Well, I did it. It’s been 24 hours since I crossed the finish line and I’ve had some time to enjoy the moment and thank everyone that helped get me from where I was to where I am now.

I have been told a thousand times that training for a marathon would change my life. I believed them- but I can’t explain it.

At first there was excitement- of course I can do it! I have 5 months to train and get myself into shape! It never once crossed my mind that I would have to get myself into shape “mentally”. I thought I knew what it took- I mean I had already lost 170 pounds. I thought compared to that, a marathon would be a walk in the park!

Then I got the email. You’ve been registered… Uh oh! No turning back now! Well, if things don’t work out I can always do the half… You have to have a back up plan, right? The mornings got earlier and the workouts got harder. Do I really have the time to do this? If I would have known what I was truly getting into, maybe I wouldn’t have signed up in the first place…

Then, I hit my stride. I got what Darren Hardy calls “Big Mo”! I was crushing my workouts, going back for seconds after work. I wanted to run and run and run! There was absolutely nothing that could get in my way now!

Well, vacation! I will still run everyday and just make sure I watch what I eat- it’ll all be ok! First couple days were great!!! I woke up earlier and earlier to get my runs in. It was fantastic! Then, I started eating too much and wasn’t watching the food well enough… I got the worst stomach aches and pains during my runs. I hadn’t had to stop in the middle of a run in months and now 4 days in row I couldn’t finish. What had I done to myself? Oh well it’s just vacation, right? I can get back on it as soon as I’m back.

Well, coming back from vacation was harder than I ever imagined! A 3 mile run was exhausting. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t keep my pace, more stomach aches, and sleep in? Sure why not, it’s just one day or two or three in a row. Who’s counting? Remember, I always have the half marathon to fall back on!

Then one day I looked at my calendar… I saw I was supposed to run 13 miles. No problem my mind said. Well, my body had a different idea! It was painful! 8 miles in I wanted to die. 10 miles in I could barely stand up. 12 miles in, I quit… I will never ever ever forget that feeling. I have never quit on anything in my life. I’ve grown out of things, moved on, but never just flat out quit. Right then, right there I knew what I had to do. I realized I have been training for this moment my entire life. From that day forward I never thought about quitting again. I knew I had to do whatever it takes to accomplish this goal. I needed firm accountability, a new plan of action mixed with my faithful training plan and I needed to clean up my act.

Action. This is what separates the winners and the losers. The successful and the unsuccessful. The people that accomplish their dreams and the people that don’t. I had a plan- now I had to execute it! I didn’t know what I was about to do and had no idea if I had a good plan or a bad plan. Was it smart or stupid? I had no idea, but it sounded good and I had the full support of my team! (At this time, Nikki was my team). Now what? I needed more people to hold me accountable. I needed people to “like” what I was doing. And I sure as hell believed I could help others if they would just help me. So I started with social media. I mean where else do you go to find friends? I haven’t made a new friend in years.

I worked my ass off. I worked out in the morning, and at night. I would leave my family anytime I had a free moment to run. I think for a while they enjoyed having the time together but it started to get hard for everyone. I missed the kids, they missed me. Anytime I would walk through the house they would ask me if I was going to go run. I would get angry and moody if I didn’t run. I would’ve given up food, water, my house just to go run. At this point I knew I was onto something. When I was running all I could think about is how I would feel to cross the finish line. I had everything planned out. I was going to pump the crown up, everyone was going to know how special I was for finishing. I had my “pose” all taken care of. There was not one aspect of the race I didn’t have planned out. Then I had to run 18 miles… It was the worst thing I had ever done. I had a couple beers the night before, ate worse than normal, didn’t get hardly any sleep. The first 6 miles were fantastic! I was thinking- of course I can do this. I can do anything. Then at 6.5 I died. I cramped. My stomach was on fire. Headache? That’s an understatement at best. I wanted to quit by mile 8. “I can just wake up and do this tomorrow” I thought. So I stopped and started to walk home.

For about a minute I thought about what happens if I feel like this on race day? I can’t just pack it in a try again tomorrow. There are no medals and there isn’t fanfare for waking up the day after the marathon and running 26 miles. There’s just you and the shitty feeling that you quit. Well, I’m not a quitter. If there’s one thing I promised myself right then and there is I am going to finish. I don’t care what it takes- I am going to cross the finish line as a champion. I’ve always know I wasn’t going to get first place. I was perfectly happy with last place. But I knew I cannot live with myself giving up. So I stopped, took a deep breath and ran. It hurt. I’ve never felt so much pain in my life. From head to toe, front to back I wanted to just kill myself. I mean it would have been easier that way. I had to walk more than I’ve ever walked before. I ran when I could, but it was painful. When I finished and got home I just wanted to cry because of the pain. I wanted to give up right there. I couldn’t do this, what was I thinking? Fat people don’t turn into marathon runners. We were fat by destiny and that is what we were meant to be.

