Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'I was all ready to just get old and die'

In some ways, Richard Hefner and I couldn't be more alike: We both started running in September of 2008, with virtually no running on our resumes. Both caught the bug big-time; became compulsive racers, improved rapidly. Both boast a fighting weight of 143 pounds. Both launched blogs focused on the local running scene.

Yet our stories are also quite a bit different: When Richard started running, he weighed 173 pounds (I was 153); three months before he started, he weighed 193. He's run 64 races in the past 14 months (twice as many as I have). While I began running a few weeks shy of my 35th birthday, Richard first laced up his running shoes at the ripe old age of 56. And did I mention that as fast as I've gotten, he's gotten even faster?

Now, 56-year-old men who spent most of their adult lives avoiding exercise like the plague are not supposed to be able to flip a switch and become 57-year-old men who can run sub-20-minute 5Ks. They're just not. But that's exactly what happened to Richard Hefner -- and even he has trouble explaining it.

Says Hefner, who has a 10K PR of 42:31 and a half-marathon PR of 1:36:46: "I think it's probably because I just love doing it," (Huh, I thought to myself when I heard this. I wish I could win the Powerball simply because I would love to win the Powerball!)

Oh well. We may never know his secret. But we do know this: All you beer-bellied middle-aged men (and women), who keep saying "No, seriously, I'm gonna start running someday," between mouthfuls of Bojangles'? You really, really want to be like Richard Hefner when you grow up. Heck, I want to be like him when I grow up.

Here are some highlights from a recent interview with Richard Hefner, a.k.a. "The Old Runner."

Q. Visitors to your blog immediately learn that you joined Weight Watchers in June 2008, but didn't start running for a few more months. Besides wanting to slim down, was there another factor that motivated you to start running?

Richard Hefner: My daughter gave me the idea of running a 5K back in the spring of 2008. She was visiting from New York, and she invited me to go for a run. I nearly passed out after running about 50 feet. She was worried, and told me if I would get in shape we could run a 5K together. That was my big motivation to start. On Sept. 13, 2008, I ran my first 5K and I was hooked. Since then, there's hardly been a weekend I didn't run a race. To me, it's like a license to steal. I was all ready to just sit in a chair in front of the TV for the rest of my life and get old and die, then all of a sudden I figured out I was a runner. Who knew?

Q. How much weight loss do you credit to Weight Watchers, and how many pounds have you lost since you started running?

Richard: I would have to say that any weight that I have lost is attributable to Weight Watchers. I tried all kinds of other things and nothing else worked. Exercise is part of the program with Weight Watchers -- and pretty much any diet program. I think I lost about 20 pounds before I started running, then another 30 pounds after I began running.

Q. Are you still watching what you eat?

I know that running allows a lot of people to eat whatever they want. Unfortunately, that's not the case with me. I will pretty much eat anything that doesn't have horseradish or anchovies on it, and in unnatural quantities. Since running does burn off about 100 calories a mile, I'm able to eat more than I used to without gaining weight, but I'm still doing Weight Watchers online and mostly every Monday morning I'm back to counting WW points. I've been trying to stay at 143, so when I get to 145 ... I count points until I lose those extra couple of pounds before things get out of hand.

Q. Do you regret not starting to run earlier in life?

I try not to have any regrets about life. Maybe I could have been a really good runner when I was young, but maybe I started running when the time was right for me. A lot of other runners my age have already run their best times and many are slowing down. Right now I'm still improving and I feel like with the right training I can improve quite a bit more, so I'm happy starting out late in life.

Q. Sixty-four races in 14 months. That's insane. And that includes two more over the weekend?

Yep. ... On Saturday, I ran a new 5K PR -- 19:50 -- at Santa Scramble, then I ran the Hendrick Half Marathon at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Sunday. I'd rather run a half marathon than a long run on Sunday, so it's no big deal. I recently ran four half marathons in 28 days ... and I couldn't see that it was a lot different than doing a long run every Sunday other than being more expensive.

Q. What's your training like these days?

I've just been running 30-35 miles a week, with maybe a little speedwork once in the middle of the week. Since I race every weekend, that gives me another day of speedwork. I'd like to build up my miles over the next year to maybe 45-50 miles a week, but I'm not sure at my age I can handle more than that.

Q. What are your long-term goals as a runner?

I don't really have any major goals. I would like to keep racing and avoid injuries, and if my times start slowing down (which they surely will at some point) my goal is to not lose interest. Other than that, if I can inspire my kids and grandkids to become runners I'll consider that a success.

Q. Tell me about the blog. To me, it's one of the best running-focused blogs in town.

I started the Old-Runner blog about seven or eight weeks after I began running. I had seen a lot of other running blogs and I thought it would be a good way to document my running experiences and also maybe encourage some other people to start running. I really expected I would be writing more about my injuries than my triumphs, so to speak, but 14 months have passed and I still haven't had any injuries. I've had a lot of good feedback; nothing like you get since your blog is more visible and read by a lot more people, but enough to think it's worthwhile to do. It's always gratifying when people come up at a race and introduce themselves. I've also become friends with a lot of the blog readers and that definitely makes it worthwhile for me.

Q. What are your favorite local races?

It's hard to say since they all seem special in their own way. Hit the Brixx is a favorite. It was the first race [my wife Linda and I] ran last year in Charlotte, and [we did it] again this year. Hard to beat the free pizza, the separate 5K and 10K races, and the uptown setting. The Santa Scramble is also a favorite, partly because of the fast course, but even moreso because it leads off the Concord Christmas parade. There must have been over 30,000 people along that course this past weekend, and that's a great motivator. Another great race that comes to mind is the Twilight 5K -- love the evening setting.

Q. As someone who's run so many Charlotte races in the past year, tell me: What are race organizers here doing well?

I loved the Run for Your Life Grand Prix. My wife Linda and I ran all the races and that was one of the highlights of our year.

Q. What could they be doing better?

To me the biggest improvement in those races would be to have a professional photographer who would provide race photos that could be purchased. I think there might have been a photographer at one or two RFYL GP races, but it should be standard in every one of these races. The only other improvement I can think of would be to award trophies to the age group winners. To me, it's not a good idea to get innovative with awards and give away pizza cutters and jigsaw puzzles instead of trophies. I do realize that everybody doesn't look at it that way, though, and a lot of people couldn't care less what they give as awards, but my trophy case is a mess!

Q. Trophies aside, what's the greatest gift that running has given to you?

I'd have to say it's the gift of good health. As a lot of people reach their 50s, they start falling apart with problems associated with aging. I was headed in that direction myself, and so was my wife. In just a year, with running -- and of course a better diet that is the result of wanting to become better runners -- it's like we've turned back the clock. We feel better and are generally healthier than we've ever been. Of course, there are no 100 percent guarantees. Either or both of us could be stricken with a terminal disease or something equally devastating, but the odds are now in our favor that we'll live longer and healthier lives.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! I am one of those middleaged overweight wannabes someday. I can use all the encouragement and you can do it, its not too late stories I can get!

Dee said...

Richard's blog is an inspiration to everyone- including those of us who have been running for years. I love reading his race recaps each week. He gets more blog traffic than he knows! Thanks for sharing your story Richard.

Anonymous said...

Great story, great inspiration. Richard, it is people like you that get me motivated for runs, so thank you!

Anonymous said...

Richard, you are joy to watch and an inspiration to me as the years catch up with me. Keep up the oustanding work!

And keep writing your blog, I enjoy that as well!

aaron said...

If you do not regularly read Richard's blog, give it a try. Best race ranking system in town. His running progress is really inspiring! Thanks Richard for continuing to share your experiences as a runner.