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For Everyone Who Says They Can’t.

Hello, friends! It’s time for a little inspiration on this rainy Wednesday.

As part of my Brooks Run Happy Ambassadorship this year, I was given the opportunity to interview one of their Brooks I.D. members. “I.D.", in this case, stands for “Inspire Daily.” The group is made up of over 2,000 members who are active in their running communities and share a passion for the Brooks brand. They are runners, coaches, mentors, and leaders. Some of them are the leading runners in their towns, and some of them might be holding down the back of the pack. But all of them have one big thing in common – they work hard to achieve personal running goals, pushing their own limits and encouraging others to do the same along the way. I’m honored to say that I was actually a Brooks I.D. member myself back in 2009 and 2010!

For this interview, I chose a Brooks I.D. member named Jeff Le.

Jeff Le - Bull Run Run 2013 1

Jeff was most certainly not always a runner. Just a few years ago, he was 290 pounds and could barely run a block; his transition to running was so inspiring that I knew you guys would love to hear more, too. He’s since lost 160 pounds, is now an avid runner and seasoned ultra marathoner, and he even had a Runner’s World article written about him.

I asked Jeff to do a little Q&A for you guys and I hope you find his story as inspiring as I did! And if you think it’s too late for you – I hope this will convince you that it’s not.

Wiffleball 2008Jeff in 2008

Tell me more about your weight loss journey. What inspired you to get fit?

I remember in March 2008 going into the doc’s office. I had told him that I had struggled to breathe going up stairs. I asked him what I could do for it. If there were pills or something I could take. I was 25 at the time and I felt like I would live forever. The doc looked me square in the face and told me that I would be lucky to live to be 40 at this rate. It shocked me. And another nail in the coffin that was my life that month.

In March, I had a terrible breakup, serious health concerns along with that relapse of malaria (contracted from my work trip in 2004 in West Africa), and my dad’s best friend died from cancer. He was more of a father figure for me than my own dad. Losing him was the toughest thing I’ve dealt with. He had inspired my international work and also reminded me to push outside my comfort zone if I was going to achieve anything. When he passed, I decided that I would turn my life around and raise money for cancer. And maybe do something I never thought I could do. Like run a marathon. 

Cherry Blossom 2008

What was the hardest part of your weight loss journey? What made you stick with it and not give up?

The decision to commit myself to lose weight at 290 pounds in was something that terrified me. At my first day at the gym on April 1, 5 minutes into a treadmill run, I threw up on the girl next to me. April 2 is what I consider my anniversary with running. But also the day of my life reset. Going back to the gym at the same place at the same time with the same folks around was the toughest moment on the journey. All the marathons and later ultras were much easier than battling the anxiety on that treadmill.

But I survived day 2 without hurling on someone and continued. I stuck with it by holding myself accountable. I would hang up a pair of "aspirational" pants on the wall – a pair of jeans that were one size smaller than what I had current been wearing. I started with a size 46. And then slowly began knocking the weight off in bursts. With each size shift, friends would donate clothes to me over the next six months. I made it to a size 32 and 160 pounds in time for the October 2008 Marine Corps Marathon (MCM).

I thought about how I had to suffer to get to my goals and accomplish the things I had always wanted. I needed to pay my dues as I had wasted my health after all those years. 

What’s your #1 proudest running moment?

Finishing my first marathon in 3:42 in front of friends who had flown all across the country to see me run for the first time was an amazing feeling. To keep on track, I hid from friends for six months just to focus on my diet and health. So when they saw me on the course, they were in complete shock. And my mom’s face – lots of emotional disbelief. When I was coming towards the finish line, they announced my finish and talked about all the money we had raised for cancer. I had devoted miles for everyone who supported the cause and I don’t think I ever thought I would see complete strangers smile the way they did for me.

MCM 2008Jeff’s first marathon – MCM 2008

The other two big moments were qualifying for Boston in my home state of California after only running for 19 months, and having friends come to watch me finish my first 50 miler and 100k after being told I would never run the same after a massive knee injury.

