Ryan Runs Marathon
From an obese athlete to a fit marathon runner.
I was always “the fat kid”. In high school, I played what I call “fat kid sports”. I was a lineman on the football team, the heavyweight wrestler, and a thrower for the track team. In high school my weight ranged between 240-280 pounds (I’m 5’11). I played Division III college football as an offensive lineman, and the biggest critique I got from my coaches was that I was too heavy. My weight ranged from 270-295. Once I stopped playing sports, I ballooned up from there. My mother warned me in college that a lot of guys when they stop playing football gain a lot of weight. However, I was 21 years old, and 21-year-old boys don’t always listen to smart advice from their mothers. From November 2009 (last football game) until May 2010 (college graduation) my weight shot up from 295-325, a year later I was over 380 pounds.
Off and on over the years I lost weight, gained weight back, lost weight, gained weight back. Within one year I went from 401 down to 289, only to be back over 375 the following year. In this time, I did some running, but not too much. I ran a couple 5Ks, and I ran a 5-mile turkey trot twice. I was usually over 300 pounds during these runs. I’ll never forget when I worked for a company that was participating in a “corporate challenge” that had a 5K offered. I sent an email to our office manager and asked to sign me up for the 5K. She responded “Are you sure you can do that? Do you know how far that is?” I wound up getting laid off before the corporate challenge anyway, so it wound up being a moot point.
The bariatric decision
After the consistent yo-yoing, and my own bad habits causing my wife to gain a significant amount of weight is when we looked into having bariatric surgery. We went to an informational seminar in January 2017 and had our initial appointments in March. Since we were on different insurances, we had different requirements for surgery. My wife had a three-month pre-op requirement, and I had six. She had the gastric bypass surgery in July that year and I had the sleeve in September. Going through the process together was a major factor in our success. My initial weight in March was 386 pounds and on surgery day six months later I was down to 245. In the 2+ years post-op, my weight’s fluctuated between 225-245, with my body fat percentage ranging only between 17-20%.
How I stay on track with weight loss
I think the biggest factors that have attributed to my success have been the accountability and advice of professionals and consistency, especially with exercise. My wife and I knew we wanted to have the bariatric surgery, and we knew we had to be given the OK by the medical team at the weight loss center (Guthrie Weight Loss Center, Sayre, PA). In the pre-op process, we were diligently journaling our food and exercise, mainly because we knew they’d be looking over our journals and putting us on the body analysis machine.
Exercise started very slow. I began with walking on the treadmill at the gym for a half hour. Once I started, exercise became easier and I started to increase the incline on the treadmill. After a good amount of time with a higher incline, I started increasing time. Once that got easier, I started incorporating some jogging/running, usually something like 2 minutes walking with 30 second runs for 30-60 minutes. After two or three months of running, is when I started running outside and added more distance. I would run a half marathon in July 2017 (probably weighed close to 275 at this point) with a time of 2:58:26.
I had my surgery that September and started running and incorporating some strength training in December. I ran a second half marathon in May 2018. My only goal for that was speed; then I was the previous July half marathon. I ran the second half in 1:57:34. Once I accomplished my PR I toyed with the idea of attempting to run in a full marathon. At that time, the gym I was going was across the street from a 2-mile rail trail, so I used to get a lift in at the gym and go out and run it down and back for four miles. On a weekend, I started longer runs. I didn’t have any real training and had no idea what I was doing. I decided to sign up for a full marathon that was near my house (only 24 finishers).
The marathon took place on 9/9/2018, two days before my one-year weight loss surgery anniversary. I hadn’t even thought up until the week before to ask for professional help in how to train for a marathon, and what nutrition was needed or anything for a marathon; up until the week of when I reached out to my nutritionist at the weight loss center. The only thing she mentioned was some people use GU gels or some kind of fuel for during the run. So I bought a few GU gels the day before the race and used them for the first time during the race. When I explained this later to my future running trainer, she gave me a “WTF?” look. Apparently one big rule in marathon running is NOT to try anything new the day of the race. I ended up finishing with a time of 5:51:29.
