Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ready or Not

The last 16 hours have given me two huge reality checks.

Last night was Send Off, which was our final meeting before everyone leaves for event weekend.  It was a night for last minute instructions, and we got the rundown of everything that's happening while we're in San Diego.

Reality Check 1

We received packets of information, bonus gifts that we got for fundraising incentives, and last but not least - the most important thing inside the pack:

We received the shirts that we are going to wear for our race.  Seeing it, touching it, holding it - it became real.  This is actually happening.

Reality Check 2

I just arrived in San Diego.  3 days til race day.  Ready or not, it's coming!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fundraising Payback

I have been amazed by how much support people have given me for my marathon fundraising.  I have raised over $1000 over the minimum amount I had to raise, and it his been great to see the generosity that people have shown.

There's a few things I've had to do to pay back, and incentives that I offered for people to donate, so I wanted to give an update with a few things I've done these past couple weeks.

A Gift

To get the fundraising going, I made an offer early in the year that for the first 10 people who donate, I would send a random gift to them some time during the year.  What I decided to do was to send them a mounted photo of one of the favorite pictures I have taken, and hopefully something that is meaningful for them.  Without knowing it, they supported two of my passions - running and photography.


For everyone who donated at least $25, I offered to make a handmade purple bracelet.  Purple is the TNT color, so I figured it would be a fun touch to have something for people who donated.  I ended up having to make over 70 bracelets over the past couple months, and they are currently en route to each of the donors.  I asked them to wear the bracelet on Sunday to show their support!

Making bracelets

Ready to send!

28 for 28 Challenge

A few months ago for my birthday, I held a challenge to get people to donate.  As a result, they could name something that I have to do.  I was hoping I could complete these things before the race, but that just proved to be too difficult.  So after the race, it will be time to complete those things.  Be on the lookout for a future update!

Race Weekend Incentives

There are a few things I have to do for people who donated $50+ during race weekend, and I'm working on those.  I'm putting together my final list of people I am dedicating miles to, and ready to make some thank you phone calls and videos at the finish line.

It has been a blast putting things together and doing things to pay back the amazing contributions that friends and family have made.  As I reach the final home stretch, I'm still in awe of the support I have gotten and it's crazy that race weekend is already here.  26.2 miles, here I come!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Double the Fun: Finding Myself Through Weight Loss and Running

This is a blog post that was originally published on the Student Affairs Fitness blog, a collection of posts from professionals in the field of student affairs dedicated to find avenues for healthy living.  There are some great posts there!

I wanted to post it on here to share with you all.  Hope you enjoy!

Check out the original post here.


May 28, 2013, Posted in Fitness, Health, Nutrition Comments: 2 comments

Jeff Parker is currently a Residence Director at Johnson & Wales University – Denver Campus. Originally from the great state of Minnesota, Jeff received his B.S. in English & Speech Communication from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls and his M.Ed. in College Student Affairs from the University of South Florida. Jeff loves playing volleyball and has ran at least one race every month since December 2010. Visit his blog at and find him on Twitter @jeffyp2003

Each of us has a story to tell – one that discovers our innermost passions and desires. One that leads us to the person we are today.

Many of us have a weight loss story.

I have two.

The Backstory

I was an active kid who played just about every sport. But somewhere during middle school, something changed. I got the one thing that so many that age dread: I got fat. The next few years were a struggle with depression, my weight, being bullied, and confidence. The more my weight went up, the more unhappy I got. Until I stepped on the scale one day, and the number staring back at me put me into a rage: 275. I went to the gym a couple of hours every day. I kept a journal of everything I ate. I was meticulous and borderline obsessive about my every decision. In just over a year, I dropped over 75 pounds, and for the first time I was happy with my weight. For the first time since I became an adolescent, the first number on the scale was a 1.

I was bound to fail. The amount of time that I spent in the gym was impossible to maintain. The calories I was eating were on the verge of dangerously low to maintain. When I started college, my immaculate habits slipped. The Freshman 15 turned into a Freshman 40 (I hate that phrase by the way). Over the next handful of years, my weight roller-coastered. Most people gain and lose 5-10 lbs here and there. Mine are usually 20-40 in either direction.

Until one day in grad school, the number staring at me from the scale left me numb.

