Back in March, I read a story by Runner’s World about a 570 pound man from KC who was committing to finishing a 5k each month for the remainder of 2015, in an effort to lose weight and develop a healthier lifestyle. Derek Mitchell‘s goal for each 5k was simple, just finish. He quickly became something of a celebrity in the KC running world, his inspirational journey paired with the welcoming and encouraging running community was like a wildfire. His story has been told all across the globe, and everyone seems to be caught up in Derek’s positive attitude and wide smile. I have personally seen Derek on the sidelines, high fiving and cheering on runners during numerous races in the KC area.Derek is often being shadowed by the follow car in races, which is usually a police car or “sag wagon” following along to ensure all runners and walkers finish the race safely. He doesn’t mind being at the back of the pack; his goal is to finish, and many spectators and friends jump in to finish with Derek. Though he simply wants to finish each race he starts, hopefully with a bit better time than the last (he has already dropped his 5k PR over 15 minutes!) he also have some pretty huge goals on the horizon! This fall, Derek hopes to not only finish a full marathon, but to become the largest man to ever complete a marathon!
Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict, I was not able to meet up with Derek to interview him in person, but he was kind enough to answer some questions for me via email and Facebook. I hope to catch up in the future with Derek, and will post an update at that time. In full disclosure, I was not paid to write this story, and I did not pay Derek for his time or to publish his story.
Renee: I often remember back to a time when I didn’t run, and actually hated the idea of running. I would have told someone they are crazy for wanting to run, and now, I can’t imagine life without running. If you could go back in time a year and tell yourself that one year later, you’d have completed several 5ks, and are considering tackling a marathon, what would your past-self have said? What would your response be? How have you changed, mentally, in the past year?
Derek: I definitely would have said “no way,” especially to the marathon part. I think that mentally, I just believe more that I am capable of doing this, especially with every 5k that I complete, it cements it in my head.
Renee: With your history of prolactinoma, your weight gain was not simply a lifestyle choice. Weight loss and becoming health is a huge lifestyle choice, and one that is also aided by getting the prolactin levels and other hormone levels under control. For those individuals who also have medical conditions contributing to weight gain, what are three tips you have to encourage them to not give up on themselves?
Derek: Start small. Do what you can. If you can only walk to the end of the block, then just do that until you find you can go further. I never thought that I would have the ability to walk 2+ miles every day, but here I am. Also, make sure to stay hydrated. Probably most importantly, listen to your body. If something hurts consistently, try to back it off. Don’t do too much, too fast or you can permanently cause damage to your body.
Renee: I am super sentimental, and kept my first pair of running shoes (a pair of Saucony Kinvara’s, in white and blue) from over 3 years ago. What was your first pair of walking/running shoes? I also keep my race bibs and write the dates/times on them. Do you keep your bibs and medals? Do you display them?Derek: I don’t “display” my first pair of shoes, but I definitely have all my race bibs and medals. I’m working on a display for them. Right now they’re in a shoebox! I am still waiting on the medal and bib from the virtual 5k I did.
Renee: You are a part of Team RWB (Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity). What initially drew you to Team RWB? How has being a part of a team helped you keep on track with your walking/running and weight loss journey?
Derek: They were at the first 5k I completed in March and I signed up to join them that night. What they are doing, by connecting Veterans to the community through physical and social activities is nothing short of amazing. They add another level of support to what I’m doing. They are always encouraging and supportive.
Renee: Since you started training for 5ks in the winter, and have trained for and completed races in the cold, hot, rain, wind, humidity, I’m sure you’ve cursed the weather in KC at least once. What’s your ideal weather situation? Also, living in KC, we have no shortfall of hills. So, hills… love ‘em? Hate ‘em?
Derek: Perfect weather is probably high 50’s, low 60’s, low humidity, and I have a love/hate relationship with hills. I hate going up them, but love the feeling I get after conquering them.
Renee: My favorite thing to do after a race is put on my compression sleeves and have a celebratory pop. What’s your favorite way to celebrate another race in the books?
Derek: Sit, relax, ice my legs, and usually have a beer!
Renee: My mantra, in life and in running, is “with brave wings she runs.” I also have phrases that keep me going during hard runs and races. Do you have a mantra, phrase, or idea that you utilize to keep going when you want to stop?
Derek: I don’t currently have a mantra for myself. My “catchphrase” if you can call it that was something I said during my first TV interview. It is “if I can walk a 5K, anyone can!”
Each year, Runner’s World hosts a contest to find two of the most awesome runners in America. Derek’s photo (below) is in the running, and I definitely think the photo truly encompasses what running is. Inspiring. Passionate. Encouraging. Hard. Badass. Emotional. Freeing. His photo is currently in the top 20, and the top 10 men and top 10 women go on to be judged, and the winners (one man and one woman) will be on the cover of Runner’s World in December! Voting ends July 22, so if you are interested in voting for Derek’s photo for the cover, please click here.Derek, you are a fantastic inspiration to anyone wanting to change their lives. Keep up the great work, and we’ll see you out on the race course!