A Fitness Snob…Walks!

To all who are kind enough to follow our blog: We regret we have been out of touch so

Go "Molly's Army!"

Go “Molly’s Army!”

long! We are preparing to walk in the Susan G. Komen 3 Day walk in the Twin Cities. Here are some of my thoughts; Chad will be posting soon.

I am an athlete. It has taken me a while to say that. First, because I’m slow (and athletes are supposed to be fast, right?). Second, I am definitely an amateur. No one sponsors me, and aside from one travel mug, I have never ‘won’ anything, neither fame nor fortune. Third, the events and activities I do I do for me; for my health and wellness and for fun. I have been realistic about my ametuer athlete status and have not taken myself too seriously, always looking at the bright side. How can you not have that attitude when you consistently finish in the 33%-tile?

That’s why I was so surprised at myself when the opportunity to walk a Susan G. Komen 3 Day event came up, and I, casual, fun-loving amateur athlete that I am, thought to myself, “Aren’t I too good for that?” “After all the progress I’ve made towards bigger and longer activities, wouldn’t this be beneath me, a step back?” [Please note: I am embarrassed and ashamed of these thoughts and am a bit mortified to admit to them.] Yes, I could have refused, but how much more would I hate myself if I had?! So after a millisecond of thought, I agreed to walk with Chad this year. I did this basically for two reasons: 1. Cancer research is one of the most important causes to me and my family, and 2. Part of my casual athlete code is that I try different events and activities. So after I got out of my own, conceited damn way, I realized it was a wonderful opportunity to fight against the ravages of cancer, and to test myself (and in more ways than one, as it turns out.)

[Another note: Cancer research for cures and treatments is the predominant reason for this event, and raising money to help those we love is why we are doing this. You only have to read our other posts and blogs to realize that. Having said that, I am about to focus on the walking and training experience only. Please don’t think the fight against cancer is not constantly on my mind. The perspective I am hoping to give here are just my own; what a fitness snob has gone through alongside all of my other experiences with the 3 Day. Again, I apologize for how snobbish some of this is about to sound.]

In order to walk 60 miles; basically all day for three days in a row, you’ve got to train for all those hours. That takes time. The training schedule basically consists of walking both weekend days, plus two other days of walking, two cross-training days and one rest day. That means less kayaking, running, biking, and more time walking…and walking…and walking. I knew that in committing to this I would be sacrificing other events, just trying to sneak them in when I can. So after months on sidewalks and trails, we are 3 weeks away from finishing our 24 week training schedule and getting to the main event. We have had to juggle the schedule around a bit to fit in holidays, vacations and other summer obligations, but we have tried to stay on course as much as possible. After finishing what will probably be our biggest weekend of walking, we start to taper slightly (though the mileage on the weekend before the event is still 18 miles!) Spending hours walking over the last months, I’ve time to think about my attitude entering this experience. I was curious at the beginning about how my training would go and what would happen to my fitness, and I have come to realizations on several different topics:

“Casual Activity:” There is more and more evidence that panting on the treadmill for 30-60 minutes before going back to your desk job or spending the rest of the weekend on the couch is not the answer. We are seeing that sitting less and moving more is better for health and longevity, and I can say for certain that the weekends I was training for races, even half marathons, involved less activity than the weekends I spent walking.

(Here’s an interesting article for you couch potatoes and marathon runners alike:http://www.runnersworld.com/health/sitting-is-the-new-smoking-even-for-runners)

Injury: While I have been fortunate enough to be basically injury-free throughout my life, I am getting more aches and pains as each race season comes and goes. In past years, I have had issues with runner’s knee and plantar fasciitis, and the reduction in running days has made these almost disappear, while still staying fit. Plus, I am (so far) spending a season not adding any new injuries, which is a bonus!

Weight: Because a healthy weight is associated with a longer life, I of course want to stay at one, and I wasn’t sure how this switch would affect my weight. However, I found that I have easily been able to stay at the same weight as when I started this training schedule. (I have confidence that if I was really wanting to lose, I could accomplish this, as I haven’t spent too much time restricting my diet or increasing the intensity of my other workouts.) There is also the fact that my muscle mass has increased, which isn’t addressed when you stand on the scale. (see below)

Strength: I often push myself on runs and leave any weights for last, and then I am too tired to really get something out of them. Admittedly, this is my own fault. However, with walking, I am able to come back not completely spent, allowing me to work on strength, which is also important for several areas of health. Plus, its pretty cool to be able to do more push-ups than I ever could before!

