Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Defying Gravity or Lose Yourself

I was having a lot of trouble coming up with a title for this post, so you get to take your pick. Both come from songs that that have kind of hit me as my "go" songs when I am running. Whether it be a short 5 mile run or running in a half or full marathon, these are the two that I make sure that I listen to at some point (most of the time near the end of the run when there isn't much steam left in me). The two songs are "Defying Gravity" and "Lose Yourself". Yes, one is from a musical (I heard it first on Glee) and the other is a rap song by Eminem. I am more of a "top 40" person and yes, those two songs do seem like they should be polar opposites, but they definitely have everything I need when I am facing those last few miles of my training runs.

Feel free to take a listen, if you wish before moving on in the post:

Defying Gravity (Glee Version)
Lose Yourself (Eminem Clean Radio Edit)

I guess the real reason that these songs are my "go" songs is because each of them talk about tackling the obstacle you face head on and never ever look back. In the last two years of my life, that's what my motto has been. For those of you that are of the "Disney" persuasion we would call this "Keep Moving Forward" (Meet the Robinson). Where is this going? You'll see.

Two years ago, on January 20th, 2008 (yes today), I made a very painful decision to start changing my life around physically. No, I didn't have a life long illness. No, I did not have a heart attack. What I did have was a sore, how should I say this nicely, buttocks from getting kicked by one of two good friends. It was on that day that I decided that it was the kick I needed to (Twitter people who know me) #getoffthecouch.

For most of my elementary life I was known as the "chubby" kid. I just was. I was not involved in sports (not for the lack of my mom and dad trying to get my involved in it) and wasn't the most physical person. In high school, I was the guy that would do anything to sneak into the locker room, fake an injury, anything, so that I would not have to run in Phys Ed. Later on in university, you know how people talk about the "Freshmen 15" well mine was more like the "Freshmen 35-40". I just did not see the health risks related to not taking care of myself. One time, when it was cool, I went on Atkins Diet for a bit (you know, the NO carbohydrate one). Tried it, lost 20 pounds, gained it all back and then some.

Then, after I got my first teaching job in the Prairie South School Division, and I was placed at Peacock Collegiate (where I still teach), I started noticing that going from the bottom floor of stairs up to the third floor was making me winded. I seriously had to stop at the top to catch my breath. It was then that I decided that, "Well, I better start taking care of myself better." So, my thought was that I would go and walk for half an hour in the gym at the beginning of the day and let that be it. "Well, you changed your eating habits too, right Brett?" NOPE! I sure did not and I definitely came home after school, each day, and had a box of Honey Garlic Chicken Wings and Mozza Sticks (yes, yes I did) or a full pizza or fast food from Dairy Queen (they make good burgers by the way). Oh, and did I forget to mention that I was eating all of this stuff at 8:00 or 9:00 at night when I got home. Then, when I got on the scale every day I was wondering why I wasn't losing any weight. "I am walking! Shouldn't that be enough?" Obviously, this was not working. I was now at my heaviest, which is 245 pounds.

Well, two years ago, today, I received the kick that I needed to actually start down my new path. It was on this day that we had a workshop day at work and my teaching partners, Tana Rowe (B_Bmom on Twitter) and Stephen Lys said they were going to workout at noon at the school gym. While they, in fact, worked out; I just went on my way, walking the perimeter of the gym. Just walking, not breaking a sweat, la la la la. When it got closer to the time for us to head back to our workshop I went over to Tana and Stephen and noticed that they were dripping with sweat. It was then that we were walking away to change out that Stephen came up behind me and kicked me right in the butt and said, "the only way that you are going to change yourself, if YOU want to, is to get your heart rate up and learn to take care of yourself.....LEARN TO RUN!"

First thing to go through my mind was, "hey, my buddy just kicked me in the butt and it hurt!" My second thought was, "he is RIGHT!" Tana said the exact same thing and that it was time to start taking care of myself and quit making excuses not to. That was just what I needed to hear. Filled with the things that they said and a little bit of rage because of actually hearing the truth, I got into my car, and headed home to start the first process in this whole thing. That started with the cleansing of the fridge. I stormed into my apartment, grabbed a big garbage bag, opened the fridge door and through our not one, but two garbage bags of everything that I considered to be "junk". Bye bye chicken wings, mozza sticks, ice cream, TV dinners that had over 1200 calories per package. How did it feel? Great! Was this what control of your life felt like?

