Last Man Off the Mountain

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This was originally posted on LDS Fitness Network in April 2013. 

This time of the year always excites me. The turning of the weather is perfect for running. It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold. There’s no snow or ice to worry about on the roads. It’s really the perfect weather for outside running.

But, this time of the year also reminds me of my first race. It was actually six years ago this month. If you’re doing the math (and odds are you probably aren’t) that would be about three years before I started my weight-loss journey.

The race was probably one of the stupidest, foolish and ill-advised things I could have done. The race wasn’t even a 5K or mile fun run. It was a 10K and somehow my friends convinced me that I could do it?! They gave me ample time to train. But, being at the time a 350+lbs. man, I really had no idea or concept of training for a 10K … let alone running.

In fact before the race the longest run I did was about a mile and half on the treadmill at the gym. I can’t tell you exactly how long it took me, but it wasn’t faster than what was comfortable for me. Plus, the faster I went the harder it was to watch the gym’s TV. I’m pretty sure I did this … once.

The day of the race was fairly non-descript. I put on my worn tennis shoes. I threw on a pair of shorts and t-shirt and went to the race. We were then bussed about six miles up the mountain where we then lined up before the gun went off to start the race.

As we sprinted at the sound of the gun down the mountain I was suddenly stricken with this thought. A thought that really should have come much earlier … “what did you get yourself into?” I couldn’t honestly answer that question. Heck, I didn’t even know how to answer that question?!

Within my 20 yards of the starting line my running sprint came to an abrupt end. It was then that I realized that I still had over six miles left of this race and I hadn’t sufficiently prepared. At all.

I was given two choices at that moment. I could quit, turn around and get back on the bus or I could finish what I so foolishly and ignorantly started and just do it. I picked the latter.

I soon found a speed that served me well. It was somewhere between a brisk walk and stroll in the park. I felt like my body could somehow manage this speed. If anything I knew I could win a ‘Mall Walking’ race without a problem.

Around mile two I started getting bored. Yeah, bored. Since this was my first venture into distant running I had no idea that iPods were essential accessories. Luckily, I had my phone on me and somehow got service.  So I called my Mom.

We talked a pretty long time. I hadn’t told her I was doing a 10K, we talked about that. She was excited that I was doing something active. I honestly don’t know if she knew how long a 10K was? But, I was doing that and she’s also celebrated those accomplishments.

By this time I was pretty much alone on the mountain. The last person in front of me was out of sight and I was pushing up the rear. Heck, I was the rear.

It was around this time that one of the race directors drove past in his pickup truck. He hung out the window and asked me if I wanted a ride down the mountain. It would have been easy to take him up on the offer. I could have just hopped right in and rode this off as a failed attempt at running. End of story.

But, I couldn’t give up. I had too much pride to simply give up. I started this race, I was going to finish it. So I declined the offer. I was offered a ride two more times. Once by a police officer and once again by a race volunteer. Each time I declined, and each time I became more determined to finish.

By about mile four my legs were shot. They were sore. Like, really sore. As I approached the mile five marker I felt like a baby antelope taking it’s first steps out of the wound. I was even afraid to stop in fear that the lions would get me.

The last pit stop was manned by this very nice lady and her six kids. I was obviously the last runner coming in because she had already picked up the thrown paper cups and neatly had Gatorade and water awaiting me. She was nice and very encouraging.

As I had less than a mile to the finish line she offered to have her kids run the rest of the way with me. This was an offer that was not just semi-awkward and sweet at the same time, but how do you say no to that? So her six kids ran the last mile with me. Looking back it felt like a police escort the marathon leader gets into the finish line.

By the time I had gazed upon the finish line the run was basically over. The awards ceremony was just finishing up and my worst nightmares came true. The emcee of the awards ceremony spotted me. Of course he drew everyone’s attention to “our last runner off the mountain!”

Of course the crowd cheered as I crossed the finish line. It was somewhat embarrassing, because I felt that I knew why they were cheering me. I didn’t win a medal and I sure as heck wasn’t the fastest. My time was a turtle speed of 2:10 hours. To put that into perspective, people win the Boston Marathon with that times like that.

Needless to say, I felt embarrassed.

But, at the same time I also finished what I started. I did something hard and stuck with it. Sure, my legs hurt for the next week and I could barely walk at work later that day. But, that pain was vindication of my effort.

We’re not even going to talk about how I celebrated my accomplishment. But, you should probably know it involved a bag of burgers and onion rings. But, that’s a story for another day.

Looking back at this experience six years later I simply have to chuckle. Especially knowing what I know about training and running. I think I wanted the glory. I wanted to do what my friends were doing. I didn’t want to be any different than they were.

I wasn’t ready for the changes I would make three years later … but a seed was planted. I knew within me that I could do it, because at 350+lbs. I finished a 10K. I didn’t give up when I hurt or when I got offered three rides down the mountain. I finished it myself.

I now had this knowledge that I could do hard things. I still draw lessons from this experience today. Simply because I never gave up even if I was the last man off the mountain. Because I still won.

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