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New Member's Inspiring story

Published Mar 23, 2016

Dear Leeann,

Thank you so much for the time we spent talking this past Sunday at FYB #4. I was the one who came up wanting to thank whomever it was who thought up the FYB series so that I had something to keep my feet to the fire when it came to running in the winter.

As it turns out, I signed up for a membership via signmeup.com on Tuesday so I'm hoping to hear more concerning upcoming events and such.

During the course of our conversation, I mentioned about what running had meant to me, considering I just started this last year at the age of 52. You'd said that you were interested in how I got to where I am given where I came from so I'm taking this opportunity to 'make a contribution'. If this inspires someone, so much the better.

In January of 2016, I ran my first races. My wife and I participated in the Walt Disney World 5K and 10K races on consecutive days. It was an experience unlike any I'd ever had - and certainly not anything I ever expected to want or be able to do. But those events were a long time in coming.

I was born in 1962, crippled and given up for an illegal adoption. My legs looked like pretzels due to bilateral club feet. The doctors did what they could to straighten them out (bones of a baby are soft and we're talking 1962 standards and practices) but, literally, from the day of my birth I was in a series or combination of casts, crutches, wheelchairs, braces and special shoes. I had surgery to reconstruct and relocate my Achilles tendon back in 1968. During physical therapy (at which I was failing miserably), I overhead a doctor tell my mother that the operation must have been a failure and I would likely never walk on my own again. Fortunately, I was too young to know he was supposed to know everything and a few days later, I figured out how to walk even with the hip-high casts on both legs.

I spent the next few years dreaming of 'being normal' and, because of that, it was a big deal when I got to wear my first pair of 'normal' shoes - a pair of ordinary sneakers - in 1974.

Because of all that, I was never very athletic in school. Gym class was actually a horror show at times - always picked last for teams as I didn't have the active, outdoor childhood that most other had so I was very much 'behind the curve' when it came to any kind of sport. But I was walking without crutches and, for that, I was extremely thankful.

In my 20s I had a period in my life where I was more active - walking through the surf on summer weekends, playing softball (trying to make up with brains what I lacked in brawn), even learning to roller skate fairly well. But eventually I had kids and the "be a dad" lifestyle took over. I'd lost some weight before the kids came, but that pretty much went out the door afterwards.

20 years, kids growing up and a divorce later, I was taking stock of my life and I was mostly pleased - except in the physical department. Although I'd gotten remarried to a wonderful woman, I wasn't thrilled with how I looked in the mirror. I could still walk as long as I pleased and held on to that for some personal pride. But one day, during a trip overseas for my step-son's wedding, I fell asleep on the plane and a very unflattering picture of me was taken. I looked pregnant.

That was the start.

Later on, it turned out that the one thing that kept me off my feet would start to liberate me. I don't want to sound like a commercial, but, a little over 2 years ago, we upgraded our cell phones. The new phones had a motion sensor in them and I started noticing that it was keeping track of how many steps per day I'd taken, how far I'd gone and how many flights of stairs I'd climbed. Subconsciously and, later, consciously, I started paying attention to those numbers and wanted to increase them. One time, my wife asked if I would help bring a bunch of storage bins up from the basement and I said "Sure - let me get my phone - I want credit for this".

Over time, I started to wonder if I could still walk a good long distance. So I went to Google and mapped out a 5K course around the neighborhood. I walked it in something over an hour. When I saw that, I began to wonder.. If I could WALK for 5K - could I run for 5K?

That's when the research started. I wasn't too serious about it until I started seeing, of all things, the participation medals. All of a sudden, it struck me. THAT was something I'd wanted. Never being able to excel at sports in my youth, the medals were an attraction. Now, suddenly, I was a lot more interested. It wasn't that I enjoyed the idea of running, but it could be a means to an end. Something tangible to display for an achievement. So the question got more serious. How could I do this? I eventually came across several variations of the "C25K" - Couch-To-5K - program. This seemed to be a possible answer as it stressed the idea of not overtraining so as not to invite injury and that ANYONE could start this.

