How I Went From Fat & Out of Shape to Half Marathon Finisher in Three Weeks (and What I Learned)

Finishing What I Started


Three weeks ago, I couldn’t run three blocks without stopping and gasping for air.

Yesterday, I finished a half marathon for breast cancer.

I’m just like everyone else out there.

Life had gotten in the way of taking care of myself. I had a pregnant wife, we had just come off the holiday, my business was in transition, my stress levels were pretty enormous and I churned out a ridiculous number of hours at my desk. But, those were just excuses. In the moment, I didn’t realize was how far I had been led astray. By focusing on work so intensely, I had thrown my fitness, health and mental soundness out of whack. And, it certainly didn’t fit within my guiding three words for 2012.


Three weeks ago, my wife called me fat. My best friend didn’t deny it. I knew I was in trouble.

It all started while sitting at Chili’s for dinner. My wife gently questioned, “Do you really want that.” “That” being some fat bastard meal I was about to order. Rachel was making sure I knew “that” probably wasn’t the best choice. Almost as a planned intervention, a text came in from my great friend Mike Ryan:

Mike Text: “Warning: Starting tomorrow I will be subjecting you to random workout checks. Pack your workout gear, Mac! You have another mouth to feed and good health has to be part of your action plan.”

What the heck? Was this part of a conspiracy or something?

Me: “Honey, am I getting fat?”

Rachel: “What do you mean muffin top?” (huge laughing ensued on her part…)

Text to Mike: “Have you been speaking with Rachel? I think I may have found the pounds you recently lost at the end of the season.”

Mike: “LOL. Rachel hasn’t talked to me but fitness always pays off. What kind of a friend would I be if I didn’t help those closest to me?”

Translation: Jerry, you’re fat and out of shape

They were right. Even though they hadn’t actually said, “You’re fat and out of shape”, I knew exactly what they meant. I had packed on a few lbs and hadn’t worked out in recent memory – at least a few months. It was time to listen and take action.

As I was running my half marathon yesterday, I thought about the lessons I learned (or re-learned) while I was on the course. In the sage words of my brother, “Learn from my mistakes. I made them for you.” Here they are:

“Just start”

Even though it sucked at first, I got up off my butt and just started. And, I ran. I challenged myself on the side of the road when I felt like I couldn’t go any further. In fact, I yelled at myself quite a few times for allowing this to happen. The first time I went for a run I literally couldn’t make it three blocks without gasping for air and my legs screaming for me to stop. Scary. But, by simply starting and getting past the inertia, I was on my way to finishing a half marathon.

Lesson: I didn’t psych myself out. I didn’t develop some targeted training program. I didn’t paralyze myself with analysis. I knew it was the right journey, so I just started. Inertia is always the hardest part: If you want to get somewhere, you have to “Just Start.” No matter how scary, “Just Start.”

There Will be Moments of Self-Doubt in the Journey

At mile 8, I was cruising along. Then my dang left knee started giving me fits, which changed my gait. And, by mile 10, it had thrown my left hamstring and calf into some uncomfortable twitching and cramping, which was just in time for the monster bridge with the gusting and swirling winds. But, I kept pushing through. It would have been easy to abandon the race. It was uncomfortable. I hurt. I had thoughts, “Can I continue this?”

Lesson: Crap happens. There are things that will challenge ‘your plan’, but you have to look self-doubt in the face and continue forward. No matter the obstacles, I believe in Stephen Covey. He says, “Begin with the end in mind.” Self-doubt is part of the process. Hear it, but work the plan, lean on others in your circle and focus on the finish.

Life is a Giant Distraction

Between the holidays, our pregnancy, my business transitions and the high-stress, I had an excuse to take my eye off the big picture. I used all of those distractions as a reason to sit at my desk, work really hard and subsequently get fat and out of shape. The reality is that life is one giant distraction that constantly competes like the devil for our time and attention.

Lesson: At any stage of my life, I can point to any number of distractions that kills my focus. Heck, I’m the guy with a perpetual fifty-seven tabs open in my browser. But, the success I’ve enjoyed has always been founded on the ability to focus on the task at hand – no matter what’s going on around me – to accomplish the goal I’ve set. How’s your focus? Are you focusing on the “right” things that will bring you success?

Who is on your “Advisory Board”?

I’m lucky. I had a wife and best friend that told me exactly how it was…Rachel and Mike were right: I had gotten fat and out of shape. Of course, they didn’t choose those words, I did to motivate myself. But, they wanted me to succeed and the only way to do it was to be brutally honest with me. And, both of them lead a life of authenticity: they live exactly as they say to live. I’m sure Rachel would have run the half with me (in fact, she wanted to despite being 10 months pregnant) and, well, Mike finished first in his age group and fifteenth overall. Let’s just say the winner was more than half his age – half, people. Those are great people to have on my Advisory Board.