The next thing, that day, I headed to Superstore (grocery store) and channeled my grade 9 health class and filled my cart with fruits, veggies, bread, lean meat, and anything else that was healthy stuff that I had looked at but avoided buying for a long time because they weren't tasty or quick enough to make. My goal? To eat more fresh things! Plus, not have anything in the house that I could be tempted with. "Well you must have bought something sweet to snack on as a treat, right Brett?" I am not going to lie, NO, I did not. I didn't want to try that just yet as I didn't want to tempt myself. Thus, no treats at this point.

Ok! Eating, done! Now, what about this running and getting my heart rate up thing. The next day I headed to the gym at the school, once again, this time with a different mind set. I was going to run for half and hour and see what I felt like. It took me two laps around the gym (1 minute) around the gym that this was not going to be easy. Plus, it didn't help that there were students in the gym for a class to see a teacher running and having to stop after a minute. Wow, was I that out of shape? Yep! I needed help! Oh, plus did I tell you that I was running in DC Skater shoes because I thought I could run in them. I think I just heard a collective gasp from all the runners out there.

It was then that the our girl's Phys Ed. teacher noticed what I was doing and she told me that if I was going to start this that I should try running a lap and then walk a lap. Then start building to running two laps and walking one lap. Where was that going to get me? Seriously. I just wanted to run. How hard should this be. So there I was, over the next few weeks, walking, running, walking, running, walking, and running some more.

Now, you are probably thinking that it's like a fairytale, "he transformed into a runner and was able to run for many miles. He dropped all the weight and lived happily ever after." You couldn't be further from the truth. I had just started my second week when my knees started to really hurt. It was getting bad and I asked Tana and Stephen what I should do. The said I had something called "shin splints" or "runner's knee" from running on the wrong pair of shoes. I couldn't believe it. I, Brett Young, had a sport's injury. ME!? A SPORT'S INJURY! It hurt really bad but I thought it was cool to actually have a sport's injury for the first time in my life. By this time I think the both of them were thinking that maybe I could stick with this for a bit longer so they said, "you need to go and invest in some running shoes." I still remember Tana taking me to our local sports store where I tried on about 10 pairs of shoes. She told me that I could not buy based on the brand but make sure that the shoe felt stable and comfortable. Well, like a sport's fairytale, I found the shoe (like Cinderella) that fit. I bought my first pair of Asics 2110 that day. I, Brett Young, had bought some running shoes that would actually be used for the purpose they were assigned.

The first morning, back at the gym, my thoughts were centred on the fact that these shoes would fix my shin splints. Nope. My legs still hurt. It was then that Tana and Stephen said I should stop running for a week. WHAT? STOP RUNNING? You two got me into this, made me buy new shoes, and now you are telling me to stop!? After they peeled me off the ceiling they told me to take a week off of running and get on the stationery bike that was in the gym. With hesitation I got on and still found that, even though I was not running, I was getting my heart rate up. Plus, getting a good sweat on. That had to be a plus.

After a week of the bike and eating the right foods every single day, something weird happened. Could it be that my pants were feeling just a little bit loose? Not a lot, but a little? I tried not to get too excited but it definitely got me back in the gym and back to running. Plus, after the week off, my legs were feeling great and I started to notice I was running a few more laps of the gym then I had the previous week. It was then that Renee (our girl's Phys Ed. teacher) said, "Don't you get bored of being in the gym, you should start running outside in the fresh hair." My first reaction, "UMMMM, NO! I don't want anyone to see me running and the fat jiggling!" Our vice-principal, Derrick, started noticing that I was getting interested in running and showed me a 2.5 mile loop, on Google Earth, around where we live. They both said that my new goal should be to make it around the 2.5 mile loop without stopping to walk. When I looked at the loop on the screen it looked like one giant circle that looked impossible to run.

The night, after work, I went running for the first time outside. Yes, the fresh air was good but did I stop to walk every time a car came towards me? You bet! I didn't want to people to see me. My thought was, "what would my family and other friends say if they saw me out here, running?" Why did that question bug me? Why did I care what others thought? Well, I made out about a quarter of the way through the loop before I had to walk. I walked and ran the entire loop. It took me about an hour and 15 minutes to get through one loop. This was my new goal. I was going to conquer this loop by running it all without stopping to walk.

