Couch potato to Ironman - Part 1

Keith

Keith

I’m 50 years old, I can’t do that! Or I’m in my 40s, I’m too old for that.  Chances are that every one of us at some time in the recent past has either said those words or heard someone else say them. 

For me, I never said those words but my lifestyle had gotten to a point where they were becoming a reality.  Then, it happened, the light that had gone out many years before came back on and eventually shined brighter than it ever had before.  That light was my love of fitness and pushing myself to new limits.

First off let me say that I am just an ordinary guy, there is nothing special about me.  I have my good days and my bad day.  I have days at the gym or on the road that are awesome and there are many days that are just the opposite. I have days that I am excited to workout out and I have days where I just don’t have the energy or desire to push myself.  If there is anything that places me out of the norm, it is that I have learned how to consistently push through these bad days and how to self-motivate.   

This journey started in 2009 after my wife’s and my two children had left the house.
Marjie, my wife of now 32 years, and I both decided that enough was enough and it was time to get back in shape.  Neither of us were in poor health, in fact by today’s standards we were average or even a little above average but that didn’t matter.  Neither of us liked where we were or felt good about ourselves.   My energy level was pretty low and I was carrying around an extra 40 lbs. easy.  Marjie was in the same boat and we had had enough.  

So over the next 3 years we both made small incremental changes in our lives that had huge impacts on our health.  We changed the way we ate by avoiding processed food and sugar as much as possible and cutting back on our portion sizes.  We also incorporated exercise back into our daily routines and that’s where this story really begins.  

As I lost weight and my energy levels slowly began to increase I started pushing myself harder each day and to my great delight, I started rediscovering my love of exercise.  I began to lead a group of like-minded guys at work in a calisthenic routine during lunch.  I soon felt accountable to each of them to show up every day to lead the workout and to encourage them.  This accountability was huge for me in developing the mental discipline to be able to push through my bigger challenges I would later face.

As I continued to get healthier I wanted to challenge myself to see how far I had come, so at the age of 46 I signed up for my first half marathon.  After completing the race, I thought to myself, ok, so what’s next? And a full marathon was the natural answer.  In 2010 I ran my first marathon and after it was complete I vowed to never do it again.  Personally, I like to think of the difficulty of running long distances as exponential.  A full marathon is not twice as hard as a half marathon, it’s 4 times as hard. After the race I decided that I was done with running and I didn’t run any real distance again for over a year.  

My next challenge was long distance bike riding.  In 2011 I signed up for the Seattle to Portland Bike Ride (STP) and rode it with a couple of my friends.  Over the course of 2 days we rode 205 miles over some very steep hills.  This was very challenging in its own way but different than running.  


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Another Marathon, then 50km!

In 2012 after my journey on the bike I got the running bug again. Even though I had sworn off any more marathons I was not satisfied with my first race and I knew that I could perform better, so with these thoughts in mind I signed up for the Eugene marathon in the hopes of qualifying for Boston.  It was also around this time that I started reading about these strange people who run races called Ultra-Marathons. By definition, an Ultra-Marathon is any race that is longer than 26.2 miles and usually these start at 50K and can go up to 200 Miles!  Races of these distance seemed impossible to me at the time, I just couldn’t see how anyone could run for that length of time and distance but the idea intrigued me.  After checking around I found a race in my area called The Rainier-2-Ruston that offered a 50K option so I signed up for that a month after the Eugene marathon was to take place.

Knowing that I had two big races to train for really helped focus my attention.  During the months of training I continued to lose weight and get stronger each week.   To qualify for Boston in my age group I had to run a 3:25 marathon.  That meant my avg mile pace had to be around 7:57, so that was my goal.

The day of the race I felt good and I knew that I had prepared as well as I could have.  At this point all I could do was hope that it was enough and to pray to the Lord for a good day.  The first 20 miles of the race went very well and I easily averaged under an 8 min mile.  I kept telling myself that I was going out too fast but I found it impossible to back off.  Then at around the 20 mile mark the chickens came home to roost and I paid the price for going out too fast, I hit the dreaded wall.  My energy level took a severe hit and it took everything that I had to just keep moving.  As I struggled to continue to run I began to think about all of the long training days and hard work that I had put in to get there.  I told myself that what I was experiencing was temporary but the feeling of accomplishment will be forever.  I also thought of how angry and disappointed in myself I would be if I didn’t give it my all.   Fortunately, I was able to continue and even though my time suffered I crossed the finish line at 3:37.   Even though I did not qualify for Boston I was very happy with my performance at the age of 48.  Now for the 50K!

50K Rainer-2-Ruston

What made the 50K even more challenging was the course.   Most UltraMarathons are at least partially trail runs and the advantage of running on trails is that it is softer than the road so less impactful on the joints and the scenery also helps take the mind off of the race.  The disadvantage is the uneven surface and the ever present danger of rolling your ankle.  It also takes more energy to jump over logs, puddles and generally avoid anything that can cause you to fall.   In my preparation for the two races, all of my training took place on the street so I was a little concerned that this was going to come back to bite me.  I took a few days off after the Eugene marathon then it was back at training for the R2R 50K.  

The day of the race was great, low 60's and no rain in sight. I had recovered from the marathon and I felt great, so what did I do? Once again I went out too fast.  Fortunately, this time, I was able to manage it better and by the time the race was done I had crossed the finish line in third place and second for my age group.  I even have the all-time 8th fastest time for men for this race now.  One of my fondest memories of this race, second only to finishing and seeing my family was when Dillon, a friend and co-worker met me on the trail with about 2 miles to go to encourage me and to give me some much needed support.

I’d gone from half marathon, to 50km… what was next for me? How about 50 miles before 50??

If you'd like to keep up to date with Keith you can find him on: 

Instagram: Fitnesswithoutfear
YouTube: Keith Madlena


Keith

Keith

Keith rediscovered the joys of training a few years ago and has become an experienced ultra distance athlete, tackling a number of challenges along the way. Currently taking on a personal gymnastics challenge, Keith is balancing his instincts of attacking a challenge hard with training smart to manage the impact on the body and reduce the chance of injury.

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