Enjoyment: Walking can be a bit boring, and one of the things I was dreading was walking laps around our small town for hours! However, with a bit of planning, we were able to get some added value out of our longer walks. We hiked some miles of Glacial Drumlin and The Ice Age Trails we had never been on before. We even walked around Lake Monona, which is something we do on our bikes in an hour, but because this took over four, we were able to see some things close up that we miss at 13 mph. On an even more personal note, Chad and I were able to spend many of those hours together without too much distractions, which was nice after a winter of long commutes, long work hours, and phones and technology always buzzing in the background.

Ego: As we live in the same town as Trek bicycles world headquarters, we see some pretty serious bikers, as well as the usual casual runners, walkers and bikers. I do admit that as someone would pass me as I was on a training walk, I felt embarrassed. I had urges to break into a run in order to show them that “I can run, really, I’m just CHOOSING to walk.”  In my defense, I honestly DON’T judge other walkers/runners that I see. I remember having to walk as I was building up to running, and I am always glad to see people out and being active. So the fact I had such an ego (even as slow as I run!) was a very interesting revelation.

In the end, I have found this training experience fascinating. I have seen the theories about walking and cross-training and “sedentary athletes” first hand–even things I thought I already knew were shown to me in a new way. I learned that moving forward can be done by taking a “step back.” I learned that no experience or activity is beneath me. I hope I never forget these lessons, and I hope that if a similar situation crosses your path, you’ll ignore any condescending snobbery yammering in your head, and just say “Yes!” (Or for all you secret snobs out there, you could help us in our fight by donating to www.the3day.org. This link will take you to our team page, Molly’s Army, and you can donate to any one of our 4 team members. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts for helping us in this fight.)

As a bonus for my data-geek friends, here’s a little comparison (Calories are estimated using my data from myfitness.pal):

Biggest weekend of walking: We did need to split Saturdays miles due to scheduling conflicts.



Estimated Calories



1 hour 43 min




2 hours 50 min




5 hours 12 min



34 miles

9 hours 45 min


Biggest weekend of half marathon training:



Estimated Calories







2 hours 18 min



Cross training

45 min

356 (a brisk bike ride)


12 (+ cross-training)

3 hours 3 min



“What’s your motivation?”

I’ve been trying for months to write this post…so here it is.

Lots of people have expressed amazement at what seems to them an immediate and sudden transformational change. And I suppose that I can understand why it may seem that way from the outside. But the comments and questions about “How?” I am doing this are legion and I have struggled to articulate it well to many and haven’t fully done so in this format yet either. So, after a dozen false starts, here’s the deal.

I am an English teacher by training, and as such, I believe in the power of storytelling. I have a dozen stories I could tell about what led to this change. I’m going to tell three. I think you’ll get the point.

On December 13th, 1996, at the all too young age of 46, Micheal “Spike” Swader died of squamous cell cancer. Spike was my father-in-law, the wife of a wonderfully quirky woman, and the father to two equally odd daughters. God help me, but I love every last one of them. (And since I am married to at least one of those three women, I guess that is a good thing. 🙂 )

I am not saying that a death that happened 16 years ago is a direct motivation for my change in lifestyle, but it is having an indirect impact. Spike’s early death haunts us still. Loving Michelle, I know that she has never fully healed from his loss in her life. On the three or four days a year where she feels his loss particularly acutely, I am reminded ever so poignantly about the impermanence of life and the pain untimely death can cause our loved ones and I cannot help but reflect on what my untimely death would do to Michelle and to my parents, sisters, cousins, and friends. For the last 16 years, the specter of early death has ridden my shoulder as I ballooned to 404# and when I saw that bloated face in the mirror and thought about where Michelle was going to find 10 pall-bearers, I also thought about Spike and the pain his too-soon passing caused those who loved him.

The other indirect impact of Spike’s death is that it is responsible, I think, for the amazing resource I have at my disposal. Michelle was hyper-motivated by her father’s early death to embrace a healthy life-style. His death prompted her to take up running, which led to biking, which led to triathlons, which led to healthy eating, healthy cooking, the study of nutrition, and eventually a career as a dietitian. That transition took over 12 years for Michelle, but I was there for every day, watching the changes in thinking and physicality and I saw the impact in how she felt about the world and her place in it as she took more control over the variables that added up to her health and started to try to impact others to make healthy choices. I don’t think she would have ended up where she is if her father hadn’t died so young; and in at least that measure, the world has been bettered.  And, she has been instrumental in helping me past the inevitable obstacles that arise in an endeavor like this.

