Here is a story to inspire every heavy smoking, boozy, overweight couch potato who dreams there is an elite runner hiding inside just waiting to be set free. In Steve Way’s case, there was.
The 40-year old bank worker from Bournemouth on England’s south coast finished 10th in the marathon event at the current Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2:15:16, breaking the 35-year-old U.K. masters marathon record*. Seven years ago, Way was a chain smoking, lager-drinking, kebab-binging, self-described “fat bloke”.
He had decided on a whim to enter the 2006 London marathon and ran a creditable 3:07:08 on three month's training, a sign of latent talent. Yet it wasn’t for another 18 months that he decided to make what he calls “the big change.”
“I was 33, in September 2007," Way told the BBC. “I was at my heaviest, about 16-and-a-half stone (230 lbs), and I was smoking about 20 cigarettes a day. I'd have sleepless nights because of the coughing. It wasn't pleasant. I'd be lying if I said I had an epiphany but I didn't like the person I saw in the mirror in the morning, and I do remember the emotion I felt, the feeling that, right, I've really got to do something, make some changes."
His do-it-yourself makeover was comprehensive. He stopped smoking, cut back on the drinking and late-night partying with his mates, and improved his diet. And he started to run. Seven months later, he finished the 2008 London marathon in 2:35.26, fast enough to place 100th overall.
Way has now lost a third of his peak weight, and is running 120 miles a week while holding down a full-time job (he used to be in IT before switching to a more running-accommodating job in banking). You can relive his progress from December 2010 on his blog.
He now describes himself an ultra runner “who still likes the odd marathon.” His run in this year’s London marathon qualified him for the England team at the Commonwealth Games as the third Englishman home after Olympic double gold medalist Mo Farah and Chris Thompson, a silver medalist at 10,000 meters in the European Championships.
Even now, he still can't quite believe he mixes in such elite company. He displayed a wide-eyed wonderment in Glasgow in taking part as a 40-year-old in his first major tournament.
“I hope I’m an inspiration. There are quite a few people out there that say they are getting themselves off the couch, getting out the door and seeing whether there is a marathon runner hidden underneath that couch potato,” Way told the Dail Mail — before heading off for his first pint of lager for three months to celebrate his new record.
“I can’t go completely off the rails," he says. "I’ve got a 90-kilometer (55-mile) race in Sweden at the end of August” — not to mention World Championships in November.
Fairy tales can come true, even for fat blokes – if they choose to make it happen. All it took over a period of three years was stopping smoking, losing 70 pounds and, as Way himself puts it, “getting off my backside.”
It is never too late to start. As Way says on his blog, “Don’t worry about your real age, it’s your running age that counts.”
*U.S. record for 40-44-year-olds is 2:13:52.