The Finish Line

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My Path to the Starting Line

Posted by Bill Skowronski on September 19, 2011 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)

I never met Andy Polk--until his funeral in June, 2010. He was an incredibly well-liked teacher and I worked directly with his school, but we never crossed paths. He was close friends with my wife's best friend and a few of my golf buddies, but we had never met. We were going to meet. We were supposed to spend three days in early June together golfing, drinking and bonding the way guys do when they swear they've known each other for a lifetime. Our foursome booked accommodations for an all-inclusive golf packagein Illinois--my good friend Roger, his father-in-law (and Andy's best friend) Jerry, Andy, and me. It would have been the first time Andy and I met and I'm told I would have loved him. He was in his mid-30s, passionate about his family andfriends, had a young daughter and golfed about as badly as I did.

Andy died in an accident on his family farm the week before our scheduled golf trip. I never met him, but he helped change my life.

Andy's funeral and wake--an event attended by so many people the School District of Westfield (WI) had to have it in the gymnasium and still had people lined up outside the building. The next week, I took these pictures.


The first reads "June 14, 2010 232.2 lbs C25KW2D1 (Couch to 5K Week 2 Day 1)". The second picture is what I looked like at 232.2 pounds. I knew I was overweight and I had battled my weight for what seems like my entire life. In the past when I dieted, it was for the sake of vanity. I couldn't stand to look the way I did.This time it was different. I didn't just want to lose the weight. Andy and I seemed to be about the same size proportionately. He seemed to be a little taller. But, as I sat in the high school gymnasium that night, I watched his wife and daughter--both young, like mine. I couldn't help but picture myself in that coffin and my young family mourning my loss. I saw how sincerely the entire community missed Andy already and how deeply his family felt the loss. But, I didn't feel fortunate to be alive. I felt ashamed. I felt like I was coasting towards an early death (much sooner than necessary at least), while everyone in the building wanted nothing more than to have Andy back. It didn't seem fair. I was disrespecting the life I had and that had to change. For me. For my family. For my friends. For Andy.

I was never a runner. I was an athlete, but I never understood anyone who 'just went for a run'. In 2009, A  friend pointed me towards the Couch to 5K Running Program, which promised to take me from couch potato to 5k runner in 9 weeks. I thought, if nothing else, I'd be able to lose some weight. So, I started it--and completed it, running my first 5k in around 35 minutes in 2009. Then, the cold Wisconsin winter hit, I stopped running and gained back whatever weight I'd lost.

The problem was, I was a quitter, it's what I did. I quit karate, football and even baseball in college when I wrecked my shoulder and decided it wasn't worth 12 Ibuprofen a day. Before that Thanksgiving TurkeyTrot, my wife even told me, "It's not like you're going to keep running.You quit everything you do." That hurt. It was true, but it still hurt.

Then, Andy died and I sat there at his memorial service feeling like I needed to regain control over my life. I weighed myself, started following the Weight Watchers diet plan and went back to the Couch to 5k Program--but I wasn't going to stop there. I graduated to the Bridge to 10K Program and moved on to the Cool Running Half Marathon Training Program with an April 2011 target date. I figured, if I could run a half marathon in 2011 it would set me up to run a full marathon in 2012. Then I remembered Andy and imagined all the things he was planning to do in the future--all the things henever got to do.

The night the web-site opened, I registered for the 2011 Chicago Marathon and chose Hal Higdon's novice training program as my bible.

On June 14, 2011, I weighed myself again. I didn't photograph it this time, but you'll have to take my word (and an updated picture) that it read 192.0, an overall loss of 40 pounds in one year.

What the scale didn't show was the overall change in my health. Now, it's important to notethat I fully realize the impact Weight Watchers had on my weight loss. But,eventually I quit using Weight Watchers. [Remember, I'm a quitter--it's what Ido] I've kept the weight off though because I've made running part of my life. I often say "I'm not running, I'm training." So, I've made races part of my life. People now recognize me as the guy they see running around the neighborhood every morning in whatever weather--but always dressed in all black.

Gradually, as my training has intensified and my mileage has increased, I've stopped losing weight. People have also stopped noticing my weight loss. But it was never about simply losing weight. This was about regaining control over my health--and to some degree about proving my wife wrong. Maybe I am still a quitter. I'll find out on October 9th when my only goal is to finish the Chicago Marathon without walking or stopping. Either way, I'm carrying 40 less pounds with me and I owe that to running, and Weight Watchers, and my wife, and Andy.

