by Frank D. Kecseti – Brevard, NC

Nine short months ago, the closest I got to running was a quick “run” to the store. I was over 360 pounds and about to embark on the greatest transformation of my life — a half marathon was nowhere in my mind.

May 1st of 2019, I decided to do something about my health (being the lack thereof). I started a four-day juice cleanse followed by a well-managed diet and alternate-day fasting. After a brief adjustment period, the weight started to disappear. I hadn’t been very active throughout my 20s so I started by simply walking around our small town [north of Atlanta, GA]. Sometimes my wife and I would walk to dinner, down Main St. and back home afterwards; it was a great way to just feel good about moving my body.

The better I got at walking, the more I wanted to start hiking. Hiking taught me a lot about my breath, pace and patience (things I’d later need when running).
Then came THE BIG DAY — my first 5K! I told myself “It’s not about going fast, it’s about finishing.” (That became my mantra, which I still hold to this day.)

I completed the 5K in August 2019, running the entire time, with a pace around 16:30/mile. This was the weekend before we moved from Atlanta to Brevard, NC. We fell in love with the area on vacation and decided it was time to commit to a place that made it as easy as possible to maintain healthy, active lives.

Between packing, moving and working, it was hard to squeeze time in to run. I wanted a motivator to get back out there so within weeks of our arrival, my wife and I signed up for the Trick or Trail 5K in DuPont State Forest. (This was our first experience trail running.) We were grossly unprepared, wearing terrible shoes, and in quite unpleasant weather: sub-40°, cold, wet, raining. I visited the FleetFeet booth and immediately purchased two pairs of cozy, wooly running socks. This was the first of many times they would have exactly what I needed to keep myself on track.

Fast forward a few weeks and I signed up for their Half Marathon Training Program (at Fleet Feet Asheville), led by Erin Hunt/Summit Running Coaching Services (https://summit-running.com/). This is where I learned about the Asheville Half Marathon a.k.a. “The goal!” Having already registered of the Vacation Races Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon (Sept 2020), I thought that proper training for another “hilly Half” would be a wise choice.

The 15-week program starts with the assumption that you’ve completed a 5K. Over the weeks it incorporates road and trail running, core workouts, stretches, product demo days, and a wealth of knowledge and experience. The program is so helpful and supportive which makes it very easy to stick to (and be held accountable). I’ve also supplemented my training with races like the Biltmore Park Turkey Trot, the Resolution Run 10 mile, and the upcoming Frostbite 10K.

Over the weeks my average pace is steadily decreasing to a sub-10 minute mile (down from the first 5K at 16:30) with a personal best of 8:49/mile. My longest run as of this post is 11.11 miles. The biggest difference that I’ve noticed isn’t how I feel during a run, but after! Thinking back to my first 5K, I hurt for a few days; now, after completing an 11+ mile run, I’m back out the next day with no pain or fatigue. That’s an intense moment of validation after spending much of my life being too big to run.

I’ve currently lost (and kept off) more than 140 pounds in 9 months and I’m feeling totally confident about race day. I feel like I’ll finish strong and remember my training — breath, posture, focus, distance. If I set a goal for the race, not knowing the course, it’d be to finish comfortably. I’ve set a loose time frame for myself at 2 hours, but if my body wants to do it in 2.5, so be it.

If I could share some advice with new runners training for a half marathon it’d be “Slow down, cross-train as much possible, and LISTEN to your body.” Like my first 5K, I just want to maintain a pace. Speed will come over time. Cross-training is so important for recovery and setting ongoing milestones for yourself.

Currently, I prefer yoga and hiking; I’m also looking into road and/or trail cycling to break things up a bit. Listening to my body has arguably been the hardest, and most important thing, on my journey. From diet, to weight loss and exercise — if you feel sick or wrong, just stop and try again tomorrow. If you’re in pain, slow down or walk. If you feel dehydrated, drink some water. These are so basic, but that’s what makes them so easy to overlook or ignore. When you’re distracted or dismissive of your body, injuries can happen.

Best of luck to all the runners for the Asheville Marathon, I’ll see you at the finish line!

by Frank D. Kecseti can be found on Instagram (@pisgahrunner) or at a race — just keep an eye out for the bald guy with hot pink Nikes. 

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