A few weeks went by and I worked and worked on that loop, almost daily (I used Sundays as my day off on the advice of Tana and Stephen). All this time, my main focus was conquering that loop. On Febrary 28th, I conquered my loop. I don't remember the time, but I had conquered the distance. Also, could it be that I was using more loops in my belt and my pants were starting to bunch up. I had spent so much time conquering the loop that I had forgotten that I was burning calories by getting my heart rate up, and that was.......MAKING ME LOSE WEIGHT! WHAT? I jumped on the scale and found that my 245 pounds was down to 220. I had to take a second look and weighed myself on 3 different scales. Sure enough, 25 pounds was gone. This was working. I was changing physically and I had actually set a goal myself that I met!

Then I was told that I was signing up for a half marathon. WHO? WHAT? HUH? ME? Yep! There I was being told by Tana, Stephen, Renee, and Derrick that I was going to sign up for this. It was taking place near the end of April and I was going to do it. No questions asked. How long is a half marathon? 13 miles. You are joking? You mean 13 Km. Nope. 13 miles. 21 Km. Ok, I just finished conquering a 2.5 mile loop and you are expecting me to run that loop 5 times to make up 13 miles? Yep! So after they pulled me back into the room after I tried to create a "Brett shaped hole" in the door, they told me that 13 other teachers were signing up as well and that I would have the support that I needed.

With hesitation and pressure I went online and signed up for Regina City Police Half Marathon. My feelings the second I hit the "submit entry" button? HELP! I AM NOT GOING TO MAKE IT! CAN I GET A REFUND? THIS HAS GOT TO BE SOME MISTAKE! YOU HAVE THE WRONG PERSON! I CAN'T DO THIS! Did anyone else feel this way when they ran their first half? You KNOW that feeling!

That night I went and told my family and friends that I had signed up for this race. They did their best to support me but I am sure that deep down they were saying, "What is Brett doing? He has never showed an interest in this before. Brett, a person who runs. Brett? A runner?" However, most of them turned on the smiles, patted me on the back and said, "go for it!" What they thought after that, I don't know. All I knew was that I could not back out of this now.

So a number of weeks of went by and I trained. I trained and trained. We all used this half marathon guide to get our training in. Renee ensured us that it would get us to the finish line. What choice did I have? I had to trust her and believe that I could do this. Would I be fast? Absolutely not but my goal was to get to the end. That's it! GET TO THE END! Plus, could it be that I was getting thinner? Got on the scale again. 195 pounds. HUH? The last time I was under 200 was when I was in grade 10. However, this weight loss was overshadowed by the worrying fact that I still had to run a half marathon with 700 other runners.

If you have run a half marathon or remember your first one, you know the feeling. I don't even have to describe it to you. Your nerves are shot. You feel sick. You can't believe that you signed up for this. Why did you sign up for this? You didn't train enough. What if you come in dead last or not finish at all. However, out of all of these emotions, there is a twinge of excitement in you that knows, you can do this.

I still remember getting to the start line, looking around and wishing I was on the other side with the spectators. That would have been the fat boy in me talking. "Hey Brett, are you ready to jump out of the airplane without a parachute? You can't do this! Walk away!" is what he kept saying. Then "Oh Canada" was played and the gun went off. We started to move. I could not move back or to the side. I had to "keep moving forward."

The race went great. I wasn't last. However, your first finish line is quite an emotional thing. I still remember seeing it and just saying to myself, "GO!" When I crossed the finish line I remember thinking, "I could have gone a bit further." That is when I knew that that finish line was the starting point of something amazing that was going to happen in my life. I was going to do this again. I, Brett Young, had completed a half marathon. I, Brett Young, had done this. Me. Well, me and the support of many others in my life.

A week later, you know what I did? I hit the "submit entry" button again. This time I registered for a full marathon that would take place in September. So that summer, I trained, and trained and trained and trained. Was it tough? You bet! Was it amazing? You bet. One of my long runs had me running 20 miles which is exactly the distance from my front door to our family farm. I am still sure, to this day, my uncle and aunt (who live out there) were shocked to see me run into the farm yard.

On September 13th, 2008, I completed my first full 26.2 mile marathon. I still remember crossing that finish line and collapsing into my dad, mom, sister, brother-in-law, niece, Tana, Stephen, and Renee's arms. They were all there waiting at the finishing line for me. Tears coming down my face and the realization that I was not just "a guy who runs" I was a "marathon runner".

