Aaron's Running Story
Short Running Bio
Aaron was obese from age 13 to 36, and couldn't run for a minute in high school phys ed class.
After his personal doctor brought up his obesity in 2013, and taught him the secret about eating, Aaron dropped close to 100 pounds from his highest weight, and uses running to keep his food addiction at bay. Aaron completed his first half-marathon in 2014, and cried at the finish line. Since then, he has completed 32 marathons in 20 states, as of 2019.
Aaron teaches finance and computer science at Boston University, and lives in Natick, Massachusetts, along the Boston Marathon route. Aaron regular organizes group runs with his local Natick Runners club (visitors always welcome) and loves sharing in others' success.
Aaron is a member of the Marathon Maniacs and 50 States Marathon Club.
Why do I run?
Why do I run? This is the easy part. I am a food addict. I've found that running marathons is a good way to control and deal with my food addiction.
When I was in high school, I couldn't run for a minute. In gym class, I was always the last, slowest, and fattest kid. When I graduated high school at age 17, I weighed about 270 pounds.
I tried running a little bit when I was 18. I followed a walk-run plan, and worked my way up to running about 2-3 miles, 2-3 times per week. I would keep it up for about 3 months, and then due to some minor setback, I would take one or two years off. This pattern repeated itself throughout my twenties and most of my thirties. Once, I tried to run more days in a week, only to succumb to knee pain and take another two years off.
I remember writing down a list of goals during an airplane flight in the year 2000. I had always dreamed that my ideal weight would be 225 pounds, but never in my adult life did I get there. Once, before my first son was born in 2006, I worked my way down to about 240 pounds. I believe my all-time high weight was close to 290.
About ten years ago, a neighbor asked to put a twelve pack of hard lemonade in our fridge. "Is your fridge full?" I asked. "No. I just know that if I have it at my house, I'll drink it all tonight."
I realized that I had never experience that feeling with alcohol, but I knew that feeling: with food. My family practiced the "clean plate club", always had second helpings, and I always have room for dessert. Three helpings of dessert. I knew I was a food addict, but I didn't know what to do about it.
Learning when to eat
On May 22, 2013, while meeting about something else, my personal doctor, Richard Galgano taught me what I had never heard before about eating: "When you're hungry, eat. When you're not hungry, don't eat." It only took me about 48 hours to learn the difference, and the effect was remarkable. It turns out that I was mostly eating because it was meal time, or food was available at the office, or I was bored. But eating when hungry changed everything.
At that time, I had been running my 2-3 miles, 2-3 times per week, but as I lost weight that summer, I started to be able to run longer distances without knee pain.
I read the book "Born to Run" in the summer of 2013, and changed the way I run to have a forefoot strike instead of my former heel strike. On a trip to Montreal in July of 2013, I went running in a park on wood-chip trails. What a difference! Between the forefoot strike and running on trails, I ran for a full hour without knee pain. I think this was the first time I experienced the runner's high.
During the summer of 2013, I was losing about 10 pounds a month. I finally got to 225 pounds by the end of August. So, it turns out that 225 was not my ideal weight. By this point, I was running about 5-6 miles at a time, three times per week. I dropped down to 200 pounds by New Year's.
To be clear, I'm still a food addict. I took this World Health Organization online quiz about alcoholism, and if we just swap "alcohol" and "drinks" for "brownies" and "chocolate cake", it's clear that I still have a problem. I think running has helped me become a high-functioning food addict.
Becoming a Marathon Runner
By the end of 2013, I accomplished something I never had before: I had run consistently, three times a week, for more than six months – and into the winter! I bought proper winter running clothes and a pair of waterproof trail running shoes. I was encouraged by my weight loss, and determined to run through the winter to keep up my progress. I was also feeling better than ever. Not only was I at my lowest weight in over 20 years, but my mood was good, my anxiety was gone, and my sleep improved.
In January of 2014, I ran 10 miles for the first time. It was slow going, but I felt incredibly accomplished. I ran the Marathon Park Prep half marathon in Ashland, Massachusetts in March, and I cried at the finish. I couldn't run a minute in high school, and I had just finished a half marathon!
People asked me if I was going to run "The Marathon" (i.e., Boston). I decided I'd better start with "a marathon" before trying to run The Marathon, so I entered the lottery for the Chicago Marathon, and to my great surprise, I got in.
I followed Hal Higdon's 3-day-a-week marathon training plan. I loved training for the marathon, because I loved the feeling of accomplishment that I get from doing the long runs. The hardest part was tapering – reducing my running for the three weeks before the marathon.
