Last week, I shared the initial steps that I took on my health and fitness journey in the hopes to inspire and encourage all of you who have committed to making serious changes in your life. Those initial changes that I made were all nutritional. It wasn’t until I had lost some weight and felt better in general that I decided to start an exercise regimen. So this week I’d like to share again with you all the path that I took to go from an overweight couch potato to an Ironman competitor.
“That was awful!”
Those are the words that I wrote in my training journal on April 13, 2011. That was my summary of how I felt about my 1st bike ride in about 15 years. I can still remember how I felt that day when I got off the bike. I rode a total of 3 miles at about a 9 mph pace. I was so frustrated that I decided that I was going to put my bike up and not ride any more. And I actually did put it away for a couple of months.
Last week I told you all how I began my journey to get healthy with dietary changes. This week I want to share with you the exercise portion of my journey. I’ve had so many people ask me about that aspect of my journey. And as you can tell from the above paragraph, it didn’t get off to the greatest of starts and it hasn’t always been easy.
So as I mentioned last week, I spent the first few weeks just focused on the dietary changes. After I lost some weight I decided that it was time to start exercising. My weight was still really high so I knew that walking was the only form of exercise that would be feasible for my body. So that’s where I began. I started walking on my lunch break at work and started with just one mile. I remember feeling so tired after each walk. And I was slowwwww. And when I say slow, you know it’s slow. Sometimes it would take me as much as 19 minutes to walk a mile. But the important thing was that I stuck with it. And after a couple of weeks, I added more miles and got faster.
It was around that time that I decided to hop on my bicycle to see how I could do. I had purchased my bike, a Giant Rincon, a year earlier. I had convinced my wife at the time that if I bought the bike then I’d use it regularly and get in shape. Ha! It became a fixture in my garage for a year. (kinda like the treadmills that people have in their bedrooms that serve primarily as a clothes hanger). I remember taking off that April evening and heading down Deer Haven feeling great. That is until I hit the first hill. At that time it seemed like the Alpe d’Huez. I struggled to climb it. I was in my “granny” gear. I was struggling to keep going. I made it a total of 3 miles. By the time I made it back to my house I felt physically ill. And I felt mentally defeated. And like I said, I put the bike back in the garage. I realized that I was not physically ready for the bike at that point. But I swore to myself that I would be back.
At that point I decided that I wanted to try running. So I did some research and found a program called Couch 2 5K. I was a member of an online fitness community called DailyMile.com and I had seen several people talking about the program. I also found an app from Bluefin Software called Couch 2 5K (now called Ease Into 5K). I decided to give it a try.
“First day of the Couch to 5K program. That was not good. But at least I did the whole workout.”
And that was my training journal entry the 1st day of Couch 2 5K on April 18th. I decided to go to the Legacy Trail at Coldstream after work to start the program. I had my brand new New Balance shoes and my iPhone app all ready to go. The program is set up on intervals so you begin with a 5 minute warm up walk. Then the program alternates between periods of running and walking for 20 minutes. You finish with a 5 minute cool down walk. I remember feeling embarrassed thinking that everyone was looking at me. I convinced myself that they were all saying to themselves “why is that fat guy trying to run”. Again, mentally I was frustrated but I stuck to the program.
I continued with Couch 2 5K and ran my 1st 5K on July 4, 2011. And I felt amazing.
“That was so much fun! Finished my 1st 5K in 17 years. The Great Buffalo Chase is in the books!”
As you can see from my journal entry I was pretty proud of myself. And I immediately went into training for my 1st 10K. I found another app from Bluefin Software called Bridge 2 10K. It was the same type of program as Couch 2 5K. It started with a warm up, followed by intervals of running and walking (all of which are prompted by the app saying “walk” or “run”), and a cool down walk. Using that app I was able to successfully complete my 1st 10K on July 30, 2011 only 26 days after running my 1st 5K in years.
At that point I decided to keep going. It really became more of a challenge for me to see how far I could go. I told my friends that I would keep pushing myself until my body told me to stop. I continued to walk at work on my lunch breaks, run 3 times a week for training, and I also started riding my bike again (told you I’d be back).
I found another app by Bluefin called Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training Plan. Hal Higdon is a well-known running coach and I decided that the program would be a good fit for me because I could use my iPhone to track everything. This app was different though in that there were no more intervals. The runs were in miles and not minutes. There was no walking in-between. But even with the differences I was able to follow the program and I finished my 1st half marathon, the Iron Horse, in Midway, Kentucky, on October 23, 2011.
