Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Story...Live Uncommon

In January of 2008 I climbed off the scale after seeing my highest number ever...202. The pictures to come show the proof of my gradual weight gain. Since graduating from college and ending my competitive running at 148 back in 2002 I had slowly (or sometimes rapidly) let the weight pile on. In 2008 I was teaching full-time and coaching year round 3 varsity sports. I had 2 weeks during the school year when I wasn't coaching...1 week between cross country and basketball and another week after the state track meet before school let out for the summer. I was so busy teaching and coaching I used it as an excuse to let my health falter. I distinctly remember running across the school parking lot on a cold January day in 2008 and by the time I got to my car I was completely out of breath and my heart rate was sky high. It must have been a couple months before that when I tried to run the Turkey Trot with Jen but couldn't stay with her. My lower back hurt so bad from all the weight I was carrying on my stomach I had to stop and walk during the race. I had always enjoyed spending my time in the summer training and racing in triathlons. I could typically place in my age group by the end of the summer but always started the summer in such bad shape it would take the entire summer before I started to round into shape. I would get my weight down to 175 and the results would begin to come. In 2008 I was contemplating not even racing. Payton was born on June 1 that summer and I had the excuse that I would be too busy with a newborn in the house. That is when I met Stephan Marsh. Stephan was a recent University of Iowa grad who was home for the summer preparing to embark on a journey through law school. He had gotten hooked on the sport of triathlon and wanted me to train with him. At first I explained how bad of shape I was in and told him I didn't think I was going to race that summer. Stephan told me he didn't care if I raced or not but he encouraged me to train with him. When I met Stephan for our first bike ride he told me we were going to ride 50 miles. 50 miles!!! I thought he was crazy. I was fat and in terrible shape but I did the ride with him and when I was done I had a sense of accomplishment. I had done something I didn't think I could ever do. I remember meeting him at the track not long after that and I had to stop the workout because I was hurting so bad. As I trained more with Stephan I began to lose weight. 185...180...175...and finally 172 before the Chicago Triathlon where I completed the Olympic Distance race in 2 hrs. 5 minutes. I began to set goals for myself. I saw HUGE improvements in my racing that summer while working out with Stephan. I won a couple small races near my home town and I realized my improvements in health had lead to a new higher self-esteem. I was no longer embarrassed with my physique and my health. The wheels in my head started turning...what if I didn't get fat through the school year...what if I worked out every day like I was in the summer...what if I stopped coaching year round and instead went all in focusing on my own health? The more I thought about this the more I wanted to see if I could do it. I began looking up professional triathlon results. I began looking at pro triathletes' websites. I started to wonder if I could compete with them if I went all in and made some tremendous committments to a healthy lifestyle. At the time I was 28. I knew that I had many years to coach high school sports but my window of opportunity to see how good I could be in the sport of triathlon was not nearly as big. I wanted to do it. The more I thought about it the more fixated with the idea of trying this I became. I went to the arsenal late in the summer of 2008 to meet with Jen for lunch. I was giddy. She had no idea what I had been thinking for the past couple weeks. While eating lunch I asked her what she thought and she encouraged me to go for it...and the Big Dreams were born. I still had to coach my final season of cross country in 2008 and I decided I would begin my big committment to training the Monday after the state meet. I still remember the date...November 3rd.
By the following October I had my weight down to 162 and I won the Longhorn 70.3 amateur race and earned the right to race professionally. My goal all year had been to earn that right. I knew I would have to have a new goal for myself. There were many people that doubted I could actually compete at the professional level. I set a goal of proving to myself that I could! That goal was put on hold when achilles tendon surgery ended my 2010 season. My pro debut would have to wait until March of 2011 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I placed 20th of 22 pro finishers...hardly grounds for proving anything. In May I had another crack...this time at Ironman St. George. I had all kinds of mechanical problems on the bike and my day ended when I crashed at mile 108 of the bike...still no proof. I began to wonder if I really belonged. I worked harder than ever. On July 17th I raced a 1/2 Ironman in Racine, Wisconsin and placed 6th out of 18 pros...finishing as the 2nd American across the line and missing a pro paycheck by 1 minute. I belong! I had run my way from 11th to 6th and knew as I ran in the last couple hundred yards this was proof to myself I can compete with the best. The feeling was awesome.
My goals have changed once again. I still want to become the best triathlete I can be. I'm more hungry than ever to earn a pro award (which is a paycheck). This however is not my biggest nor most important goal any more. My bigger goals now are to inspire people to DREAM BIG...inspire ordinary people with full-time careers and families to make time for physical fitness...inspire them to set goals no matter how big or small they may be. In many ways I was inspired by the kids I coached. Kids like Charlie Paul who couldn't even make the Fresh/Soph top 7 his freshman year and he later finished 3rd in the state 3200. This weekend Charlie ran a 14:23 5k at Iowa State where he has continued to amaze and inspire me. There were countless other kids I coached who showed me what can happen when you take a chance at being great. I have realized that my own story can do this. The further I go and the more I improve can have an impact on people I've never met. The odds are stacked against me. I'm in an extreme minority of professional triathletes in the fact that I'm married, have 2 awesome children, and teach full-time. I don't want to be good at just one of those...I want to be great in every one of those aspects. I want to be a great husband to Jen, want to be a super-dad for my kids, want to be the best history teacher my students have ever had. I want to be the best triathlete I can possibly be and I want to prove all these things can be done simultaneously! Like I said, the odds of the triathlon part are low...but I've never been one to care much for odds. There's a reason games are played and races are run. I want to defy the do something most would say is impossible! The most fulfilling thing of this entire journey is when I meet people at races that tell me they follow my blog and it has inspired them to work out or do their first triathlon or even 5k. It makes me realize the impact my own story can have on others. It can be done. No goal is too big...set the bar high and work for it. Have patience because there will be surgery comes to mind. Believe that it can happen...then picture yourself doing it...picture how great it feels. One thing I learned from the book Psychology of Winning is that the body can't differentiate between mental imagery and physical doing. When you picture yourself doing something there's a much greater chance it will be accomplished when the actual day comes. The mental preparation is like the rehearsal.
Live Uncommon is a non-profit organization born in the Quad Cities that seeks to inspire busy people to live healthy and active. We have a great start going. I now see students in my Jr. High wearing Live Uncommon and living out the goals of the movement. I see people in the community running on the bike path in Live Uncommon shirts. It's awesome to bring awareness to physical fitness and health...especially awareness to young people. It is scary when I walk into a classroom and 1 in 3 of our adolescents is at risk of obesity. The age of technology has given people more excuses why not to be fit. Together we can change this. Together we can inspire. Together we can Live Uncommon. Check out the awesome website at Thanks for reading! DREAM BIG!