The Beginnings

284. I started sobbing. How had I let myself slip that much? Once again, I was unhappy, and that number sent me into a spiral. The next day, I decided once again that I was going to do something about it, but didn’t know what. I promised myself I wouldn’t do anything as drastic as I did in high school, which is counter-intuitive to my all-or-nothing mentality. I needed motivation, and I found it in the form of a youtube video. Watch it here. So there I was, chubby guy sobbing on my couch in Florida. I thought, “if he could do it, I can too! I’ll never run a marathon, but I can start running.” I laced up my shoes, grabbed my headphones, and walked out the door. I started running. I made it a quarter mile. I have never felt more defeated in my life. But I went out the next day. And the next. Until I could eventually run a mile. Then 2. Then I ran my first 5K. I started losing weight. I moved from Florida to Colorado. I ran my first 10K. I lost more weight. I started eating right. I did something crazy and I ran a half marathon- something I never thought I would do in a million years. I lost more weight.

The Impossible

As I type this, I am approaching the 75-pound mark – for the second time. This time around, it has taken a lot longer, but it has been a lot healthier. For the first time, I have silenced my all-or-nothing mentality and have had more focus on the long-term. I am finding a healthy lifestyle I can maintain for the rest of my life.

Doctors have always told me that I shouldn’t be a runner. A combination of my weight, my bad knees and ankles, and just the pounding that my body takes when I work out, I have been told it’s a bad idea. But I’m stubborn. And I love it. When I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon, the first words out of my mouth were “I never want to do that again.” 24 hours later I thought, “maybe I should do another one.” 48 hours later I thought, “I can do a marathon.”

I started training for my first marathon in early 2013. I scheduled a few half marathons as tune-ups gearing up for it. This journey has been an incredible one – pushing my body to its limits, getting faster and faster, and conquering uncharted distances – 14, 16, 18. I have been training through Team in Training, which benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It has been amazing training with the team, hearing everyone’s stories, and seeing everyone finding success on the pavement. By the time you read this, I will be less than a week away from calling myself something that I never thought was possible: a marathoner.

The Lessons

Weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint: Pun not intended. Ok, maybe a little. But where I failed the first go ‘round was focusing too hard on the number on the scale, and had an at-any-cost mentality to get there. Although the weight dropped, it was unhealthy, I was HORRIBLE to myself when things wouldn’t go as planned, and the lifestyle I was subjecting myself to was impossible to maintain. This time, it has been successful because I threw all of those ideas out the window. I have taken my time (2+ years) to achieve the results I’ve desired. I still have a way to go, but I will get there. Patience is key, and celebrating the small victories is important. Because of this shift, I’ve now found a healthy balance that I can maintain for the rest of my life. I’ve found a love for running and healthy living. But most of all, I am HAPPY.

Don’t be too hard on yourself: setbacks are inevitable. The number on the scale isn’t always going to go down. Every run isn’t going to be great. That’s not what is important – what’s important is how you respond. If you eat garbage for a weekend, let that become your focus for the next week. If your running becomes a chore, take a few days off. If you’re constantly weighing yourself waiting for the magic number to go down, put it away for a month. Make your happiness and whole you a priority, and take a step back from time to time, and you will get the results you want. I promise.

Make it public: This one is maybe the hardest for me, but it has helped me beyond my wildest dreams. They say if you write down your goals, it is way more likely to become a reality. And if you tell someone your goals, the likelihood grows exponentially. Don’t be afraid to let people in. Call your parents. Start a blog. Write your senator. Find a way to tell your story. Share your successes. Share your woes. Share your joys. Share your worries and fears. Be real. Before you know it, you will find people in your life who want to be by your side. When the days get rough, you will have people there to pick you up. When you accomplish your goals, you’ll have a team there to cheer on your victories. More likely than not, you’ll be pleasantly surprised about how glad you are to have people to share your journey with you. To quote one of my favorite movies Into the Wild, “Happiness only real when shared.”
Anything is possible: That has become my mantra – I’m not one to say, “if I can do it, anyone can,” but I hope people can take a look at my story and find something that can inspire them to find their own greatness. My story has had ups and downs and successes and failures. Everything has gotten me to where and who I am today. Without my past, I am nothing. And because of that, my future is bright. The story I write might not be the prettiest, most graceful, or most logical. But it is mine.

And it will be a masterpiece.