After I finished and had a chance to regain my thoughts, I realized I had just broken through my barrier. I didn’t quit. I didn’t give up. I was no longer “weak”. Most people would have packed it in. Came back and “tried” it again at a later date. Me, no. I increased my weekly mileage by 10%. It was slower than I wanted and it was miserable, but I did it. Later that day I got the best piece of advice I received when training. I was told how important the bad runs are. In fact bad runs are the most important because you find it in yourself to keep going. We can all run on good days, but only the few can finish a bad run. I knew right then and there what was going to happen over the next 7 weeks. No one was going to work harder than me. There was absolutely nothing that could stop me. I had become invincible.

The next week, I broke 20 miles! No pain, perfect weather, everything was like a movie set. I knew I had done it! I had pushed through the barrier and nothing could stand in my way. I knew how close I was to doing finishing 26.2 and it was at the tip of my fingers with only weeks to go! I was ahead of schedule by 3 weeks! No problem, I will just run several 20 milers and keep myself in great shape! I can do this, I had the wind in my favor and everything was going my way- nothing bad could happen.

A couple days later I got this shooting pain in my back. I didn’t know if I had slept wrong, ran wrong, pulled a muscle golfing. I had no idea, but it wasn’t going away. I couldn’t stretch, swim, run or even walk without a shooting pain. I knew I had to push through the pain, but I couldn’t. I felt my muscles shrinking, I put on weight, I couldn’t concentrate at work, I felt myself losing control of my emotions with my family and I was just itching to run. I now look back and this is when I realized I had a running problem. My boss recognized that something wasn’t right and let me off early.

I had to run. I didn’t care how much it hurt. I had to go right now! So off I went. 9 minute mile, bam 2 miles in in 17 minutes. This was a record, but a long shot! Wow, I was rested and look what I did! Imagine if I worked twice as hard and gave myself a day off, so I changed my plan. I was going to run and workout twice as hard and twice as much and then take Sunday off so I could fully rest and then be back at it Monday morning. Until I realized it was a shock to my body. I was already pushing it to the max. I did this for 4 days straight. Working out for 3-6 hours a day. On Thursday I was out running and mile 7 I got the worst pain in my left shin. It felt like a thousand needles where poking me from my ankle to my knee. My first thought was to push through, until I took 3 steps and almost fell over from the pain. I was 3 miles from home. I was embarrassed to walk home. People will judge me. They don’t know how bad it hurts. I can’t be hurt now, people are counting on me to finish this race. What am I going to tell them? I can’t give up now, I can’t be hurt. What would I do if this pain comes up during the race?

I’m going to have to push through, no matter what. I walked, hobbled, “ran” and did whatever I could to not give up and to get home where I could rest. I couldn’t walk the next morning. I had to get to the gym. I couldn’t tell what was more embarrassing, being late or not being able to do anything when I got there. I’ve always had this feeling that people are always watching me and judging every move I make. I think this comes from the days of being so large that people were always laughing at me and making jokes about my size. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that fear. There are few things as hurtful as being made fun of your entire life for how much you weigh.

For 2 weeks I hobbled around, swam every day, started riding the bike and I read every self-improvement book I could get my hands on, I read every positive quote about pain and never quitting and obstacles I could get put in front of my face. Of all times I could have gotten hurt, why now? I was only 4 weeks from finishing what I started and I could barely walk. I was finally able to tape my leg where I could hobble for a couple miles. These miles were painful and I hated every step I took. I cried, I swore, I wanted to give up so bad. I just kept telling myself that the pain would go away if I just worked harder. My thoughts were that I wasn’t getting better because I wasn’t running and the leg pain was just withdraws from not running.

So I set a plan. Saturday, I was going to run my 21 miles. I had run through pain before. I can just wrap my leg so tight I can’t feel it. I took too many pains pills before I left and told myself not to step back through my front door unless I finished. No excuses, no quitting early, nothing. You don’t finish, you don’t get to go home. It wasn’t pretty, but when I was done I realized I was going to finish the marathon under any circumstances. I had just run 1 more mile than the “experts” say average people have to run before they’re prepared for a marathon. Only 2 problems: 1 I still had 4 weeks to go. 2 I’m not average. I had just overcame a shit storm to finish this training session, but still didn’t feel prepared.