So, if you are wondering how this has all turned out, here it is; in two years I have completed:

2 10k races
5 half marathons
2 full marathons

This year, so far, I have signed up for 2 half marathons, 1 full marathon, and in 2011 I will be running in Walt Disney World's Goofy's Race and Half Challenge. What is that? Well that is where you run a half marathon one day and a full marathon the next day. Yes, you read that right. 2 days, 39.3 miles. What do I say to that? BRING IT! I have also branched out from the running and am attending the gym on a regular basis with cardio training on the ellyptical (to give my legs a break from the pavement), weight training, and going to a Bosu class on a weekly basis.

Today, as it is a special day in my life when I started on this journey, I actually challenged the two grade nine Phys Ed. classes at Peacock to run for 15 minutes or 30 minutes. For everyone that ran for 15 minutes I would donate $1 dollar. 30 minutes and I would donate $2 dollars to Haiti. I am proud to say that for all the grade nines that met the challenge, we raised $137 dollars. that means that over 90% of them ran for 30 minutes today and I have to cut a cheque and I am happy to do it! I am so very proud of them. Plus I got to run with them which made it extra special!

Oh, and have I mentioned that I am now down to 175 pounds from 245 pounds and that I have gone from a 40 inch waist to a 30 inch waist. Plus I am wearing M shirts now and not XL or XXL?

Now, do I write this post to brag about my accomplishments? Absolutely! However, it's not just about that. What have I taken away from the last two years of being on this journey?

1. I have learned that anything is possible when you set your mind to it and actually do it.

2. Losing weight does not happen overnight even though there are many "fad diets" and "diet pills" that would disagree with me. It happens when you sweat and eat the right foods. Plus realize that if you put in the time you will reap the rewards.

3. You need to surround yourself with POSITIVE people. Negative people will do everything to bring you down and keep you from your goals. Keep your positive people close and never let them go. You NEED them! Even when they physically kick you in the butt.

4. In the song "Lose Yourself" there is a lyric that states that "the moment, you own it, you better never let it go. You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow because opportunity only comes once in a lifetime." It took me 28 years to get my shot to find something that I am good at and enjoy in life that is rewarding physically and emotionally. I am going to hold onto this for as long as I can. I have worked too hard to get here to just let it slip away. I am physically in the best shape of my life and emotionally I am able to look at problems a lot more easier after going through this journey (which I am still on).

5. In the song "Defying Gravity" there is a line that states, "I'm through accepting limits, cause someone says they're so. Something things I cannot change, but till I try, I'll never know." When I started this journey I thought is was impossible because there was myself and others that said, "you can't do this. Why are you doing this?" I tried, and guess what? I found out that I can change things, as long as I am willing to work my butt off to get it, and know that "I CAN DO THIS!"

For those of you that have read this far, congrats. I never thought the post would get this long. However, it is something that I have wanted to write for a long time. I guess my whole point to this post is to show that, and I know this sounds cliche, but if I can do it, you can do it, as well. You just have to be willing to do it. YOU! No one else. You have a choice to get what you want in life. Whether that by physically, emotionally, spiritually, or whatever you see in your life that you want to change. Also, seek the help that you need to accomplish your goals. You are the one that has to do it but who says that you can't have help along the way? I was the one who got to that start line and the finish line. However, I had help to get there. Who are the people in your life that can help you reach your goals? I know that I am so blessed to have many of them in my life.

To get even more personal, who are the people that would give you the kick in the butt that you need? Those are people to hold onto!

Until next time!

Plus, because people have asked about what I looked like before and now, the left-hand picture was taken in 2007 and the right hand picture was taken today. Here it is:


  1. Great story Brett! Very similar to my own journey except you've figured out the eating & I still struggle there. I am training for the Dopey in 2011 - added the 5K! Hope to see you there.

  2. Brett,

    Thanks for the great post. It's very inspirational, and your journey is something I need to get myself to do, as well. THANK YOU!


  3. A Journey I never invisioned but have enjoyed watching your travel it. Reminds me of Bud Lite Year.. to infinity and beyond. Good Luch Coach Young.. that is one thing you will have to blog is who ever thought of you being a have inspired all of us in the family .. that is worth a blog to..... Dad

  4. Amazing story, Brett! Thanks for sharing it with us! You are a true superstar.

  5. Just found this after seeing your post today on mutual friends' facebook and twitter feeds. This is just the inspiration I needed as I start the 2nd year of my own journey and set out to train for my first 5k in May. Congratulations and thanks for sharing. @cindykw