A friend’s look at running the race well

This post is written by my friend Greg Zastrow, who my Dad has dubbed “my house pastor.” Actually he is one of my house church leaders, their neighbor,  but more he is a friend as his whole wonderful family has become a close part of my life. Greg has this way of going for the gusto when he decides to do something… this is his story of changing the way he thinks about food, health, God and running the race well. I hope you enjoy and are encouraged by his journey. Anything in italics is my input… yea had to get my 2 cents in!

Greg’s running journey

My over-the-hill running adventure officially began early last September when I struggled to run 1.5 miles around a park in my neighborhood. Since then I have logged over 400 miles running including finishing my first half-marathon (13.1 miles) in less than 2 hours, an 8 minute 32 second per mile pace. I would like to briefly share with you how I became a runner, how I fuel my body on primarily plant-based whole foods. Honestly, if I can do this, so can many of you.

In my youth and through my early 30’s I played a lot of soccer, so I’ve had previous experience training, but back then I never liked to “just run.” After many years of working a desk job, living a sedentary life and eating the typical American diet filled with a lot of red meat, fat, and sugar, I weighed almost 230 pounds. At 5’8”, I was technically “obese” with a body-mass index in the mid-30’s. Approaching my 50th birthday I was inspired by my close friend, Debbie Deisher, to significantly reduce fat, sugar, flour, salt and dairy from my diet. In late 2010 I adopted these changes and began eating more vegetables, fruit, grains and legumes. Just by changing my diet I lost about 20 pounds in several months. (Much to the distress of our house church as Greg always made the brown sugar bacon on “brinner night!)

In early 2011, Debbie and a couple other friends became excited about the opportunity to run outdoors as the weather began to warm. Conversations also turned to running events and I realized that after 20 years living in Miamisburg, I had never run the Turkey Trot, which is a 5-mile run the morning of Thanksgiving. For our small town, this is a big event with over 7,000 participants annually. At that time I weighed 207 pounds and I declared that since I was going to be 50, I hoped to run the Turkey Trot in 50 minutes.

As summer approached, I began walking and riding my bicycle before starting to run. I believe this was a good approach for several reasons: It was an attainable goal so I didn’t become discouraged; Walking and biking put less stress on my joints than running; I was able to minimize stress on my heart by gradually increase my cardio workouts, and I began converting fat into muscle, especially in my legs. During the summer I began using a cellphone app to track my bicycling. This allowed me to “compete” for personal best times and speeds. I worked my way up to about a 15 mile/hr pace over distances of 10 to 15 miles and by late-August I completed a 30 mile ride at a 12-mile-per-hour average pace.

As I went through the summer, I only lost about 5-10 more pounds but I was getting in better shape overall. More importantly, because of my diet changes I was able to work with my doctor to eliminate my need for cholesterol medication. (and avoid any diabetic medications as Greg had shared that his doctor was closely watching his glucose levels.)

At the beginning of September I still had not run even one mile, realizing that the Turkey Trot was less than three months away, I set out for my first run on September 4. My goal that day was to run 2 miles in 20 minutes. I figured that would be a good start and I would add a quarter to a half mile each week until I could run 5 miles in 50 minutes. That first run was a disaster, but an important step. Even after a lot of biking during the summer, I was ready to stop after 5 minutes and only a half mile of running. I struggled on, but I stopped at 1.5 miles frustrated, disappointed and concerned that I might collapse. There is a big difference in the muscles used in bicycling and running so this wasn’t going to be as easy as I anticipated. An amazing and encouraging thing happened in the world of social networking. When the cellphone app posted my run time on Facebook, I received encouragement from five or six friends, which was about five or six more than had ever said anything about my grueling bicycle rides. I discovered that there is a whole subculture of people who run and they are a very tight community. (runners are geeks in great looking shoes!)  Later I discovered that this community doesn’t really compete against each other, but each individual strives for his or her own personal best.

