Warning: This post has nothing to do with golf!

Broccoli sucks.

At least that’s what I used to think. You see, it’s green, it kind of looks weird with those strangely shaped florets at the top, and it’s supposed to be good for you.

Anything that’s green and is supposed to be good for you must suck, right?

Until a few years ago, that’s always been my mentality. What’s good for you must not really be good for you, I thought.

But thanks to my wife, these days I eat broccoli, zucchini, asparagus, and squash. I’m the guy who will eat pretty much anything, including sweetbread–and, no, that’s not a cinnamon roll. Look it up.

The point is, I try new things these days. And that’s where my new-f0und love of running enters the picture.

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Todd Myers wrapping things up on mile 26.1 of the Country Music Marathon. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)

The Beginning

Back in April, my friend, Todd Myers, came to Nashville to stay with us and run in the Country Music Marathon. I was happy for him. I thought it was a cool deal. I mean, running in a marathon is a pretty big deal, right?

So on the day of the race, my wife and I, along with Todd’s wife Randi,  headed out to LP Field–the home of the Titans–to watch the end of the 26 mile marathon. I thought it was just the proper thing to do. I didn’t expect much from it, other than to cheer on a friend who was accomplishing a pretty significant feat.

But little did I know I would get hooked that day.

My wife, Katie, Randi, and I settled in around mile 26.1 and waited for about 45 minutes as hundreds of marathon runners passed us. I watched men in wheelchairs pass us. I watched a man who pushed his handicapped child for 26 miles pass us. I watched guys pass me with calf cramps that literally turned their calf muscles into small golf ball-sized knots. I was inspired.

Todd finished somewhere around 4 hours and 15 minutes on an incredibly hilly 26 mile course here in Nashville. If you’re not a runner, that probably doesn’t mean much to you. It didn’t mean much to me at the time.

But then I got the running bug.

The Training

I started running in May. I’m not sure exactly why. I know that I was inspired by watching Todd, and I was inspired by the 50+ people who stood up in our staff meeting at work and shared their stories of running in the Country Music Half and Full Marathon.

But I hated running. I’ve never been a runner. The longest I’d ever run, at that time, was in 7th grade gym class–maybe a mile and a half. So when I started running, I didn’t know what to expect.

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My first race: a 5K in East Nashville. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)

Starting out, it was painful. Unlike the broccoli, running actually did suck. My heart seemed to beat out of my chest, my calves cramped, my thighs ached. Everything hurt.

But I kept running. For two months, I ran about 6 miles, spread across three days a week. I ran slowly. I walked a lot.  I threw up a bit. But it was a start.

The first time I ran 2 miles without stopping was a small victory, but it seemed like a major milestone. To me, running 2 miles seemed as improbable as shooting a 64.

Then…craziness.

I started a half marathon training schedule in July. The week after we returned from a July vacation in Florida–a trip in which, for the first time in my life, I actually exercised for three days on vacation–I started running…seriously running, getting ready for a 13.1 mile jaunt on October 3.

Any training schedule will include a “long run”. The long run occurs once a week and is the distance run that slowly and consistently builds your “mileage confidence.”

During my first long run, just three miles, I threw up in a neighbor’s yard. My sister and brother-in-law were visiting that weekend, and must have thought I was about to have a stroke. My face was beet red when I came back home.

The long runs were painful at first. For the first few weeks, I had to incorporate walking into the long run. The shin splints hurt, and my heart wasn’t quite ready to handle it.

Somewhere around my 5th week of training, something clicked. My body decided it could handle the stress of the long run. My running journal tells me I ran 7 miles on August 9 in 1:16:14, without stopping once. Victory.

Like a crazy man, I kept running…and running. After running for 3 days a week, and cross training for 2 days a week, I encountered my longest run ever on September 17…a 12 mile run.

In May, running 12 miles seemed as foreign to me as being a shepherd in rural Turkey. Seriously.

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What's a 12 mile run without torrential rain and a bloody foot? (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)

But on September 17, I ran 12 miles…in a steady rain…with a bloody foot (see photo). I ran those 12 miles in just over 2 hours.

The bloody foot looked worse than it actually was…just a bit of a toenail issue, to be honest. And blood, combined with rain and a wet foot, made my shoe look much like a scene from Rambo. But it wasn’t that bad, though it made me feel like some kind of medieval gladiator.

After the bloody foot and the 12 mile run, I began final preparations for my half marathon in Murfreesboro on October 3. In the two weeks leading up to the run, my legs felt tight, tired, and generally achy. I had been running for 5 months, and I was feeling the effects of this unprecedented amount of activity, for me at least.

The Race

But on the morning of October 3, I felt freaking great. If you’ve never run in a race, you don’t understand the energy and excitement of standing in a group of 1,600 people, all of whom have been preparing for this day for months.

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Starting out at 7 a.m. The first of 13 miles. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)

Fired up, I started out of the gates fairly quickly. My goal for my first half marathon was 2 hours and 10 minutes. Fairly reasonable, I thought.

Around mile 4, I felt incredible. At that point, I swear I experienced my first “runner’s high.” I truly felt like I could run for 50 miles. When I saw my beautiful wife at mile 6, I still felt great.

At the halfway point, my time was 57:02. Suddenly, I thought 2 hours was doable, a thought that had never crossed my mind for my first half marathon.

But fatigue crept in around mile 9. I slowed down a little more with each mile. My breathing remained steady, but my legs hurt like hades.

The last mile of the Murfreesboro Half Marathon is a long straight-away in which you can see the finish line, the Middle Tennessee State University Track Stadium, in the distance. The last mile seemed like an eternity, but I made it through a headwind and into the stadium eventually.

When I turned the corner and ran inside the stadium, I felt an overwhelming sense of emotion. If my legs hadn’t felt like they were about to sever from my hip bones, I might have actually cried at that point. I truly couldn’t believe I had ran 13 miles.

I saw several hundred people lined up behind the ropes, the most important of whom was my lovely wife, cheering as I and hundreds of others passed. She was hopping up and down and clapping. She seemed so incredibly happy for me, with an ear-to-ear grin plastered on her face. It was one of those mental photographs I’ll never forget.

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The end. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)

Finally, I crossed the finish line.

After five months of training, and after 2 hours 2 minutes and 16 seconds of repeatedly placing one foot in front of the other, I had finished.

In some sort of strange paradox, though, I was a bit sad. After 5 months of talking about this half marathon–the training, the dieting, the lifestyle changes–it was over.

If I chose, life as usual could return: the Cokes, the fried foods, the lazy, inactive afternoons. Freedom, right?

The Future

But, not really. Like broccoli, running has become a part of my lifestyle.

I’ve totally become hooked, to the point which I’ve written over 1,300 words about running on my golf blog! What’s up with that?

Golf will not go away. But choosing to run is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My family has a history of heart issues. In my world, things needed to change.

I’m already preparing for my second half marathon next month. I’m considering a full marathon in April 2010. I’m totally and ridiculously hooked to this insane, but unlike golf, healthy hobby.

It’s not going away. I fully intend, like my late grandfather, to be one of those guys who is 80 years old with the heart of a 35 year old.

If you’re not a runner, I encourage you to give it a try. Get past the pain, get past the discomfort, and see what it’s  like. Yes, it’s incredibly difficult at first, but it’s worth it. It’s totally worth it.

And, maybe, just maybe, you’ll grow to realize, like me, that broccoli doesn’t suck anymore.

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