By Michael Fagone
If someone had told me a year ago that I would run for more than a mile on the treadmill, I would have thought that person unrealistic. But here I am at the end of my first week on a running program, where I not only ran a mile, but I ran more. And not once, but twice.
I am getting a little ahead of myself. Before one can run, they have to walk. About 20 months ago, walking was no easy task for me. Carrying around about 480lbs does a job on the body. I can remember the stress that walking short distances would cause me. There would be pain in my lower back and down my leg. I would be sweating profusely. I would be out of breath. And this happened in just short distances. In stores and supermarkets, I needed to lean on the shopping cart to shift the stress off my body. Where I would go was limited to how much walking (or standing) was involved.
As you know by now, I joined Dedham Health to advance my weight loss. I started in 60/60 on the treadmill at a slow speed just walking a few minutes each time – eventually increasing my speed and time.
It was a few months after I had joined Dedham Health that I was talking to my exercise physiologist Jason and wondering aloud if I would ever be able to run like the people I saw on the track and on the treadmills. He suggested that I try it out and see what happens. One day, while walking on the track, I looked to see if anyone was around. No one. I decided to just try running for a short distance. So I put one foot in front of the other and went for it. It wasn’t bad. Nothing broke or snapped or pulled (and trust me – I was terrified something would).
I told Jason that I tried it out and that it seemed to feel ok. Depending upon your point of view, telling Jason was either the smartest or the dumbest thing I ever did.
Shortly after, we were meeting for one of my personal training appointments when he led me up to the track. I was slightly suspicious but didn’t think too much about it. We walked once around and then he looked at me and said, “You ready?” and started jogging down the track. I felt a rush of fear go through me. But, I never tell Jason no. So I just followed him. I cannot remember if we did one lap or two, but it felt great.
As time went on, we spent more and more of my appointments on the track. We would run a couple of laps, then do a couple other exercises, then more laps. It was hard. I was pretty limited to how many laps I could do at a time. But I loved it.
One night I started telling Jason how in high school I was never able to run the mile in gym class. I knew the student who would keep track and he would let me off the hook a couple of laps short of the mile – telling the gym teacher, who wasn’t paying attention, that I had run the whole thing. I asked Jason if he thought I could ever do a mile. He said he didn’t see why not. I told him that it would really be something to reclaim that “failure” from high school. I asked him if he would help me reach the goal of being able to run a mile. I additionally asked that he not let me out of it if I tried to give up.
One of the residual side effects from the weight I was carrying is that my right leg gets pretty beat up, especially when I overdo it with cardio and weights. To no one’s surprise, It was definitely affected by the running. Frustratingly, just as I seemed to be getting better, my leg started to “act up.”
One night Jason was leading me to the track and I told him that he shouldn’t bother anymore. When he asked what I meant, I told him the running wasn’t happening. He looked at me and asked “why, did you die?” I responded that I was giving up on the goal. His response was, “I don’t care if you run a mile or not. It is still good exercise, so let’s go.” Like I had asked him to, he wasn’t letting me out of it. I regrouped and pressed on.
On August 17, 2011, I ran a mile (and a quarter) on the treadmill. I will never forget that day. I can still remember the songs that played on my iPod – that’s how vividly I remember! I was so proud of myself. I never thought I could.
Unfortunately, just as I was about to start the independent running program Jason developed for me, my left foot started acting up. Truthfully, I was equal parts disappointed and relieved. See, I really didn’t think I could do it. I was losing confidence in my abilities. Fast. After a couple of weeks, the foot started feeling a little better and I was faced with the reality that I was either going to have to start that schedule or go to Jason and tell him no.
About a week ago, near the end of our appointment, Jason looked at me and asked if I wanted to go for it. He brought me over to the treadmill and said to just try for a mile. I got on and started walking. At a certain point, he told me it was time to put the speed up and go. And off I went. When I hit a mile, I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t even that tired. So I kept going. As I neared the 1.5 mile mark, I realized I still had some push still in me and I asked if I could try for 2 miles. Jason agreed, but said no more than that. On Sunday,
October 16, 2011, I ran two miles on the treadmill. It felt amazing. I felt so free. I wasn’t weighed down anymore. Literally! It may seem like a short distance to some. But for a guy who just 20 months ago couldn’t walk 1/10 of a mile, it was huge. When I finished, Jason said “and you didn’t think you could do a mile and a half.”
So that is the story of how the guy who once barely could walk, learned to run. Oh and what of the hill in the title of this piece? It isn’t the hill in Jason’s trail mix class – though that one is killer. It is the hill of my own self-doubt. I ran up that hill and claimed victory at the top.