On August 8th, 2012, David Landgraf, my high school track coach, died of injuries he sustained when hit by a car while bike riding. Coach Landgraf was one of only three people to ski every American Birkebeiner (a 50k+ cross-country ski race) since its founding in 1973. (Yes, he was a founder.) Dave was certainly in the top 1% of 62 year-old athletes in the world, and without question, his sudden death, while exercising, ranks among the most surprising deaths I have ever personally experienced. Everyone who know Dave likely thought he would out-live them. And as an elite, endurance athlete, Dave was exceptionally fit. When standing next to each other at a track-meet here in the school where I now work (my hometown track team regularly competes here), you could not identify two more diametrically contrasting bodies.

Dave was always kind to me, always eager to talk about what was going on in my life, and he never commented on how I was letting myself go. But Dave was one of the people who is partly responsible for getting my own father involved in cross-country skiing 30 years ago when Dad, too, was making a change to his lifestyle. I had run a 5K, partially organized by Dave when I was 12. He knew the me I used to be, when I was a 225# athlete and earlier versions too, and every time I saw Dave, he would look me up and down with a wry smile and a slight, nearly imperceptible shake to his head, and I would imagine him thinking, “God, I hope this kid figures it out, before it is too late.”

In the year between his death, and the start of “40 by 40,” I believe I reflected on the tragic nature of his untimely end well over 100 times. I began to feel some shame. Shame that wasn’t just sub-conscious, but that was right out in the open. A man who had dedicated his entire adult life (he was also a Physical Education teacher) to the living of a healthy life and encouraging others to live one too, had been struck down while engaging in the pursuit of that health. It was too much to fathom at times.

And Dave and my own father, because of their similar age and interests, if not ability :), are linked in my head. I had an impossible time thinking about Dave’s death without also thinking about my father’s death. And in thinking about all the time I didn’t want to lose with my father, as Dave’s children had so cruelly lost with him, I began to think about the fact that he (and Michelle, and my mom, and my sisters and everyone else), probably didn’t want to lose whatever time they could have with me either. And I thought about how much different my funeral would be from Dave’s. At his they celebrated a life lived pursuing excellence in athletics and health. At mine they would celebrate…what? Cheeseburgers? Bacon? Heart Disease? No, at my eventual funeral, after I had died from complications due to obesity, all my loved ones would be talking about was how much they wished I had taken better care of myself and that my death, while tragic, was predictable, in a way that Dave’s absolutely wasn’t.

On Wednesday, July 25th, 2012, Diane Ishmael, my cousin’s wife and my good friend, died after a long battle with cancer. On Monday, July 30th, I fulfilled Diane’s final request of me and served as the celebrant at her memorial service. As I sat on the stage in my finest suit in near 100° heat in a school gymnasium in Northeastern Iowa, while sweating profusely through my immense bulk, I listened to person after person share their stories of Diane’s never give up attitude in her battle with cancer. Diane had fought cancer since her teenage diagnosis of leukemia. She had fought cancer since she found out she had breast cancer mere months after I stood by on a beach in San Diego as she and Pat said their vows on 1/1/11. Diane had fought cancer since Christmas of 2011, when she learned that after nearly a year of treatment, the cancer had shown up in her lungs. Diane fought cancer so hard, that when a doctor mentioned April would be a better time than August for her to plan a trip to Ireland, she assumed that advice was based on April having nicer weather.

Diane was 41 the day she died, she would have been 42 the next day, and she fought for every last day she had. As I sat on the stage that day, at well over 380#, it occurred to me that I was cavalierly throwing away days and that Diane, and Dave, and Spike would have fought tooth and nail for until the very end. And I resolved that something had to change.

So I changed. And so far, the change has been easy, because every time I think about quitting, I remember the models Spike, Dave, and Diane, and unfortunately dozens of others, have provided for me. Fight for Every DayTake Nothing for Granted. Don’t Ever Quit. With that playing in my mind, it’s hard not to exercise. It’s hard to eat a cheeseburger.   Doing what I think they would do, is, actually, surprisingly easy. It’s just a question of proper motivation.

What’s your motivation?