Run Oregon: Tell me about your health before your started running. How did it affect your physical activities?
Houghtelling: My health after driving semi for 7 years all over the country, and doing nothing but driving and eating buffets and fast food and soda, had deteriated my health to a dismal shadow of what I had used to be. Now working for the County Courthouse and Parks Dept., I labored to complete tasks at work and at home. Even personal tasks we all take for granted were becoming more and more difficult. I had severe sleep apnea, high blood pressure of 195/120, cholesterol of over 350, and my weight hovered at 344lbs!
Run Oregon: What was the catalyst that got you moving, so to speak?
Houghtelling: The breaking point came one night when looking in the mirror after consuming five Whoppers from the BK (Burger King) Lounge, and having guilt-ridden memories of my dying father telling me recently that he wanted me to, “get back down to your jogging weight!” I was tired of being disgusted and embarrassed of myself, letting loved ones down and just not feeling well. I suddenly realized that of all the activities I used to love, I missed running most of all.
Run Oregon: What made you try running, and what made you keep running?
Houghtelling: Back in high school I was an avid runner and proud to say I was State Champion in small “B” schools for the mile when I was 16. (Houghtelling emailed us after this interview to say that he just found out that Alex Dillard from Dufur just beat Houghtelling’s 25-year-old mile record this month.) I also ran in the Marine Corps, participated in triathlons, hiked long-distances and was an aquatic survival instructor. I boasted PRs in high school of 53.1 in the 400m, 2.01.3 in the 800m, 4:13.9 for the 1500m, 4:21 for the mile, 15:33 for the 5000m, and 34:53 for the 10k. So even though it was to be a long journey ahead, I knew I had the experience of running 20 years earlier and yearned to get that feeling of running euphoria back.
Run Oregon: What was the hardest thing about running the first few months, and what was the biggest reward the first few months?
Houghtelling: The hardest thing about beginning running again was to be patient. I had to begin with walking with friends in the evenings for the first three months after lap band surgery in January of 2009 (my insurance would not pay for morbid obesity issues, only would pay when I had a heart attack they told me on the phone). Once I was able to run, I took it a few laps at a time and had to not worry about taking a stopwatch.
Slowly, dropping weight and shin-splints a thing of the past, I started to really enjoy my few miles a day with my running companion, Chunk (running pug). Living in a small town of less than 750 people, it is hard to miss us running down the roads amidst the wheatfields, wind towers, deer and tractors. Within 10 months of eating right and losing over 110lbs, I was able to run the Run Like Hell half marathon on my 40th birthday in Portland in 2 hours and 8 minutes. I was very proud and excited about that and that began to burn loftier goals in my head. Next up for a goal was the Marine Corps Marathon out in Washington D.C./Virgina, on my following birthday, as that was a marathon I had always wanted to run when I was younger. Weighing in at 172lbs (exactly half what I had been) I completed the race in 4 hours and 8 minutes!
Run Oregon: What is the hardest thing and most rewarding thing about running now?
Houghtelling: The hardest part now about running is still showing patience since I want to do so much to, “make up for lost time,” and succumbing to the fact that I can get injured even if I’m in great shape is a hard fact for me to deal with.
Run Oregon: How does it make you feel to share your story with other runners?
Houghtelling: I love sharing my story with other runners and non-runners to maybe help them understand that anythings possible. I went from 344 lbs down to 154 lbs at my lowest point in just over two years, and from not being able to jog a mile under 15 minutes, if at all, to 6:30 miles for a 5-mile race. My sleep apnea machine is on my highest closet shelf collecting dust; my cholesterol is a healthy 151; and my blood pressure is 116/64. Running and eating right has saved my life!
Run Oregon: Who has given you support during this time in your life?
Houghtelling: My wife has been my biggest supporter throughout everything. She bought me tickets to D.C. to to fulfil my goal on my birthday and allows me to go off and do all of these crazy runs and hikes with nothing but pure love and trust in her heart.
My family and friends have also been huge and I wouldn’t have been able to do this well without them (particularly since they helped finance the lapband and believed in me). My co-workers and most everyone in this small town I live in (Condon) have been fabulous also. My ex-running coaches and associates from Dufur/The Dalles area also show great enthusiasm for my “rebirth” back into the running world. My first youth running coach, Gordon Haller, the first ironman triathlon winner, also gives me advice through facebook as my friend. (Thanks Gordon! You always were my inspiration!)
Run Oregon: Which running events/races have you most enjoyed and what are you currently training for?
Houghtelling: I most enjoyed the Marine Corps Marathon while running throughout the famous capital landmarks and finishing at the Iwo Jima Marine War Memorial in Virginia with 35,000 strong! That was amazing. I also really enjoyed the Hood To Coast race with a fun team that was just a blast to be with.
My running calendar this year is a busy one. I have the Eugene Marathon May 1st, then Eastern Oregon Half Marathon memorial weekend, Rock and Roll Seattle Marathon June 25th, Condon’s Windmill Classic 5-mile run 4th of July (I am the race director), San Francisco Marathon July 31st, then Labor day brings an ultra 50k trail race with Columbia Gorge running club (my first ultra), and finally the Warrior Dash obstacle course Sept. 11th, (dressed up like Braveheart!).
Run Oregon: What new things or new friends have you encountered as you’ve gotten more involved in running?
Houghtelling: I have made some incredible friends and acquaintences during my races this last year. From sharing costs with a runner attempting to run 50 marathons in 50 states, to making a doctor friend during H2C and staying at their house for carbo-loading (and beer keg) the night before the Eugene Marathon with our H2C friends. Runners and hikers are a very friendly group to be around and are the best people to hang with. I truly believe that and love all you guys and gals out there that are out pounding the pavement and trails!
Run Oregon: Describe how you feel now, physically and emotionally?
Houghtelling: I now feel at peace with myself both physically and spiritually. Sunday long-runs are my church out there and I vow to never give that feeling up again … I can’t and won’t!
Houghtelling concluded his email with all these answers to our interview questions with two quotes:
“All men die, not all have truly lived.”
“NO BAD DAYS!”