One Step At A Time

The following article was written by one of the participants in the Marathon Makeover program that I run  If you don't know what Marathon Makeover is, please allow me a moment to tell you.  This is a 40 week program that helps turn couch potatoes into marathoners.  I started this program at the end of 2010 and the program officially kicked off in January 2011.  We are more than halfway through with eyes on the prize for October through December when the participants will complete either a half or full marathon. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I have enjoyed reading it. ==================== How It All Started  It’s 4 a.m. on Saturday.  The first thing that comes to mind is snooze.  And I do just that until 4:30 a.m. when the alarm sounds again and returns me to a semi-conscious state.  I cannot fathom the thought of parting ways with this 800-thread-count cocoon.  I question my sanity.  Why would I punish myself?  Why would I set such high expectations of myself on the one and only day of the week when I can sleep beyond the 6 o’clock hour?  I lie still trying to find an excuse – reaching, for the most creative and justifiable explanation as to why I should skip out today.   Nothing comes to mind. In the absence of morning sunlight and in a bit of a lethargic state I blindly pat around for the clothes and other items that I laid out the night before – technical fabric gear, several bottles of water, two bottles of Honey Milk (one for before and after), a towel, sunglasses, my iPod, and a pair of well-worn sneakers. Shoes are laced up and I’m out the door.  It’s still dark, but I am slowly being released from a state of lethargy.  That’s a good thing because now I am behind the wheel of my car and making my way to White Rock Lake.   Remembering what the nutritionist said, I reach for a bottle of Honey Milk to get some carbs in before training.  She claims for “sustained energy.”  I have yet to experience this phenomenon. Doubt revisits as I think about what I am about to endure.  I ask myself, “What on earth was I thinking when I showed up for that meeting in January?”  Unemployed and glued to my computer in search of the perfect job opportunity, I took a brief break to visit a social media site.  Across my screen flashed an advertisement touting the promise to turn couch potatoes into marathoners.   As I scoured the marathon web site, the memory of competing at a collegiate level flooded my mind.   I had aspirations to compete in the WNBA and to someday make the Olympic volleyball team.  The second major knee surgery benched those dreams my junior year in college.  Feeling displaced - in the absence of team camaraderie, the friendly taunting of opponents and the boisterous celebrations following a win - my focus shifted from the court to my career where that driving, competitive spirit found its home. For the last several years, all of my goals had been career related.  I was going stir crazy after three months of unemployment.  I needed something to cling to, something to strive for.  A few days later I found myself at the introductory meeting for this 40-week marathon program.  I was surrounded by people who in no way, shape or form resembled couch potatoes.  The majority of the people, who showed up for this meeting on a snowy January morning in Coppell, looked like lifetime athletes and runners.   And there I sat, uncomfortably and thinking I would much rather be eating a potato than sitting in this room resembling one.  I prayed that someone who looked like me would show up and help shoo away the anxiety that was quickly settling in.  There I sat certain that I had already been labeled “Least Likely to Succeed” or “Most Likely to Impede Progress.”  The meeting ended and the group leader approached me.  We spoke for some time and I realized we had quite a bit in common.  He had just recently relocated from the East coast to the Dallas area, had only in recent years taken up running and he too was unemployed.  He took special interest in me and my story.  Before I knew it, I was committed to 40 weeks of what I was sure would be sheer torture. Week 1 [caption id="attachment_3377" align="alignright" width="300" caption="After completing Mile 1 in Week 1"]Marathon_Makeover_North_Dallas_Running[/caption] I returned the following Saturday for our first weekly group run.  A few additional people joined the group this week.  A handful claimed they were not runners and that made me feel at ease.  The group watched a video demonstration of the do’s and don’ts of marathon training before we stretched and we were off to conquer the one mile – our goal for the first week of the 40-week program.  In the video, the founders instructed those who had not been in the routine of running to walk for the first 10 weeks of the program.  Anxiety loosens its grip as several wanna-be marathoners nod their heads in agreement.  