So I set out to put in more long runs and scale back the number of runs overall. I put in more cross training and swimming than I did before. When all else fails take more action. The next week I ran 22 miles. It felt great! No problems, none! The weather was perfect, I felt good, I hit my water stations perfect, I hit my pace right on, and I felt like this was it- I was ready. Until I was eating post run, I was thinking about the next 4 miles. I asked myself- could I have finished the last 4 miles? Would I have needed more water? What if I got a pain in my side or there was another problem I hadn’t foreseen? Could I have done it? I didn’t know. I have had a fear deep down inside that I cannot explain. This burning feeling that I’m not really good enough. I have had a tendency to “choke” when it comes down to the final out, when all the eggs are in my basket I drop them. What if I got this close and didn’t account for the smallest detail and it caused everything to come tumbling down on top of me? I would have wasted this entire 5 months if I didn’t know exactly how I would react to this situation. I needed to know the worst case scenario of what could happen. So…

I set out to finish 24 miles. I didn’t know if this would be enough to feel confident going into the race. I had many people tell me it wasn’t smart to run that far just 2 weeks before the marathon. People thought I was absolutely insane! But for me the risk of getting hurt was outweighed by the fact that I had to know what was going to happen. During the 24 miles I watched every move my body made. I had my route planned, my water was set out exactly where I wanted it. I knew every pebble and paid attention to every last ache and pain my body had. I watched my watch, I knew pace, distance, elevation. There was no detail that went unchecked. I paid extra attention to how tight my back was, I knew when to stop and stretch so I didn’t get to stiff. Then, I came around the corner at mile 22. I knew I had 2 ways to get home. One was planned- 2.2 miles, the other was a route I’ve taken a hundred times, 4.5 miles. It took every ounce of will power to stay the course on the 2.2 miles. I felt wonderful. Everything had gone exactly to plan. I would have finished 26.2 that day.

As much as I wanted to I couldn’t. Physically, no problem. Mentally, I found out how unprepared I was to finish the race. I had been so focused on preparing myself physically that I overlooked many mental aspects of a marathon. I had prepared for everything to come tumbling down at any moment, I realized that I hadn’t prepared for it to go right. I was so excited that I finished 24 miles- I knew I was about to accomplish an “impossible” goal. I was pumped! Now I would get to take some time off to rest my mind and body so I could be fully rested and prepared!

Except I couldn’t stop moving. I had created such a habit with running that I couldn’t sit still. I literally had to do something every minute of every day. I couldn’t sleep because I had so much energy. I was supposed to be holding back on the miles so I could rest. I lasted 2 days. I had to run. This was more rest than my body had since the leg injury. My body was ready, my mind was ready to run! I had convinced myself that I was supposed to run. I had a few other tasks to do, but running had become an obsession for me. I was sleeping as little as 3 hours at night so I could get up, run, workout and then have the rest of the day with my family- then I would do it all over again. I was enjoying the intensity of the workouts. And my body, wow! I could see changes that were unbelievable. I felt good about myself. I felt like I could look in the mirror and know whether I had yesterday was a good day or bad day. The scaled kept going up, but I could finally see that the scale only gives half the story.

I made it through the last 2 weeks. I eased myself off running and focused on biking, stretching, and swimming. I slowed my calorie intake so I didn’t feel full and bloated leading up to the race. I didn’t carb load. I feel sluggish and was again afraid to change everything I had put into place over the final 4 weeks. Why change everything now? I thought.

Made it through Saturday and the expo. I wanted to eat everything in sight! We had packed everything though. I wanted no surprises. The food was all preplanned. Water, Gatorade was all packed and accounted for. I was not going to let one slipup ruin this day. Unpacking at the hotel the nerves began to take hold. The “what ifs” began to reenter my head. The worst case scenarios were constantly with me.

I sat everything out to be sure it was ready to go and everything became real. I had been looking forward to this for 5 months now. The more time I spent thinking about it the more real it became. I had no idea how I was going to fall asleep. I set my alarm for 3:30am and laid in bed for 2 hours just waiting and watching. Woke up somewhere around 12, 1:30, and 2:45 in anticipation. Finally at 3:20 I gave myself permission to get up. It was race day!

I had been waiting for this moment for months. I would find out how strong or weak I was, today. There are no more warmups, no more 2nd chances, just today. I have 1 shot at this, would I finish in despair or would I rise to the occasion? I felt like a little kid just waiting for Santa to come.

The excitement was soon overshadowed by nerves when the bus dropped us off. This was it. We walked down to get a couple prerace photos and then I headed to my coral. Oh the waiting… Then after what seemed like an eternity the gun went off. We moved closer and closer to the starting line. I felt more and more at ease the closer I got to the starting line. Then, we were off! I had a plan. 11:30 minutes a mile. No slower, no faster. I don’t care what else happens, how good or bad I felt- I was going to run this pace. Everything felt great! Mile 1, 2, 3, 4, 5- cruised right through. 6,7,8,9,10 done! I knew I had to get to 14 without a slip up. Miles 12 someone stepped in front of me, I dodged her and stepped in a crack in the road. No problem, well ok maybe some soreness in my right hip. Then the soreness came with some shooting pains. No problem, I was prepared. A couple pain meds and we’re on our way.

