04/01/2016 03:06 EDT | Updated 04/02/2017 05:12 EDT

Taking A Run Outside My Comfort Zone Saved My Life

Mark McDonald

When people look back at the person I used to be, they don't recognize the person standing before them. Often their expression will be ...

"I don't remember you ever being that big," but I was...

Even looking back at times where I had lost weight and felt at my best, it doesn't reflect the new person that stands before you all today.

It was the spring of 2005, I was an overweight smoker on the fast track to an early grave. I was 23-years-old, weighed 260 pounds and smoked a pack a day. My eating habits were poor with little to no exercise.

My nephew had just been born six months prior, and I decided that I wanted to be around to see him grow up, and made the decision that changes had to be made.

mark mcdonald

Mark McDonald pre-transformation.

The first step was to quit smoking, which I found success by going cold turkey. I had tried other methods for quitting in the past, but nothing proved as effective.

When I had a craving for a cigarette, I would think of the wheezing that I would experience before I quit, and that was enough of an incentive not to go back. I also utilized carrot and celery sticks to help fight the habit of always having something in your hand at key times during the day.

With the first of my troubles gone, it was now time to combat the weight loss. I started going to the gym quite regularly, and took on a "fad" diet. I dedicated myself to a very low-carb diet and managed to drop 60 pounds in a very short amount of time.

Like most fad diets, it was not sustainable, and I quickly gained a lot of the weight back. By this time, I was enjoying going to the gym and was able to stick with the exercise.

I was also able to reduce my calorie intake by eating less during this period, and was able to get a lot of the weight back off. My exercise routine consisted of stationary bike, elliptical and treadmill running of no more than a few minutes.

I was determined to run further on the treadmill. I started at three minutes and worked my way up to 30 minutes. From there, I started running outside and worked my way up to 10 kilometres.

In the spring of 2007 I was introduced to Canada Running Series and signed up for my first 10-kilometre race. Throughout the summer, I excelled quickly with a 16-kilometre race and a half-marathon in the fall. I had accomplished a lot, and the running really helped keep any weight gain in check.

In 2008, I made the decision to step outside my comfort zone and joined a running group. It has been the greatest experience of life, and I feel I owe my life to the running community.

You will never know what positive changes in your life this can lead to unless you take the first step.

It was through this network of people that I learned about nutrition and paces during a run. I purchased a Garmin so I could determine if I was getting faster. I went from pupil to teacher, instructing both a half-marathon and marathon clinics to be able to share and motivate others with my experiences.

These series of events would eventually lead me into triathlons, once again pushing myself out of my comfort zone to try something different, which has led to completing three full Ironman races.

In 2015 I joined Lifetime Fitness, and once again became passionate about trying new things. I'm lifting more weights, doing more classes and soaking up all the club has to offer.

There are still plenty of goals that I still wish to accomplish, from qualifying for Boston, to running an ultra marathon. I'm confident that today...

"I can do anything I put my mind to..."

... because I have proven to myself and to others that I can achieve what I set out to achieve.

I joined Pace & Mind in July 2015 looking for the personalized coaching the group had to offer. The thing I learned to appreciate the most from the coaching was if ever I had an off week or was feeling injury coming on, my running program would be changed to reflect some rest and recovery immediately, which I may otherwise not have done if on my own program, allowing me to continue to run stronger than before.

Since joining the group, I have expanded my running family and obtained a personal best on my 5K. I have also seen first-hand just how supportive everyone in the Pace & Mind family are of each other, as well as coming together to support local community runs and events.

I have learned many lessons in life, most importantly to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. You will never know what positive changes in your life this can lead to unless you take the first step.

This blog originally appeared on Pace and Mind. Pace & Mind is an advanced 'tough love' coaching service for distance runners.

mark mcdonald

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