Following the video, we stretched as a team and before I knew it we were off - our silent pact to walk the first 10 weeks instantly abandoned.  I followed suit.  Peer pressure no doubt.  Coming in last has never been an option for me. Thankfully, half the group puckered out within 50 paces or so and we slowed to a leisurely stroll.  Afterwards, we took our first team photo and went our separate ways.  That day, the athlete buried deep down inside of me made a pact with my current self to train hard and improve each week. Week 21, White Rock Lake  Pulling into the graveled parking lot I downed what was left of my Honey Milk.  It’s still dark but I spot two vehicles in the parking lot.  One I recognize as Jason’s, our trainer.   I get a closer look at the second vehicle and I say to myself, “This can’t be it.  This is my worst nightmare.” Good morning, “Is this it?” I ask. “Yup, this is it,” Jason confirms.  He is fresh off a triathlon.  And beside him stands one of the most seasoned runners in our group.  The once 15-20 member group has dwindled down to six participants at most and just two on this particular morning.  The urge to unlace my shoes, hop back in my car and race back home overcomes me. Mile 1 We exchange a few pleasantries and a few stretches later they are kicking up dust.  The “urge” hits me again.  Instead, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and pray for divine intervention.  The first mile feels just like it did on day one.    My joints are aching and my breathing is labored.  How on earth will I cover the 9.33-mile trail along this lake?   I think back to week 10 or so when we were to complete six miles.  The horses were off and I walked side-by-side with an older gentleman in the group.  I turned to him and blurted, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this.”  Still staring at the ground in front of him and seemingly struggling a bit himself he said, “Just keep plugging along, one step at a time.  You will get there.”   His proclamation hit home with me.  I have not seen Joe since but his deposit of encouragement resonates with me week after week.  Despite the dwindling number of participants, I have been plugging along ever since no matter how arduous the task. Mile 2 The sun is coming up.   And according to my Garmin watch I am 2.23 miles into this process.  Many people - seemingly lifelong runners and cyclists - flood the trails.   Most are running in groups of two to ten.   I attempt to stay to the right and out of the path of the clusters of Cathys chattering and chuckling as they briskly run by.  I wonder how they manage to breathe at that pace, much less laugh and carry on a conversation.   Cyclists sail by to the right and to the left.  Before I know it, no one is following the unwritten rule – walkers to the right, everyone else pass on the left.  I prefer order.  I like processes, policies, procedures.  I adjust the volume on my iPod so I can hear passersby as they approach.  The air is still and thick.  If it weren’t for those dashing by me, there would be absolutely no sign of a breeze. Parents pass by with their double strollers - infants in tow and fast asleep.  Canoes, boats and families of ducks enliven the lake.  Those hoping for a big catch cast their lines.  Considering the task at hand I wouldn’t mind trading places with the infants, ducks, and fishermen – in that order. Mile 3 My breathing pattern has improved.  My joints are still aching and my “runner’s” toe is giving me grief, but I know there is no turning back now.  Every half mile or so I make a mental note of the 911 location markers.  You know, just in case. Mile 4 I feel like running.  Well jogging.  And I do.  This feels good.  When my breathing becomes erratic, I slow to a brisk walk.  I check my Garmin – 4.45 miles. Mile 5 I’m well past the halfway point and I feel good about it!  This isn’t so bad after all.  I stop to refill my water bottle a second time.  As I am leaning on the water fountain that is temporarily assisting me in maintaining an upright position, a group of young boys approach.  And before I can move out of their way, one after the other they stoop down to the ground-level fountain I am certain is intended for man’s best friends.  They each take in mouthfuls of water.  Cheeks puffed out they begin to spray one another with water instead of hydrating like my nutritionist said.  I was annoyed initially, but their laughter lightens my mood.  I smile and turn to the one boy with the motorized scooter and I playfully ask, “What’s the weight capacity on that thing?”  He tilts his head in confusion.  Another boy who appears to be two or three years older roars with laughter.  He got it! Mile 6 My iPod dies.  I feel like dying too. Mile 7 I look up to a now blazing sun.  Off in the distance I can see downtown Dallas.  