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Farewell to Wendy's, buffets, 50 pounds

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003

Twenty-two miles into Tampa's 26.2-mile Hops Marathon, I was waiting to "hit the wall."

As my feet slapped Bayshore Boulevard last weekend, over and over, mile after mile, I was anticipating a life-changing moment, a great truth ringing through my head.

Instead, I heard:

Pippi Pippi Longstocking, how I love my happy name.

Again.

Pippi Pippi Longstocking, how I love my happy name.

And again.

It has been a long road from fat guy to fit guy, a lot longer than 26.2 miles. Call it a descent into a madness, a life turned upside down -- from juicy beef and crispy fried food for every meal and snack, to fat-free pita, rice, beans, and tuna straight from the can.

Have mercy on me, Burger King. Cry for me, sweet Wendy.

Oh, Captain D, My Captain D.

I miss you.

Fourteen months ago, I weighed 205 pounds. At 5 feet 4 inches tall, that left me a body mass index classification at the doorstep of severe obesity.

Twenty minutes of walking on the treadmill at the new Dade City YMCA left me gasping.

My years of medical research, bravely pushing the outer limits of sedentary living and fast food consumption, had reached a zenith. I had the results. The data was conclusive, and I had to be honest:

I was, er, a little on the husky side.

Goodbye, luscious gas station fried chicken, all-you-can-eat meatloaf buffets, midafternoon bacon burgers and midnight pizza. Never again would I eat chicken-fried bacon (I have actually made this). No more would I indulge in toasted butter and peanut butter sandwiches. No more pink, pickled eggs, or mayonnaise-smothered grilled cheese sandwiches.

I took to the road in my Wal-Mart running shoes. Two miles might as well have been 20.

I read articles on running. I bought better shoes and a smaller belt.

My pants bunched up in the back. My shirt collars hung loose.

People asked with concern if I was losing weight on purpose. One asked if I was undergoing chemotherapy.

Everyone agreed, the weight loss must have been making me feel better.

In truth, no. I was hungry and sore. All the time.

But the feet carried me onward.

The relentless feet.

I discovered no miracle, no pills or program, no starch blocking or Atkins or nighttime potion.

I wanted steak, all the time. But the feet would hear none of it.

In September, I staggered through a 10-miler. Then 16 miles, and then 18, and then 21.

As the old joke goes, it's like drinking from a spittoon: Once you start, it's all one strand.

I learned about hydration and carbohydrates. I used bandages to prevent chafing in places most men never put bandages, or worry about chafing.

I ran in the rain. I ran in the sun.

While severe bloat from eating a quart of ice cream had been the biggest hazard facing the old me, the new me discovered all manner of new pain.

I learned an "IT band" is an injury-prone leg thingy, not a musical group of computer geeks. Tender calves don't involve pounded veal. A hamstring has nothing to do with link sausages.

Then, there I was, running with glacial speed up Bayshore, only 4 miles from the finish.

I knew I was about to drink from the cup of wisdom that only distance runners taste.

But all that kept ringing through my head were snippets of songs that I know only snippets of.

I ran to the theme to the old Swedish Pippi Longstocking movies.

I ran to Credence Clearwater Revival's Susie Q. The only words I know are "Susie Q."

I greeted the rising sun early in the race with an endless, and not entirely accurate, chorus of the Captain Kangaroo song:

Good morn-ing Cap-tain. C'mon how do ya do-oooo?

Fourteen months ago, I was a middle-aged fat guy. Last week, 50 pounds lighter, I ran my first marathon.

My wife was at the finish line. The woman who has put up with piles of sweaty laundry, who has witnessed me actually watch a marathon on television, who has seen our once beef-bountiful refrigerator fill with fruit and water bottles, was there.

She has watched the change, and she met me at the finish with the things she knew the new me would need after a long run.

A beer and a cigar.

Cheers, Pippi.

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