NAME: Mark Goldhaber
OCCUPATION: IT Manager
HOMETOWN: Guilderland, NY
FAMILY: Wife and one son (15)
What prompted you to start working out?
I was coming up on my 49th birthday and I was just tired of being out of shape. I was never overly athletic and I had been kind of skinny as a kid, but after I put on my "Freshman 50" in college, I became resigned to being overweight. I had ballooned up to 296 pounds at my heaviest, and was still just over 288. I couldn't run more than 10 steps or so. I was fat at age 20, 30, and 40, and didn't want to continue the trend at 50.
The first thing that I did was to decide that this was going to be different from all of my other weight loss attempts. I would always start out gung-ho, but eventually rebel against the restrictions that I had placed on myself. This time I was going to make a "lifestyle change." I would make changes gradually, so that I could be comfortable with the "new normal."
How did you start?
I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app for watching my calorie intake and RunKeeper app to track exercise. I started out just trying to keep my calories down and walking once or twice a week. I joined Runner's World's The Starting Line forum and looked for support from the friendly folks there. It took a month or two before I was walking 3-4 times a week, and I got fitted for running shoes to better support my feet. After another couple of months I was walking 10K on my long walks, and I had lost enough weight that my joints could support me running. I started with short run intervals on my walks and lengthened the intervals gradually. I signed up for the No Boundaries 5K program at my local Fleet Feet store and got guidance and support from my coaches, mentors, and teammates that had me running my first official 5K about 7.5 months after I first started this journey.
Describe your regular workout routine.
I'm currently training with the local Fleet Feet Distance Project for my first 10K in May. Right now we're up to 2-3 easy runs plus a speed workout and a long run each week. I also do strength training twice a week, once with a class and once as "homework."
What was the biggest hurdle to working out and how did you get over it?
Wow, so many hurdles. Inertia was huge. It was so hard to change what I had (not) been doing for decades. But once I got rolling and into the habit, it was amazing. It was like my body said, "You're ready now? Great! Let's go!" Now I get antsy if I don't get out to run for a couple of days.
The other main hurdle is making the time. I am a night owl, not a morning person, which makes it pretty much impossible to get out for a run in the early morning. Work and family commitments take an inordinate amount of time. With my training group, I've got a commitment that makes it harder to miss group workouts. For the remaining workouts, I often find myself running outside or on the treadmill at 9 or 10 o'clock at night. But while I will sometimes end up short a workout or two when things get out of hand, I take it in stride and don't let it discourage me. I just keep getting it done.
What's the most rewarding part of your running life?
The changes to my health and fitness. In addition to being smaller (almost eight inches on my waist alone) and lighter, I just feel so much better. It's great to not get winded going up a few flights of stairs or to just be able to pick up the pace if I'm in a hurry. I don't feel like I'm just dragging my body around all day (except for after really challenging workouts).
It also feels great to be out on a beautiful day, running at an easy pace, just enjoying being outside and clearing my head.
I harbor no illusions of becoming an elite runner; most likely I will be a perennial back-of-the-packer. That doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to race. I love the atmosphere, the camaraderie, and the feeling of accomplishment in crossing the finish line.
It’s funny. A lot of people have told me that I’m an inspiration, but I don’t see it that way. I’m just one of many thousands of people trying to get in shape and be healthier. I’ve just been doing a pretty good job of it so far. I just try to keep everything in perspective. But if my story helps someone else to improve their own health, that thrills me.
Did you have a weight-loss goal?
When I started out last March 1 at 288 pounds and change, I had originally hoped to lose 88 pounds by my 50th birthday (my mantra was "200 by 50"). Over the summer, it became apparent that it wasn't going to be possible to continue losing weight quickly while still fueling enough to get fit. I now say, "as long as I eventually hit both 200 and my 50th birthday, I'm good. So far, I'm down about 50 pounds, so I've got about 40 more to go. Thanks to the momentum and positive attitude that I've built, I know that it'll happen. It just may take a bit longer.
What’s the secret to your weight-loss success?
After so many failed attempts, I knew that I had to take a different approach to make it work. I've heard that many people who have extreme weight loss eventually put it back on because they don't view it as a long-term commitment. I decided that this was not a weight-loss effort. This is a lifestyle change. It's a long-term process, so if I go a while with no progress or even backsliding a little, it's OK as long as the overall trend continues in the right direction.
What kinds of changes did you make to what and how you ate?
I didn't so much cut out anything, because that would lead to a rebellion and I'd just quit. The biggest changes were shrinking portions to normal sizes and remembering that I only have so many calories per day so it became a conscious choice to eat or not eat treats. I also worked harder to find snacks that were less sinful, healthier, and still tasty. That part is still a work in progress. I just need to make trade-offs. Smaller portions help. If I eat a high-calorie treat, I either have to compensate in other meals or I have to work out to burn the calories. And, of course, I allow myself occasional cheat days so my body doesn't get into calorie-preservation mode.
What advice would you give to a beginner or someone just starting out?
- You can do it. You can achieve amazing things if you just commit yourself to them. Decide that you are going to do this and then figure out what you need to do to make it happen. Commit and get out there.
- Be smart about it. The odds are that you're not going to be able to just go out and run fast and far right off the bat. Run within your current ability, increase gradually, and watch your form so that you can avoid injury. When you build up a lot of momentum but then have to sit on the sidelines because you're hurt, it can be very hard to start back up again.
- You don’t have to do it all by yourself. Join a group, training program, or running club, and sign up for the forums on Runner's World or elsewhere online so that you can take advantage of the advice that others in the same situation or who have already been there can provide. It's good to know that others are dealing with or have dealt with the same issues. A lot of my success is built on the support of my coaches, mentors, and teammates at No Boundaries and Fleet Feet Distance Project, the folks on the Runner’s World Starting Line forum, and my online and offline friends and family.
- Everybody is different. Our motivations are different. Our preferences are different. Your fitness journey is just that: yours. Find what works for you, even if it’s not what works for everyone else.
- You can do it. I put it in twice because it’s so important to remember.
What are your favorite motivational quotes?
My unofficial motto is "Keep Moving Forward." It reminds me that as long as I’m going in the right direction, speed doesn't matter as much. In considering my progress, I remind myself that I'm just taking it "One step at a time." When our group is out running (or even if I'm on my own), I'm often supporting my teammates and other runners that I pass with our catchphrase: "You got this!" When I get near the end of a race, I keep repeating to myself "Here we go!" as a reminder that this is it and it's time to finish strong with everything I've got left.
What is your long-term goal?
To continue getting fit and pushing myself without hitting the rebellion threshold, I'm just doing it step by step. After my first (and second) 10K races in May, I've just signed up for Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon this fall. I'm not really sure whether I'll be able to run it or just run/walk it, but I really want to give it a good shot. My Disney friends have been encouraging me to get out there for a long time, so it’ll be great to celebrate with them at the finish line of my first half marathon.
I also want to find better ways to have my running help with my long-term support for the March of Dimes. This will be my ninth year walking for them and I’m hoping to up the ante (and the donations) by upping the mileage and linking my May races to my campaign.
Basically, my goal is to just keep moving forward, one step at a time.
Article published in Runner's World.