After 39 Years On the Couch, I Completed a 5K and a Half Marathon\u2014and I\u2019m Not Done Yet

Name: Eddie Kaufholz
Age: 41
Hometown: Gainesville, FL
Time Running: 15 months
Why I Run: To reclaim my body and pursue lasting health

I was determined not to worry about turning 40 years old. At 39, I had everything a person could want—love, a career, my friends’ Disney+ login—but a few weeks before my 40th birthday, existential lightning struck: What have I done with the first half of my life? … I’m unhealthy, so at this rate, am I past the halfway mark of my life? … I’m more than unhealthy. I’m 304 pounds of non-muscle. … I have to do something, right now, today. … Shoot, I’ve never really worked out, played a sport, or done anything remotely physical. What should I do?

… Healthy people seem to run a lot. Maybe I’ll do that?

And so I tossed on my lawn-mowing sneakers, donned my “I Gave Blood!” shirt, and hit the road with a running plan that I found by Googling: “Running plan for a new runner and really I’ve never run so don’t give me a plan that’s going to kill me I’m serious.”

Active’s “Couch to 5K” app promised to coach me into running 3.1 miles in 90 days. That goal seemed impossible, but following an in-app robot-coach for a single, 30-minute workout seemed doable in the meantime.

Now, where I want the story to go from here is that I ran that first day and something came alive in me. I want to tell you I discovered the dormant Olympian inside of me, or at least the person who unironically puts a “Eat. Sleep. Run. Repeat.” sticker on their car. I wanted to so deeply fall in love with running that the health benefits would roll in as I pursued my new passion. That is one zillion percent not my story.

My first training run damn near broke me. The robot coach guided me through basic interval training: a five-minute warmup, 20 minutes of alternating easy running and walking, then a five-minute cooldown walk. I could feel my calf muscles stretching, my quadriceps burning, and my *ahem* glutes called into action after a prolonged tour of sofa duty. Even my shoulders and back alerted me to their presence.

I would later realize running is a whole-body sport, but on that first day, I interpreted my muscles coming out of hibernation as a five-alarm physical meltdown. My mind was running at full processor speed: Am I injuring myself? I can’t do this. The app says I have to jog for 30 seconds—I JUST DID THAT ONE MINUTE AGO! My feet are burning. Is that normal? And am I going to have to go to the bathroom in the woods?

My running journey was (is) 99-percent mental. The early days were so tough simply because everything was new. I didn’t know if I had run a mile or a 1/10 of a mile. I was a newborn colt flailing around trying to figure out what my legs could do. And beneath that psychology was a deeper challenge: I was a morbidly obese man, formerly a morbidly obese boy, trying to gain some athleticism a few weeks before his 40th birthday. In my life, I’d never done anything remotely athletic, so why would that change now? From that first run, the message I kept trying to escape was: I can’t do this.

That’s why the first day is the hardest: There are planet-sized physical and mental factors colliding at. The. Same. Time. Seriously—and I mean this with all due respect to the publishers of this article—running was the absolute worst. And sometimes it still is.

Yet despite the fact that after those 30 minutes my legs were trembling and I was a sweaty puddle of lactic acid, I still felt a small, foreign, unfamiliar feeling: pride.

On that day, for the first time, I took meaningful steps to improve my body and mind. The app said, “Good job!” and gave me a Pavlovian checkmark next to Day 1, and to my surprise, that sense of accomplishment compelled me to do the second run. Then a third. Then a week’s worth, and then a month. A month! I had no idea what I was doing for probably the first six months, but I turned myself over to the robot-app and trusted, no questions asked.

Eddie’s Best Gear for New Runners

My #1 tip for new runners: Get fitted for shoes at your local running store.

Wear something that teaches you pace, heart rate, and distance.

Keeping everything dry and in place is mission critical.

A tasty, portable, high-impact hit for longer runs.

Spoiler alert: Running never gets easier. But after a while, as you start to understand the importance of pace, heart rate, and relaxed breathing, the return on investment grows. What I used to be able to do in 30 minutes is night-and-day to what I can do now in the same period of time. And the mental panic, the feeling that my body is literally exploding and I can’t do it, has lessened a bit as with each run I prove, over and over, that I may very well be an athlete.

During that 5K training plan, I went from the aforementioned train wreck to the guy checking weather ahead of time and waking up early to take advantage of the dawn. My running habit begat other healthy habits: I started drinking more water, getting enough sleep, and mindfully eating. At one point, I even allowed myself to dream about reaching the end of my 5K plan and actually running 3.1 miles. Without stopping! Could I do that?

As it turns out, I could. Running alone through the familiar paths of my neighborhood, I ran that COVID-friendly, solo 5K with all my might. I’m certain that no physical event will ever mean as much to me. For 40 years, I couldn’t have imagined that moment. Yet there I was, a real-life runner, crying hard as my wife and daughters cheered for me at the start/finish line on our driveway. Certainly those tears had something to do with dopamine and endorphins, but really, they came from the realization that I had reclaimed my body and entered a new season of meaningful, exciting health.

I ended the year having run 551.2 miles—including more 5Ks, 10Ks, and even a half marathon—but my running journey didn’t start with those accomplishments in mind. It didn’t start with a plan to lose 86 life-changing pounds, either. Those goals would have felt too lofty and elusive, impossible. It was possible to decide, one day, to go out there and do something new.

The nuances of running will find you exactly when you need them. You’ll discover the perfect gear as your needs present themselves. Your pace and distance will improve as you put in the miles. And you don’t even need to announce on social that you’re “training for a half #EatSleepRun!” All of those things will come. Today, let yourself feel those muscles growing sore and strong. Let yourself feel the pain and pride that comes from making your way out and back on the local path. And let the work you put in today remind you that you can do hard, surprising, impressive things.

I don’t actually know if I like running, but I like living—and running gives me life.

If you have mowing shoes, lace them up. I’ll see you on the trail.

Eddie is a writer and podcast producer. He is also the co-host of Annie and Eddie Keep Talking. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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