*Note: To her credit, my wife has been increasingly supportive after seeing how much work I've put into my marathon training. Without her willingness to care for our daughters each morning and rearrange schedules so I could fit in my long runs, I couldn't have gotten here. She's even started running herself--though she swears she has no interest in running a marathon--ever.


Race Day Round-up

Posted by Bill Skowronski on July 4, 2011 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Is there any better feeling than setting a target on another runner's back, catching him/her, passing him/her and never looking back?


Today, I ran the Columbus Firecracker 5 (mile) 4th of July race. I wanted to try to set a new PR (41:51 previously), so I planned my strategy and convinced myself it was doable. My plan was to run five 8:20/mile splits, finishing around 41:40. I figured 8:20/mile was feasible. I figured I had the following mini-battles to wage:

Adrenaline vs. Heat

Competition vs. Unfamiliar Course

Low winds vs. Rolling Hills

"Runners ready, set, GO!" I turn on my iPod shuffle...."Battery low." FML.

I didn't want to go out too fast (like I tend to do when trying to PR), so I kept a close eye on my Garmin to make sure I didn't get too far below 7:45/mile pace for more than the first 1/2 mile. I wanted to embrace the adrenaline, but not let it ruin me for later since this was my first 5-mile race and I wasn't sure how that last two miles beyond a normal 5k would affect me.

I got out comfortably and allowed myself to be passed by anyone who wanted to go faster than 8:00/mile pace. One of the runners who passed me fairly easily was a much larger Hispanic man dripping with sweat. I kept thinking, "Is this guy for real? How is he doing this? Can he really sustain that pace? Damn, he's got some huge calves."  As I picked up my pace approaching the 1-mile mark, I heard the timer call "8:06". I figured I was right on track, which is to say I was a bit ahead of track, leaving a little room for error down the road. Cruising through mile two, I felt good, but a bit slower--which was fine because of my faster start. The timer called out "16:24" just as I told myself I wanted to be in the mid-16's. Perfect. 

All along, I had been picking out runners in front of me who I thought I could or could not catch. I targeted a taller, fitter male runner in his 20s and another runner in his late 30s running neck and neck. I figured if I could keep up with them, I would be happy with myself because they looked to be doing really well and running comfortably. Then something strange happened. As the rolling hills approached in mile three, I began to feel stronger--like I had a kick of adrenaline. So, I embraced it, and split the two runners ahead of me with a burst of speed. It felt AWESOME to pass them both like they were standing still even though we were all running uphill.I felt strong, confident, superior even.

Cresting the top of the hill, I heard the timer call "24:36". The burst I had just used rendered me incapable of simple math, so I coasted downhill with no one around me. Pretty quickly, I felt slower and tired. the adrenaline was gone. I could only see a few runners ahead of me, all very fit, all obvioiusly strong competitors. I figured I could use the fourth mile to catch my breath and turn it on again to close strong.

Mile 4, "33:02". Time to do the math now: "33, plus 8 equals 41. Do I have an 8-minute mile left in me? 8:20 would do it, what's been my pace so far? 33 divided by 4 equals 8-something....8......8.....20? No, there aren't 80 seconds in a minute.....8:15? Yeah, ok, so I'm on pace. I can do this."

Funny how simple math escapes you during physical exhaustion.

Looking ahead after the final water station, I thought back to the RC2 Half Marathon earlier this year. I remembered seeing a female runner significantly ahead of me midway through the race as the most challenging hills (a damn mountain really) approached. I remembered thinking to myself, "She's making this look really easy. I don't think I can catch her, but if I can stay with her, that'll be enough. Just don't quit. Keep her in your sights. Follow her to the finish line." She was the only runner in sight and she's a big reason I didn't give up though Spaulding Hill Road nearly killed me--and she'll never know it because I never caught her.

This time, I noticed another younger female runner who had been consistently ahead of me, but seemed like she could be caught. I thought back to the end of the CHN 5k earlier this spring. Then, I found myself chasing an even younger runner, waiting for her to faulter so I could pass. Eventually, I made my move, and passed her only to have her pass me again. Being a younger runner (12 or 13 years old, maybe), I think she used her kick too soon and that allowed me to blow past her in the final 200-meters.

Back to the Firecracker 5, fifth mile. Chasing a high school age female runner, maybe even drafting. Thinking, either follow her in or pass her, but don't let her get away. She's going to keep me on pace to set a PR. Right around 4.25 miles, I blew past her, going up a slight hill--and immediately regretted it. She was older than the girl from the CHN race, more experienced, stronger---and not willing to let me show her up. Within a quarter-mile, she zipped right past me and ahead. I thought to myself, "OK, you can have it. I just want my PR." I thought I'd spent my load too soon.

