From Couch Potato to the Boston Marathon

Russ Barber

I joined the Lopers in August of 1999. I had just graduated with my BS degree in Electronics Engineering at the age of 46. Over the last five years, and especially the last three years while attending school, I had become a total “Couch Potato,” ballooning up from 176 lbs to 212 lbs.

Upon graduation, I decided I needed a new goal to go after. I had always wanted to run a marathon, so I decided I could run a marathon and lose a few pounds in the process. I started my training on my own and decided I would do a one mile test run to see what kind of shape I was in. I was very disappointed in the results. Giving it everything I had, it took me a little over 13 minutes to finish one mile, and my legs were on fire when I was done. I was expecting maybe 10 minutes at worst. After all, it was just a mile, and I was giving it everything I had.

Undaunted, I decided I would run a mile every day the first week. This was around the first or second week of July. By the end of the week, I had shin splints because I did not know what I was doing and was running too hard and fast for where I was physically. I took several days off and started again deciding to slow down a little. The next week, I ran only every other day and did much better. By the end of the second week, I could tell I was beginning to get a training effect. Then my wife showed me an article in the Press Enterprise Newspaper about the Loma Linda Lopers having a training program to train for the LA Marathon. I decided I would give it a try and was glad I did. I am not sure I would have finished my first marathon without their expert training advice and the camaraderie and friendship of my pace groups and pace leaders.

I started with the 13-minute group and did pretty well with them as my month training on my own had improved my conditioning quite a bit. If I had not done that training ahead of time, I would probably have started in the 14 or 15-minute group. After about a month with the 13-minute group, I moved up to the 12-minute group, and that is where I should have stayed throughout my training. After a couple of months, my ego got the better of me, and I moved to the 11-minute group. Every weekend became almost a race for me, and I could not run again until Wednesday. I continued training this way until the marathon even though my pace leader suggested several times I should go back to the 12-minute group.

The weather for the marathon was calling for rain, and sure enough, just before the gun went off, it started to sprinkle. By the end of the 2nd mile, I was totally drenched. I had started with a trash bag over me to keep me dry but felt it was too hot and threw it away. Then I started getting a little cold from the wind and rain. After about 5 miles, I felt warm enough, but I was still really wet. The race was somewhat uneventful until about mile 17 where I started having knee trouble from a strained IT band. I told myself I would keep going until mile 20 and then re-evaluate. By the end of mile 20, my knee was really hurting. I was doing a one minute walk at the beginning of each mile and every time I started running again, the pain was pretty intense but would gradually subside to just a dull ache. Since I had made it 20 miles, I was determined to finish. I decided at that point I would slow my run and just not do the walk as it was so painful to start back running each time after the walk break. About 2.5 miles from the finish line, the clouds finally stated breaking up and the sun peaked through every once in a while as the rain stopped. I was really getting tired and thought about just walking the rest of the way in with only about a mile to go, but then some friends from work saw me and started cheering. One of them jumped in and started running with me. This excitement rejuvenated me, and I ran the rest of the way in crossing the finish line with the greatest feeling of accomplishment I had ever felt, moving me almost to tears. It was an experience I will never forget.

During my training for that first marathon, I dropped my weight from 212 pounds to 195 pounds. I figured when I crossed that finish line I would never do another marathon, but about four days later, after I started to mend, I decided I did not want to let all of this work go to waste so I signed up for another marathon the following June.

Two and a half years after finishing that first marathon in 5:19:43, or about a 12:12 pace, I qualified for Boston with a 3:33:40 finish (8:09 pace) at St George, UT. I went on to run Boston in April of 2003 and have now completed 23 marathons. Not bad for a former “Couch Potato.”