How Running Changed My Life
Original article link: http://yycruncrew.com/how-running-changed-my-life-sheldon-smith/
Growing up, I was an athletic person who kept busy in sport, year-round. I played hockey for 10 years. I played soccer in the summer. I had golf memberships at a local course in Okotoks and would at times play 36 holes a day. Then, high school and peer pressure happened. I began heavily drinking and smoking, and stopped playing sports, which lead to a sedentary lifestyle, making my teenage metabolism work overtime. In total, I smoked for 12 years, beginning around 14-15, and for many of those years, two packs a day, as I worked in the oil and gas sector and it was an escape from the working conditions.
I would drink heavily on my days off, and if you ever want to hear some of my boneheaded drunken stories while on a run one night, please ask away. I also never bothered to care what I would put in to my body, whether through a borderline drug addiction, or copious amounts of fast food and complete lack of nutrients. I still remember days of working a construction gig near High River. Every Friday, the crew would get incredibly drunk after work. I would crash in High River, often times still in work clothes, wake up, go the bar, order a burger and fries or poutine and a Caesar, wash that down with a pack of smokes, and call that my hangover elixir. I did this for nearly two years.
I promise I will get into how I began running. It just has some context. In the fall of 2011, I made the decision to leave the oil and gas industry and pursue a career that I felt was more stable, not working in -40, or wearing full-body coveralls in the summer hear and covered in dust. I applied to the journalism program at SAIT and started in 2012 and loved every single second of it and will cherish those two years for the rest of my life. Upon graduation in spring of 2014, I was fortunate to land what I felt was my dream job, becoming the Managing Editor of an oil and gas publication.
The company’s office was on the west side of downtown, less than a kilometre away from Calgary’s wondrous Peace Bridge and river pathways. I remember exploring the area in the early days of my employment and thinking how cool the area was. Being in an office though, I still maintained a sedentary lifestyle, as well as cigarettes to deal with the stresses of my job and multiple deadlines. I was 27 years old when I could feel my metabolism slowing by the day. I knew a change needed to be made. I was struggling with body image issues, and depression, and didn’t know where to start. I did an online search of personal trainers and exercising. Late summer 2015, I met with who’s now my good buddy, Erick Corzo, and he not only told me just how out of shape I was, but also my weight. I was 240 pounds. The only reason I may not have LOOKED that heavy was because I am quite tall – 6’2”, and it hid my weight well. Erick taught me about nutrition, how to balance proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and micro and macronutrients. He also asked me how much water I drank, and I earnestly answered, “maybe 250 ML a day.”
Erick provided me with a meal plan to adhere to, how to actually eat meals throughout a day, and to slowly start working out/running, and to obviously quit smoking and drastically cut back on drinking. I still remember my first day lacing up my dusty old Adidas shoes. I started near the Peace Bridge, ran for maybe a minute, and was completely gassed, but also enjoyed being on my feet and out of the office. While I loved my job, I had a destructive relationship with my employer, so getting outside was not only a physical exercise, but a mental break. As I was eating better, I could start to feel my body making incremental changes, and it felt good. I didn’t even know about the Memorial Stairs until my travels along the pathway brought me there. When I first saw them, I was intimidated and also very conscious of how I looked around so many fit people going up and down like well-oiled machines. I made it a daily habit to frequent the stairs. I would go Monday-Thursday around 11 a.m. slowly building from one set, up to two, then to five, and eventually making 10 a comfortable number.
Seriously, those stairs, mixed with properly using food as fuel and recovery, whipped me into shape. At one point, sprinting those stairs two steps at a time was a breeze. I could feel the weight shedding off me by the day and it felt incredible. After running stairs for so long, and accomplishing a goal of losing weight and getting into shape, I wanted to try running for longer distances, and began to target runs and races to sign up for. I stumbled across the Banff Marathon page and thought, “hey, maybe I’ll try for a 10K.” I knew it was a bit of a leap, but I went for it. I’m a stubborn Scorpio. I again leaned on Erick, and he helped me get into running farther distances and a plan to follow. The race was Father’s Day 2016, and I remember putting my goal time as 65 minutes, as I thought I’d have to do a run/walk.
They always say you never forget your first race, and they’re right. I never will. It was a Sunday. I slept horribly, got up at 4 a.m. to make myself pancakes and want to be out the door around 6 a.m. We stopped at a gas station along Elbow Drive to get a coffee for the road. As I opened the car door, the lid came off the cup and spilled all over me and I was in a bad mood and frustrated. It was a cold and drizzly morning, and just gave me a bad vibe. I ran with music then, so I got into the mass crowd of people, and cranked some black metal. Yeah, I’m a metalhead. It got me in the mood, and as we started running, all my jitters and anxiety of my first run went away. I ran light, had fun, and ran beside equally-paced runners. I didn’t have to stop once, and as I crossed the finish line, I saw my time of 49 minutes and was so thrilled!