Journey to 2012 Leadville - Byrne said...

Way cool Jeff! For some reason I thought you were always in top physical shape. It is inspiring to let people know you were at a point they might be at now - and that they can have hope to get closer to where you are if they commit and work hard. Very inspiring - moreso because of how far you have come! Thanks.

John Byrne

Anonymous said...

This is probably your most inspiring blog yet. It's amazing how far you have progressed from just a couple of years ago. I also thought you were always in great shape, I was shocked to see the pictures. Thanks for keeping the weekly updates going, I know I'm not the only one who enjoys reading them. If you take requests, I'd like to see what you take in for nutrition. What's a typical day of eating for you and where do you get your calories (% carbs, protein, etc). Thanks!

Phil Pancrazio said...

I've followed your blog for the past few years so I know your story. I still enjoy reading how dream big came to be. It is great motivation for everyone - old followers and new followers.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I'm fairly new to the running game. In 2007 I weighed 270 lbs. I decided that was enough. It was time for a change. I started running 1 mile 2-3 times a week and began to eat better. Everything started to change. Now I run 6 days a week and train for whatever race I am planning on running. I love to be competitive. I have won a few medals in my age bracket but I want to get so much faster. You inspire me to chase that dream. Thank You, Brian

Jeff Paul said...

Thanks John and Phil! Brian, your weight loss and committment to health is incredible!! Keep up the great work guys! I'll try to get a post on my nutrition soon. It's definitely become something I've put more emphasis on each year. I don't know my % of carbs, protein, and fat calories but I'll detail what I can soon. Thanks for the comments!