Over the past six months Mark Lemmons has embarked on a pretty amazing journey with his running. We all have a different “why” as it relates to endurance sports and our training. In this month’s issue of the Extra Mile Mark shares insights to his “why”, what this experience has meant to him and the positive impact it is having on his life. At 53 years young, Mark’s passion and commitment to better health are a great example for all of us. His “A” race for the year is the Kuai Half Marathon in September.
Q: Can you share a little about your background and history with running/endurance sports.
I have never thought of myself as an athlete. I have a vivid memory of the President’s Fitness test: 1 Mile Run, when I was in 3rd grade. My recollection is literally being last in my class, and from then on I told myself I couldn’t run, and I didn’t. I did lots of skiing and hiking, but never from an athlete’s mindset. Fast forward, my kids both excelled in various endurance sports. My son Phillip did triathlon at CU, and my daughter Hannah has run marathons and works as a personal trainer. They opened my eyes to the power of consistency, and exposed me to the positive benefits of it, and in short, it became a family thing. My son got me to do the 100 for a 100 challenge on Slowtwitch for the first time I think in 2018. This is where you try to run 30 minutes or 3 miles every day for 100 days, and I went from never having run to the first time I tried it running 55 days in a row I think, and of course getting myself injured. I kept trying that without much success, but through this process I fell in love with running and trail running, and that brings me to this year’s challenge. My goal was to get through a slightly modified version of the challenge without getting injured, and Phillip suggested I connect with Brad and I did it. I ran 40+ out of the hundred days, without injury, and I managed to run 187 miles and I was 226 out of 600 participants. 479 of them had at least 1 run. So, yeah, I am an endurance person it turns out. I may not be fast, but I can do hard things, and my kids taught me this.
Q: What was the main motivation to start running again and work with a coach?
In a nutshell, health. Run for health. I wanted to improve my long-term cardiovascular health. I didn’t want to get injured, and I wanted to be able to enjoy a hard trail run. Also, I wanted to be able to lose weight. Put this all in a box and It’s all about using something I can do anywhere, any time (running) to get healthier, and it’ already paid so many dividends. I’ve lost 23 pounds since October, my resting heart rate is 56. I can run a long run and not be wrecked for the rest of the day. I can just tell I’m stronger and healthier and I feel so much better. I wanted to do something sustainable and not get injured, and coaching is key in this regard. I don’ know why, in retrospect, I thought I could do something this hard without access to support, expertise, and structure, but wow, it’s the key to the process. I don’ have to think. I’m doing a 45-minute easy run today because it’s part of the plan that my coach set. I know it’ part of the long-term plan to achieve my goals. Would I be running today without the plan? How long? How far? How fast? How effective? These are all questions I answer with my coach, and this works for me.
Q. What has been the biggest surprise for you with the training process and what do you enjoy most about it?
I was just telling my wife this, that I don’t think of myself as a person that thrives on structure, but clearly, I do in some ways. So, the surprise is how important the structure is on which your goals and objectives and everything sits. It’s like the foundation. In more direct terms, I think the surprise is how much work you have to do, how consistent you have to be, how patient, and therefore how important that foundation is. As the saying goes, nothing worth doing is easy, so this must be extremely worthwhile. Yeah, this is hard, and I was bouncing off my goals in the past because I didn’t have the foundation in place either metabolically or from a plan standpoint, so the surprise is this becomes sort of a good thing if you give it time. Once you realize you are making progress, and because you have the foundation of the structure in place, you start to see your progress and it builds, you become more committed and more attached to the life of all this, and its deeply wonderful. It’s a deep joy that directly relates to how hard it is. How is it that I can realize how hard it is and how slow the progress can feel, and this can actually be more supportive of higher commitment over time? I don’t know, I am learning, but applying this to other areas of my life and deepening my commitment to other things that I might have bounced off before, because yeah, I can do hard things over the long haul, which is where the deepest value is. Also, I should have said this first - I love that my whole family is part of this journey, and a big part of why I’ve had some sticking power.