Jeff will be running the Rock n’ Roll San Diego Marathon on Sunday, June 2nd. To support his journey and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, click here.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Final Long Run

Today marked our final Saturday practice of run training.

An easy 6ish miles/hour of running just to log a few miles.

We met at REI and ran the trail I've ran a few times during this training.  The first 3 miles felt a little sluggish - knees fairly tight, feeling a slight cough I've developed over the last few days (lovely), and the heaviness from the Cheesecake Factory I had last night.

After trudging just under 3 miles, we turned around and headed back.  This felt great.  My knees started loosening up and I felt stronger as the run went on.  Super exciting heading into the week before the race.

For me not being a social runner, I really enjoyed today.  I ran most of it with coach Chris, and we just spent the miles chatting about race day, the excitement of running a marathon, the battles of training, and about our families.  It was nice to have the company and a great way to spend the miles.

I am pretty excited about the way the run went.  I'm a little achy now, but optimistic headed into the race.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Colfax Half Marathon

Over the past couple weeks, I've had some knee pain that has made me nervous about my running.  After last week's run, I was more nervous.  But after a week of stretching, strengthening, and taking care of my knees, I was hopeful that I would be ready for the last real test I had before my marathon.

Colfax Half Marathon.
The expo was located inside of Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and it was great to go there a day before the race so I could get mentally prepared.  I debated switching to the 10 Miler, but after seeing the logistics that would be involved with that race, and having confidence in my knees, I decided to stick with the half.  Since this race ran through my neighborhood and right where I live twice, I had backup plans just in case I started hurting.

I woke up this morning tired and with a scratch in my throat - I think I might be getting sick.  But oh well.  I loaded up all of my stuff and headed over to the starting area, which was City Park - the park that's 2 miles away.  I made it to the starting area just after they started the first few waves, and I was getting excited about when it would get to my wave.  The feeling on race day just before you get started is indescribable.  Our wave was up!  READY...SET...GO!

I started running slowly through the park, being cautious about my knees.  Last week, I knew that within the first mile that it was going to be a rough run, and the pain started early and increased.  Today, I passed mile one without pain - and was hopeful about the rest of the run.

Miles 2-4 were great!  Not only were they pain-free, but they featured one of the biggest highlights of the race, and a new addition through the course this year: running through the Denver Zoo.  We ran through the main path and got to see great views of bighorn sheep, flamingos, elephants, gibbons, but the absolute best part was when we ran by the rhino pen.  We look over and the rhino is sprinting back and forth across his enclosure- so cool!  I was simultaneously excited that the rhino was getting into the running spirit and also that fences were invented.

 We left the zoo and headed down Montview Blvd, one of the roads that run right by our campus - a road that I've ran time after time.  By the time I reached campus, I was feeling tired - from the couple miles of slight uphill, from not feeling 100%, and the sun decided to come out.  Miles 4-7 were pretty smooth, and hitting the halfway point was exciting.

We did a couple zigzags around some streets in Aurora so we could take a quick run through Fire Station No. 1.  Miles 7-9 were filled with the excitement of that, and looping over to Colfax Ave, one of the main streets that runs through Denver, and this race's namesake.  We approached campus for the second time, and I was excited to get to the home stretch.

Miles 9-12 felt good!  I was finally confident that I would make it to the finish line without too much pain, and excited for what that means for my marathon in two weeks.  This section of the course ran down 17th Avenue, which is the other main road that runs by campus - and the road that I have done the majority of my running here in Colorado.  My neighborhood.  This was a much needed course because I knew exactly how long I had left - not necessarily in miles, but how they would feel.  I know that road so well, so I kept thinking I had the "home-field advantage."  I was excited to look over and see both of my TNT coaches at different points of this stretch, and they both had the same question: "how are your knees?"  I gave them the OK, and they were thrilled!  I saw a sign for a photo op with some of the firefighters from the Colorado firefighter calendar, and I decided not to take them up on the offer.  

I hit mile 12 - home stretch!  It ran alongside City Park and as I got closer and closer to the finish, I smiled more and more.  Fun fact:  I have discovered that my go-to song for when I need a burst is... albeit a little embarrassing to admit... Kelly Clarkson - Catch My Breath.  So I blasted it on repeat for the last mile, and rounded the final corner.  I picked up the speed a little bit at the end, but still couldn't go very fast because my knees had been tight all race.  Then, the moment that I'm sure all runners love - I saw the finish line.  I picked up the speed a little more, and inched my way closer... and closer...