But that wasn’t enough for me. I kept going. Fortunately Bluefin had developed another app during the time that I was training for my half marathon called, you guessed it, Hal Higdon’s Marathon Training Plan. It was just like the half marathon plan and I followed it. The only difference was that this plan added a 4th day of running mid-week. This was probably the toughest part for me because I was training in the winter and I was training outside. So I was running in some pretty miserable conditions. But I definitely had some amazing moments, like January 15th when I ran my first 21 mile run. My training journal entry for that day simply reads:
“21 mile solo run. Awesome!! That is all.”
And just a month later, exactly 10 months to the day that I started Couch 2 5K, I ran and completed my 1st marathon in Myrtle Beach. And how do you think I felt?
“Woot woot!! I’m a marathoner!! Slower than I had hoped but what an AMAZING day! I can’t even put into words what this experience means to me. Thank you all SO much for all of your support and encouragement along this incredible journey.”
I think that journal entry sums it up.
After the marathon my training attention turned to the Ironman. I was running and cycling but I needed to add swimming. I had taken swim lessons when I was about 6 years old a the local YMCA and I think I made it to the level of “Pollywog” but that was the extent of my swimming. So I joined Urban Active (now LA Fotness) and started my swim training.
I really didn’t have a plan for my swimming. There was no app. No coach. Just me and the pool at 5 a.m.. Each week in the pool I just kept trying to push myself to go farther. I wasn’t focused on speed. I just needed to get the distance.
And it wasn’t easy.
“That was terrible. I am not a good swimmer. At all.”
That was a training journal entry from April. Swimming was tough. But just like the walking and the running I stuck to it. And I also started focusing on my cycling as well.
As of the beginning of May 2012, the farthest I’d ever ridden was 28 miles. I knew that by July 7th I’d have to be up to 56 miles and by Aug 26 I’d have to be up to 112. So I continued to push myself and on May 12th I did a practice ride on the Ironman course in Louisville. I was very excited about that ride as my journal entry shows:
“Just rode 66 miles on the Ironman Kentucky bike route in Louisville. My longest ride ever up to this point had been 28 miles. That’s a new distance PR by 38 miles! Ha! What the mind believes the body can achieve I guess, huh? Hope you guys are having an awesome Saturday! I’m sore as hell but I can’t quit smiling.”
And then just 2 weeks later I rode my first century ride (100 miles) when I completed the Horsey Hundred in Central Kentucky with the Bluegrass Cycling club.
From there I just continued to train in all three sports and on July 7, 2012 I completed my 1st half Ironman in Muncie, Indiana. The race was supposed to be a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run. Because of the heat the race distance was shortened but it was still an incredible experience as I finished a 1 mile swim, 30 miles on the bike and a 6.2 mile run.
Just two days later I was back in the pool continuing to push myself toward the goal of achieving the full Ironman distance of 2.4 miles. And as you can see from my training journal entry, I was able to hit my goal:
“Awesome swim. A new distance PR of 4000 meters and that gets me to the full Ironman distance of 2.4 miles too. What a great way to kick off my week.”
Of course we all know how my full Ironman ended but I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s been such an amazing journey and I’ve been able to push my body farther than I ever imagined was possible. Of course, I’m not finished yet. I plan on going back to Louisville next year and achieving my dream of being an Ironman. I also plan to run the Rock N Roll Half Marathon in Lexington in March as well as the Marshall full marathon next year in November.
As for now, I’m maintaining my level of fitness by running and cycling. I also plan on getting back in the pool and working on my form and speed. There’s always room for improvement. And I will always look for ways to make myself a better athlete.
I know that not all of you out there reading this story have the desire to be an Ironman. But I would guess that there are many of you out there who have wondered if you have what it takes to train for a 5K, a 10K or some other challenge. I’m here to tell you that if it’s something that you’ve thought about more than once then you have what it takes. You have the desire. Now you just need to get the determination. It may take time but by taking small steps you can reach any goal that you set.
So like last week, this week I challenge you to set a goal for yourself. It can be anything from walking a mile to deciding to compete in an Ironman. Whatever it is, just take the first step and set the goal. Then take the next step and start taking actions to achieve that goal. Before you know it those small steps will add up and you’ll be well on your way to achieving success.
Mark D. Rucker is an attorney from Lexington who spent the majority of his adult life struggling with weight issues. As a result of his unhealthy lifestyle and weight, he suffered from high blood pressure, sleep apnea and was borderline diabetic. In February of 2011, at the age of 42, Rucker weighed over 365 pounds. It was then that he decided it was time to change his life. He now hopes to use his experience to help inspire and encourage others to begin their own journey to health and fitness. By focusing on his “small steps” philosophy, Rucker believes that anyone, at any age and in any physical condition, can change his or her life. Recently, he create a Facebook page called Get Moving Lexington to encourage the people of Lexington to get active.