Was there one specific moment where you knew everything you’d done to get healthy was completely worth it?

When my mom kept walking by me back and forth because she couldn’t recognize me. I called her phone and she said, I know you’re my son but you look nothing like him.

And probably when I handed my dad’s best friend’s son the amount of money raised in his honor at the post-race brunch. 

What would you tell someone who thinks it’s too late for them to turn their lives around and get healthy?

I would simply talk about how it’s never too late. My mother tells me as motivation that life is like walking through a dark tunnel. You walk and walk until you are the light. It’s either the exit and the outdoors. Or another train.

You have to take that leap of faith. And we can’t give up. Others are counting on us. 

What would you tell someone who thinks they can’t run?

I would tell them that it’s all mental. But you need to put in some time slowly. Start with what inspires you and think about that. For me, I write down a name for every mile for each run. It reminds me that we’re never alone. Running gets this weird loner reputation but it really is a community to embrace. Like life there are up and downs. But you can’t let it prevent you from starting. 

Jeff Le - MCM 2012MCM 2012

What inspires you to stay fit now and not return to where you once were?

To prevent a relapse, I have two things I look at every morning. First, a note with goals to run a sub 3 hour marathon and to finish a 100 miler. Second, a note from my dad’s best friend that says, "Don’t quit on your dreams or they win."

When I served in Afghanistan, I kept all the letters from strangers who supported my Boston training. I hung their notes all over my treadmill runs. It kept me going in hard times.

What are your biggest tips for brand new runners?

Feel your body. Don’t just hammer every time. Be patient. It’s a long view you’re after. Not a quick fix. Run out the negatives and take in the positives. It’s ok to have doubts but you need to focus on the daily achievements. That’s how we best the despair. 

Join a running club – super supportive and a wealth of knowledge. Go with a friend! Strength in numbers. Sign up for races to keep you accountable and motivated. Keep your biggest fans in the loop. They’re your community. Have faith that you’re putting in the good work and it’ll get you to the finish. Training is way tougher than finishing a race. The race is a celebration of your hard work. Enjoy your special day!

Boston 2011

Thank you to Jeff for sharing his story! Conducting this interview got me really pumped to start training for my first full marathon – my plan actually starts this week! More on that to come soon, I promise. :)

If you’re a runner, how did you get started? And if you want to become one… tell me how you’ll start! Here’s a post all about how I started running, written on the eve of my second half marathon.

Have a great day, everyone, and enjoy the 4th of July holiday tomorrow! I’ll be taking the day off to enjoy the festivities as I’m sure most of you will be taking a break from your computers, too. Have fun and I’ll see you on Friday with a holiday recap! :)

p.s. I just drew the winner of my Reebok giveaway — I’ll contact them directly and pass their info on to Reebok for their gift card. Thank you so much to everyone who entered! :)

Comments

  1. 1

    What an inspiring story – GO JEFF! An amazing first marathon finish time too – super motivating especially as I begin my MCM training!

  2. 2

    wow. that is freaking inspiring. what a story! i sucked at running when i started — could barely finish a mile. slow but steady progress works, though!

  3. 3

    Such an amazing story! I’m not a new runner, but his advice for new runners still reigns true for me, especially: It’s a long view you’re after. Not a quick fix. Since I’m recovering from injury I need to remember this all the time during my MCM training. Take it slow and listen to my body!

    I honestly don’t know how I truly got into running. It was slow at first and then as soon as I ran my first race a few years ago I felt the running passion and just kept moving forward!

  4. 4

    What an absolutely amazing story. Way to be, Jeff! You’re awesome.

    *runs off to check her e-mail. haha.

  5. 5

    That IS a great inspiring story. Congrats Jeff for turning it around. I love to read stories like this. It’s particularly motivating as I train for my first marathon – Richmond in November. :)

  6. 7

    And now I’m crying — thank you for sharing your story, Jeff!

