Part 2: Why I Started Running
Not many people know the exact day the direction of their life changed. I am lucky enough to know the date. My mother and I left Sandy Utah for Springville Utah the evening of December, 25th 1993. My mother and soon to be ex stepfather had gotten into an argument that led to our Christmas trip to Disneyland being cancelled. Instead of staying in the house through the holidays, my mother and I packed up enough stuff to get by and hit the road. I didn’t know it at the time but the trajectory of my life had just done a 180 degree turn.
I was, once again, living with my mom and her parents. The house was packed with all sorts of treats, just as it had been when we had lived there about three years earlier. I took full advantage of the cupboards filled with these goodies. Not only did I eat every meal that my mother or grandmother prepared, I ate constantly in-between meals too. My weight quickly skyrocketed to north of 200 pounds due to the fully stocked kitchen.
My grandfather who was a lifelong runner and 62 year old marathoner became concerned about my health and asked me to go run a mile with him each evening. I agreed out of respect for my grandfather. Not only had he just taken in a 14 year old brooding overweight teenager, he also got up at 4am every day to get his daily miles in and then he put in a full day at Geneva Steel only to come home to take me to run a mile because he was concerned about me.
I agreed, but I had ulterior motives. I didn’t care about my health or losing weight. I cared about passing junior high PE. I had become obsessive about my grades during the second half of 8th grade. With high school approaching, I knew I had to pay attention to my GPA to get into a good college. The only thing standing between me and a good looking report card was Ned Perkins and his mandate that you must run a 7 minute 45 second mile to pass his PE class. We did our first time trial shortly after I moved to Springville and just before my grandpa asked me to run with him. My time? 12 minutes 30 seconds. I needed all the help I could get and my grandfather was just the man to give it to me.
We set to work on the underground track at Springville high school. We must have recieved some odd looks early on. I would wear jeans and Converse shoes with a long sleeve shirt to the track and my grandfather would wear his track suit. After getting my obligatory mile in, I would go sit on the steps next to the track while my grandfather would run a few more miles. He always asked me to go a few more laps with him, but I was not about to run one more step that I had to. I would watch him run laps while thinking about eating a huge dinner as soon as I got home.
Despite my reluctance to run further than a mile, I was able to drop my timed mile in PE from 12 minutes and 30 seconds to eight minutes in just four months. Ned Perkins gave me an A for effort due to the four and a half minutes I took off of my mile time during the semester.
With Ned Perkins and his PE class out of the way and summer arriving, I settled into a routine of eat, play Nintendo, eat again, play some more Nintendo, watch a movie with some snacks, play some more Nintendo, then because I was bored, eat some more snacks. I think you can see the pattern here. I spent summers with my father in New York City and Connecticut and without my grandfather taking me to the track, I wore a butt print into my fathers leather sofa and ballooned up to 230 pounds.
Upon returning to Springville for my 9th grade year I got back into the habit of running with my grandfather at night but the summer had taken its toll. My mile time had crept back up and my jeans got even tighter. I had a 40 inch waist by this time and my mother was taking me shopping at the big and tall store (a fact I have never mentioned. Even to those who know my story). I can’t tell you how humiliated I was to be 14 years old and shopping at the Big and Tall store. As the sales associate put it, “you are as big around as you are tall.” I received another eye opener when I got my 9th grade school photo back.
Even with the photo above as evidence, I still did not care enough about my health to make a serious effort to lose weight. I would come home from school and drink two or three cans of Coke and eat a whole sleeve of saltine crackers before my grandfather got home and we went running; then I would eat dinner. I continued to go to the track with my grandfather because I didn’t want to disappoint him.
The photo below was taken in December of 1994 while I was visiting my father for Christmas. I was half way through my freshman year of high school; my weight was at an all time high, and to make matters worse, Ned Perkins and his PE class were waiting for me during the second half of the school year. I was worried because Ned, being the “fun loving” guy he was had lowered the mile time needed to get a passing grade in his class. Seven minutes and 30 seconds was the mandate that year and I knew I was not going to be passed on effort again.
It was time to get to work. I started to take my nightly mile with grandpa a little more serious. I may have even gone a mile and half with him a few times. I tried to clean up my eating some and as a result my mile time started to drop.
We typically had to run the timed mile about 4-5 times during a semester but Ned had a trick up his sleeve. He knew how hard I had been working with my grandpa. On the day we were to run the third timed mile of the semester, it was announced that if I ran the mile in seven minutes and 30 seconds that day, we would not have to run the timed mile again for the rest of the year. The entire starting line-up of our future high school football team was in that class and their eyes said it all. “If you mess this up for us Bernard, we will kill you.” At that moment every guy in that class was my number one supporter. They HATED running and I was their ticket out of it for the rest of the year. The fear of God crept into my sole as we walked outside to the field where we would run that fateful mile.
A few of my friends lined up next to me, with the intent of helping to pull me through. As we started out, I felt fine. During the second lap, I felt OK. By the third lap, I was starting to hurt. The other kids, that were running well below their maximum effort, gave me encouragement when I really started to hurt. As I entered the final lap, some of the faster kids in the class were starting to finish. When they did finish, they started cheering me on hoping that their show of solidarity could pull me through to that 7:30 mile and save them from running the rest of the semester. My lungs were burning bad at that point, but a new friend of mine, Hal McConnell, stayed right with me and made sure that I did not give up. As we entered the home stretch, the other students were cheering loudly and I was barely breathing. I desperately wanted not to fail and I had the feeling that I was not far off pace. I pushed with everything I had and sprinted the final straight away. When I crossed the finished line, I dramatically fell to the ground and Ned Perkins called out Seven, Three, Zero! I honestly didn’t know if I had heard Ned correctly. When I opened my eyes, what felt like the entire class was standing there congratulating me. Hal reached out his hand, lifted me up, and asked me how I was feeling. I thought about it for a second and to my surprise, I actually felt pretty damn good. I actually felt like I could go out and run another mile.
When the school year ended, I used the enthusiasm that 7:30 mile generated to motivate myself to keep running on my own. Every day that summer, before I headed to the east coast to be with my father, I would bike to the high school track, run exactly four laps, walk a couple of cool down laps, and then I would bike home and drink 2-3 cans of Coke and eat a sleeve of saltine crackers or a box of Better Cheddars while I waited for dinner to be served. The seed that I wanted to be healthy and that running could take me there had been planted, but I still had a long way to go when it came to my diet.
To be continued…
Read the rest of the story here: Part 1 – Growing Up Fat