How I became a Runner

How I became a Runner

When I was 38 years-old, if anyone told me that I would be running races when I was 48 years-old I would have told them that they were crazy. When you are not a runner the idea of running seems crazy.

Why would anyone in their right mind want to go out and run? To a non runner it seemed like so much effort and such a waste of valuable time. When I was 38 I was a busy guy with a family and a long commute to work. The last thing I needed, or thought about, was another way to spend my time.

Unemployment & Uncertainty

In the late 90’s I worked for a large technology company. We rode the wave of Y2K and the Dot-Com boom. Companies were buying all kinds of hardware and software. Y2K scared the hell out of a lot of people and the Dot-Com boom made a lot of people foolish. We were busy and we all made pretty good money. By mid-2000 the party was over and by February 2001 I was out of a job.

I spent the next 13 months out of work. I had never been laid off before and I had never been out of work for that long in my life. We were fortunate that we lived in a small house with a small mortgage and my wife had a good job.

In the first three or four months that I was out of work life was great. I had my severance package and was confident that I would get another job soon. I did a lot of projects around the house and spent extra time with my kids.  We had two young children and when the unemployment checks and severance money ran out it began to get a little scary.

Getting laid off was a real blow to the ego. It didn’t matter that my whole office got laid off due to events beyond our control. As time went on and job offers failed to materialize it began to wear on me.

Exercise as stress relief

A few years before all of this we had purchased a treadmill. Like all buyers of treadmills, my wife and I had high hopes and visions of trim bodies in our future. We were gonna get fit! With a treadmill in the basement it was gonna be so convenient. Like most treadmills, it turned out to be the most convenient place to hang cloths. And that’s about all it got used for.

About half way into my extended unemployment I re-discovered the treadmill. When my projects around the house were finished I had nothing else to fill my days. I could only look for non-existent jobs for so many hours a week. After I dropped the kids off at school and did the shopping and whatever else needed to be done, I had hours to kill before it was time to go pick the kids up.

I started out with a 15 minute walk at a moderate pace a few days a week. Then I walked five days a week and started to walk longer and increase the incline. Eventually I got to the point where I was walking 2 hours a day, 5 days a week. I don’t remember the pace or incline I built up to, but by the time I went back to work I had lost 30 pounds!

I think what mainly drove me to use the treadmill so much was the stress relief. Not fitness. I had a lot of time on my hands and way too much to think about. I had two young children and way too much career uncertainty. Anyone who has been unemployed for a long time has thought about being unemployed forever at some point in their ordeal. For a guy in his late 30’s it was scary to think that way.

Not only did the workouts provide a distraction from my worries, they also gave me something to look forward to and allowed me to set and achieve goals. While my career was in the tank I was making great progress physically. When I finished my workouts I felt like I had accomplished something that day. For a guy who is unemployed that feeling of accomplishment was important.

While I was doing all of this I never once thought of it this way. It was just something to do each day. It wasn’t about fitness, sanity or stress.

I was compelled. It seemed as natural as day follows night. I did not plan it or need to make room for it in my schedule. I would just start-up the treadmill and try to go a little further and or a little faster than I did the day before.

A New job and a new Life

In March of 2002 I finally started a new job. I was thrilled and grateful to have a job. The position turned out to be a good career move, but I had no idea how much it would change my life. The building I worked in had a small but fully equipped and staffed gym. I signed up and continued doing my treadmill workouts and added some weights. I couldn’t work out for two hours a day anymore, but I still got down there two or three days a week.

It turned out that some of my new colleagues were changing up in the locker room and then heading outside for a run. The concept of going out for a run at lunch time was completely foreign and inconceivable in my mind. Those guys were runners and that’s what runners do. For the most part they were in good shape and had plenty of running stories to talk about.

In the fall of 2002 my new running friends started talking about invitational numbers to run in The 2003 Boston Marathon. Our company was a Marathon sponsor and got a certain number of “invitational” numbers. My friends who were runners were sending in their names for the company’s random drawing for these numbers. None of them had run a qualifying time for Boston, but for an invitational number you didn’t need to run a qualifying time.

They kept telling me that I should go for it. Many of them had run Boston before through the company’s invitational numbers and said it was a great time; a one of a kind experience. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I replied to the email and tossed my name in the hat.

A chance encounter with fate

I didn’t get picked when they pulled the names from the hat. I was a little disappointed and a little bit relieved. Some of my friends did get a number and they started training in November. It was getting cold and they were running about the neighborhood in tights! They kept talking about their training and the race. Their excitement was contagious. I began to feel more disappointed that I hadn’t been picked.

In the middle of December we heard that one of the runners who had been picked got hurt. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but he could not continue training and had to drop out. He worked in a different office and I had no idea who he was.

I was fortunate enough to get picked to receive this person’s number. It was now late December. My friends had been training seriously for a month now. We all took our Christmas vacation.

I started training in January of 2003 after the holidays. I would go running at lunch time with some colleagues who were runners of various levels of experience. Some of whom were also training for Boston but most of them were just running to keep in shape.

I had never trained for anything in my life. I did not know what or how much I needed to do of anything. I had never seen a marathon training program or any other sort of athletic training program. I had some sneakers that were not too old and some cotton gym shorts; nothing fancy or high-tech. I knew absolutely nothing about running and had none of the equipment or experience. I followed the lead of my colleagues and did what they told me.

I’ll never forget when I went out for my first lunch time training run on a cold Massachusetts January day.  As we jogged away from the building, into a 200 breeze I kept thinking, “why the hell are we running away from a perfectly warm building?” This is insane!

boston's run to remember, first race, runner
My First Half

The wind whipped through my clothes and I wished I had a parka on. For a few moments I really did re-consider the whole thing. I wondered to myself, couldn’t I just run on a tread mill for this? Did we really need to run outside in this nasty, cold New England weather? Was I really that interested in doing this? Did I really want to run The Boston Marathon? Did I really want to run the World Series or Super bowl event of running? With that thought my heart rate quickened and I looked up to see my two running mates moving further away from me. Hell yeah I thought, I wanted to do this!

This was the lucky coincidence that changed my life. I got laid off as a result of the economic calamity at the dawn of the new Millennium. I happened to get hired by a company that sponsored The BAA Boston Marathon and I happened to get an invitational number to run the 2003 Boston Marathon. If I had gone to work anywhere else, I would not be sitting here right now telling you my story. I guess I need to thank my friend Marty for encouraging me to apply for this job and my running colleagues who encouraged me to apply for a bib number.

In my next post I will write about my 2003 Boston Athletic Association Boston Marathon run.

Thanks for reading.

©  2012 andrew nagelin