My second run I was motivated by my friends, but I also incorporated a strategy to combine running and walking rather than tackling the entire distance at a fast pace. So two days later, I ran for 4 minutes then walked for 1 minute. I repeated this for 3 miles, finishing in about 32 minutes. I continued this strategy of running and walking for a couple more weeks. Eleven days after my first run, I completed 2 miles under 20 minutes and I posted “I’m a runner” as my status. That declaration was transforming for me. By the end of September I had completed a 45 minute run, an 8-mile run, purchased new running shoes and then I was amazed by what happened next. I ran 5 miles in under 45 minutes!

Greg is center after the Turkey Trot with my brother, Todd right and nephew Zach left.

Along this journey running had become a time to worship God, pray and enjoy His creation. God is the one who gave me the strength and the will to run. For the first time in my life I really began to appreciate the amazing way He created our bodies. With tears of joy I gave praise to God after running 5 miles at a 9 minute pace!

After I began running I decided to make an appointment with my physician for routine blood testing and for a general physical. Honestly, I didn’t want my “15 minutes of fame” to be about a middle-aged man who dropped over dead at a local running event. I had a great conversation about running with him, as he has ran almost 40 marathons since the mid-70’s. He affirmed that I was in strong enough physical condition to train for long distance running and he was very impressed with all of my “numbers” as he reviewed the results of my blood tests. As he compared my test results with similar results from previous years, he was amazed and I was glowing with excitement. This led to a relatively long, by doctor’s standards, 5-10 minute discussion about plant-based whole food eating choices that I had been making for the past year.

Let me be clear about how I achieved a clean bill of health from my doctor. Diet and exercise are both factors, but good health begins and ends with food choices. I run because I’m healthy, but I am not healthy just because I run. As much as I want to encourage you to exercise, I first want you to eat healthy so you can enjoy exercising and get the most benefit from exercise. In one day you can completely change your diet, but achieving great results from exercise requires time. Commitment, determination and faithfulness are required for both diet and exercise. Begin today by replacing fat, sugar, flour, salt and dairy with vegetables, fruit, grains and legumes. Begin exercising by simply moving a little more today than you did yesterday. Start exercising with stretches to “wake up” your muscles. If you’ve been sedentary for a long time, walk. If you haven’t been to your doctor lately, schedule an appointment for a general physical and blood testing. As you do physical work around the house, gradually increase the pace with which you perform your work. Plant a garden, clean the windows, wash the car, clean out the garage or attic, or play a game in the back yard. Enjoy eating healthy foods, enjoy moving your body and enjoy life. And as you start breathing heavy, give praise to God for every breath He gives you.

Greg has continued on this journey… He is running the Flying Pig 1/2 marathon next Sunday. This will be his second endurance run. He sent me this message today after his 12 mile run, I asked his permission to share it with his story…

As I sip my smoothie to recover from my 12 mile training run, I want to give a little testimony about the importance of prayer and nutrition for athletics and life in general. Above all else, being in communion with God through prayer and worship throughout the course of the day is essential. God is faithful. He gives us every breath, and as we worship Him throughout the day or during an athletic event, He gives us strength to finish well.

Regarding nutrition, I have learned by my mistakes. Last week I ate pizza twice, I had some ham, and a couple sweet desserts. (excuses, but this was during a family funeral, stressful eating, we all do it) During the week I put on 3 pounds. When I ran my short 3-5 mile runs this week I felt bad and my running times were not very good. I honestly felt like my blood was “thicker” than usual and that my muscles weren’t getting the oxygen they needed. With the half marathon less than two weeks away, I grew concerned that my training was beginning to tank. So this week, I have focused on eating healthy and praying for God to give me strength and determination. At house church I passed on the fried chicken and cookies, opting for two servings of salad instead. And the results? The bodies God has created for us are marvelous machines. Today I had sustained strength for 101 minutes as I ran 12 miles. My circulatory system felt like it was flowing smoothly, giving my muscles the nutrients and oxygen needed for the continuous demand of the run.

Today I am a happy man because I have loved and worshipped God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind. Thank you for your prayers and faithful encouragement. I trust you will experience great joy in the Lord today!

There you have it my friends… one man’s journey to take care of all he has been given. When I first met Greg I noticed he had done  that well in all aspects of his life, except possibly his health accepting as we all do that this was a part of aging. God is the one who numbers our days, take care of those He has given you… and run the race well!

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