How I Became a Runner

Updated: Apr 13

My football career came to a complete halt in 2017 when I medically retired from the sport and my life as a Division I athlete. I was 340 pounds at the time and I had trouble running a half mile so I never thought a marathon would ever be in my future. I needed to lose weight and how I did that can be saved for another blog because I don't want this to turn into a book, but I ended up initially losing 100 pounds. Most of that was done with diet along with cardio on the elliptical or through treadmill intervals when I didn't exceed the weight limit because I hated running. In fact, up until my first 5k I've always hated running. Growing up as the 'Big' kid definitely had its perks. Not many kids on the playground messed with you, but I'll tell you what...the mile run in gym class definitely sucked and the sight of a quarter mile track scared me until high school. So if that doesn't paint the picture of my pure hatred of running...I don't know what will!


Despite my total animosity surrounding running, I always had the dream of finishing a marathon. Weird right? But I think most people actually have this dream, but even though marathon popularity is growing there is still a small amount of the population that actually toes the line to run 26.2 miles. The one marathon I always wanted to conquer was the Disney Marathon. Disney in their advertising for the race claims that every mile is magic, but they forget to mention that it's very painful magic because it's still a marathon. My dream of finishing the Disney Marathon didn't come until this past January, but it marked just over a year into my running journey.


While my first marathon didn't occur at "The Happiest Place on Earth," my first race did: The 2019 Disney Marathon Weekend 5k. Oh wait...I lied. My first race was a half mile dash for children under 10 and it was hell...ABSOLUTE HELL! Again, another example for you of why I hated running, but let's get back to the 5k!

I signed up right when registration opened which was some time in the early summer of 2018. The race was scheduled for January of 2019. I was pumped when I signed up and said I'm going to become a runner!

News Flash: Just because you sign up for a race doesn't mean you suddenly fall in love with running!


I ended up having some health issues that summer so I couldn't run at all. I wasn't able to start running until September and at that point I was like, "I still got 5 months and it's only a little over 3 miles...I'm good." Late November rolled around and I figured I should probably see where the current state of my physical fitness was at.


Long story short...I went out to the track and after my first lap I felt bad. After my second lap I felt awful. On my third lap I stopped because I thought I was going to pass out. I continued to run once a week and things got a little better. I worked my way up to running and walking 3 miles by the race so I figured I'd be all set. I thought, "I'm going to grind out this 5k because it's not that far and that'll be the official end of my running career. FOREVER!" I couldn't have been more wrong!

If you know me, you probably know I come from family of Disney fanatics. Disney has been a critical part of my childhood and the same thing goes for most of my family members. My cousin, Jordan, who had been running for about a year at this point (don't quote me on that) ran his first marathon and ultramarathon in the fall of 2018 and he was signed up to run the Disney Marathon the same weekend as my 5k. My 5k was on Thursday morning and Jordan arrived Thursday afternoon. I ended up running the 5k in about 26 minutes and I had a blast, but I still didn't know running was something I really wanted to pursue. When Jordan showed up in the afternoon, I told him all about the race and our talk of running didn't end the whole weekend. We shared a room in the condo that we were staying at and this was the official start of me falling in love with running.


Jordan has been through a lot and overcome a ton of adversity in his life. His story is one of the most inspirational things you will ever hear in your life. He totally reinvented himself and running was a major component of this transformation. I sat there in awe listening to his stories and everything he accomplished in the short period he had been pounding pavement and exploring trails. We talked everything from races and training to gear and diet and I loved every second of it. I'm not trying to brag, but my cousin is an absolute beast. There is no other way to describe it. From the marathon distance all the way up to 100k, the other runners better watch out for Jordan.


As I got on the plane to head back to Connecticut at the conclusion of the weekend, I said, "One day I'm going to run the Disney Marathon just like Jordan." I went home in mid January and I started running a lot. I almost did 100 miles in the month of February which was a ton for myself at that point and when it was time to sign up for the 2020 Disney Marathon in the spring of 2019, I didn't hesitate. I wanted to be just like Jordan and the process it took to achieve that goal was what made me fall in love with running.


So fast forward to October of 2019. I would end up running my first marathon three months before I conquered my ultimate goal of finishing 26.2 miles in "The Happiest Place on Earth." I wanted to get one under my belt before Disney so I knew what 26.2 miles was like. My first marathon holds a special place in my heart. It took a lot for myself to get to that point. I lost 140 pounds and I had transitioned to a completely new chapter in my life. The chapter where I no longer identified by the football jersey I was wearing.

Despite everything I overcame to finish the race that day, the thing that made this marathon so special was who I got to share the moment with. Jordan and his girlfriend made the trip up from Pennsylvania to watch me run and it meant the world to me. Actually check that...they didn't watch me run. Jordan, who was not a participant in the race ended up running about 8 miles with me (and 27 throughout the day for his own workout) to get me to the finish line. The last 3 miles came with excruciating pain, but the support I received from my cousin was the primary reason I could now call myself a marathoner. Three months later in my second marathon, I would cross the finish line in Disney World. It was a goal that I always had, but one that I never thought would be possible.


So Jordan, I can't thank you enough for your help along the way. You're the biggest reason this former 340 pound football player became a runner.

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Tanner Kern is a 22 year content creator and endurance athlete from Connecticut. He is the host of The Tanner Kern Podcast and creator of "It's a Process: My Tips for Becoming the Best Version of Yourself."

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