Running is NOT fun. I'll be honest, I don't even think it's good for you. You know what IS good for you? Eating chicken nuggets and french fries, and drinking soda. Oh, and cake. Cake too. That's what's good for you. It's a scientific fact with which the entire medical community agrees.* And that's what I've done for the last 29 years. And because of that, I'm blessed with a lot of stomach and a chin or two. It's lovely, really.
Now, full disclosure here. I have struggled with eating, my weight, and my body for a good portion of my life. I've fought with bulimia, I've used Stacker, Stacker 2, Stacker 3, Trimspa, Hydroxycut, fruit-rind pills, green coffee pills. As much as it rips me apart to admit that I'm wrong, I guess there's some good logic in the idea that shortcuts don't work.
So when I decided to run the 2013 Walt Disney World Half Marathon, it wasn't motivated by a desire to be in better shape, or to make a lifestyle change, or to "get my act in gear" (Mom.) It was almost entirely manufactured to find an excuse to go to Disney World, because I'm one of those people.
The fun thing about having a gym membership is that you don't have to use it for five months, and you still get the privilege of paying. When your hockey buddies ask you where your gym is, you get to give an answer that's real.
As a hockey goalie, though, distance running had never held any appeal, nor had I had any experience doing it. I didn't really know where to start, so I downloaded the free training that RunDisney provides for first-time runners, led by Olympian Jeff Galloway. I was ready to run.
Here's what they don't tell you about running. IT SUCKS. A Half Marathon is 13.1 miles of work. Like, actual work. Like, sweat-running-down-your-butt-crack, chafed-nipples kind of work. And you'll realize after 10 miles that there are still three more to go. And you'll learn afterwards that the race photographers that are scattered along the course will snap pictures of you when your fat rolls are flopping around in mid-air like something out of a horror movie ("It Came From Under My Shirt" or "The Waistband From Hell")
I completed the Half Marathon in just under three hours. That's not terrific, but I finished. I didn't get a runner's high, I didn't love the feeling of the wind in my hair, I didn't feel like more of a man out there on the road. It was grueling, and it pushed me to my limits.
My feet hurt for days afterward, especially the tops of my feet. I got some pretty bad leg cramping after the race, and had to lie on top of ice cubes in the bath tub. That was a low moment.
The ONLY take-away from running a Half Marathon is that you get a medal. A real, heavy, gleaming medal. Well hey, that's better than JUST blisters and embarrassing photos, right? So I wore my medal for the rest of my vacation, limping from Epcot to Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios and back. When the TSA asked me to take off my medal at the airport, I politely declined. Then I was manually frisked. Another perk, AMIRIGHTFELLAS?
Disney offers you the opportunity to complete what's called the "Coast to Coast Challenge" if you run two Half Marathons in a calendar year, one in Florida and one in California. I signed up immediately, and after another grueling race, this time under a hot, unforgiving Anaheim sun, I finished the race, beating my previous time by 16 minutes. Oh, and I completed the "Dumbo Double Dare" by running a 10K the day before. No biggie, guys. I'm a runner.
But I was also still an eater, AM still an eater. Both Half Marathons were followed by the best Disney meals I've ever eaten. Hot dogs, chicken fingers, pizzas, french fries, sodas, ice cream. (Can I pluralize that into ice creams? Because there was more than one. Or two.)
I took four more medals out of California, to put on my mantle (I don't have a mantle). They have sat there since August, reminding me that I can do big things. I have done big things. I will do more big things.
Eating will always be a struggle for me. I see lettuce, and I think "What lovely garnish for my Sesame Chicken and egg roll!" I disagree with the adage that "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." Oreos trump your stupid sayings, every time. When you encourage me to swap a handful of potato chips for a handful of almonds, I'll punch you in the mouth.
But even though I will always want to eat like a 12-year old kid at summer camp (Heavyweights, anyone?), I can maintain some modicum of health by finding the things that I love to do, like hockey, and playing the pants out of them. And while running is NOT something I recommend to others under any circumstance, winning medals absolutely is.
It was Sesame Street that first encouraged us to "Keep Christmas With You (All Through The Year)". In that vein, I'm always looking for creative ways in which I can make those around me feel bad about themselves, which is what the holidays are all about. Showing off your racing medals is a sure-fire way to elicit those ooooo's, ahhhh's and feigned interest from your friends and family.
So in that spirit, I'll be running this Spring. Because signing up for more medals means that I'm forced to go to the gym, to train, to prepare. I'll be running five of them, in Syracuse, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Long Branch, and Buffalo, over the course of 2 months.
I won't win these races. I will finish behind thousands of other men and women. And that's okay. If I can finish an entire thin-crust pizza, I can finish a race. (Or five.)
Running hasn't taught me about discipline, or determination, or healthy eating. But it's taught me that I am good enough, just the way I am, to do the big things in life that can be scary, or hard, or challenging. It's all about finishing strong.
I am a chubby runner, and I get to keep running for as long as I hate doing it.