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How Running Changed My Life
& That of Others

By Jarrett Krienes

Krienes & Kids

I am a runner, and also founder and president of the running group Run! Spring Hill. I may be better known as El Presidente by our members. I still have a tough time hearing that with my name. Runner … Me? A runner? I spent seventeen years of my life as a smoker. I didn’t care much to get off the couch and when I did, it was most likely because my cigarettes were on the other side of the room.

When 2006 came along, my wife was pregnant with our second child and she gave me the eyes. I almost knew what she was going to say next before she even said it and I was terrified. She asked in the most sincere voice. “Will you quit smoking?” That was the last thing I wanted to hear, but how could I say no. I was starting to have dreams of my children graduating college and that empty chair next to their mother.

Off I went,seeking different methods to help me kick this seveteen-year habit. Over the next year I was a non-smoker, I was a smoker, and then finally… I was a non-smoker. After gaining some weight and seeing the doctor a few more times than I would have liked, I thought to myself … “I need to do something,” but what? Lift weights? Play badminton? I had no idea. I had an old treadmill that had become the best clothes rack in my bedroom and I thought … “Let’s start there.” My first run was less than a mile and I felt like I would nearly die, but you walk and you run and you walk and you run. and after a few weeks and months you are running. One mile becomes two and then two becomes three and that is a 5K! What? A 5K? I had no idea I could do that. I was running a 5K.

It was only a matter of time that I moved from the treadmill to the street. Funny thing about running is that quite often “]it’s more fun with people” — the more the merrier (or maybe misery loves company), I’m not sure which. I entered my first race —a 5K in Tampa. I wasn’t exactly surprised when I didn’t win. In the middle of the pack or at the back of the pack — I didn't care … I had a blast! It was then that I realized running had gone from an activity to get in shape to being something that I truly loved. Since then I have run some races. Some long some short … and you know what? I still haven't won any of them.

A little more than two years ago I found myself driving to Tampa from Spring Hill quite often, just to run on Wednesday nights with some of the groups in the city. That got old — fast. I didn’t know what to do because the drive was starting to get in the way of other stuff I had to do. I was talking to a very wise acquaintance of mine about not wanting to drive that far any more, but I really liked running with a group.

She said: Don’t.

I asked: Then what do I do for a running club?

She said: Start one.

So I started a running group, even though I had no idea of:

  • How to do it?, and
  • Would anyone show up?

A couple of people came first and since then we have grown. Over the next two years this group has changed everything that I have come to expect as a runner. From a group of people to share runs with and maybe commiserate with afterward, this bunch of runners have become friends. I have seen these people conquer some of the toughest challenges physically and mentally. In this short time I have seen friendships created, bonds made, personal records beaten, and lives changed.

Whenever anyone asks me about a success story, the very fist people to come to mind are our friends —

Matt and Jenn Peterson: In 2014, Matt quit smoking. Shortly after, they realized that they were tired of feeling sluggish all of the time and decided to make a change. They started a couch to 5K running program and shortly after that Jenn was running with us at Run! Spring Hill. By the end of the summer 2015 Matt had joined Jenn on our weekly runs. With all of the encouragement and motivation that they found there they kept going. Within the next year Matt lost seventy pounds! Jenn has found that the activity has helped manage her symptoms from Lupus. With the example that they have set, their son Noah has joined them on their journey. At sixteen years old he was running a 5K in fifty minutes and he is now running the same race in half that time.

Ben Power: Just two and a half years ago he weighed 245 pounds and finally realized he was not happy about the way he felt. Wanting to make a change he got a Fitbit® and started watching his calories. He started running — three miles or less in the beginning but he hated it. He signed up for some obstacle races and started running on natural trails and he found that he started to love running. From there he started running some half marathons, first on the street and then moving to almost exclusively trail runs. Not even interested in running a full 26.2 mile marathon he signed up for his first ultra-marathon of 50 miles! He ran a 100K and shortly thereafter he was hit by a car, having four to six weeks of entirely too much tv and he was back at it. Just last month he ran his first hundred-mile race and finished in less than twenty-four hours —One hundred miles!

Karin Starkweather: Our friend has an entirely different story. In 2013, she was training for a marathon when she realized that she was having trouble breathing. Not long after that she was diagnosed with a very rare form of sinonasal cancer. She had to endure thirty-six rounds of radiation with nine days worth of Chemo. She was told that the next three weeks would be “hell”. Her extreme discomfort only lasted three days. She kept at it and exercised and trained when she could through the therapy unit her cancer returned in 2016. We saw her last at our running club in the summer of 2016 and she was discouraged by her odds. Treatment began and she took a break from running events. No one, and not even she, knew if she would be back. Then in November we all could not have been more surprised to not only see Karin’s return, but she was walking, and she was walking pretty fast too. Her doctors credit her recovery to her healthy condition. They and she believe that had she not been in the shape that she was in, she might not be here today.

Every one of the people who I run with has a story, A reason why they started. But the reasons that keep them going are almost always entirely different. It has been said many different ways but sometimes the hardest step you take is the first one out the door.

So, the two things that I have learned as a runner are:

  • Never miss an opportunity to surprise yourself!
  • Whatever you decide to do, love what you do!

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