Q. What has been the greatest challenge for you with your return to running and how have you managed working through this?
Patience. It’s part of endurance. I want my body to go faster in all regards, and I have to be patient. My impatience is the biggest challenge. Sometimes I’ll be on a run and I’ll just be like a vandal. I can hear Brad in my ear telling me to keep it light, aerobic, conversational I couldn’t run at all and not redline in the beginning. This is the hardest thing for me is wishing I had built this foundation sooner, so there’s some regret there but only if I spend time looking backwards. Your eyes are on the front of your head for a reason. So I’m just going to keep going.
Q. You have made some impressive gains with your overall fitness and weight loss. What do you attribute your success to and has it been a combination of the training and adjustments with your daily nutrition?
I have to be honest with this. Have I adjusted my diet? Yes, but not as much as I should. I would say my nutrition is ok but I have a few vices, and I still do, but I’ve tried to keep it sustainable. You can’t change everything at once. I do know before my weekend long run I crave a certain breakfast with these greens that I love. I can definitely feel the impact of better nutrition vs lesser nutrition. I am motivated now, seeing the results, and I am taking more ground as I’m able in this regard.
Q: What role does strength training have in your program?
I train with my daughter Hannah at Core Progression in Arvada twice a week, and the training is oriented to support my running and trying not to get injured, and I think it has been another key aspect of why I could get through the 100 for a 100 this year without issue. I feel much stronger than past years where I didn’t have this component, and I haven’t had some problems that were just chronic before. I also had some hip issues that have resolved since I started the strength stuff. Bottom line, running is high impact and I think you need to round out the narrowness of running with core fitness and I think it’s a big part of both doing what I’m doing without injury, but also sustainability. If I miss it for some reason, I miss it - I know it’s supporting me on the journey and view it as integral. Hannah is really good at what she does, specifically listening to what’s going on, what are areas of concern, and fine tuning what I’m doing. This has shown me some gaps that I need to watch as I get a bit older, where strength is ebbing and I need to focus. Anyway, it’s a real joy to me that my adult kids and my wife have helped me on this journey, and it’s just been a family thing.
Q: Tell us about your successful completion of the 100/100 challenge. What are you most proud of with it?
I am so excited about getting through it this year healthy. My approach was, almost pretend the challenge isn’t happening and use Brad’s plan to be my runs, and it really worked. The challenge was modified this year to be 20 mins or 2 miles per day. You run as much as you can. So this year I did more runs than any year except the first year I tried it, but I ran far more miles this time, I think about 32 more miles, with like 9 fewer runs, and I really learned the definition of fitness. To me it’s the quantity of work you can output over a given time. My fitness this year just went so far up, and I felt so much less tired. You could see this on my Training Peaks dashboard, I was able to sustain the same pace as I ran before (it’s slow!) but at a far healthier heart rate. I ran the first day of the challenge and the last. I’m just so proud that I completed it uninjured. It’s a huge mix of people in the challenge year to year, but I would have never considered myself an endurance athlete before, but in a way I am, and this proved it to me. I may not go fast, but I do go far! It’s just fun. I couldn’t have done it without you Brad, thanks.
Q. What advice do you have for anyone who is looking to make healthy lifestylechanges?
Get a coach. Don’t wait. Be honest with yourself. Time is ticking so do it! Beyond that, understand the deep value of expertise. Any journey worth taking deserves a guide. The power, support, and protection of the right guide just cannot be overstated. I can’t believe I ever tried going it alone. What could be more important than health and energy? Pair the right guide with lights out commitment. Let nothing stop you.
Final comments and thoughts
Thanks for this opportunity to share my story, and brag on my kids. In all seriousness, I Wouldn’t have done this without insights and introductions from them, and the support of my whole family. I’m still in the early stages of what feels like a long journey that I am excited to keep going on. Next stop - Behind the Rocks