Rory Coleman's journey to being a top marathon runner reads like something out of a Hallmark movie. He takes us through his life, from the bittersweet past to his very successful present.
Rory Coleman is managing director of Ambition Events, a multinational race event management company which is bringing The Run Across the World (RAW) Africa series to Cape Town in April. He is also a runner who, at 46 years of age, has completed 558 marathons and ultra marathons.
But he was not always this driven – in fact, says Coleman, he was once the original couch potato with a growing problem with alcohol and cigarettes.
Couch potato beginnings
"When I was 31, I weighed in at 15 stone (95kg), and my daily diet included 40 cigarettes and 12 pints of beer.
"It seems strange now that after fourteen years and 52 days (not that I’m counting), I can’t really remember drinking alcohol at all. I can’t even really remember the person I used to be," says Coleman. "I do, however, feel a huge amount of embarrassment when I think back to the dark times I experienced during this part of my life. Even now it feels like I am talking about someone else, a sort of long-lost friend, certainly not me," he said.
At a point (it was close enough to January 1 to be a New Year's resolution), Coleman realised his lifestyle was dangerous to his health and affecting his relationships, especially his marriage. So just like that, he stopped. "I became teetotal, quit smoking, went on a diet, and started running.
"My business partner thought I’d flipped. All of my drinking friends said it wouldn’t last.
"My wife said nothing at all.
"I looked in the mirror and saw a fat 31-year-old staring back at me, with a beard and long hair. I was ashamed at what I had become," Coleman says now.
Coleman's diet was extreme. "I thought, quite unwisely, that a diet of 600 calories (about 2 500 kJ) a day would get the weight off pretty quickly. How right I was (as a rule an adult man of similar weight requires at least 12 500 kJ just to maintain his weight). I stuck religiously to my new diet, and although I felt incredibly hungry, I decided to accelerate the weight loss by exercising as well. So I went for a walk.
"Dressed in my work clothes, in leather shoes, I walked about a mile (1,6 km)," he says. "I stood on the scales. I hadn’t lost weight, so I thought that the next day I would try and run part of the way.
"After 100 paces I was flat on the pavement, bent double like an old man. I was shocked that I was so unfit."
Instead of being demoralised, Coleman just got determined. Soon he was using the time he had previously spent in the pub to exercise.
'Exercise produced higher highs than alcohol'
"The nicotine and alcohol were now being replaced by endorphins and adrenaline that the exercising produced. The highs far surpassed any achieved with cigarettes and alcohol. I felt then, and still do, that anything is possible," he says now.
As he began to see results, Coleman raised the bar. He had run a half-marathon by April, just over three months after his personal reinvention; and he ran his first full marathon in November (in a time of 4 hours, 4 minutes). This, he says, he treated as a "warm-up" for his goal of running the London Marathon.
Looking back, Coleman believes running was about much more than exercise to him. "Running got me through my alcohol addiction. It has brought its own problems, and I can be as obsessive about it as I was about strong lager, but I am super-fit with a resting heart rate of 46 beats per minute (the average adult man's resting heart rate is 72); and my weight a steady 85kg," he says.
He has since run 558 standard or longer marathons, and has set nine Guinness World Records for treadmill running.
"The last 14 years have proved to me that anything is possible. Organising events has given me the opportunity to help many people who are in exactly the same situation I was in.
"It is the ultimate personal journey of exploration, one where people go beyond their limits and find out who they really are. There is always time to achieve, reflect and re-direct your life. I am that living proof that anything is possible…"
Running RAW in Cape Town
Coleman will be taking part in The Run Across the World (RAW) Africa series in Cape Town in April.
The event, launched by Ambition Events, is a gruelling five-day, five-stage, 250km race, said to be the toughest "foot race" series in the world.
There are five RAW races of similar length and structure around the world, each in its own extreme landscape. Unlike other similar events, the RAW series competitors have to carry their own equipment, and have to remain self-sufficient throughout the race, including cooking, washing and other tasks.
The race will pass through De Hoop Nature Reserve and Cape Agulhas, and will finish in Hermanus. For more information, visit www.runacrosstheworld.com and www.ambitionevents.com.
(Health24, March 2008)
Source: Ambition Events