By: Michael Hearn

If you’ve ever wondered who those slow “back of the pack” people are at races, here’s one story – over the last 4 ½ years, I lost over 200 pounds and became a distance runner.

Like many other morbidly obese people, health and fitness just wasn’t my focus.  I carried the extra weight for a long time and had a textbook sedentary lifestyle, focusing my time and energy toward being a good husband, father and employee.  I always assumed there would be time to take care of myself “later”, and I was ridiculously lucky not have to have a laundry list of health issues.  Running?  I’m pretty sure that hadn’t happened since college.  I couldn’t walk into a store from my car without being worn out.

It would be dramatic to say there was a single catalyst or event that pushed me to make a change; there wasn’t.  But as I approached my 56th birthday, I remembered the words of my physician who had counseled me “whatever good health you want to be in by the rest of your life, you’d better be there by 60”.

After a lot of thought and preparation, I had bariatric surgery in April 2019.  I was warned that it was just a temporary mechanism to enable me to find a better fitness and diet lifestyle.  The long-term success statistics for weight loss are terrible; while the surgical path has better odds, there are many ways to defeat it and regain the weight back within a few years.

For the rest of 2019, I was losing weight but still heavily constrained in terms of my fitness options.  I started walking; my limit was usually a mile or two.  Then the lightning struck – I watched two different NHK (Japan) documentaries on ultramarathons (thank you Iino Wataru!).  I can’t understate how profoundly they impacted me with the idea of pushing myself to set and achieve goals I never thought I could physically accomplish.  

I walked my first 5K in January 2020, worried I wouldn’t hit the cutoff time; but I did.  I tried a few more races when COVID hit and shut everything down.  I was lucky to still be working in the office, so getting out at night to exercise in the surreal quiet of those months was a reward.  No longer constrained by the need to train for a specific distance, I just pushed myself to see how far I could go – and how much of it I could run.

Two years after my weight loss surgery, I entered my first half marathon.  I didn’t finish last, and for most of the race I seriously questioned what I had been thinking.  Once I crossed that finish line, I couldn’t wait to start the next one.  Since that first half in May 2021, I’ve completed over 120 races including 60 half marathons (in 31 states) and a full marathon.  My goal is to finish 100 halfs in all 50 states.  I’ve only finished last once; it was on purpose, in support of a struggling fellow runner who didn’t want to finish last so I did, two seconds behind him. 

Along the way, I’ve been blessed to meet a lot of people with their own amazing stories of health and other life challenges, who made running an integral part of their lives.  Most will never win a race, and it doesn’t matter.  I always maintain the hardest part of any race is crossing the start line, and for me – for many of us in the back – the point is to finish.

I’ve been humbled along the way to get a surprising amount of media coverage about my journey, including Men’s Health Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Georgia Tech Alumni Association Magazine as well as a number of other TV and news outlets.  I’m also serving my second year as an Ambassador for the Atlanta Track Club, the second largest running club in the US with over 30K members.

To say that running has transformed my life is an understatement.  I’ve been fortunate to find a path that worked for me, and I also recognize that every day I have to stay engaged in order to preserve this renewed lease on life I’ve been given – hence, “my road to 200”.

My advice to others looking to change their lives?

  • Set realistic expectations around the time and focus commitment needed to make your health and fitness journey – it is a marathon with no finish line, and there will never be a day where you can “stop” doing the right things – that’s why I wear a bracelet at every race with the date of my bariatric surgery as my constant reminder
  • Discover something that you like – ENJOY YOURSELF! – if it’s work or hassle it can’t be maintained, and celebrate your victories and learn (but move on quickly) from your setbacks
  • Find a way to love yourself for who you are, believe that you can change your life, and then let nothing get in your way

For those struggling to get started or challenged with other health and life issues – it is possible to change your life!  I got a second chance, and I’m always happy to share my journey with someone who needs direction or inspiration – you can follow me @myroadto200 on Instagram, or #fb.myroadto200” on Facebook.

UPDATE: ***Recent news coverage of the Cowtown Marathon by NBC 5