Saturday, March 14, 2009

There's Always Someone Better

It's a lovely afternoon in Streeterville, 48 degrees at the Mini, under clear blue skies. The lake is calm and Navy Pier is bathed in the afternoon's pale yellow sunlight. The Chicago River was dyed green today and the streets are awash in seas of American youth dressed in green and drunk on everything from green beer to things known as Irish Car Bombs.

I went running with my Saturday group at 8 AM this morning, and I was reminded of one of life's great lessons. There is always someone better. I sometimes go out for runs with my training group and feel a little bit smug. I started running shortly after I turned 50 because I woke up one morning and got on the scale. To my horror I realized I weighed 220 pounds. I knew it was time to do something.

When I started running I could barely run around the block. Soon, however, I was running 3 miles and then 4 miles. The weight began to drop off. I was encouraged. I upped the mileage. I upped the length of time I would be out running. I upped the number of days per week that I was running. Pretty soon I was running 25 or so miles per week.

It was at this point that someone noted all the miles I was logging and suggested that maybe I should run a race. I was flabbergasted. Me? A race? I was a former smoker. I was a certified intellectual anti-jock sort of guy. I signed up for a race. I went out and ran a 10K race at a time when I had never actually run 6 miles before in my life. I was hooked. I just knew that I could run it faster, so I signed up for a 10K training program to see if they could teach me anything that would make me faster.

That fall I took 2 minutes off my 10K time, and I took 3rd place in my age group at that race. I got a bronze medal in the mail. The next spring I didn't know if I were capable of running a marathon (26.2 miles is daunting.) so I signed up for a Half Marathon Training Program. I strained a calf muscle 7 miles into the race and limped 10 minute miles for the remaining 6.1 miles and still finished in 1:58 for the entire 13.1 miles. I felt pretty good. I took some ibuprofen and signed on for Marathon Training. That fall I finished the Chicago Marathon in 4:21, a respectable finish for a 53 year old novice marathoner.

The rest is history. I became a regular runner. I dropped my weight from 220 pounds to 192 pounds, a net loss of 28 pounds. I had to buy a new wardrobe because all of my old clothes were too big now. Quite an inspirational story to repeat to scores of newbie runners who I signed on to train for half marathons and marathons as a pace group leader. Then I was chatting with a friend during our run this morning, and mentioned my fat to less than fat transition. When he heard what I said he said, "I did the same thing. I used to weigh 360 pounds. I got down to 188 pounds at one point. I got to where I could run 6:30 minutes per mile. I ran a 10K in 39 minutes. I was proudest when I lost so much weight that I began to see the actual shape of my face again. It wasn't lost in the roundness of the fat anymore."

This was one more in a long line of life's humbling experiences. I was out there feeling pretty damned proud of myself and my accomplishments. I lost 28 pounds. I ran a marathon. I won a few age group medals. Meanwhile, this guy had gotten to the point usually referred to as morbidly obese, and managed to lose half of his entire body weight. He lost over 170 pounds, and ran races at a pace I can only dream about. Holy cow! Knocked all the smug right out of me.

There's always someone better, no matter how good you are. This is a lesson everyone needs to recognize. It is harder for some than others, egos being what they are. For some it is total heartbreak. The thing we can take from it is to recognize that whatever you did, if you gave it your all, you should still be proud of yourself. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in a season. Roger Maris hit 62, and he did it without use of steroids. What Babe Ruth did was still an amazing feat. Tim Christopher lost 170 pounds and ran a 10K a full 10 minutes faster than any I, personally, have been able to run. Still, I lost 28 pounds, ran a marathon, and have won medals for finishing in the top 3 in my age group 4 separate times, 3 bronze, 1 silver medal. It pales compared to Tim's accomplishment, but I have given it my all, and I think I can still feel proud of myself. I just need to lose the smug.

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