One Member's Journey from 5Ks to the Boston Marathon

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Sometimes, it takes a big life change to get on track toward health and wellness. For single dad Kevin (MOBYCARP), it was an empty nest. Shortly after his daughter moved out in 2011, he discovered SparkPeople and started recording his food intake and activity. Little did he know that his new daily habit would lead him to some amazing transformations—and across a legendary finish line.

The Art of Maintaining

Having already surpassed his initial goal weight within a couple months of joining, Kevin's new goal became to maintain his current weight and fitness level. "Getting to goal weight isn't like coming home and parking your car in the garage," he says. "It's more like maneuvering your boat to a spot in the middle of a lake marked by GPS, with shifting winds and currents. To stay there, you need to make adjustments in response to changing conditions. Although there will be no loud cheers for maintaining your weight over a period of time—after all, it's not as sexy as losing 50 or 100 pounds—it's worth doing."
If you're trying to maintain your weight, Kevin says it's important to be prepared to make the necessary adjustments. "Maybe you maintained for six months or a year on a certain number of calories per day, then something changes and your weight starts trending one way or the other. So instead of maintaining on one number of calories, you need to maintain on 100 or 200 less, or more. Deal with it, and change what you eat. Take care of the little problems before they become big problems." 
It wasn't long before Kevin started reaping the benefits of his new, healthy lifestyle. "Health and fitness in general make a lot of things easier," he says. "I can fit into a standard airline seat. It's easier to mow the lawn, trim the hedges and shovel the driveway than it was when I was out of shape and overweight. If I want to buy cat food in the 25-pound bag because it's more economical and I don't have to shop as often, it's easier to get the bag from the car to the house. If it's raining, I can push a shopping cart through the parking lot with one hand and hold an umbrella with the other hand."

Fitness Made Easy: Doing What You Love

The exercise part came easy for Kevin, as he quickly as discovered a genuine love of running. After completing the 5K Your Way challenge, he moved on to 10Ks and then completed several half-marathons. Despite a few injury-related setbacks, Kevin went on to run his first full marathon in 2014. As a surprise bonus, his time qualified him to register for the Boston Marathon by a wide margin. In order to run Boston, men between the ages of 60-64 must complete a standard certified marathon course in under three hours and 55 minutes.
"Running is my passion, and that makes it easier to stay healthy and fit," says Kevin. "The obvious benefit is that I have very good cardiovascular conditioning. What's less obvious is that I have learned the discipline to do things I don't have as much passion for in order to support my running habit. I don't need a whole lot of strength training, but squeezing it out of my schedule entirely is asking for a repetitive motion injury, and couch time is no fun at all."
Another perk of running has been stress management. Kevin found that pounding the pavement helped him deal with his significant amount of job stress. In fact, when a change to his work schedule threatened to derail his training for Boston, he made the decision to retire early. "Absent a desire to train for Boston 2017, I might never have considered retiring before age 62," he says. "In an indirect way, running got me somewhere between 16 months and 4 years of higher quality life."

Sparking Motivation in an Online Community

When Kevin's sister Barb (ONEKIDSMOM) first urged him to join SparkPeople, he never expected it to change his life. But in addition to the convenience of the nutrition and exercise trackers, he found amazing support and motivation from other Sparkers—and now he's giving it back to those who need it.

"I have greatly benefited from other Sparkers' analysis of their issues," he says. "A broad theme in Spark blogs has been managing your own behaviors and emotions. Participation online has made me more aware of how much this matters. Much of how I have organized my life in the past five years has revolved around this, and I could have been blissfully unaware of the need for it without the online community."

Mastering the Boston Marathon—Not Once, But Twice

As he started his official Boston marathon training in 2016, Kevin was excited but a little skeptical. "I'm not sure I really like running marathons, but I certainly like training for them," he blogged three weeks before the race. "So, I'll do my best to finish in good shape and uninjured, then make a decision on future running after I see how successful I am."
It was no walk in the park, but Kevin successfully completed the course in 3:23—just a few minutes shy of his time goal of 3:10-3:15. "Boston is different," he says. "As I walked back to the hotel, just about everyone congratulated me. When you get a medal, you're a rock star to the general public in Boston." Although Kevin's accomplishment would be a huge feat for most, he couldn't shake the feeling that his results didn't reflect how hard he'd trained. But after a few days of reflection—and the realization that even very experienced Boston runners were discussing how tough weather conditions had slowed down pretty much everyone—he became happier with his results.
In 2017, Kevin returned to the Boston course. Again, his sister Barb joined him for the weekend as a much-needed morale-boosting spectator. A few days before the race, Kevin came down with a cold—but there was no way he was going to miss it, even with the chilly forecast. The first half of the course went pretty much according to plan, and then at mile 20, he hit the proverbial wall. Zapped of energy and struggling with muscle cramps, he incorporated walking intervals and Gatorade stops to get him through the last few miles. Even with the late-race struggles, Kevin finished in under 3:50 and qualified to run Boston next year, if he so chooses.
"Each of the marathons I've run has had its good points and its disappointments, but I do love the training process," Kevin reflects. "In hindsight, my training was better this cycle than in any previous cycle, and that helped with managing conditions that could have been disastrous. While having the nasty cold is disappointing and the weather was less than ideal, I'm rather proud of how well I managed the situation that I had to deal with."

Kevin's Racing Tips

If you're new to running: Work your way up to a 5K. Kevin recommends SparkPeople's 5K Your Way challenge as a good, structured plan to get you there. "You should be able to walk two miles before you start," he recommends. He also suggests running no more than three non-consecutive days per week, to give the body time to repair and rebuild after each run.

If you've run shorter races and want to run a marathon: Slow down. "It takes a long time to build the capability to run a marathon without hurting yourself," warns Kevin. "The game changes between a 10K and a half marathon, and it changes again between a half marathon and a full marathon. Don't look too far ahead. After a 5K, work up to running a 10K. After a 10K, work up to running a half marathon. After you have successfully run a half marathon, pay attention to how much recovery time your body needs. Being able to run a marathon and finish in good shape is more important than being able to run a marathon soon." 

If you have trouble running farther than a certain distance: Run slower. "Most new runners run too fast for long distances, and I was no exception," says Kevin. "It seems to be natural to gravitate toward your body's lactic threshold pace, which by definition can be sustained for about an hour (assuming conditioning sufficient that you can keep moving for an hour). For a race that will take you more than an hour, you cannot run at lactic threshold for the entire race. You need to learn to run easy to be able to run farther."

Life Lessons for Those Just Starting Their Journey

Kevin remembers what it was like to be sitting on the couch, overweight and unhealthy. He offers some tips for those who may be feeling hopeless and stuck.

"You can't change everything at once, and trying to do that is a recipe for failure," Kevin says. "Instead, pick just one thing that will improve your situation. Maybe you drink eight glasses of water a day, or start recording what you eat. Maybe you get up and go for a walk around the block three times a week. It doesn't have to be major, and it probably shouldn't be at first. Pick something you're pretty sure you can do, and do it. Keep doing it for a week or three. Make it a habit. When you notice that you no longer have to pay much attention to doing that first thing, pick something else to add."
Kevin stresses that the goal should never be to eat or exercise perfectly—just to do better than you were doing before. "A year after you start, look back at where you came from and you'll be amazed at how much you have improved."