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The Tale of the Bridge

Hard to believe it’s been three days since I crossed the finish line at the Marine Corps. Marathon.

Honestly, it’s hard to forget. In addition to earning a gleaming new finisher medal and a most excellent race shirt, I got a painfully large blister on the bottom of my foot. If you’ve seen Simon Pegg in “Run, Fat Boy, Run,” it’s kinda like that.

I’d post a picture but that would be nasty. Besides, this post isn’t really about the blister. It’s about perseverance.

There are two things to know about the marathon. It started promptly at 8 a.m. and all prospective finishers had to “Beat the Bridge” and reach mile 20 by 1:15 p.m., whereupon the 14th Street Bridge would be reopened to traffic. This would pose a challenge for someone walking the race as I was.

There were 31,000 runners. Getting all of us over the starting line took a long time–30 minutes for me. That meant I had 4 hours and 45 minutes to walk 20 miles. In training, I did 20 miles in 4:40. It was going to be close and I had to haul!

Going up the first incline (some people called it a hill, but this was no hill) I spied the National Cathedral in the distance. The cathedral is my absolute favorite place in DC. I took it as a sign from God that all would work out.

Still, I moved as quickly as I possibly could. I blew through the first half of the race, and tried to enjoy Georgetown, the National Mall and all the other great sights of this spectacular city.

The lovely Sarah surprised me at mile 14. She had never been to DC so i didn’t expect to see her. She told me my pace was strong, consistently a 13:30 mile. (She was getting text messages as I crossed every 5K mark. I love technology!)

Then, the mind games started.

At mile 15 one of the Marines (there were thousands of Marines on the course) warned all of us as we passed that we needed to be running if we were going to beat the bridge. We had about 75 minutes to travel five miles.

I could feel myself slowing down. My legs were stiffening. I wanted to stop and stretch, but I worried my legs would cramp up and I’d be toast.

I kept going.

The straggler wagons, school buses that would ferry runners off the course, showed up at mile 17, accompanied by a car with signs on it that warned athletes they needed to be in front of it.

I started freaking. I wasn’t in front of the car. I wasn’t going to make it.

I passed that car. Half a mile later, it pulled in front of me again. I was hacked off. I realized it was just a mind game. At 18.5 I learned I had 25 minutes to beat the bridge. But, my legs were still feeling tight.

Still, I kept moving. Someone on the sidelines shouted: “The bridge is around the next corner, you’re gonna beat the bridge.” In front of me, athletes began pumping their fists in the air and shouting.

We were going to beat the bridge! My friend Alissa met me at the bridge to walk with me to the finish line.

As we started over the bridge, I cried.

“I’ve trained specifically for this moment,” I said, my voice catching. “I don’t care how long it takes to walk the rest of this.”

Alissa didn’t care either. She was there until the end.

I let my pace slow so my legs could relax a bit. The stress was over and I could enjoy cruising to the finish with my fellow athletes. I could enjoy the crowds on the sidelines–the strangers offering candy, guys dressed like Cookie Monster and Elmo, people holding signs like “Marathons put the FU in FUN.”

I high-fived Marines, lots of them. I laughed with people in their funny hats.

Six and a half hours after starting the marathon, I crossed the finish line. My face was lit up like the Kool-Aid Man when one of the Marines draped my finisher medal around my neck.

It was an incredible day.


I’m Gonna Beat the Bridge AND Oprah, Too!

The Marine Corps. Marathon is just over five days away, and I’m trying not to psyche myself out.

I’m looking forward to the pageantry of the weekend: the health and fitness expo at the Convention Center, the prayer service, the military jet flyovers, the special effects, the Greek flame, the throng of 30,000-plus athletes at the starting line (from my place near the back of the pack it could take 45 minutes just to officially start the race). There will be celebrities, many of them star athletes but there is a chance I could see folks like Oprah, who finished the “People’s Marathon” several years ago in just over four-and-a-half hours. Lots of  runners want to “Beat Oprah.” The People’s Marathon, by the way, is the nickname for this race because of its reputation as a starter marathon for first-timers.

