How I Became a Runner
I didn’t start out thinking that I would become a runner. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’d always hated running, or more accurately, I had always convinced myself I hated running. Having only run 1.5 miles at any one time, and very infrequently, I had no basis for this perceived hatred. In fact, up to this point the last time I had run farther than the length of a crosswalk was 1990.
So I started lifting weights, walking, doing cardio on an elliptical and stair climber. I cut out sugary foods and drinks and started paying attention to portion size. To my surprise, I started seeing results. Once I noticed the results, it was now a game that I could play. Let’s see how far I can take this. Sixty pounds dropped off in the matter of about 6 or 7 months. Let me tell you, losing 60 pounds is expensive from a wardrobe point of view. During that 6 months, I had to change wardrobes twice, or three times in some cases. My 36 inch pants turned to 34. Then to 32, and now I’ve settled in on 30s. Shirts went from XL to medium and even small in some cases.
Then one day, just to see what would happen, I pushed the 5K button. I finished it. It wasn’t fast. Somewhere around 9 minute mile if I remember, but it was the longest I’d run in my life, and by then I was 51. So that became my new normal.
Fast forward to January of 2017. I discovered something about running that I hadn’t expected, and really, had nothing to do with the actual act of running. There was this whole community surrounding the sport that I never knew existed. If you were a “runner” you had an instant social circle of friends. And it didn’t matter if you were fast, slow, medium, or walked half the time. I found that the community of runners is what I enjoyed most. Over and above all of the other benefits. I started going to the Monday runs at our local fitness store, Gallagher Fitness Resources and found a group of people that I could easily relate to, many of whom had a similar story to mine.
It was at one of these events that I met several of the Team RWB Salem Chapter members and began to learn more about the organization. I was in the Air Force from 1987 to 1991, and then inactive reserve until 1995. I was always proud of my service but for a long time it was just a personal thing in the background of my existence. As I became more familiar with Team Red, White and Blue it dawned on me that those intangible things I’d been missing were things that Team RWB stood for. Camaraderie, a sense of purpose, the feeling of being involved with something bigger than yourself. Those were all things I knew, on some level, that I missed about the military. But I’d never been able to put my finger on what exactly that meant.
I began to participate in Team RWB activities, and the more I participated, the more I wanted to participate. The first time I saw someone running with the our flag, it was the most motivating thing I’d ever seen. It wasn’t long before the leadership invited me to become a leader in the chapter and I didn’t even hesitate to agree. I had no idea what it entailed but from what I’d seen thus far, it was something I wanted to do and the rest would sort itself out. I was not disappointed.
What I found with the running community in terms of an instant connection was even more pronounced with Team RWB. Whenever you see the eagle shirt there is an instant and unconditional connection. There is none of the usual wariness or holding back that you otherwise instinctively have when meeting someone new under any other circumstance. You have an immediate friend and it is as if you’ve known them all your life. It’s a difficult phenomenon to explain without actually experiencing it. And it is the thing about Team RWB that enriches my life the most. The first time I ran with the flag, I felt like I had all the energy in the world. And from there on, there was no turning back.
It is that enrichment that I want to pass on to every veteran I meet. That social connection that has been so important to me the last couple of years is what motivates me to be a leader in the chapter. It has helped me maintain a level mental attitude that extends into every other aspect of my personal life. Some of that can, I’m sure, be attributed to the exercise, but much it is because of the satisfaction I get from my efforts with Team RWB. There is a social aspect to everything we do, whether it be running, hiking, biking, picking up trash along the road, or simply having coffee in the evening. So I truly believe there something for everyone in the organization, regardless of their physical abilities. And I want to help every veteran experience what I have through Team RWB.
On May 6, 2018 I finished the inaugural Willamette Valley Marathon in Salem, Oregon. Until December of 2017, when asked when I was going to run a full marathon, my answer had always been, “Well, I’m not in a hurry, maybe in the next 2 or 3 years.” But when the Willamette Valley Marathon was announced, I thought, the first Marathon in Salem, my first Marathon, on my home turf where I had basically grown up both as a child and as a new runner…. How could it be a better match? And so I took the plunge.
A couple months into my training I developed IT band syndrome on my right side. I thought for sure my marathon was over before it started. But I still had a little over two months and so I was determined to try to heal while at the same time continue to train as much as I was able. Thankfully, through cryo-therapy, deep tissue massage, and a lot of stretching and rolling, the leg healed up and and allowed me to continue. The good news is the right leg survived the marathon without a problem. Strong as ever. Not so much for the left. About mile 21, I started feeling that familiar pain in my left knee. I knew what it was immediately, but I only had 5 miles to go and I still had plenty of battery left. By mile 22 it was so painful, I was forced to walk most of the last 4 miles. But it was at a good 13 minute pace so it worked just fine. I even passed a few people in that last four miles. I saved enough fortitude to break into a run for the last 100 yards to cross the finish. It was the best feeling ever. Who cares I was 20 minutes off my goal. I’d made it in, with the flag, for my first 26.2.
So now it’s time to rest up for a week or three. In June, I start my training all over for the Marine Corps Marathon on October 28th. This run (I won’t call it a race because this is one is just for me and the flag) will be special for me because it will be my first trip to Washington DC. I’ll get to run by many of the landmarks in our nation’s Capital. I’ll have some memories that my wife and I can share forever. And to carry the flag 26 miles DC will mean that I will have done that in both my nation’s and my state’s capital city. In addition, I’ll be helping Team Red, White and Blue by raising funds for the charity bib. I’m looking forward to meeting all of the other Team RWB runners and running over the starting line in a big red Eagle force.
I suppose for the trifecta, I’m going to need to schedule a Marathon in Indianapolis. Then I’ll have the capital of the state I was born, the capital of the state I grew up, and the capital of my country.
To learn more about Dean Chambers and his finish at the Willamette Valley Marathon, check out this article.