“Getting That Old Feeling Back"
I don’t know when it started. Was it the spinning hook kick to the head from the 1992 national champion that put me in a fog for over a week? Was it the axe kick from an unranked fighter in 1993 that broke my nose? All I know now is that I lost the drive to compete. It wasn’t fun anymore and I wasn’t going to make the national team and I definitely wasn’t going to ever make the Olympics like my instructors. Olympic style Taekwondo was no longer what I wanted to do.
In 1994 I changed my focus from the future possibility of starting my own Taekwondo studio to attending college and pursuing a career in Physical Therapy. I took on this new challenge with extreme focus and let nothing get in the way of my studies. This included exercise. In 1992 I was competing in the Featherweight division at 142 pounds and by 1994 I was already well into the 170 to 180 pound range. I started Physical Therapy school at Shenandoah University in 1998 and was tipping the scale at over 210 pounds (I don’t know exactly how heavy I got because I stopped weighing myself after seeing 210). Luckily, my new roommate was a runner and was also very direct when expressing his opinions. His opinion was “you are fat, Keith, and you need to start running.”
I had run as cross training for Taekwondo. It was the best way to regulate my weight and I remember enjoying the way I felt after a run and sometimes during the run. It didn’t happen right away. I suffered on my runs with my roommate as he would take off up a half mile hill on our route, run back down and try to catch me before I could reach the top for the first time. I eventually started to make it a 3x/week habit and the weight dropped down into the 180s, where it stayed (except for a few fluctuations upward and back down) for the next decade.
I trained enough to run a few Marathons and several shorter distance races over the next decade. Running had become more of a habit and I was content with doing what it took to get over the finish line and enjoy just being part of each event. After running a PR of 3:42:54 at the Philadelphia Marathon in November 2009 I was happy to be getting faster but achieving a Boston Marathon PR seemed out of reach. That same year I had started running with a group that would meet on weekends for long runs and once per week for speedwork at the local track. The social aspect helped make it more fun but also added an element of competition. That old feeling was starting to come back.
I ran the Steamtown Marathon in October of 2010 in 3:31:09 and while happy with the progress still didn’t think Boston was an achievable dream. Just after Steamtown a new runner joined our group and I found myself running with him more often. He was in his early fifties, ran in college and always had great advice to give. The best advice was to quit training for the Marathon and focus on the 5k because speed was going to be what eventually improves the Marathon time. My best 5k at the time was just over 20 minutes. He and I trained more regularly with an increased focus on track repeats, tempo runs, and progression runs with a few easy runs in between and one long run per week. In November I broke the 20 minute barrier for the first time. As we trained my weight decreased from the 172 pounds when I ran Steamtown to under 150 pounds three months later.
We were getting serious about racing and by April of 2011 I had reached 145 pounds and had achieved a sub 18 minute 5k. I ran the George Washington Parkway Classic 5k in April of 2011 with the goal of finishing under 18 minutes. I found myself in second place at the start of the last mile and with 800 meters to the finish was able to catch and pass the leader for the win in 17:36. I couldn’t believe it. I had just won a race that had well over 800 participants. The training and racing continued and in the summer I decided to train for the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah half marathon. I won and placed well in several other races during my training and sometimes put in over 60 miles per week. When my wife and I went to the race expo in Savannah I decided to switch to the Marathon.
I had not run a Marathon in over a year but I had several long mileage weeks and a few 18 to 20 mile long runs under my belt. I took it easy at the start and found a few runners to pace with. Three of us, including the top female runner, were maintaining just over 6:15 per mile for nearly 15 miles. They pressed on but I had to slow down. I did everything I could to maintain the fastest pace possible and even though that included a couple of just over 7 minute miles I was able to finish in 2:50:07. A 41 minute PR in just over a year. I had also accomplished something that only a year ago I thought was unachievable. I ran a BQ!
Since 2011 I have continued racing various distances and training with a great group that makes running fun. I have since run 3 more Marathons with a 2:47:41 PR at Steamtown in 2012 and a 10th place finish this year at the 3rd annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Marathon in 2:48:34. I was unable to run Boston in 2013 due to a sports hernia repair, but am ready and very excited to run it as a Master’s runner in 2014.
That old feeling is back!
I hope that this story inspires those in similar situations to get out and run. If you told me in 2000 that I would qualify for Boston and run a sub 17 minute 5k I would have laughed you out of the room. The life changes that occur with running are amazing. There are thousands of stories out there and it is amazing to hear how others have achieved their goals through running. Start your journey and tell us about it. It might be the one story that gets someone else out there.
If this story doesn't get you motivated I don't know what will. Amazing is the best way I can describe it. After reading this I have already altered my training and I am now doing more speed work in hoping to lower my times. Good luck Keith in Boston this year. No matter what the outcome is, you have already won.