If I’m worried about anything, it’s a bridge. The 14th Street Bridge, to be precise. “Runners must maintain the 14 minute (sic) per mile pace to reach the 14th Street Bridge and successfully ‘Beat the Bridge’ just after mile marker 20. The 14th Street Bridge will reopen to vehicular traffic making it unavailable to runners after 1:15 p.m. Any runners unable to ‘Beat the Bridge’ will be required to board the straggler buses and be driven to the event finish line.”

I have to “Beat the Bridge.” It’s a mantra I keep hearing in my head.

The thing is, I know I can finish the race. I’ve done my training. I’ve spent more time walking outside or in the gym these last three months than I have in a long, long time. I’ve prepared. I’ve timed myself. My longest training walk was 20 miles, and I finished it in four hours and 40 minutes. So, 5:15 to “Beat the Bridge” SHOULD be a cake walk (mmm….cake!).

Ultimately, I’m worrying over nothing, and I’m going to have to stay off the marathon’s Facebook page. Yesterday, page administrators asked athletes to post the time in which they hoped to finish. A number of the posts were from athlete’s who said they wanted to “Beat the Bridge.” So, maybe, subconsciously, I’m worried because all those people are concerned about getting across some little bridge.

I need a new mantra for the rest of this week! Here it is: I’m gonna beat that bridge, and I’m gonna beat Oprah, too!

Thank Goodness, There Were No Eruptions!

I took my first-ever yoga class on Monday.

Yup, me. Downward facing big guy.

The class was offered at Remedy Coffee, the awesome Old City coffee house that also serves as the center for knoxlife church. Tyler Woodruff, a personal training and a member at knoxlife, has been offering the classes for a few weeks now.

The decision to go was easy. I can be impulsive like that. I’ll try almost anything once. I’ve eaten a Bertie Bott’s vomit-flavored jelly bean, after all, and lived to regret it. I’ve taken boot camp-style fitness classes. Heck, I’ve walked a freakin’ marathon! And I’d skydive or go horseback riding…if I were smaller (seriously, I didn’t know you had to weigh under 275 pounds to go horseback riding, but then the horse in question wasn’t a Clydesdale). So yoga would be nothing, right?

I was concerned about weird things. Like that I’d be the biggest person in the class — which happens a lot and I’ve never really cared, but the thought of being surrounded by willowy, hyper-flexible people was a little  intimidating. But, I picked up a yoga mat and went anyway. I also worried about eruptions from my digestive system, thanks to someone on Twitter who tweeted, “I hope you don’t fart, it can be very distracting.”

Not as distracting as suddenly worrying about the possibility of farting in yoga class. Just saying.

I walked in the room. I was wearing classic large person attire, sweatpants and a t-shirt. I don’t know what possessed me, because I never wear sweats. Except to bed. During the winter. The room was warm, and I’d be exercising. My yoga mat was destined to get wet.

Meanwhile, the willowy folk were starting to assemble, and I was grateful to learn I wasn’t the only guy in the room besides the instructor. 

We finally got down to business and, well, I liked it. I couldn’t do one or two of the positions at all because my body just doesn’t move like that, and there are several that need work (the thing that rolls into a cobra position being high on that list). But, overall, I found the focus on the movements, and thus off the rest of the world, incredibly relaxing. My muscles, especially in my back, felt incredibly loose. It really was a great experience.

As an aside, I was to take a minute to talk about yoga being offered in a church given Pastor Mark Driscoll’s recent denunciation of yoga as demonic. Gasp!

Here’s what I can tell you from my experience. Each of Tyler’s yoga classes has a Christian theme, like surrender or love. This was the “love” class. At the start he read a passage about the Christian nature of love. At the end, he offered up a prayer. I suppose it’s possible to make anything demonic, like eating or watching television, and maybe somewhere there is a demonic yoga class. This was not it. At the end of the day, Rev. Driscoll needs to relax.

