The Bench

I did not just wake up one morning and decide I wanted to run 167 miles. I do have a single moment in time that this journey began though. It all started on this bench…..

The bench where it all started

It was the evening of January 6, 2020. The last night of a family vacation at Disney World and I had gone to the poolside bar to buy a crown and coke. On the way back to the room with drink in hand I took a seat on a bench. Earlier in the day I had been looking over some of the pictures from the week and they shook my world. I did not even recognize the man that stood there in those pictures. One picture in particular of me standing next to Goofy is one that I can still see when I close my eyes. I knew I was overweight and when I saw those pictures I was disappointed in myself and the way I had let myself go. I had 3 knee surgeries over a 5 year period and I used that as a crutch to not make time for the gym. I was tired all the time, I did not eat very healthy and I had zero desire to change that as well.

Still tough for me to look at this picture!

I recall a long conversation with God while I sat there on the bench. I knew that I needed to change some things in my life. I told him about everything that was going on in my world and I needed his help. As I sat there and looked at my half empty crown and coke I decided that I would take a year off of alcohol. I don’t know why I chose quitting alcohol that night but it just felt like the thing I needed to do. I have been pretty responsible with alcohol most of my life with the exception of a few times that I can count on one hand. I just felt that I needed to do something that would spark a change in my life. I guess you could say I was hoping that if I did that, God would help me with other parts of my life. I knew that God doesn’t work that way, but I was desperate.

A week after getting home my Grandfather passed away at 102, and then the following month my marriage ended. Neither came as a surprise to me. I do remember thinking I had picked a bad time to quit drinking. I didn’t take a drink though. I chose to feel all of the feelings that come with loss. It was not an easy thing to do but I believe doing so helped me heal.

One day, I realized that since I was not drinking alcohol I also had not been drinking any sodas. I opted to get one for lunch that day. That soda messed my stomach up pretty bad for the rest of the day. I didn’t like that feeling so I quit sodas well. It made me really start thinking about how unhealthy I must have been for my body to be used to consuming drinks like that on a daily basis. This realization was just the first of many for me that led me to start questioning some of the things that I had always believed.

I started running in March. I did not run much, just a mile every other day. I just wanted to start getting back in to shape. All of the gyms had closed due to COVID-19 but the outdoors were still open for business. Truth be told I wanted to get back into beach volleyball shape. I knew it was crazy to think I could jump in sand after 3 knee surgeries but I was going to try anyway!

In June I went back to college to finish the last 29 credit hours towards my bachelors degree. I found studying and then going for a run helped me retain information better. I also love to read books, in fact I read 39 books in 2020 while completing my bachelors degree. I am also the kind of guy that will read 3-4 books at the same time. A friend of mine had mentioned earlier on Facebook a book that he had read called “Born to Run” which was still at the back of my mind one day when I was searching for my next great read. I went back to his page to find the title of the book so that I could get it from the library. What happened next would alter the course of my entire life. This book introduced me to ultra running. When I read about a 100 mile race that was to be completed in 24 hours I was hooked! I thought why is everyone out there not doing this? I always said I would never run a marathon, I didn’t say anything about an ultra-marathon though!

I have to pause here and share a story with you about getting into running. Maybe a month in to running I hyperextended my right knee walking down the stairs of my apartment (yes I am that clumsy). I spent the next 5 days icing and resting thinking that maybe I was not meant to be a runner. Then I got a text from my sister asking if I had heard about Joe, one of my track friends from high school. She told me that he had died and my heart was broken. I had not seen him in many years but I had thought of him and the rest of my high school track team while I was on my one mile runs. I wiped the tears I had been crying for him and I laced up my shoes determined to run a mile for him on my swollen right knee. I didn’t just run the mile for him, I felt like he was there running with me and I ended up running a mile and a half that day. I never stopped running after that day and I started increasing my distances until one day I ran a 4 miles. After that run for some reason I believed I could do an ultra! I started reading every book I could on ultra running and ultra runners. I wanted nothing more than to cover 100 miles in a 24 hour period. In fact I even sent in an application to join an ultra relay team that was running across the US! While I read these books I was still in college. I found that if I studied for an hour and then went for a run I would think about the information and it would stick with me better. I started eating better, or what I thought was better for me. I did slow down quite a bit on eating fast food. In fact eating out became my reward for passing each final exam. I started to notice something in common between the ultra runners I was reading about. Many of them were plant-based! I was a produce manager and I never thought about only eating produce. I am certain in my past I made fun of those who did. I was curious and I don’t just take someone’s word on something, I have to try it for myself to see. I started trying plant-based foods that we carry in my store and I was surprised at how good the foods actually tasted. (Not all were great, but I was learning!)

I graduated college in September of 2020, and also that month I accepted a challenge of running 167 miles in 6 days with MS Run the US to raise money to Stop MS! I also noticed how great my body was feeling every day and how well I recovered after a long run so I started thinking of going 100% plant-based. That was a very big month for me.

November 21st I ran my first half marathon with my buddy Jason! I believe the runners high from that achievement stayed with me for the rest of the year. As the calendar rolled into December I continued to add more plant based foods to my diet and eliminated many of the meat and processed foods that I used to consume.

In January of 2021 I was about 90% plant-based and I still did not believe I would ever go 100%. I felt great running some trail races and in April after running a race at about 95% I made the decision to go all in! I have found that I truly enjoy cooking plant-based meals. It is fun trying different foods together to see what I can create. It doesn’t always turn out great, but I get better each time I try! Traveling is a challenge, but I have noticed many restaurants have embraced this movement and are adding more plant-based options to their menu. I feel amazing and my recovery time has been cut in half. I used to be dead tired after a 9 hour day at work, now I work the same hours and I have the energy to knock out a 6-8 mile run. I am not going to try and convince everyone to go plant-based but I will continue to share my story with those who want to hear.

There have been many occasions throughout this journey that I have thought back to that night on that bench. I think about where I am now and it blows my mind how one decision took me down this path that I am on. I recently took another trip to Disney World with my daughter this summer and I felt like I needed to go visit the bench where it all started. I sat down this time forty pounds lighter with an insane amount of energy that I had once thought I would never see again. I had a conversation with God again, only this time my prayer was one of thankfulness. I thanked God for not giving up on me and giving me opportunities to grow. Things do not always go the way you hope that they do and that’s okay. Failure is not fun, but learning from those failures are where I believe real growth happens. Below are two pictures taken at the same spot eighteen months apart. I would like to tell you they are of the same person but they are not, this journey has helped me grow into the man I am today. I am thankful for my time on the bench that set this all in motion. I have been blessed by those who I have met along the way. I am thankful for the running community!

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