By Brendan Bowers
Around seven years ago, I started to deprioritize my health. It was not a conscious decision. But my career, my clients, the next meeting, the next deadline, the next day, and whatever else I was worried about that week became my primary focus. Actively managing my physical and mental health was not on my Asana board.
I didn't believe I had enough time to exercise. I thought only about my to-do list each day and not about being grateful for each day. My health suffered as a result.
I didn't gain a ton of weight all at once. But I did consistently add around 15 pounds annually for a period of three years. I knew it was happening but never acknowledged it. Instead, I'd blame the dryer for shrinking another one of my favorite shirts again.
At my physical four years ago, my doctor called me out. She said you are 45 pounds overweight. You will put yourself at risk for a long list of health issues if you don't try to reverse this trend–now. She was a good doctor. It was a fair point, and I agreed.
But I never thought that conversation would set me on a path to my first marathon. I also never expected to learn what running has taught me about gratitude and taking life one step at a time.
Being grateful for the chance to run
When I started trying to lose weight four years ago, I didn't want to run. The first several months were a struggle. I was running to lose weight; it was a means to an end. I'd go as far as 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity would allow. Then I was done.
Eventually, though–with the help of a super-supportive spouse, an improved diet, and an active approach to positive thinking and mental health–I began to go further and see results. After about eight months of diet and exercise, I was losing weight, keeping it off, and being more productive at work and in life.
I started to have more energy and feel happier the more I ran. I was also beginning to fit back into those clothes the dryer had been shrinking. But more importantly, I started to learn that I loved running. I also found that the more grateful I was for the opportunity to run, the further I could go.
After the first year, I stopped running to lose weight and started running because I loved to run. That was a game-changer.
I ran a few 5Ks, my first half marathon, and then another half marathon. Fast-forward to this past Saturday–while training to run in my first full marathon later this month–I ran 20 miles at a pace of 10 minutes and 34 seconds per mile.
Following that run, I stepped onto the scale and weighed 57 pounds less than I did at my annual physical four years earlier. I feel like I am not only capable of finishing my first marathon, but also genuinely grateful for the opportunity to try.
Step by step, day by day
I forgot to be actively grateful when I wasn't prioritizing my health. Marathon training has reminded me of the importance and power of being grateful. But it’s also helped me practice gratitude, too.
When I began running 14, 16, 18, and 20 miles at a time, I quickly realized I could not get through those types of runs if I were to spend any time thinking about the finish line. I couldn’t think about how long this run was taking. Or how much longer I had to go. Or how tired I was.
The only way to get through those long runs was to be genuinely grateful for the chance to do it. I learned how to stay in each step and in each moment. Gradually, I went further and further as a result.
I say thank you as much as I can while I'm running. I feel like it helps me run further. It also helps me focus on the positive things in my life, instead of the physical challenges of a long-distance run. I say thank you for my wife, my family, my friends, my teammates at work, my job, my clients, my health, my life, the blue sky, the green grass, the mile I just ran, the mile I get to run next. It keeps me going.
That step-by-step gratitude has helped me more than I ever imagined. But it still takes practice. To remind myself to stay in each moment, I listen to a song by Whitney Houston called "Step by Step" at the beginning of each run.
In opening chorus, Whitney sings:
And there's a road I have to follow
A place I have to go
Well, no one told me just how to get there
But when I get there, I'll know
Because I'm taking it
Step by Step
Bit by bit
Stone by stone
Brick by brick
Step by step
Day by day
Mile by mile
Growing up, my parents always told me to take life one day at a time. But sometimes, we grow up, get busy, and forget. Training for my marathon has helped remind me of that lesson.
This journey has also helped me learn how to be actively grateful for each step, each day, and each mile I get to run.
Running to Raise Awareness for Provision Promise
I am running my first marathon on May 21 in Cleveland, Ohio to help raise awareness for Provision Promise. Right around the time I signed up for the Cleveland Marathon, I started to learn about the hygiene poverty cycle.
I read about the devastating effects hygiene poverty has on so many people. I learned about its impact on a person’s education, employment, health, and dignity. I also learned that people like the Provision Promise team are trying to help. But they need our support.
Any donation to my marathon run will help Provision Promise provide people in need with essential hygiene products not covered by food stamps, like soap, shampoo, and laundry detergent. Thank you for any help you can provide.
Thank You For the Support–We Did It!
On May 21, I finished my first marathon in 4 hours and 17 minutes. The Cleveland Marathon team put on a fantastic event. The positive energy poured throughout the course from the race organizers, spectators, volunteers, and participants. It helped me run faster than I ever anticipated.
I will always be grateful to everyone who supported me throughout this journey. The calls, texts, comments, messages, and encouraging words meant a lot. Thank you for donating to Provision Promise, visiting the website, learning about the hygiene poverty cycle, and raising awareness of this issue.
Crossing the finish line with the Provision Promise logo on my running shorts is a moment I won’t forget. I will also always remember the lessons in gratitude and leadership I learned along the way.