Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 26 Sep 2004 09:31:45 -0400

Big Loser

RUNNING COMMENTARY 538

Every class I teach leaves behind a most memorable student. This time it was the biggest and slowest one I'd known in four years of this teaching.

Aaron e-mailed me before the summer class, saying, "I'm much slower than everyone else. Can you give me extra instruction on where we are running so I won't get lost?"

He told of weighing 300-plus pounds when the year began. "I've lost 60 so far and want to keep going down," he wrote. "That's why I am signing up for your class, after taking fitness walking in the spring."

This note turned out to be more than Aaron would say to me the rest of the summer combined. He never sent another e-mail, and rarely said anything in class if a nod or shake of his head would do.

Before our class began, I'd mentioned Aaron's name to the walking teacher. She had warned, "He's going to give you trouble."

Trouble? "He was so much slower than everyone else, even in the walking class, that we had to make special arrangements for him."

His efforts never gave me any trouble. Just the opposite. He became one of my best students ever, and I'd love to have more like him.

Aaron never said so, but I imagine he had made a New Year's resolution to lose weight. Unlike most such vows, his hadn't died of neglect by January 5th. He was a big loser in the best possible way.

He had lost the 60 pounds when we met in June, but still was a big man. I pegged him at about 250.

His legs looked strong but weren't built to carry even his new weight. He had to stop often during his runs to give his sore ankles a rest.

My first advice to him was, "Take regular walk breaks. They'll let you go farther with less stress."

I added, "Even if you run just a minute at a time, that's fine. You'll gradually run longer and walk less."

The first day of this summer class the assignment was to keep moving for 12 minutes. Aaron walked more than he ran, completing just a half-mile.

I half-expected never to see him again. But he kept coming back, despite never running with anyone else and always taking almost twice as long as the next-slowest person to finish. In a class where most students take their full quota of absences, Aaron never missed once.

Numbers don't do his dedication justice. I quote them only to show how much he improved.

His first-day distance was a half-mile. He peaked this summer at six times that length.

He ran-walked his first full mile in 19:41. The last day of class he averaged two minutes faster for TWO miles.

Aaron ran his first set of intervals at 18:14 pace. His last set took just 13:39.

His feelings about this jump in distance and drop in time were hard to read. Mine weren't.

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