Perhaps he should take a yoga class. He can join us. I know I’ll be back.

Say Goodbye to Mr. 300!

It finally happened.

I got on the scale at the Weight Watchers center in Knoxville yesterday, and passed a goal I’ve been trying to reach for a while: my weight dropped below 300 pounds. I weighed in at 298 pounds. I still have a long way to go, but dropping below 300 it a huge milestone–no pun intended.

I started this journey weighing 358 pounds. It seems the first 55 were easy to drop, relatively speaking. Those last five (if you’ve done the math, I’ve lost 60 pounds) were a pain in the fattest part of my assets! I’ve been training for the Marine Corps. Marathon, which is at the end of the month, and when my mileage started to bump up, I was eating more. I was walking 15, 18, 20 miles. I was hungry! And not “oh, maybe a little snack” hungry. No, more like “I could eat a horse” hungry.

One of the great things about Weight Watchers is you can do what we call eating your activity points. Walking at high-speed (for a fat guy) for three hours or more earns a lot of activity points. And I was eating them. But, I wasn’t really losing weight. In my last post on this topic, I bounced up and down between 300.4 and 303 pounds for several weeks.

This week, though, a week after my longest training run, I fell below that 300 line. Big news. Huge. I haven’t been here in more than five years. Even back then I didn’t stay below 300 for very long. We were on a medically supervised low-calorie (800 a day) diet. I dropped down to 287…but then we began eating “normal” food again. It didn’t take long to balloon back up.

I think (hope) things are different this time. I’ll begin training for two marathons, Covenant Health in Knoxville and Country Music in Nashville in late November, December. I’m three pounds away from achieving my 295-pound goal of bringing home the bicycle I have on layaway and intend to add cycling to my exercise routine. And I plan to add strength training (which I h-a-t-e) to my repertoire. I hate it, but I know I need to do it.

The difference between last time and now boils down to this: I saw the achievement of 287 as the end of the journey. This time, I realize the journey never ends. Weight Watchers goes on. New activities make the journey more interesting.

I’m looking forward to how this journey continues…

One Trough Closes, Another Takes Its Place

The steam tables at Duff’s Smorgasbord in Pigeon Forge will be turned off for the last time on October 31.

 The fried chicken and Salisbury steak, the mashed potatoes and gravy, even the fresh salad bar will disappear into the ether. In better times, Duff’s was a behemoth in the battle for buffet supremacy with locations across the country. It served as a touchstone in our need for elastic-waistband pants.

In short, you could do some serious eating at Duff’s.

I never darkened the door of the Pigeon Forge location, but my family were regulars at the location in Milwaukee when I was growing up. Many a weekend we would make the 45-minute trek in the Silver Bullet, our Ford Econoline van outfitted with slide-out benches and, I swear I’m not making this up, an easy chair. Think Granny Clampett but in an upholstered armchair instead of a rocker.

My grandfather loved Duff’s. Not because of the food, per se, although I recall his fondness for the fried chicken. No, he loved the place because he had three growing grandsons. He loved to think he was ripping the place off taking us, and my big-eating dad, for the $4.99 buffet.

Small price to pay for the gleaming (it was the grease!) array of foodstuffs available. In Milwaukee, Duff’s was a miracle of food delivery. Unlike the gargantuan food buffets of today where you waste precious time wandering around from meats to vegetable-like dishes (seriously, mushy broccoli only qualifies as a vegetable if you live in a nursing home) to desserts, our Duff’s had a, wait for it, conveyor belt. The food came to you! 

Patrons would stand in line waiting for their opportunity to step up to one of the carrels arranged around the steam table. It was DisneyWorld for the soon-to-be morbidly obese, only we weren’t using that term just yet. This was the 80s and phrases like husky and chunky were still in vogue.

