You may have heard about the man who ran across the state of Kansas last year. If you aren’t familiar with this story, he ran 435 miles in TEN days! That’s over a marathon per day! This man’s name is John Kohler and he is the big brother of one of my best high school friends, so I’ve known John for a long time. What a lot of people don’t know or remember about John is that he hasn’t always been a runner, or even an athlete for that matter.
In 2010, John was overweight for his height and didn't work out much at all. Suddenly, he started working out and eating right. What happened to make him change his life? It was like a switch had been turned on. I remember asking his brother, “So what changed?” He said that John had been to his Doctor and found out that his cholesterol was high, among other markers of less than optimal health.
I followed up with John to see what had altered his mindset. I wanted to learn from his experience to harness this skill to change people’s lives and health for the better. I asked him a few key questions on how he was able to turn his life around and continue to motivate others to exercise to this day.
What was your life like before you decided to make a change?
“While I was in college I was fairly active but had a bad diet and smoked a couple packs a
week. Knowing what food was healthy and portion size was something that I didn't understand. As I got older my diet stayed the same, but my activity level dropped. At 29 I was 20 pounds overweight, I smoked, and my diet was horrible. My breakfast included a couple of Mountain Dew's and lunch was some sort of fast food. For dinner, I typically ate most anything I wanted and in the quantities that I wanted. Health was not something I really thought about. I figured I was young and didn't need to worry about it. Looking back it was crazy how uneducated I was about food, exercise, and just overall health.”
What resonated most with you after you met with your health care provider to make you change?
“I hadn't done a check up in a while and about 3-4 months prior I had quit smoking. I remember the nurse calling me and giving me my cholesterol results. While I don't recall what those numbers were the thing that stuck in my head was her telling me that it was not good and I needed to reconsider my lifestyle and eating habits.”
What was your journey to running and fitness? What did you try, and why did you choose running?
“ My wife and I decided to have a family and I knew that if I wanted to hang out with my
kids, be active, and live long enough to raise them, that things needed to change. I quit smoking and started to exercise. At first it was small, I just started doing the elliptical for 20 minutes a day. The big change was my diet. There is this huge misconception that exercise is the cure to all when in fact 90% is your diet.
Knowing what you put into your body, portion control, etcetera is really important! This can easily get overwhelming, but I think that by doing things as simple as cutting out soda and just reducing the obvious stuff, people will be surprised at the results. That was what I did at first. Then I started learning to read all the nutrition labels, which practically takes rocket science. So, if I didn't know an ingredient, I didn't eat it whatever it was (I don't suggest this extreme approach just cause it can make eating a little boring, but you get the idea). The other thing is learning that ingredients are listed in the order of content amount, so if sugar is first that's basically what it's made up of.
Also, I figured if my meals were mostly made up of veggies I couldn't go wrong. Last but not least, I learned that fat is NOT bad. Just make sure its GOOD fat, which keeps you satiated.
While I was getting into shape I slowly began to run. Back in my college days I remember reading that running was the most efficient way to burn calories. But like most of us I HATED running so I just didn't do it and did everything to avoid doing it.
A couple of months later I had a friend who was running the KC marathon. His wife suggested I try it and run it with him. After mulling it over I mentioned the thought to my wife who proceeded to tell my family that I was running a marathon. So, I felt like I was committed at that point.
My first race ended up being a marathon. Afterwards I was hooked. Looking back on it, ignorance is bliss and I was lucky I didn't get hurt.”
Have you had many setbacks or injuries during your running career?
“I've been blessed to not have many. I attribute that to luck, diet, & sufficient rest. A few years back I had a knee issue that popped up during training. At that point I just did the elliptical in its place until it felt better and then slowly went back at it. About a year ago I twisted my ankle pretty good and I made the mistake of not resting. Since it was during the Boston qualifier I didn’t want to quit. I ended up doing enough damage I was stuck in a boot for a bit to let everything heal.”
What can you teach us about sticking to exercise without long 'breaks' from fitness?
“The number one rule is don't be too hard on yourself. Realize that it's a process. Just start slowly, whether it's walking, run/walking, elliptical, etc. What I believe is most important is starting the habit of allotting the time for exercise every day, or even every other day. Once that habit is established you'll be surprised where it goes from there. Also, be prepared for the setbacks, they will happen but what's most important is to not let those deter you from your long-term goal.”
How has your journey to NPKC enriched your life and the lives of others?
“A couple of years ago I had some friends that were from Boston who, via social media, I noticed were always at these workouts on Wednesday mornings at Harvard Stadium. The group called itself November Project and I continued to follow along via social media for the next couple of years. After some national media attention, I started to learn more in depth about what they were about.
Then, in January of 2015, I found the application on how to become a co-leader on their website. As I reviewed everything I thought of how great it would be if someone in Kansas City would start a "tribe" and be part of this global fitness movement. After about 6 months I finally got the guts to submit the application myself. I just figured no one else is going to do it so why not me? The worse they could say was, “NO!" Three months later we became an official tribe and it's been growing ever since.
There are all these misconceptions about exercise and health, that it's expensive, takes up too much time, etc. November Project is changing that.
First and most important, we are free, always has been and always will be!
Secondly, we're about being an encouraging place for people to start and continue their fitness routine, while having a lot of fun at the same time. One of the greatest things to witness is the different fitness levels and ages who show up on Wednesdays to workout right next to one another in a positive & welcoming environment. Third, tribe members that come to our workouts come from all parts of the city with different backgrounds and they're connecting with people they might not have otherwise. We're using fitness to bring the community together and hopefully making Kansas City a little bit healthier and a better place to live. Bringing together all these things is something that I've enjoyed immensely.”
November Project Kansas City - Every Wednesday at the Liberty Memorial at 5:29am and 6:29am
In writing this, along with researching how to help people change their lives and health for the better; I have found some common themes.
The first thing you must have to succeed is motivation. John was motivated by his relatively poor health for his age and he did not like the idea of needing to take a pill at his age either.
The second theme is a reason. What is your reason to live? Do you want to see your grandchildren graduate College? Do you want to dance at their wedding? Are you just sick and tired of being sick and tired? Some people need a Diagnosis that scares them to death, to turn their health around. Others prefer to prevent ever having the diagnosis! We all have a reason or a purpose for living longer, healthier lives. Its up to you to find yours. John’s reason was his future family.
The third component is support. John’s wife has supported his lifestyle change from day
one. She pushed him to run his first Marathon, countless runs later, and she’s still supporting this healthy habit. Some people may not be so lucky, they may need to look outside the home for support. I have dedicated my career to helping people change their lives for the better and I would be happy to support your journey to better health!
The forth is follow-through. As you can see above, John didn’t let anything get in the way of his health and fitness goals!
If you or somebody you know is thinking about Lifestyle Change this New Year, contact us to learn more about how we can help you succeed. This is your year!