August 2, 2013
by Bob Kroeger
In January, 2005, I weighed around 200 pounds - for a BMI about 30, the first stage of obesity. Actually I was too proud to even weigh myself. Afraid of what I'd see on the scale. And, to make matters worse, my 36-inch pants were becoming very tight, making me realize I'd have to buy new pants, which I did not want to do. In those days I was a casual jogger - a few miles a week, no races, and shoes that didn't fit well. I had never been inside a running store.
About that time, on one of my jogs, a little voice whispered in my ear that I should try to run a marathon, which I had always wanted to do, kind of a bucket list thing. I ran a half about 30 years ago and about died but I still wanted to try and I wanted to lose weight. So I asked a fellow (I had heard that he ran the Flying Pig marathon) about training. He looked more like a bowling pin than a Kenyan; so I figured if he could run a marathon, then so could I. He agreed to let me do the "long run" each Saturday morning with him, early, really early. It started with a 12-miler, which went slowly, and then increased gradually. That May I ran my first marathon, our Flying Pig, in just over four hours and became hooked on marathon running. My weight dropped to about 170 and my pants fit OK.
That October I ran my second one, the Columbus (Ohio) marathon, in just under four hours and qualified for Boston (for 2007). My weight was around 165, making me feel much younger than my 58 years, and my fitness level was pretty good. Lucky for me it was since a week later my wife was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. After being married for over 30 years and raising five children, that news was a devastating blow. A month later we took our last trip together - to Huntington, West Virginia, for the Marshall University marathon. Her cancer treatment was brutal: surgery, months of chemo and months of radiation. She died a year later, after being in pain daily from all that "therapy." Watching your spouse endure such pain is not easy but running a marathon every few months helped.
After my wife died, I met Mike Fremont who, like me, began running when his wife died, leaving him with three children under five years of age. He was 35. I was interested in Mike because he still ran marathons well into his 80s and I was planning on writing a book on marathon running in old age. What he taught me changed my life. By giving me some books (_The China Study, Healthy at 100_), Mike taught me about longevity and about proper nutrition. He adopted his plant-based diet (no meat or dairy) when he got cancer at 70 and he set his world marathon records after he changed his eating habits - just like Scott Jurek did.
Before I met Mike, I was never interested in longevity nor diet nor did I know any vegetarians or vegans. My diet wasn't the best but I figured I'd be OK since I was a runner. Mike explained that Jim Fixx thought the same thing but died young during a training run - heart attack victim. So I gradually converted to a vegan lifestyle, very gradually and under Mike's guidance. I found my taste changing and my longing for dairy and meat slowly disappeared. And I shed about 20 more pounds - without trying - to 145, which I carry today. And yes, my waist shrank to around 32; so I did have to buy new pants after all. And I kept running marathons, not setting records but winning age bracket awards, which gave me a sense of accomplishment. I've done over 60 so far and I treasure each experience, even Pikes Peak.
When I retired in 2010, I wanted to give something back to my community where I worked for over 30 years. So I proposed the vitality program developed by a company called The Blue Zones. But, even though my suburb was interested, The Blue Zones would not authorize it. So I developed LifeNuts, a community-based vitality program designed to save city budget dollars by reducing health care costs. I have no commercial interest in this program: the book and website instruct any city in its implementation. For me, it's been a labor of love to try to combat the national obesity epidemic.
We launched LifeNuts at the Marshall University marathon in November of 2012 and gave a presentation to about 100 runners at the pasta dinner. Of course everyone, especially the pretty girls, wanted their photo with Mike. At 90 he set a new world record in the marathon: 6:35, Impressive since the day was sunny and warm. We also presented at the Knoxville marathon where Mike set the half-marathon record in 3:03. My hope was that the runners would take the LifeNuts program back home to their communities. But, so far as I know, no city has used it yet.
As you know, obesity is literally killing us and our American life expectancy is beginning to decrease each year despite our spending more per capita on health care than any other country. In fact, in an AARP survey of 17 industrialized countries, American men had the shortest lifespan - 75.6 years. Mike has not only exceeded that by 16 years but his energetic life is the opposite of typical old age in America: wheelchairs, assisted living facilities, medications, and diseases. His lifestyle shows what old age can be like, which is the purpose of LifeNuts.
If you've gotten this far, I hope you'll consider looking at our website, lifenuts.org, and motivating your overweight friends or relatives to participate in the Monumental Challenge on November 2. Mike and I will be giving a presentation at the marathon expo and we look forward to meeting you! Mike and running changed my life and maybe they'll change yours, too.
2013 Monumental Speaker