The person who runs inside us

Plus 16 gorgeous trail half marathons in forests across America

“We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves. The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, ‘you must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.’ The human spirit is indomitable.” — Sir Roger Bannister

Tommy Tomlinson isn’t a name that’s likely to be familiar to you, unless you were a subscriber to the Charlotte Observer for all the years he spent as a columnist at the North Carolina-based newspaper.

But a lifelong struggle with weight, which the 50-year-old Tomlinson chronicles in his newly-released book The Elephant in the Room, is something I think many of us can relate to.

(In fact, it’s probably the reason many of us took up running to begin with.)

The book, which you can read an excerpt from here, opens with a confessional: “I weigh 460 pounds. Those are the hardest words I’ve ever had to write. Nobody knows that number — not my wife, not my doctor, not my closest friends. It feels like confessing a crime.”

As he continues through the opening pages, Tomlinson paints a raw, honest portrait of what it’s like to live with obesity in our society: the considerations he must make when he books a flight, sits in a chair, or even reserves a table at a restaurant — all need to be capable of handling his weight.

He’s lived like this his entire life, he adds, even as a child growing up on St. Simon’s Island, Ga., where his mother tried to get him medical help for his weight when he was 11 and 12 years old.

But no matter what they tried — cutting carbs for a while, diet pills, etc. — nothing stuck.

What that meant, Tomlinson writes, is that he never got to experience many of the physical rites of passage that most of us take for granted:

“When I was a kid, I never climbed a tree or learned to swim. When I was in my 20s, I never took a girl home from a bar. Now I’m 50, and I’ve never hiked a mountain or ridden a skateboard or done a cartwheel.”

It’s worth emphasizing too that, despite all this, Tomlinson leads a life filled with love and accomplishment.

He spent 15 years as a beloved journalist in Charlotte and now hosts his own podcast in addition to the marriage he’s enjoyed for years with wife Alix. “Our lives are full of music and laughter,” he adds. “I wouldn’t swap with anyone.”

But, the excess weight has been more than a hindrance to things like getting on a bike; its been more like a bouncer at a bar, refusing to open the door to a wider world.

“I’ve missed out on so many adventures, so many good times, because I was too fat to try. Sometimes, when I could’ve tried anyway, I didn’t have the courage. I’ve done a lot of things I’m proud of. But I’ve never believed I could do anything truly great, because I’ve failed so many times at the one crucial challenge in my life.”

Just when you think the light has gone out for Tomlinson, however, he rallies.

What I love about him is that even though he’s facing a far more daunting challenge with his weight than most of us do, he believes down deep in his soul that his life is worth fighting for — and that there’s a healthier man inside him that he’ll get to become:

“Of course, I have to lose more. But I’m already preparing for when the man who walks inside me comes to stay. I have some clothes I want him to wear.”

As for me, I’m rooting for Tomlinson in a big way.

I’m not entirely sure why his story has resonated with me so deeply — perhaps it’s because I can remember being a chubby kid at different points of my own childhood, until the endless running I did as part of the soccer team in high school burned it off me.

But at different points in my own life, when I’ve had to be more sedentary thanks to desk jobs or times when I couldn’t run much (like the past few years), the weight has crept back on.

Not to the degree that Tomlinson experienced, but enough to serve as a kind of mental barrier — the kind that whispers in the back of your mind, “Who do you think you are, really? You can’t accomplish goals like that, you know.”

It’s part of the reason why I went for a run on the treadmill in our basement yesterday, while my 5-year-old son was playing upstairs. I want to keep that old me from coming back, and be here for as long as I can for him, and hopefully get to spend time with him when he’s as old as I am today.

Maybe that’s my “why” — and why Tomlinson’s story strikes such a chord, because it is so similar to so many of ours.

What’s your “why”? I would love to know, either in the comments below or just in a reply back.

As always, keep in touch and let me know what’s new with you.

Your friend,

— Terrell

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See the full list here

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More race info here

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One of a series of more than a dozen trail and road races in Northern California, this April half runs from the streets of Calistoga in the northern Napa Valley and into the hills, wineries and vineyards that lie just east of town.

More race info here

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The rocky coastline here along Maine’s Seacoast region, just a short drive south from Portland, is a magnet for tourists in the summer and for runners in the spring at this mid-May race, thanks especially to the scenery of its plentiful coves and the tidal polls off Saco Bay, between Biddeford and Kennebunkport.

More race info here

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