Came around a corner and hit 13.1. Yes! I was half way home! So far everything was going according to the plan. I knew mile 14 was coming. My wall… 14 to 20 has been the toughest for me. I knew what was going to happen; I was going to be thirsty, tired, hungry, my back was going to hurt, my music was going to slow down, and it was about to get boring. No worries, I planned for this! I was prepared. Until it didn’t last through 20 or 21. Mile 21.5 I wanted to die. I had no idea where I was for pace. I had rushed a good part of the race at too fast a pace which in turn caused me to slow down through other portions. I was out of my element. I walked for the first time (other than water) to eat a preplanned snack.

Then I heard some girls talking about just being in front of the 5 hour pacer. I turned around and there she was about ready to pass me… 5 hours. I can’t take longer than 5 hours to do this. I had come too far to go over 5 hours. So I sped up. It seemed like so did she. I ran and ran and ran and could barely keep up with her. I pounded the pavement right behind her for 2.5 miles. I stared at the time box to remind myself why I was running so fast. I couldn’t keep up. I was losing her. My headphones died… I had to slow down for water at mile 24. Poof, she was gone. I felt like a complete and utter failure. I knew I was going to finish the race, but what good would it be if I missed my time goal? Everything I worked so hard for was slipping through my fingers. I had flashbacks of past athletic failures. Every time I gave up on myself at the end. I didn’t finish strong. I thought back to everything I could have done differently. I’m tired of regret. I’m tired of not going after my dreams with full speed. I don’t want to get this far and have to live with the fact that I could have given just a little more effort.

So I ran. My body hurt. My legs were shot. I had nothing to take my focus off the pain- Without music I was lost. I got to know myself well, really well. I lost control of my emotions. I cried. I couldn’t see the pacer anymore. I felt my body shutting down. At this point I knew I would finish, but I had all but given up on my time. We passed the 24.2 miles sign and I caught a glimpse of the pacer. I looked at my watch and realized I had gained speed over the last half mile. We were running in downtown and I had no choice but to give it everything I had for the last 2 miles. If I was going to fail, I was going to give it everything I had with absolutely no regrets. I slightly remember hearing people cheer us on as we crossed the 25 mile mark. I was zoned in. I lost the pacer and found her again. I couldn’t tell if I was speeding up or if she was slowing down. We zigged through the last neighborhood blocks until I saw City Park. I knew this was my last chance. I could feel the pain in my body, but my mind just said keep taking it one step at a time. The more I focused on the finish line the more I cried. The more I cried the harder it was to breathe. Then I saw it. The 26 mile marker!

I had been waiting 5 months for this. I had seen this moment over and over and over again. When I was having the toughest and best runs of my life I couldn’t help by think of what I would do here. I hit the gas. Within 15 seconds I passed the 5 hour pacer. I hoped she was on time, but I didn’t trust it. I came around the last corner and saw it. The finish line. The tears came rolling down my face and then I looked at the clock. It said 5 hours and 7 minutes. I was completely devastated. I had missed my goal by 7 minutes. I was so mad at myself. I couldn’t help to push harder. I couldn’t tell you if there was a crowd or if I was by myself. I put my head down and ran. I felt like a bolt of lightning and a turtle at the same time. I felt like I was going fast in slow motion. I looked up and there was the finish line. With 50 meters left I could hear the announcer say “look at this ladies and gentleman. This young athlete is giving it everything he has to cross the finish line. Let’s hear it for his effort!” I crossed the line and felt like I had blacked out. A couple seconds later I looked up and had 2 bottles of water in my hands and a huge medal around my neck.

I did it. I had just become a marathoner. I have never been so proud of myself in my entire life. I accomplished an “impossible” dream. I had just finished my journey from 400 to 26.2.




Published by Gary Stotler

Gary Stotler is a father, running, fitness, weight loss and personal development addict. Formally 400 pounds, Gary has naturally lost 200 pounds, created a coaching & speaking business and has become a 100 mile ultra-runner. Holding a degree in Psychology & Sociology, certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a personal trainer, mindset & behavioral modification coaching, a certification in DISC personality assessment coaching and he is a certified speaker, coach & mentor with the John Maxwell Team. Gary firmly believes, if we take One Step at a Time, nothing is impossible. He is determined to let his actions show people what is possible and hopes to help you shake up your thoughts, change your actions and create your future.

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