Editor’s note: This is the 13th story in a series profiling runners who will compete in the 20th anniversary running of Emera Marathon By the Sea Marathon in Saint John. The stories are also running on the MBTS Facebook page and MBTS website.
For Rob Long and Sheila Perry-Long, it is likely they never dreamed of how their lives might have changed when they started to incorporate running, then cycling, swimming and fitness into their lives. It started with a brave step forward by both approximately seven years ago and continues today with chapter after chapter of a journey that has seen them lose a combined weight of 240 pounds. Not only are they runners but regular participants in triathlon and both will be on hand August 10 for the 20th anniversary running of Emera Marathon By The Sea. Their riveting story is below.
I’ve never been an athlete. In fact, I’ve never been very active, period. Having grown up in a non-athletic family, I never had any interest in sports, especially running. I was an overweight couch potato.
As the years passed, I continued to gain weight and grew from an obese child into an obese adult. By the time I was married, I had ballooned to 275 pounds, wearing 42-inch jeans. Being a ‘big’ guy, I had difficulty getting around. I got tired of being out of breath constantly, so I decided that I needed to make a change. My wife Sheila was also overweight and she decided to enroll in a ‘Survivor Clinic – Learn to Run’ clinic at the Saint John Running Room in the Fall of 2007.
I, like Rob, started running much later in life. I’d tried running a few times when I was a teenager, but it lasted a few days and I lost interest, probably because I had no idea how to “train”. I thought runners must be a special breed of people with super endurance and determination – certainly not terms I would use to describe me.
A few years ago, my youngest sister started running and really enjoyed it. She trained for and ran a half marathon and Rob and I followed her all over the city to cheer her on. I was SO proud of her!
A few months later I had the opportunity to enroll in the Running Room Survivor Clinic which is offered to breast cancer survivors to help them prepare for the CIBC Run for the Cure event. I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn to run with some ladies who had been through a similar experience. That first class was a wake-up call – I was so out of shape,
I could barely run a few meters without gasping for breath and having to stop. Rob offered to train with me and I kept at it for a while, but I was very overweight and it was hard, so I stopped. Rob continued to run more and more and he really enjoyed it. He’d share stories about the experience of the races he entered, the “wonderful running friends” he was meeting… I met some of the “wonderful running friends” and they really WERE fun and welcoming, but none of it was enough to convince me that this was something I needed to do!
We both took advantage of the tips and pointers she picked up, and with that big step, we became runners! Putting the walk/run approach into practice, we could only cover short distances at first, but eventually we were able to do 5km continuous runs. We were elated to complete our first ever 5km run! There would have been a time we’d have considered that to be an unattainable goal!
Over time, I lost some weight and wanted to start exercising more to help me to continue my weight loss. A co-worker and I joked about how we should take up running to get in shape. What started as a joke actually started my foray into running. We took it slow, starting with the Learn to Run basics (run/walk), going out at lunchtime a couple of times a week. This time, it felt good to run, and I kept it up!
I knew if I registered for a race, it would motivate me to continue to run, so I registered for the Creepy Crawl race. We had only trained to running 6 minutes and walking one at that point and I remember feeling so proud that I ran the whole 5K race without stopping! I was hooked on this whole race thing!
By 2008 I felt confident enough to do my first race, so I registered for the 3km distance at the Grand-Digue 15km road race. I finished mid-pack and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I was hooked!
The following year I entered several 5k and 10k events while slowly working on my endurance. By 2009 I was ready for longer distance events and entered my first Half Marathon in Fredericton as part of the Fredericton Marathon race weekend. I ran it in 2 hours and I was overjoyed!
I kept up with the training through the winter and ran my first 10k race in Fredericton in the spring. Rob had run several marathons by this point and when I pondered if I should try training for a half marathon, he encouraged me to give it a try and offered to train with me. Because of his experience, he was able to provide such good advice on pacing, nutrition and rest.
I wasn’t able to run the first half marathon that I’d registered for in the fall of 2012 – a nasty fall during a training run resulted in a fractured pelvis, so that put me out of commission for a few months. It was during that layoff from running that I realized how much I’d come to enjoy it – I missed my early morning runs, enjoying the sounds of birds, watching the sun come up , thinking about what the day would bring. Once I got the go-ahead to run again, it was back to training and was finally able to run my first half marathon in the spring of 2013!
This running lifestyle we’d adopted led us to scrutinize our diet, thinking it could only improve our running abilities. We started making wise choices and avoiding the bad choices. As a result of exercise and diet improvements, I managed to lose about 90 pounds and Sheila lost over 150 pounds!
2010 saw me enter my first Full Marathon – the Ottawa Marathon. When I crossed the finish line in Ottawa, I was brought to tears. As I stepped across the mat, all the memories of that three year journey came flooding back – the struggles, the sweat, the early mornings of logging kilometers in training. It all flashed before my eyes in that single simple moment, a moment I’ll never forget. I had tears streaming down my face as I walked through the Recovery Area. I was one of them now – I was a marathoner! And whether we finished first or last, we all had the very same marathon medal hanging from our necks. We exchanged high fives. We shook hands. And we exchanged stories…many stories!
A friend who was assured entry into the 2013 NYC Marathon asked me to put my name into the lottery “for fun”. I never thought in a million years I would actually get IN the race, but I got what I deserved for tempting fate – I got in! NOW WHAT?? Again, Rob assured me that I really COULD run a marathon with the proper training and that he would help to get me there. That training was tough, but I stuck with it until I fractured the fibula in my left leg. See a pattern here? No running again for a few weeks.
I had planned to run the MBTS half marathon, but walked the 5-Miler with a friend instead. It was the first race that she’d ever entered and she loved the experience, so that made up for my disappointment of not being able to run. That injury did heal and I did run the NYC Marathon in November with the friend who had encouraged me to enter – what an incredible experience! The race was so well organized and things went very smoothly despite the fact that there were over 50,000 runners!
The people of New York get behind this race and they came out and cheered on the runners, encouraging them through every stride. I met some great people before and during the race. Entering Central Park, hearing the roar of the crowd and seeing the finish line was an experience I will never forget.
I’ll never be a fast marathoner – middle of the pack is the best I can hope for, and I’m happy with that. I’ve completed nine marathons with times ranging from a Personal Best of 3:40 to a disappointing 5:45. Each marathon has a story – a tale of struggles, victories, and lessons learned.
During this year’s Marathon By The Sea, I’ll be participating in the 5k distance. Over the years, I’ve completed the Full, Half and 10km distances at MBTS, but never the 5km, a little oversight that I’ll address this year. J
Both Sheila and I still run; in fact, running has led to a new passion – we’ve joined the triathlon community! So spare time no longer exists for us – we’re too busy running, swimming and cycling. J
Life is good, and it just keeps getting better!
People ask me why I run, considering how injury-prone I am – I AM a bit of a klutz. I love what running has brought to my life. I’m certainly much more fit as a result of it, but it allows me to clear my head, deal with stress and get a better night’s sleep.
I have rheumatoid arthritis and running has allowed me to stay mobile better than any drug could. Those long training runs have brought Rob and I closer together. The friendships I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had because of running have changed my life for the better. That’s why I run.
This year, I’m looking forward to running the GoodLife 12K at Marathon by the Sea!