So, in January of 2015, I did my first session - Week 1 Day 1. I won't lie. It was more effort than I expected. I never expected what "Jog for 1 minute" would actually turn out to mean (never mind repeating it 8 times). But I did it - and that was more than I'd done.

Then we got 9 1/2 feet of snow in 3 weeks. It was March before the roads were safe enough for running.

So I restarted. Most of the time, I was able to do the increasingly difficult sessions. Sometimes I couldn't. The important thing, for me, was that I was tracking my progress with an app. At the time I was using MapMyRun (I now use Runkeeper). It was important because, even when I failed a given session, I could see from the statistics that I was going further and faster than previous sessions - so there was progress that still gave me hope. But I needed a goal - something to shoot for.

In April I signed up for the races at Walt Disney World. I also looked at a few local races that I'd use to "tune up" for the big ones.

Being older, the 8-week C25K program took me longer than I expected but, by the end of June, I was almost done. I was 2 sessions away from that final 30-minute jogging session and "graduation". Sure, I wasn't going 5K, but that would come in time. ...and that's when the injury hit.

Because I was doing everything on my own, my running posture was terrible - I was leaning forward when running and when that was combined with other issues related to my birth defect, well... There was a time bomb waiting to go off and, right around July 4th, my hip flexors suddenly decided they'd had enough and made their own fireworks.

Long story short, it was October before I could start running again (so much for the tune-up races). In the interim, I bought a bike and exercised with that since riding didn't affect me the way walking and running did. I was heartbroken when my physical therapist said I should restart the C25K program from the beginning - but it turned out she was right. I was scared that I wouldn't have enough time to get ready for the races in January - since the 2nd race was a 10K and I was nowhere near that!

I restarted at the beginning and I was glad I did. I skipped a few sessions from time to time as I was feeling SO good - even adding more jog/walk intervals at the end sometimes because I had so much left in the tank.

The week before my plane was leaving for Florida, I completed the 60-minute jogging session that was the end of the C10K program. It wasn't 10K as I wasn't fast enough, but it was more than I'd ever done before.

When it finally came time to run my first races ever, it was a bewildering experience - being there with over 10,000 other people. The 10K race had one other 'feature' - it rained. I'd never trained a single day in the rain - but I kept going - and I finished. The two medals I brought home from those races mean a lot more to me than a simple ribbon and medallion. Every time I see them, I hear that doctor in the back of my head saying I'll never walk again. ...and those medals put a smile on my face.

My normal routine now has me running about 12 miles a week (4 miles, 3 days/week). So now it's time for more goals. I discovered the Freeze Your Buns race series almost by accident and that has kept me running through the winter - taking over 7 minutes off my 5K time so far. In addition to trying to get a 30-minute 5K time (which I missed by ONE SECOND this past time) and run a few 10Ks, I want to stretch out to a half-marathon this year. If my body will allow it, maybe a marathon next year and a race weekend in 2018 that includes a 5K, 10K, half-, and full marathon in 4 days. ...again, if my body will allow it.

Last winter, I weight 197 pounds and I'm down to around 175 now - and hoping to keep that number decreasing.

The idea that I'm now running (even if it IS usually a jog/walk mix) has my kids wondering what happened to me. My younger daughter actually said "Who are you and what have you done with my dad?". She has a point. Anyone who knows me knows that there would have been better chances of my kids swimming in an open-air pool on the Moon as opposed to me taking up running.

But here I am. I'm even beginning to like the running - a little. A little more than just a 'means to an end' - though I should probably have a tshirt made that says "Will Run For Bling".

It's a cliche, for certain, but I'm another one of those people for whom the line fits - "If I can do it, anyone can do it".

And that's my long-winded, rambling story. Use it if you like..

Sincerely,

David Long

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