the end of the block — that’s what I did. Don’t be afraid to walk back. And that’s it. You’re better off now than you were before, right?
If the kid who ate Cheez-Its until he puked can do it, so can you.
Brian Smith is city editor for the Peninsula Clarion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.