Then, with a 1/2 mile to go, something strange happened...again. Another kick? A third wind? Where the hell is this adrenaline coming from? "Shut up, and use it," I said to myself. Seeing the final turn ahead, I pushed forward past her. Almost immediately, she caught me and tried to pass, but I coughed a bit and faught her. I wanted to laugh as we entered the high school circle drive, literally neck and neck. A 4th of July fundraiser just turned into a race for pride. A grown man versus a teenage girl. A fair fight? I don't know.

Again, back to the CHN 5k and me literally sprinting--high stepping even through the final 100-meters and through the chute, ahead of my adolescent adversary.

"Alright, let's go," I huffed.

Smiles, applause, laughter maybe coming from the crowd at the finish line. "Look at these two," they're probably thinking. "That old guy is going to kill himself trying to keep up with her."

As the finish line got closer, I began to pull away. I finished just ahead of the teenager, almost taking out a few volunteers in the chute. I pressed stop on my Garmin, verified a new PR (41:11) and instantly turned  to find the girl who led me there. Exhausted, breathless and thankful, I wasn't going to let her get away without letting saying something. As I turned to pat her on the back and say, "Nice kick, thanks for pushing me." she beat me, hardly as out of breath as me, and said, "NICE job!" with a genuinely impressed look that translated into, "Geez, I didn't think you had it in you."

I didn't think I did either.

Planned (Actual split/overall)

Mile 1......8:20 (8:06)

Mile 2.....16:40 (8:18----16:24)

Mile 3......25:00 (8:26----24:36)

Mile 4......33:20 (8:05----33:02)

Mile 5......41:40 (8:13----41:11*)

*New 5-mile PR

Weight Loss Photos

Posted by Bill Skowronski on July 1, 2011 at 3:02 PM Comments comments (0)

July 1, 2011

I decided to FINALLY post a few photos chronicling my weight loss journey over the past year. I wanted to make sure I kept track of what I used to look like so I realized what's at stake. These photos (in the Photo Album) are disgusting, but they're reality.

June, 2010: 232.2 lbs

June, 2011: 192 lbs (-40lbs)

I'm very proud of all the progress I've made, yet I realize I still have further to go. Ultimately, I hope my journey inspires other people to believe in themselves. Like it's said, "If I can do it, so can you."

PRs (Personal Records) Updated

Posted by Bill Skowronski on July 1, 2011 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (0)


1m 7:03 CHN 11

2m 16:58

5k 23:33 CHN 11

4m 33:11

5m 41:11

6m 53:24

7m 1:00:10

8m 1:11:21

9m 1:27:08

13.1m 2:06:08 (RC2-2011); 2:04:00 (8-13-11 15 mile training run)

15m 2:21:54



Posted by Bill Skowronski on February 7, 2011 at 9:38 PM Comments comments (0)

So, half marathon training starts tomorrow and the forecast calls for -25 degree wind chills with 20-30 mph winds.


On my mind...

Posted by Bill Skowronski on February 4, 2011 at 9:04 AM Comments comments (0)

Saucony ProGrid Mirage

Treadmill sucks

It's too cold outside

Half Marathon training starts Monday, February 7th

Running Goals

Posted by Bill Skowronski on January 13, 2011 at 10:41 PM Comments comments (0)

My personal goals

  • Complete a 5k
  • Complete a 10k
  • Complete the RC2 Half Marathon (April 30, 2011)
  • Complete the Chicago Marathon (October 9, 2011)
  • Run a 5k in under 24:00
  • Break the 7:00 mile mark
  • Run a mile with Emma

PRs (Personal Records)

Posted by Bill Skowronski on January 13, 2011 at 10:05 PM Comments comments (0)

My best recorded running times


1-mile: 7:28..34

2-mile: 15:54.91

3-mile: 24:10.48

4-mile: 33:38.21

5-mile: 41:51.89

6-mile: 50:25.45

7-mile: 59:42.61

Running Gear

Posted by Bill Skowronski on January 13, 2011 at 9:51 PM Comments comments (0)

My must-have running gear includes:


Shoes: Saucony Guide 3

Socks: Fitsok

Tights: Under Armour Cold Gear

Shirts: Under Armour Cold Gear; Nike Dri-fit

Shorts: Champion C9; Nike

Gloves: Nike; Reebok

Hat/Balaclava: Champion C9

iPod: Shuffle



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