Post by: Brian Frain, Swiftwick athlete.
It’s amazing how easy it is to get out of shape. Through most of my life, from my early teens to my mid-20s, I was generally considered to be a skinny guy. I never had the athletic ability to play in organized sports, but I stayed in shape just by being on my feet a lot and by the magic of a young man’s metabolism.
But once I reached 23, that magic started to fade. Slowing metabolism, 70-hour work weeks fueled by fast food, and the pressure of being married and a father at a young age started to take their toll on my waistline. By age 28, my weight had gone from 160 to 225!
I’m not sure I can remember what exactly the trigger was that told me it was time for a change. I was suffering from chronic knee and back pain. My clothes didn’t fit right. I also was struggling with a marriage that was falling apart, child placement issues and a general level of unhappiness. Whatever the catalyst was, I decided it was time to get in the gym.
The change was slow to take hold though, for a multitude of reasons. I had moved to Milwaukee, started a new career, gone through a divorce, and was really struggling to find my own identity and picture how I wanted my life to look. In February of 2013, I was still looking for that “spark”- some hobby or interest that would allow me to channel the energy I was feeling. I happened upon the registration information for the annual Brewers 5k that takes place at Miller Park in June. The highlight of this race is a lap around the field! Having never run longer than one mile in my life (and that was in PE class in middle school), I signed up for the 5k. Now all I had to do was figure out how to train for it.
The very next day, I hopped in my car and drove 1.5 miles from my house and noted where I was. Without a GPS watch, this was my method to find a 3 mile loop. That stretch of road became my training route four days per week for the next four months.
Those first runs were comically bad. I couldn’t get more than a half mile without a walk break. But through the struggle, something inside me was waking up. Running was making me feel alive, giving me a purpose. I now look back at how I felt back then- wearing basketball shorts (which I still do sometimes, much to the dismay of my girlfriend!), a pair of running shoes that were on the clearance rack at DSW, and a cotton t-shirts no matter what the weather. After maybe a month or so, I was able to do the route without stopping and walking, so naturally the next step was to try and get faster. I remember the first time I cracked an eight-minute mile and the elation I felt that I was getting faster. I decided about a month before the big race that it was time for a goal. I wanted to finish the 5k in under 21:30, as I had decided (arbitrarily) that a seven-minute mile was the cutoff between a “real runner” and a jogger.
In the days leading up to the race, I was beyond nervous. I had trouble sleeping, and I couldn’t focus on anything else. Needless to say, when the morning hit, I was ready to go! I toed the line with 3,400 other people and took off like a rocket when the gun sounded.
I was totally unprepared for the mass of runners, walkers, stroller-pushers and general congestion that I encountered in the first half mile. I spent most of that time essentially sprinting as hard as I could, weaving in and out of the crowd. Unfortunately, this strategy proved to be fatal, as by mile two, I was toast. My pace slowed and at one point I even had to stop and walk. The pain of running was offset though by the sheer delight I took in the surroundings. Running through and around Miller Park, seeing all of those people working hard but having fun, I realized that running was what I had been searching for. The empty spot inside me had been filled.
I crossed the finish line in 22:33, a full minute off my goal. I was disappointed in myself that I had missed my goal, but at the time I was so unaware of things like pacing and race strategy. All I knew is that I had been bitten hard by the running bug, and I wanted more. That afternoon, when I checked the overall results, I saw I had placed 116th out of 3,336 total competitors. While that’s not anything impressive on its own, it was enough to make me feel like maybe I had something more to develop. I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know why, but I knew that I had to stick with this.
Looking back on it now, I imagine how I must have looked to other runners that morning. I use that as a way to keep myself in check. When I see someone at the starting line not wearing the latest shoes or sporting the top gear, I try and remember it may be their first race. That person in the cotton t-shirt might just be embarking on the same path I was two years ago, and another addict may be getting their first taste of the running drug!
I encourage you to do the same. Think about how you look at another runner and the conclusions you may form about them. Remember, we are all on the same team. Each of us has our own set of goals, and desires and motivations, but in the end, all of us are truly just chasing that finish line.