Conditions in Iraq were horrible. Missions kept us busy most days, and preparations for future missions filled a lot of the rest of our time. Whenever possible, I’d be in the fitness area running or lifting weights with other soldiers.
The weight of my equipment added to the demands of the missions. It led to repeated injury to my legs and knees as I jumped out of trucks to engage the insurgents. I’m not sure if it was due to pride or ego that I didn’t report the injuries, but they went unreported until I got home.
I finally went to the doctor upon my return home. The doctors checked my knees and found a lot of crepitus, which is grinding in the knee. They ordered an MRI and told me I needed surgery.
Following surgery, the doctors told me I would never run again based on the damage they were unable to fix. This crushed me. I was only 29, and I couldn’t run. Walking was also harder post-operation. I became depressed—and frankly, fat—at 298 pounds.
A Major Life Change
In 2010, by sheer luck, I changed units and became a motor transport operator (88M). This change came with my promotion to sergeant. However as soon as my new unit saw how heavy I was, they started to put me out of the Guard. I had to lose weight—and fast. I only knew one way, so I started walking more, despite pain.
A good friend and long-time runner took me under her wing and introduced me to a good pair of shoes. Another friend was there to help motivate me. I progressed from walking to running. I lost 40 pounds in three months, just narrowly passing the test to stay in the service.
As I stood on the start line of my first 5K, I was truly afraid that I wouldn’t finish. Now I start a 10-hour training run, and that memory is among my motivations.
What I Learned
My advice to runners of all levels—no matter your goal—is this:
Be patient. The best running advice I’ve ever received is to build a strong base mileage and to progress steadily and slowly. If you build that solid base, you will achieve your goals with little injury.
Surround yourself with supportive people. We all have great friends who are a little too competitive for starting out. A friend who motivates you but doesn’t criticize is priceless. And be prepared to be that friend, too.
Let your friends help. Their experience can help you a lot, especially if they are experts like a physical therapist.
Recognize that running is very personal. What works for one runner may not work for you. This is true of shoes, nutrition, training, recovery—every aspect of running. Try everything and see how it fits into your routine. If it’s a fit, great! If not, no worries—just move to the next.
Have fun! Running should be fun. Let’s face it—we spend time outside in great areas, and most races go out of their way to make things unique and challenging.
Today, I am a very happy 208-pound staff sergeant looking forward to running the Badwater 135 in 2018. Every step is a triumph over what I was told. Every race a milestone as I do what makes me happy, healthy and me. I run.