By Chris Egan
In June and July of 2014, Kevin Gose will run across the entire state of Kentucky to raise money and awareness for diabetes and healthy living. Starting in Ashland and ending in Hickman, KY, Kevin plans to run 6-8 hours a day for 16-20 days to make it across.
The Kentucky Project connected with Kevin to hear his story, which includes his struggles with his weight and healthy living, and why raising awareness and money for diabetes is important to him.
Information on how you can donate to Kevin’s cause is at the end of the interview.
Kevin, you’re 42, and what part of Kentucky do you live in? Are you Married, have kids?
I live just south of Louisville in Bullitt County with my wife, Amy, and daughter Sara. Our son, Josh, lives down the street and attends U of L, while working at UPS. We have 2 cats, Smokey and Bandit; 3 dogs, Laika, Inara, and Aeryn; and a turtle, Hercules. Amy and I have been married since 2006, and are both teachers in Bullitt County Public Schools.
How did you go from being a cross-country runner in high school to being overweight, having high blood pressure, and being pre-diabetic?
I will try to be brief. I see pictures of me at my heaviest, and it looks strange to me. I don’t remember being the biggest guy in the room. I don’t remember being “fat.” I just remember wanting to be healthier but not really having the motivation or having an excuse for not making healthier choices.
I quit running in college after a series of injuries. I never really picked up another sport or hobby in college that was physically active. At first it didn’t affect my health, I was in my early twenties and could do what I wanted diet-wise. In my mid-twenties, I started gaining weight, but my lifestyle still didn’t cater towards exercise and healthy choices. At 29, I decided I was going to make sure I didn’t weigh more than 200 lbs. by my 30th birthday. I changed my diet radically, and joined a rock climbing gym. It worked, but like any radical change if you falter in it, you will revert to old habits. I gained the weight back pretty quickly. I don’t know when exactly Dad was diagnosed as a type-2 diabetic, but I remember Mom calling me when she was diagnosed and asking me to get checked because I had gotten so big. I never did anything about it, since in my mind I was too young to worry about it.
By the time I was 36, I weighed 250-260 lbs. I joined an adult indoor soccer league with some friends in 2009. I remember running “at full speed” in the first game, and being so winded I pulled myself out until halftime. It was embarrassing. We finished the season, and eventually I could run the field a couple of times. While playing, I went to the doctor about some knee pain; he talked to me about my size and family diabetic history putting extra wear and tear on my body. It wasn’t enough of an inconvenience to me to change.
My brother, Chris, ran the Blue Ridge Marathon and challenged me to run it the next year with him. I laughed it off. But I always watched sports coverage of marathons, and the Ironman. I had always wanted to try one. Chris rekindled my desire to run with his challenge. I went to the doctor about a bad sinus infection, and casually talked about running a marathon. She ran a small battery of tests and told me that she advised against it until I lost significant weight. She also said my blood sugar was high, but not high enough to diagnose me as diabetic. I remember clearly, her explaining that that I was in really bad shape and heading to diabetes, heart disease, etc. I’m kinda stubborn and left angry that she said I shouldn’t run a marathon. Everything else was a footnote to her telling me I couldn’t do something.
I picked January 1st as the start of my diet. I researched diets and exercise routines. It was boring. There is a fad diet for every occasion, and you have to wade through all of them to get to meaningful data. I decided to count calories and lower carbs while following P90X. I announced what I was doing on Facebook, and recorded my weight as a status update every day. Most people fear failure, especially public failure. Nothing is more motivating than having everyone around you aware of your goals. The worst was trying to buy healthier food. It was way more expensive to eat fresh produce and lean meats. McDonalds, processed box meals in the grocery store, and ramen noodles are cheaper. I used Food Inc. and Fast Food Nation in my class for a debate. It changed a lot of my outlook on food and health.
I weighed myself every morning at 5:30 am and posted the results. I used Calorie Counter, then My Fitness Pal, to track my caloric intake. I would go to work, then do the P90X routine for the day once I got home. I was rigid in my routine. By June, I had lost about 50 pounds and started running again. I phased out the P90X routines in favor of running. I remember the first mile I ran was a 16 minute mile. It hurt. I remembered effortlessly running miles and miles in high school, and now it was a chore. I think the rush of life gets in the way of most people’s health. I know I still feel like I am rushing from my work, to home, to Sara’s volleyball stuff, to Amy’s stuff, to a rehearsal, and on and on and on. The biggest difference now is I take time to run. I look at what is in what I am eating.
What was your diet like before you decided to make a change?
Fast food, constant high carb snacks, ice cream—specifically Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip or Ben And Jerry’s Phish Food, super-sized meals, buffets—pizza, Chinese, Golden Corral
Food became a stress relief and the center of my social world. If I was stressed, I ate. If I was meeting friends, it was at a restaurant. If I was staying in that night, I went through a drive-thru and ate in the car.