My 4th Half Marathon
Official Time: 2:24:20

As I type this, my knees are starting to feel a little bit of the pain that I was worried about - but I am so glad that the entire race was relatively pain-free.  It felt great - with the worst part being the heat that I felt at the end.  I'll gladly take this race, and it gave me a lot of confidence about June 2nd.  I still can't comprehend running double what I just did, but today was the run I needed.  I know how to get myself ready and take care of my knees, so I should be good to go in two weeks.

I have finished the last hurdle of training - all that's left are a few 3-4 milers and a 6-8 miler next weekend.  I have reached the home stretch.  And even though I can't see it yet, I can't wait for that magical feeling in two weeks when I reach the finish line of this journey.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Live to Fight Another Day

Last Saturday, after my 18 miler, my left knee started to hurt.  I've never had this type of pain before, so I was unsure what it was.  Stairs hurt the next few days, but it got better and better.  Tuesday, we did 3 mile repeats, where you run a mile as fast as you can, jog to recover, and do that two more times.  The first lap felt fine, the second started to feel tight, and the third started throbbing.

Again, the first couple days after hurt, but as the week went on, it felt better and better.  By the time I woke up today, I couldn't feel any pain.

Mission Day

Today was the biggest day of training.  The date I had marked on the calendar.  The biggest test.  Today marked the longest run that we had to do for our entire training: 20 miles.  Before the run, once our whole team arrived, we snapped a quick picture knowing that would be the best we'd look all day.

Mission day features all of the runners/walkers from all of the local TNT chapters.  Some people read stories of cancer patients, facts and figures about LLS's contributions to cancer research, and how far medical technology has come, reinforcing the importance of what we're doing.  Then, one by one, we went around in the circle and shared who we are running for if anyone has a connection.  I got to take a moment to honor my grandpa Audley, and the dozens of names that people spoke.  It was asked that we run the first mile in silence to honor those names we read.

As a team, we started jogging down the path.  Before we even hit a quarter mile, I felt my knee tighten up.  Uh oh.  Spoiler alert: that was the best it felt all day.

By mile 3, it was hurting.  Not a lot, but enough for me to be worried.  When we came to the water stop at mile 6 and I refilled my water bottle, the stopping cause it to instantly start throbbing.  Whenever I stop and start when I run, usually that's when pain exposes itself.  I have to keep moving.  At around mile 8, it loosened up a little bit and felt a little better.  By mile 9, it was back to hurting, and mile by mile it started feeling worse.  I hit the turnaround at mile 10, and was just excited to be there.  Mile 11 was more of the same, and by mile 12 I noticed I was running with a little limp.  I tried to change up my form a little bit, because when I changed my stride it helped stretch the knee a little bit.  I hit the half marathon mark, and had a panicked thought about how I have to run two of those in three weeks. By 14, all I could think of was how I couldn't wait to be done.  I started to question whether I could make it the rest of the way.  Determined to make it the final 6, I kept trudging on.  At 15, I was done.  I slowed to a walk to give my knee a break, and my whole leg tensed up.  It was so tight that I could barely walk.  I tried to start running again, knowing that when I'm moving, my legs stay looser.  I made it 4 steps.  I couldn't do it.  I tried to start again.  I couldn't.  I tried a third time.  That's when the tears started.  Pain.  Disappointment.  Fear.  Worry.  Every bad thought crept into my head.  I reached a bench and stretched out my leg as much as I could, but I was still a ways from anything and anyone.  I had to walk another mile and a half until I reached the next water stop, and I just keeled over, leg shaking, not wanting to move any more.  Luckily, someone was there with a car, so I caught a ride back to the finish area.  15 mile run.  16.5 total.  Run over.

I made it back, got out of the car, and saw one of my coaches.  The tears came again.  After several words of encouragement, and a discussion about the pain, we figured out the culprit.  Runners will read the following and cringe: IT Band.  Fortunately, it's a common injury that runners often face.  Unfortunately, I've pushed it farther than imaginable over the past week.  We went over a number of stretches and ways to help the knee heal, and discussed strategy for the rest of my training the next three weeks, happy it's time to taper.