Even better I can make out Renaissance Tower.  I have made my home there now for the last six weeks.  It feels good to be back in the swing of things.  To pass time I try to make out the floors and count down from the top floor to the 15th floor where my office is located.  I immediately lose count as I am forced to make way for a group of at least 50 runners as they whiz by. When I accepted the position of Technical Trainer I thought I knew what the position entailed.  But to my satisfaction it has been so much more than what I anticipated.  I think back on my work week and recall the unanticipated but welcomed projects that were assigned to me.  Early in the work week I asked myself, “How will I approach this addition to my work load?  Will I have enough time to complete these tasks?  What is priority?  Will the end result be good enough?”   These are all questions that I asked of myself in past careers as well.  And frankly, these are the same questions I have asked myself week after week on this journey to becoming a marathoner. In the past, when tasked with additional and unanticipated duties anxiety would immediately surface.  I would cancel all personal plans to make way for a series of 12- to 16-hour work days.  Come Friday, I would find myself still lost in the myriad of tasks on my plate.  All weekend plans were out the window. Mile 8 What has been the difference?   How do I now manage time for self?  How did I find that foreign concept that everyone speaks of – work-life balance?  As I continue to focus on the buildings in distant downtown Dallas, it doesn’t take me long to figure out what prompted this transformation. A half marathon is 13 miles.  Upon completing that first mile with my team on that blistery cold January morning I thought to myself, this is an unattainable feat.  But that athlete in me, as promised, continued to train, improve and conquer the increased mileage week after week.  I now manage my career and workload in the same manner.  No matter how overwhelming the tasks at hand may seem, I approach work with the right attitude.  Sure one may complain a bit along the way.  With an office positioned near the coffee bar, I oftentimes hear the grumblings about increased responsibility and workload.  Growth is oftentimes accompanied by discomfort.  And people tend to want to share and spread their feelings of distress.  As I overhear these conversations I am sometimes tempted to lean outside of my door and toward the break room to say what Joe proclaimed to me in week ten of training, “J keep plugging along, one step at a time.  You will get there.” Training for a marathon, like other exercises, unquestionably improves one’s mental health as efficiently as it does one’s physical well-being.  Sure I feel better as a result of training.  Sure I have shaved off nearly 40 pounds since I began this journey.  But what I am most impressed with is all of the psychological benefits of training.   I am less stressed and I am able to easily cope with daily stressors.  Training has forced my mind and body into synchronization.  It refreshes my mind and keeps it clutter free so that I am now able to manage multiple tasks without being easily distracted or becoming overwhelmed.  And when I find myself at a road block, I locate the nearest 911 marker, my supervisor and/or co-workers, for guidance and direction.  Much like the marathon team, we are in this together.  I never expected that the benefits of my quest to be a part of that one percent of the population to complete a marathon would spill over into how I approach my career.  Marathon training has changed my life.  I now realize that if I change the way we look at things, the things I look at change.  Once one finds the courage to start that new work project, exercise routine or even degree plan, you will find your way to the finish line. Now just at the halfway point of the program, I can now wrap my brain around completing a half marathon at the conclusion of this training program.  Notice I didn't say that it hasn’t been painful along the way.  I just had to learn to adjust my attitude and approach. Mile 9  I stretch my neck to find the bridge.  The bridge signifies that I am in the home stretch.  I see it.  My body fills with pride.  What seemed like such an intimidating assignment just a few short hours ago didn’t turn out to be so bad after all.  Just on the other side of that long wooden and steel rainbow is my pot of gold.  The finish line – 9.33 miles.  I pull my shoulders back, make my way over the rickety bridge and repeat several times, “No task is too big for me.”  Double digits where are you?  I am coming after you.  I’m just going to “keep plugging along, one step at a time.  I WILL get there.”
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Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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