My brother-in-law Mike, and his sister Dana also got into the Chicago Marathon lottery that year, and we used the occasion of the marathon to have a family get together weekend – the first of several.
I met Hal Higdon at the Chicago Marathon expo, and of course I bought his book. I've re-read it 3 times already!
Running the Boston Marathon
I had barely finished running the Chicago Marathon when I decided that I wanted to run Boston in 2015.
I live in Natick, Massachusetts, which is along miles 8-12 of the Marathon route. Each of the towns along the Marathon route received a small number of invitational entries. Natick distributes its entries to local charitable organizations to partner with runners for fundraising. I was honored to be selected to run for the Natick Service Council, a local social service organization, and I raised almost $5,000 for NSC.
Running through Natick on Marathon Monday, seeing so many people that I know, was incredible. Of course, I decided to register for a fall marathon.
In October of 2015, I ran my third marathon in Narragansett, Rhode Island. It was at this time that I met my first "50-stater" -- people who are attempting to run marathons in all 50 states. I didn't know this was a thing.
It was also around this time that I began to go on group runs with others in my town, in the newly formed Natick Runners group. This was the first time I really experienced running with a group, and, and it made a huge difference, especially in long runs. With group runs, running became a social activity, and quickly I made a lot of local running friends.
Almost every Monday/Wednesday/Friday/Saturday/Sunday now features a group run with friends from the Natick Runners group. While training for the 2016 Boston Marathon, I started to discover the network of trails around Natick and Wellesley, and coordinate group runs. By offering several distances and start times, I've found that a lot more runners will join me.
Our typical group run will have people running anything from 5-20 miles, with opportunities to join up or drop-off along the route. Group runs are not just exercise, but have become very important social outings and therapy sessions. I've met many of my closest friends on the run!
The Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge
While I was training for my first Boston Marathon in 2015, my dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and due to medical errors he spent 9 weeks in the hospital in intensive care. At one point, it was very grim, and we thought we were going to lose him. My dad's eventual treatment at the University of Chicago involved an innovative treatment called immunotherapy, which uses a virus to stimulate the immune system to fight the cancer.
I am a high-school drop-out when it comes to chemistry and biology. My thinking skills cannot directly help to treat or cure cancer. But maybe my passion for marathon running can. In 2016, I joined the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team for the Boston Marathon.
As part of the DFMC team, I get to spend months training for the Marathon (and telling everyone I meet about it). Along the way, I ask everyone I know to make a contribution to my fundraising campaign — 100% of all donations goes directly to cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over five fundraising seasons, I've raised over $65,000 for cancer research at Dana-Farber.
Please help me reach my goal! Visit my personal fundraising page and make a contribution for cancer research.
On Becoming a Traveling Marathoner
When people ask me how my training is going, I let them in on what I've known all along: I'm never going to win the marathon. I might never run a new PR, and I'm OK with that.
Instead, I want to use the marathon event as an excuse to travel the country and an occasion to meet up with friends and family that I wouldn't see if I stayed home.
40 is Just a Number
I decided to run my age in miles in celebration of my 40th birthday. More accomplished runners would do this in one day, but I decided due to training and time constraints that I would be satisfied running 40 miles over the course of 3 days in one weekend – 3 back-to-back half marathons. I invited the Natick Runners, and over the course of 3 days, about 30 joined me. One of my companions on the Sunday run remarked that I really knew how to celebrate: a three day-long party with thirty guests for which I didn't need to prepare any food or do any clean-up.
At the spot where my GPS told me that I had completed my 40th mile of my weekend – on a trail at Lake Waban – I gave the following speech to about 8 friends who were still with me at that point in the run: "What have I learned this weekend? I've learned that 40 is just a number.""
My birthday runs have become an annual tradition, with group runs over the course of 3 or 4 days to get the miles in.
50 States Marathon Club
In 2018, I joined the 50 States Marathon Club – you need 10 states to join.
As of January 2020, I've completed 31 marathons in twenty states: seven in Massachusetts, two each in North Carolina, Washington, and Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, and one each in Illinois, Vermont, Connecticut, South Carolina, Maine, Indiana, Georgia, Texas, West Virginia, California and Florida.
I love running in groups, and I love encouraging other runners to reach new goals and exceed their own expectations. It seemed a natural fit for me to become a marathon pacer. I started pacing marathons in 2018 at the Onward Shay Boise Marathon, and have paced marathon times from 4:20 to 5:05.
I've run several marathons now...