What happened Next
The following Spring 2019, a marketing person at the Guthrie Clinic offered to sponsor me in the marathon they sponsor, the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, NY. They offered to pay for the race, set me up with a trainer, and film and make videos throughout the process. I jumped at the idea to have a trainer, help the clinic, and of course, get a free marathon. In May, I met my new friend, Alicia, who works at Guthrie as an exercise physiologist, who was an avid runner. She put together a running plan for me and I asked her any questions I need more understanding for running. In my opinion, there’s no stupid questions. When I asked her about nutrition, she told me that with me being a bariatric patient, she didn’t feel comfortable giving me a nutrition plan. So I went to the dietitian, Mackenzie, from the Guthrie Weight Loss Center. She told me that she knew nutrition for bariatric people, but not necessarily nutrition for marathon running. There was one other person at Guthrie to help.
Jess, the medical coordinator at the Weight Loss Center and also an exercise physiologist who has experience with bariatric patients, strength training, and had a background in sports nutrition. She put together a nutrition plan for me and kept an eye on my strength training, while Alicia focused on my running. I followed Jess’ nutrition plan and Alicia’s running plan as well as could be, and I ran the Wineglass Marathon that October with a time of 4:29:41. This was such a cool experience to have camera people recording me as I ran through, doing post-race interviews, like a real athlete!
I was happy with this accomplishment, and I’ve caught “the running bug” as Alicia called it, and I’m already signed up for two more marathons! I’ll be running the Pittsburgh Marathon in May 2020 and I’m running Wineglass again in Corning in October 2020! I’ve also decided to run the Pittsburgh Marathon to raise funds for the Sarcoma Foundation of America. Sarcoma is a rare form of cancer that impacted me twice. My stepdad, Matt, was diagnosed with a form of Sarcoma in July of 2018. Also, my friend’s dog, Laney, was also diagnosed with a form of Sarcoma in October 2018. I began my fundraising and training in January. Laney lost one of her legs but continues to take medications and be an active dog. Sadly, Matt passed away on 2/11/2020 after a 19 month battle at the age of 55.
I CAN; THEREFORE I AM
Considering where I was at 400 pounds – eating nothing but junk food, drinking soda and beer, and getting no exercise, to running marathons, I truly believe anyone can run a marathon. Here are my biggest suggestions:
- Be consistent – I’ve developed a pretty good routine about when I wake up to exercise and make sure I get my workout before anything else. I also think setting up an Instagram account and documenting this helps to add accountability (Jess and Alicia, as well as my mother are three of my IG followers). I get my strength training from an online community called Street Parking. “Consistency is Key” is one of their big slogans they preach, and for good reason.
- Listen to medical professionals over something you read on the internet or heard on a podcast – I read nutrition and fitness things online and listen to some podcasts on various topics. They all have “experts” that all contradict each other. They explain why their (diet/exercise regimen/etc.) is the best and they have the stats to back it up. Former Chicago Bears WR and current ESPN personality Tom Waddle says “You can make stats sing any song you want them to”. There are so many people I hear that will forgo what their doctor says because of something they saw online. One of the great things about Guthrie for me is they have access to my medical records. Granted not everyone probably has access to the resources I have in person, but chances are your doctor or a medical professional can direct you to the right place.
- Motto that my offensive line coach in college always used to say “Take care of all the little things and the big things take care of themselves.” That was one motto I really took to heart in the marathon process. I focused more on each individual aspect of living a healthier lifestyle and then the big picture thing (running the marathon) took care of itself. I wasn’t going to run the marathon on day 1. But in eating a healthier diet, exercising according to plan, and getting adequate sleep all helped me as a whole run the marathons.
- Obstacles will happen, setbacks will happen. In training for Wineglass race, I had an instance where I had to leave town for a few weeks to help a family member undergoing serious heart surgery and I pulled a calf muscle in training. So far in training for Pittsburgh, I’ve suffered another pulled calf muscle, had lost my stepfather, my wife had plastic surgery (same day as my stepfather’s passing), and I’m in the middle of my busy season at work as an accountant. One piece of advice Jess gave me was to just try to control the things I can, which is mainly just diet and exercise.
Here’s the link to the Guthrie site where my marketing videos surrounding Wineglass were made: