On January 3, 2020, I weighed 195 pounds.
I was used to gaining weight during the colder months in Pittsburgh, especially between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The consumption of cookies and pie were a usual occurrence around the holidays, and sometimes they were paired with a few donuts that I fancied. In past years, my usual weight of 175 pounds (I am 5’10”) would top out around 185 by mid-January, and I would slowly fall back to 175 by early April. No diet was planned; I simply ate less, and exercised my usual amount. After starting a family, my health became secondary, and my fitness routine became a light mix of cardio and weights. I did just enough to maintain my current frame, and I was content with it. With a small child, I was trying to find more sleep time than workout time. But in 2019, as I crept above my all-time high of 187 pounds before Christmas, I knew the holiday season was affecting me differently than all of the previous ones.
My clothes did not fit like they used to. When wearing jeans or khakis, I did not need to wear a belt anymore, because I was lucky I could actually fit into them. At age 44, it was clear that I could no longer eat huge amounts of food, and expect my aging self to burn off all of the calories like I used to. I knew that I now had to work harder to keep the weight off. Father Time was catching up with me, and I couldn’t outrun him. I couldn’t outrun him because I was heavier than I ever was before.
GOALS ARE GOOD…SO ARE DONUTS
During the first three months of 2020, my routine of losing my holiday weight was going along like any other year. I controlled my portions better, exercised my usual amount, and I lost 8 pounds by mid-March. It was certainly the heaviest I was at the beginning of spring, but I remained optimistic that I could get down to 180 by late May. I was walking about five miles a day at my job as a groundskeeper, and when the weather got warmer in past summers, I would always sweat a few extra pounds off in the heat.
I still ate a few donuts a week, drank a few beers or mixed drinks on occasion, and I splurged on fast food if I wanted it. I didn’t limit myself, but I stayed conscious of my eating decisions. There was never a set date that I had to lose the weight by, I just wanted to eventually get back down to 175–and never venture over 190 again. With the weather only getting warmer in April, I knew I would be working outside in the sunshine more often.
Except, COVID-19 had other plans for me. My 7-year-old son’s school was mandated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to switch to remote learning at the end of March, which meant I was going to be stuck in the house with him until further notice. Sweating off the pounds at work during the spring was not an option anymore.
REMAIN DISCIPLINED…WHILE EATING TAKEOUT
Staying at home with my son wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. We had some fun doing classwork, especially when we had to take a picture or make a video. I felt sorry for him, because he didn’t get a chance to complete his kindergarten year in school. I felt happy for him, because at least he knows what school is supposed to be like. The kindergarten class of 2020-21 hasn’t had that experience yet.
Since I was constantly in the house, I was afraid I was going to snack and drink my way back to 195 pounds. I knew I had to find ways to move around and sweat some pounds off. I had planned to rework my landscaping around my house when my son got older (hoping he could help me with it one day), but I decided to complete all of the tasks by the end of the summer. I started weeding and trimming back areas that I neglected over the last few years, and I stayed away from snacking. My weight held between 180 and 185, and compared to the winter months, I was starting to feel more stamina coming back to my body. I wasn’t tiring as fast when I was working outside.
I went back to work five days a week between June 6 and August 28, with the hopes that my boy would go back to a normal five day school week in the fall. My wife was able to switch her schedule in the summer so she could watch our son two days a week, while her parents watched him three. I got back to my usual routine at work, while continuing to work out in the yard. We had a dry summer, so I had no problem finding time to stay ahead on my projects. I also played in the yard with my son, so I unexpectedly found another way to sweat away some weight.
STAY FOCUSED…WHILE DRINKING SEVERAL BEERS
During the summer, my weight fell below 180. With the constant barrage of negative stories hitting my social media feed and on TV, I was searching for another way to release my stress beyond my usual means. I remembered when my wife and I first moved into our neighborhood in 2012. Before we had our son, I occasionally ran around our plan. I plotted a 2.6 mile course, with hills and flat streets spaced equally along the way. I would stop when I felt it was necessary, and I would start running again after a few tenths of a mile walking. By October 2012, I completed the route twice a night, two or three times a week. The longest I ever ran without stopping was 1.2 miles, and 4 miles overall. I was 36 at the time, and it was the first serious attempt I made at running since my freshman year of high school. When my wife became pregnant in 2013, I never ran again, and never made it a priority after our son was born.
In June, I bought a pair of running shoes, the first pair I bought since 2012. When my wife took our son to visit friends or to play with his cousin, I started running my old 2.6 mile loop again. On my first day, I stopped after 0.8 miles, because the giant hill at the 0.8 mile mark took all the available energy away from me. Out of the 2.6 miles, I ran 1.4 that first day. I was sore, but I was determined to run further than my 2012 results. As my endurance came back in slight increments, my weight occasionally dropped below 175 pounds. I felt much better physically, and I set a goal to run my entire 2.6 mile loop by the end of the year. I only completed one 5K (3.1 miles) in my life without stopping, and that was at age 14. At age 44, my body seemed to be recovering well from my runs, but the only way to find out if I could run a neighborhood 5K was to push through pain, and test my limitations.
My son went back to school in September, but it was only two days in-class, with three days remote. Since his in-class days were shortened by two hours, I had to take a leave from my job to get him on/off the bus, and to watch him during his three days at home. The frustration of being stuck at home again caused a great amount of depression. Watching the news on TV became unbearable. Social media became increasingly exhausting. When my son was at school, I found comfort in lifting weights, doing yardwork, and most of all, running.
THE ANGRY RUNNER
By the end of September, I was running two or three days a week. For the first time in 30 years, I was able to run at least 2 miles without stopping. As I kept up with my running routine, I was able to run even further without a break. My goal of running a 5K around my neighborhood was in reach, and I wanted to reach my goal before the weather turned cold again.
As my mental health continued to deteriorate, my running continued to improve. My weight stabilized around 175 pounds, and by the end of October, I ran my first 5K around my plan. As election day closed in, I pushed myself to go further than my planned goal of 3.1 miles. The results went beyond my perceived limitations.
On a nice, sunny Monday before Halloween weekend, I ran 4 miles without stopping. The next day, I decided to run again–just to see how far I could go after pushing myself to running 4 miles the day before.
Once again, I ran 4 miles.
Before the November cold set in, before the stress a of COVID-19 winter set in, before the stress of post-election America set in, I was physically in the best shape of my life. My mental exhaustion was balanced by my physical exhilaration. In early November, my weight was 171 pounds, which was my lowest number since 2012, and 24 pounds lighter than I was in January.
RUNNING AWAY THE PAIN
In February 2021, my wife took a voluntary step back from her physical therapy job, and accepted a work-from-home position. In March 2021, my son’s school went back to in-school classes five days a week. Without the constraints of having to stay home with my son, I am free to go work again. My first job opportunity after my stay-at-home dad responsibilities was an absolute nightmare, and resulted in my resignation during the first week. The resulting stress it has caused has been demoralizing.
Even though the cold, winter days are behind me, I haven’t been running in 2021. Finding work has become a priority, and the worry of not bringing in enough money to pay bills has blurred my focus on fitness. Once I do find stable employment, I hope to continue running around my usual loop. The time I spent running temporarily erased the broken, sad, and stupid state of American society that ate at my consciousness in 2020. In a year where hope was lost, I gained belief in my physical abilities. I ran far beyond my comfort zone, and the results were unprecedented.
Hopefully, my job prospects will take a positive turn in 2021. Right now, I have to push through the mental stress of finding suitable work. Certainly, I can’t run away from it.