Once in your carrel, you watched and waited as ginormous piles of food drifted toward you. Steak, hamsteak, chicken fried steak, chicken fried chicken, baked chicken, baked fish, chicken fried fish, potatoes au gratin, mashed potatoes, potato salad, green beans, green peas, boiled cabbage, cabbage slaw…my mouth would be watering if I didn’t, in my adult years, believe Duff’s to be a contributing factor to my expanded waistline.  

The upside was you didn’t have to move from your spot until you felt your plate was sufficiently full. The downside was if you wrestled over getting the Ham Hawaiian and missed your chance, you’d have to wait for the conveyor belt to cycle back around.

My family’s table was often piled high with discarded, albeit empty, plates. We worked that buffet like chubby orchestra conductors. A little salad here, some fried something and carbs, meat and vegetables, lots of bread, then dessert. Drinking sugary carbonated beverages by the gallon.

It is any wonder I once wore size 54 pants with or without elastic?

Duff’s will fade in to history on October 31. Bus tour patrons will be disappointed, but not for long. A seafood (see food) restaurant is slated to open in Duff’s place.

You Know What They Say About Guys With Big Feet?

We wear big shoes!!

Size 16s in my case.

Yep. Bring it on. I’ve heard all the jokes. My shoes could be someone else’s water skis. I could rescue someone from a flood in my canoes. The Great Lakes were formed when I took a step. I’m cool with it. I have big feet and I cannot lie…

It’s time to get them some new shoes. Athletic shoes. For the marathon.

I actually bought a pair of shoes a few weeks ago. A pair of Skechers from my favorite big and tall shop. But they didn’t work out. In fact, I think I could call it an epic fail.

See, the trouble with fat-guy shoes is that there is no flexibility in the soles. Imagine strapping a two-by-four to the bottom of your feet and wrapping the whole thing in leather (or leather-like product — pleather, if you will). In general, the shoes fit and they’re serviceable if all you’re doing is kicking around town, going to the mall, getting something to eat at the mall. They’re not designed for endurance events.

I thought I was going to have to lose my leg because of the pain the Skechers caused. After just a couple of miles walking, a pain started on the outside of my foot. The next day, the pain was radiating up my leg, and not only while I was walking. All the time. I developed a rather pronounced limp. It wasn’t fun.

Then, I saw a commercial about shoe inserts. Now, I know I have one flat foot and one arched foot. I thought maybe I’d get me some of those inserts and see what happens. Yes, I was gellin’ like a felon. And they worked, for a day or so.

When the pain returned, I knew I had to get rid of the shoes. I went back to a pair of older shoes I’d worn nearly out. Barely any tread on the bottom. Insoles that were compacted flat. Shoelaces about to snap. But I could wear them and my feet didn’t hurt.

But, with just 26 days to go before the Marine Corps. Marathon I realize I need to do something. These shoes can’t get me through nearly a month’s worth of training and then across the finish line. They’ll disintegrate before then.

So, I have to go shopping this week.

Meanwhile, if anyone needs to store a wedding dress or a set of encyclopedias, I know where you can get a big old shoe box.

Dancing Around the Big 3-0-0

That last week has been a blur of work-related travel.

As evidenced by my weigh-in at Weight Watchers on Saturday, I didn’t prepare myself for last week’s trip as well as I usually do. I was up 2.6 pounds.

Frustrating, yes, but I know the reasons why. A little wine here, a dessert there, tortilla chips, etc. Not horrible choices individually, but I also didn’t exercise as frequently or as long as I would have liked. And, because I was tired I didn’t get my long marathon training walk in.

All of that to say last week was a perfectly human week. They’re not all going to be. This is a journey, right?

I have to be better this week, though, even though I’m still on the road. This time, Washington DC, a great walking city. I’ll get plenty of exercise here!

It has to be better because a big goal is in sight. I’m this close to dropping below the 300-pound mark. It’s my Moby Dick, my Excalibur. Not the end of the journey, to be sure, but a turn in a great new direction.