Lesson: Develop an advisory board that will tell you straight. And, have the humility and confidence to listen to them. Trust them. Believe me: they are seeing things that you don’t – and won’t see. They have a better perspective on you than you will. Do you have an Advisory Board that you trust? How can you cultivate that Board?

The Conditions Sucked – It Didn’t Matter

I trained in the mildest winter on record. It’s been 50-75 during my runs and it’s been a joy. Unfortunately, on race day, it was the coldest day of the year: 29 degrees with sustained 10-16 mph winds. It would have been easy to hand control over to the weather and use it as a crutch. But the reality is that I can’t control the weather – just like I can’t control the economy. Instead of focusing on what I couldn’t control, I decided to focus on what I could control. I dressed properly, I thought warm thoughts and I breathed deeply. It warmed me up.

Lesson: Developing an internal locus of control (I impact the world vs the world impacts me) is central to life’s success. Focus on the aspects you can control and discard the rest – because no matter what you think – those aspects aren’t going to change. I could have focused on the weather and hoped it would get warmer, but that wasn’t going to impact the weather or make the conditions better. It was just a hope. I took the steps I needed to counteract the conditions that sucked. I took control.

Sometimes you journey alone, sometimes you need a partner

Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely place in life, so I’m used to journeying alone at times. Even though I had a number of friends in the race, I wasn’t at anyone else’s pace for the day. I ran 13 miles alone without uttering a single word to anyone else. But, just as I was approaching the foot of the bridge in mile 12, when the winds were gusting and self-doubt was huge – Nathan Fabrick snuck up behind me and ran with me for just a minute. Literally .1 miles of the journey – but it happened when I needed it most. It was a boost of inspiration at the exact right moment.

Lesson: Don’t be afraid to journey by yourself. But, when you need help, seek help. Or, at least be willing to accept it when it comes your way. Thanks, Nathan.

Confidence is a funny thing…

Even though I had only three weeks training, I felt good going into the race. I wasn’t properly trained for a half and certainly didn’t adhere to the 10-15% gradual increases to do it right. But, I had run a half marathon before. I knew I could do it again.

Lesson: My friend, Simon Hartley, shares in his book Peak Performance Every Time, how focus, confidence and motivation create a positive spiral of performance. He’s exactly right. I definitely had the focus and motivation to complete the half, but without the confidence I would have failed. The fact that I had completed a half marathon before led to the confidence – even though I wasn’t exactly trained for it – to be able to do it again. Engaging with people and activities that push you and build your confidence are paramount to performance.

Be Greater than Yourself

Logic says I shouldn’t have run yesterday. It was freezing cold. I wasn’t fully prepared. I hadn’t really trained for it. But, I ran for two central reasons yesterday. Both of those reasons were greater than me:

  1. I hate cancer. It scares me. Pulling inspiration from my “circle” of friends who have faced this disease, I looked towards Bev, Amanda, Misses F, Gloria, Alan and my mom who courageously faced forward when they heard the words, “You have cancer.” They don’t have control over their illness; they have to show up for treatment no matter how they feel. And, while the conditions suck, they can control their attitude towards those treatments. All of them inspired me on my run. I wasn’t just running. I was running to end cancer.
  2. During my coaching, I’ve always told my soccer parents about their sideline behavior, “What are you teaching your kids?” My first daughter, Brooklyn, will be born this week. And, here on the cusp of my own daughter’s birth, I said to myself, “What will I be teaching Brooklyn?” That her dad was just like every other schlub who used distractions and excuses to sit at his desk and get fat and out of shape? I think not; I know not.

For those who know me well, I’m a “high E” – in other words, it doesn’t take much for me start shedding some tears. I’m not ashamed to say that there were moments of memories past and anticipation of future memories which moved me to tears on the course. I wasn’t just running for me…and, above all else, I’m certain it’s why I finished the race.

Lesson: I believe Simon Sinek is correct: Finding your “Why” is central to a full life. Logic is great, but it is passion that moves mountains. How passionate are you about what you’re doing and how you’re living your life? If your business goal is simply turning a buck, then you’re missing out on the magical connections of the world. By living on Earth, I’m almost certain to leave an inheritance – even if just a buck. But, I’d rather leave a legacy.

What will your legacy be?


Random Quote

“The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.”

— H Jackson Brown


  1. Great article about an amazing accomplishment, JMac. If it wasn’t a pure coincidence that Rachel and I spoke out on your behalf at the same time, it wouldn’t be so funny. You showed me a lot about you yesterday and I’m impressed with what I saw. You rock!

  2. Andrew Sargent says:

    Great story Jerry. I find myself in a similar situation with the up coming River Run. Although it is 4 less miles, I still have some work to do. Time to get off the couch and go tackle those bridges!

  3. There are some fantastic lessons in almost every moment of our lives – the good, the bad and the ordinary. Some people see them, appreciate them and squeeze the most out of them. Other miss them. These lessons in themselves are great! For me, the bigger lesson is to find the lessons and be alive to them!!
    Brilliant. Thanks Jerry.

Speak Your Mind