Running for several hours seemed impossible to Barry Brokaw a few years ago. At more than 400 pounds, he struggled just to walk around the neighborhood.
He has come a long way, though. Recently, Brokaw led the 1:40 pace group at the Wild Hog Half Marathon in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Brokaw’s fellow contestants had no idea that the newly svelte running enthusiast shed about 260 pounds.
The 43-year-old nurse from Superior, Wisconsin knew he hit a low point in 2008 when he could barely pull his daughter in her toy wagon without getting winded. He thinks he weighed around 420 pounds at the time, but he can’t be sure because his scale kept displaying an “error” message when he used it. That moment motivated to him to start losing weight.
It wasn’t the first time Brokaw flirted with the idea of weight loss or running. He said he’s been successful losing weight in the past but not very successful at keeping it off. In the early ’90s, he was in the military and tried running several times while training for his physical fitness tests.
“Like everybody, I hated it,” Brokaw told the Grand Forks Herald. “When I was in the military, I was never good at it.”
After his decision, Brokaw visited a weight loss clinic, but scheduling conflicts dampened his hopes of weight loss surgery. Instead, he started working out on a StairMaster to build stamina. At first, he could only handle exercising for 10 minutes at a time. But Brokaw worked out on the StairMaster for six months, gradually increasing his endurance.
“I thought I was going to pass out,” Brokaw told Runner’s World. “But I knew the first two or three weeks would hurt really bad and then it would get easier.”
In the past, it had been hard to stay motivated. However, he found inspiration watching season three of “The Biggest Loser.” Erik Chopin, one of the contestants, was similar to Brokaw in many ways.
“If he can do it, why not me?” Brokaw said.
After six months of working out inside, Brokaw started running outside.
Over the course of two years, he started to lose weight and improve his running times. He also cut fast food and red meat from his diet, opting for leaner proteins like turkey and chicken. Running was also beneficial for his mind. It was meditative, allowing his mind to wander.
Once Brokaw was down to 205 pounds, he took a major step in his fitness journey. He ran the Grandma’s Marathon, finishing in 3:57. He got a taste for races after that and increased his training. His marathon times started to improve little by little. In 2014, he ran the Twin Cities Maraton in 3:23. It improved to 3:18 this year.
His time in the 2015 Twin Cities Marathon was incredibly close to qualifying Brokaw for the Boston Marathon. It was within reach if he could shave three minutes off his time. With a newly found incentive, Brokaw hired a coach and buckled down. He achieved his goal, finishing the BQ2 Marathon in Chicago in 3:05. It qualified him for the Boston Marathon.
“That first 10-minute workout on the StairMaster was way, way harder than running 3:05,” Brokaw told Runner’s World. “When I look at pictures of myself when I weighed 400-plus pounds, I was so miserable. Back then, I knew about running, and I knew about Boston. I used to think, am I really going to be this big the rest of my life. To think about where I started, getting into Boston is one of the most exciting moments of my life.”
As for the Wild Hog Half Marathon, Brokaw finished 30 seconds ahead of his 1:40 pace and finished second in his age group.
Not bad for someone who couldn’t walk around the block a few years ago.