My team started coming back from their runs, and I was happy to be there to congratulate them and welcome them back.  I am so proud of their effort and how far they've come over the past few months.  And I was thrilled to share the day with them.

Although the run went about as horribly as I can imagine, and I didn't hit the 20 miles I was supposed to run, there are a few positives.  I am excited that despite the pain and circumstances, I still made it 15 miles running.  Every runner has days when their body just doesn't cooperate.  Today was mine - it just so happened that it was three weeks away from the big day and arguably my most important run.  Also, the fact that I have 3 weeks to try to remedy this makes me feel better about it.  I just have to be smart.  It may mean that the marathon doesn't go as well as hoped, but I should be able to get to a point where I can reasonably get through it.  And that's ok with me.  Because that's the day that matters - I kept thinking if I should keep running even after I stopped, but I knew it wouldn't be worth it.  Only bad things would happen at that point.  I chose to live to fight another day.  I have been told several times that it's better to have a bad training run than a bad race day, and I wholeheartedly agree.  Today wasn't the day that I've been training for.  Today's not the day that I will remember for the rest of my life.  Today isn't the culmination of this journey.  That day is getting closer and closer, and now I have no idea how it is going to go, but I can't wait for it.  I'm just going to have faith that my body will recover, I will take the steps necessary to make that happen, and race day will be incredible.

Saturday, May 4, 2013



That's the word that comes to mind when I think of the following sentence:

I just ran 18 miles.

This morning marked the first of 2 what I deem "major" runs in my marathon training.  Everything up until this point, it has been fairly reasonable.  Today is the first run that makes me feel like I will be able to conquer the 26.2.

The run itself wasn't that eventful.  The first 3.5 I ran with the team, but when they stopped for water, I kept going.  I have trouble stopping and starting - it usually makes something tighten up or get tweaked.  Stopping exposes pain.  So I kept going on.  14 miles is a long time to run alone, so I got lost in the beauty of the run and in thought.  Miles 3.5-8 were uneventful.  Just one foot after another, trotting my way along the trail.  Mile 8-9 was tough, because it was all uphill to the top of a dam in the blaring sun. The temperature was perfect, but the sun started feeling hot.  But I made it to the top and hit the halfway point.  I turned around and started back down the hill.  After a little bit, I passed my team and said hi to them.  I knew all I did was get through the easy part.  Miles 9-12 were pretty solid, and I had some welcomed company keep me encouraged over the phone.  Then it got tough.  Miles 12-14 started to get a little hard.  At the 14.26 mark, I raised my fist in the air as I was passing the farthest I had ever ran.  My pace was slowing and legs started feeling heavier.  One foot in front of the other.  Mile 15.  I had the last bag of Sport Beans, popped my last salt tablet, and took a couple bites from my Clif Bar.  Mile 16.  I started breathing heavier.  Running became jogging long ago.  Jogging became trudging.  I just had to make it.  Mile 17.  I could see where I could run to.  I smiled.  But I was tired.  So I kept stomping along until I got closer and closer until... 18.  I did it!  I waited in the parking lot for the rest of my team and we stretched and shared in our accomplishment... exhausted.  We are one step closer.

When I started running 2 1/2 years ago, I would have called you crazy if you told me I was going to run 18 miles some day.  It was an incredible experience, and I am thrilled that it went as well as it did, but I know I still have a long way to go.  But for me, today was surreal for another reason.  As I was running, I was reflecting:

The route that we ran today was extremely familiar to me.  It was the area that I ran most weeks to train for my first half marathon.  A half marathon that happend exactly a year ago this weekend.  I was thinking about those runs and the last time that I was running on that trail.  The first time out, I struggled to hit 5 miles.  Then I hit 6.  Then I ran the farthest I ever had in my life - 7 miles.  Then I hit 8.  I remember the feeling that I had the first time I ran a double digit mile run - it was on this trail.  This trail has seen some of my biggest running milestones, and here I am with another one.  Before today, the farthest I had ever ran was 14.26 miles.  That was 2 weeks ago.  Today I crushed that.  As I looked around at the mountains, the river, the beauty of this place around me, all I could think about was where I was at a year ago.  And where I am at today.  When I think about that, my heart smiles.

I can't wait to take on the challenge of 20 miles next weekend.

And the thrill of 26.2 less than a month from now.

It's going to be incredible :)