  7. 8

    Wow, what an amazing and inspiring story! I’ve always worked out, but I didn’t run a day in my life until almost 2 years ago. and I could only run 6 minutes without stopping. I’ve run some 5k’s and 8k’s since then and I actually love to do it now. I haven’t run long distances so I still don’t really consider myself to be a “runner”-, but it’s something I’ll always continue to do.

  8. 10

    what an amazing story! Thank you or sharing.. totally not skipping my run today now!

  9. 11

    Beautiful inspiring transformation & story!
    Committed to a half-marathon when I turned 40, the same age my father was when he was killed in an accident. When my autoimmune disease flared earlier this year I committed to another half-marathon in Dublin, the training has shifted my focus and helped me cope with a chronic disease & the depression that often accompanies.

  10. 12
    Keith Martin says:

    Go Jeff! I still remember seeing you at the MCM after 6 months and only recognising you from context!

  11. 13

    I actually started running only 4 months ago, and I’ve already run two 5ks, have signed up for a 10k, and just officially signed up for my first half marathon (I actually wrote about it today: http://foxywholefoodie.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/announcing-my-first-half-marathon/). I swear my running journey was inspired by a pair of running shoes!

  12. 15

    What an amazing story! I used to run a lot more before I hurt my knee, but if Jeff can run marathons after a “massive knee injury,” then perhaps I should get back out there, too. Thank you for sharing!!

  13. 16

    Such an incredible story. Thanks so much for sharing, Jeff and Anne!

  14. 17

    Jeff has a great story, I’m so glad he shared it with all of us. It’s a good reminder than you can do anything you put your mind to.

  15. 18

    Wow, what an inspiring story. It’s amazing to see someone transform not only physically, but mentally as well.

  16. 19

    This post gave me chills down my spine! What an absolutely inspiring story, thankyou so much for sharing. I really admire Jeff and what he has achieved and it makes me want to go out and do more running now too.

  17. 20

    Wow, Jeff’s story is SO inspiring! I just started running about a month ago, and my younger sister wants to start running for health reasons, but she hasn’t fully started yet. I hope Jeff’s story will inspire & excite her about running. :) Thank you for sharing!

  18. 21

    Such a wonderful and inspiring story! I love reading about people who have improved their lives in such significant ways. I started running when a friend of mine needed a running buddy. I thought it was going to be a 1-2 mile run and ended up being 6 miles. That’s when I realized running could be fun!

  19. 22

    Wow! Sooo inspiring! I could barely make it a lap when I first started running. I am still not super fast but I am out there and I truly love it. Stories like Jeff’s definitely give me the motivation to pick up the pace and set some big goals. Great interview!

  20. 23

    Such an inspiring interview! I’ve gotten started running a lot of times over the years, but had a hard time sticking with it. After my Dad passed away in October of last year, I started again as a way to deal with the emotion and pain, and I’ve stuck it out! I’m far from fast but I’ve come along way since then and I’m looking for my first half-marathon to sign up for in the Fall.

    • 24

      Running is a great emotional release – good for you for channeling that emotion into something productive. Best of luck with your first half!

  21. 25

    Love this! Such an inspiration to all those that think they will never be slim, fit and athletic. Congrats to him and wow, speedy guy from the get go!

  22. 26
    Roadrunner says:

    Wonderful story, Anne, thanks for sharing it! Hope the fireworks adventure went well!

  23. 27

    What an inspiring story. I love the idea of putting a pair of jeans the next size down from what your currently wearing as inspiration. It gives you a goal that you can actually accomplishment.

  24. 28
    Suzanne says:

    What a great story. I always need a plan. Right now I’m training for a 10k while doing Tina’s Best Body Bootcamp. Definitely helps to have something keeping me accountable!

  25. 29

    Reading stories like this make me all teary eyed, Thank you Jeff for sharing your story, truly an inspiration!

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