I felt like I could have kept running, and it was an incredible feeling. Coming off that run, I kept with the stairs, but added in some strength training to try and get a little faster and build up muscle. That fall, we moved downtown, and I came home from work one day and Monica told me about YYC Run Crew that was on 4th St. and how they met on Tuesdays at 6, which was perfect for me, as I worked until 4:30. We lived in Lower Mount Royal, so I was less than a 10 minute walk away from the store.
The first time I joined was in September 2016. On one of the first runs, I was running with Amy Coppens. Amy, I hope you see this and know just how much your words on that run inspired me. We talked about running marathons and I was unsure of myself. She said, “You’ve run a 10K, you absolutely can run a marathon.” That stuck with me. I kept going every Tuesday, and it started to make a huge difference. The crew’s inspirational leader, Raf Lopez, opened me into the group and made me feel welcome from the first day and I knew it was much more than a running club. This was a support group in which I had never had. I’m a shy and introverted person who constantly battles anxiety and being in public. Seriously, it’s all the warm smiles and hearts that make me come every Tuesday. I’ve made lifelong friends and I cherish that every day.
One Tuesday I ran with someone from then-November Project and they told me it was Wednesday mornings at 6:13 at Memorial Stairs! I thought, well that’s really early and I’m running tonight, so I’ll just sleep in and get ready for work. As I’ve mentioned, I have competitive side, and I’m stubborn. Those factors led me to going to November Project for the first time in November. It actually worked perfect for me, as I could go to the workout and just head to the office after work.
By late fall, both of these groups made such a mark on my life that my mood changed entirely, I enjoyed being around people, and was making friends. On New Year’s Day 2017, I wanted to attempt a marathon, and thought Calgary Marathon would be doable. When on the website, I saw that the price difference between the ultra and marathon wasn’t too much. Again, my stubbornness and competitiveness came out. I signed up for the ultra. Fifty (50) kms! Why the hell not?
I told people at NP about this, and the group’s leader, Tammara Francis offered to coach me and build a 16-week training plan. It was like a workout plan I had never seen before, but I wanted to tell myself I could do this. I ran eight times a week for four months, taking Sundays off to go to yoga/lift weights and cross train. I was getting faster by the day. It was a struggle, but I found comfort in a running partner, Rae, who has become my best friend. Her and I would do bridge sprints by Simmons Building every Tuesday evening winter of 2017, working our way up from 200m all the way to 1,600m sprints. We were machines. The cold didn’t bother us one bit, and while there were days I hit mental and physical walls, I pushed through and ran my heart out.
Race day approached quickly, and I was so nervous. My fiancé was in Europe, and I felt alone and scared. I had a goal time of under 4:30. As the race started, I was comfortable and felt good, but could slowly feel blisters beginning to form on my left foot around kilometre 30 and my pace slowing. Knowing I had to run another 20 in excruciating pain, I broke down in tears on the course. I had to walk many portions of the last 20K. As I came to the last 100 metres, I had to sprint JUST barely finish under my goal time. I believe it was 4:29.
That race taught me so much about self-discipline, mental strength, and when you have something to push towards, it acts as a huge motivator. I took a day off, got back on the horse, and began training for Seawheeze, which was an experience I will never forget. When I got home from vacation and Seawheeze, I went through some major personal issues, and my relationship ended in fall 2017. People who know me know just how much I loved Monica, how she was my best friend, and how crushed I was and how it severely affected me. I spiraled deep into depression, anxiety, ultimately having suicidal thoughts and fearing for my life. I kept much of that to myself to not burden people with my problems, still going to Run Crew, but hiding so many personal issues. I told a select few, and they went out of their way to help me in any way they could, whether through a run, a bite to eat, coffee, ice cream, any way they could. I will never forget what those people did for me and how they helped. Fitness has saved my life in more ways than one.
I was able to run in the 2018 Calgary Marathon, the half marathon, and being able to run and train over the winter gave me an avenue to avoid my depression and anxieties for a little while. I took a different mindset into this year’s run, and enjoyed every second of it and set a PB!
I really don’t know where I would be without fitness, running, YYC Run Crew, YYC Fit Fam, and all the incredible people in this community. Their smiles, hugs, and inspiring abilities have changed my life, and made me a better person. A popular hashtag is #MoreThanMiles, and now I know why. Running, to me, is so much more than the miles I spend on my feet. It’s the connections and friendships I’ve made, people I can trust, spending time in their space and getting all those positive vibes on a daily basis makes me so glad I started to take up running back in 2015.