My family had a big vacation trip one summer. All the aunts and uncles and their families got together and rented a few condos to share at the beach. We took turns hosting lunch and every conversation was about which restaurant we would eat dinner at that evening. Dinner conversation would be a discussion of who would host the next lunch. I think that is the curse of a large family. My mom has 6 brothers and sister who grew up in the Depression and WWII eras, so food was scarce at times. It was also a time for the family to come together from the farm, work, and school. Amy’s mom is from a big family, too, and every home cooked meal is huge.
Whose idea was it for you to run across KY to raise money for the ADA and raise awareness for healthy living?
I’m not sure who thought of it. I think it was a passing comment by Amy, that I ran with and started brainstorming. She lets me have crazy ideas and is always there to keep me on track.
I’ve run the Blue Ridge Marathon—twice, I pulled out of the Indy marathon at mile 20 from injury, and a bunch of half marathons including Louisville Sports Commission, Key City, Big Hit, and KDF. I don’t enter races to win them. I’m not ever going to win a race or even my age bracket. I run for the challenge of it. I can’t run fast, but I will run far.
I’m still a big guy, but I’ve made significant changes in my health by making little changes in my life.
You are running from Ashland, KY to Hickman, KY, which goes east to west across the state. How did you choose the route?
I looked on a map and picked the 2 furthest points in Kentucky that seemed accessible for running. I went to Murray State, and I am casually familiar with the Murray/Mayfield/Paducah area. I live in the Louisville area, and drive back to Mom and Dad’s home in Virginia regularly, so I have a casual familiarity of that end of Kentucky. It is just how I drew the route on RunKeeper, really.
How many miles is that and how long do you expect it will take you?
We haven’t published the route, yet. It will be on our website www.runacrossky.weebly.com. We’ve planned 16-20 days to run over 500 miles. It will depend on my need for recovery each day and detours or course changes. We are driving parts of the planned course to check runner friendliness and safety. My plan is to run from 6 am – 10 am, rest, then run 6 pm – 10 pm.
Where will you sleep?
Sleeping could be a challenge. We have asked a few businesses and friends if we could borrow their RV or small camper. We haven’t gotten replies back, yet. I have a few friends who have offered to travel with Amy. We are working on a backup plan, but we’d prefer an RV.
What is your training regimen?
As strange as it sounds, the hardest part of trying to run this is running slow enough. I’m not a fast runner. On flat marathons, I’m about a 10 minute mile. But all runners get that adrenaline rush, you have to fight that impulse and slow yourself to run longer distances. I’m doing my usual training for the KDF Marathon (and maybe the Flying Pig), but adding a day of forcing myself to run at a slower pace. With the recent cold snap I’ve been running shorter distance faster pace work outs. I’m also cross training more than I ever have. I’ve been saddle sore from our exercise bike.
Is anyone taking this journey with you?
You and others are welcome to join me. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. I have a few friends that plan on running part of the Louisville section with me. One of my cross country runners is Type 1 diabetic and plans to run part of the Louisville section with me. She is an amazing runner who is proof you can perform at a high level as a diabetic. I would welcome anyone to talk with on the run. I have several books I plan on listening to while running, but it is more fun to run and talk to people. Amy will be in constant contact with me in a support vehicle. Sara says she’s going, but she really dislikes slow car rides.
Do you have any concerns, doubts, or fears?
Yeah. I will be crushed if I don’t manage the run correctly and finish it. It will also be disappointing to not meet our collection goals.
I think about my Dad a lot when I’m running and training for this. He, Mom, Lara, Mike (my father-in-law) can’t do this. Like most guys, I want to fix it, but I can’t I can only bring awareness and show you can avoid it. I’m only limited by my own inaction, I will run.
I’m not a medical expert or specialist; I just see how diabetes has slowly broken dad down. Diabetes doesn’t have a cure, and it takes away time that I will have with him. It is not a cold. You don’t recover. You just try to slow it down, manage it. In my family, I have seen relatives with cancer, Crohn’s, heart disease, Alzheimers, and diabetes. All of these are debilitating diseases, but diabetes is taking my family from me.
How can people donate to your cause?
- We have a webpage with a link to donate to the ADA in our name http://runacrossky.weebly.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html. Our monetary goal is $1000.
- For donations to help with the logistics of the run, email me directly at email@example.com. We would love the use of an RV or other housing. Running equipment, shoes, and running nutrition gels/waffles will be needed for the entire run. Running is an inexpensive sport, except for shoes.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I feel like I have rambled . . .
Thank you for talking to me and helping get the word out about Run Across Kentucky. I think the Kentucky Project is a great tool to educate and communicate to the people in Kentucky who also want to see how special and unique Kentuckians are throughout the commonwealth.
Run Across KY contact info: