"Operation Fat Ass" is Officially Up and Running - John U. Bacon "Operation Fat Ass" is Officially Up and Running - John U. Bacon
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“Operation Fat Ass” is Officially Up and Running

INTRO: When I turned 55 this summer, my weight scale gave me a rude awakening. With a wife ten years younger and a three-year old son, I decided I needed to drop 40 pounds and train for a marathon. This is the start of “Operation Fat Ass.” 

On my 55thbirthday this summer, I stepped on the scale watched it top out at 205 pounds. Since I’m just 5-foot-8, the Body-Mass Index scale put me in the “obese” category. Awesome.

I’ve never been a very healthy eater, but I had always worked out regularly until 2014. That’s when I got married, moved into a new home, wrote a 400-page book in eight months, and had a son – right as I started a nationwide book tour. 

Along the way I replaced my hockey habit with pizza delivery, workouts for Oreo Double-Stuffs, and my desire to be healthy with my desire to finish the damn book. Good times. 

Add it all up, and I gained twenty pounds that year — after I’d already gained twenty pounds a few years before that. Something had to give. Unfortunately, all I could come up with was diet and exercise. 

I needed a goal: drop 40 pounds before my next birthday. To do that I needed another goal: run a marathon. 

The only easy thing about it was finding motivation. My wife is a decade younger than I am, and she’s made it clear that she’d prefer I didn’t die. At least, not so soon. (You can see why I married her.) 

Our son turned four this fall. I’m not running just for my life. I’m running for his, too. Whenever he says, “Let’s go play!” my answer has to be “Yes!” When I pick him up from school, I don’t want to hear his buddies say, “Hey, Teddy, your grandfather’s here!”

I started running a couple miles a day, a few days a week – though it looked more like a senior shuffle. Champion runners seem to skip along the balls of their feet, while I looked like a construction worker plodding through wet cement with my boots on – and about as happy. 

When someone said, “Enjoy your run!” I’d answer, “I never do!”

I enlisted the help of Michigan’s former cross country coach Ronnie Warhurst, who won 18 Big Ten titles. Ronnie, now 76, has a son now applying for college, so he’s even crazier than I am. 

The best thing he told me was the simplest: When you’re starting out, don’t worry about how fast you run, or how many miles, or how bad it feels. Just keep putting your shoes on, and after a while a lot of things take care of themselves. 

Now I can run up to 6-miles a day, and 20 miles a week. Instead of running just one speed – Impossibly Slow – I’ve added a second gear: Not Quite As Impossibly Slow. Still, it’s nice to have options. And sometimes, I find myself actually enjoying it – despite my efforts. 

But I figured out pretty quickly that you can’t outrun a bad diet. I tried veganism for a couple weeks, which proved to be pretty straightforward: You Cannot Eat Anything. Once I grasped that, it was easy. 

I lost ten pounds, just like that. But I knew I couldn’t keep that up. Instead, I cut back on bread, dairy, and my Achilles heel, sugar. My secret? Cheating – lots of it. But I was still eating better than before. 

I’ve also learned I can eat as muchas I want, if I eat healthy. Or, I can eat just about anythingI want, if I don’t eat too much. Just don’t be stupid. 

Four months after my birthday, I’ve dropped 25 pounds. I can wear clothes I haven’t touched in five years. People say I look better – not good, mind you, just “better.” But I’ll take it. 

My son smacks my belly and says, “You’re still fat!” True, but I’m lessfat – and if I stick with it, he’ll never remember his dad being fat. 

Of course, running 26 miles in a week isn’t the same as running 26 miles in a day. There’s no guarantee I’ll be able to finish a marathon, especially when my knees have started making clicking sounds for no apparent reason, as if detecting low-grade radiation. 

But the risks are clearly worth taking — and the rewards are more than I could have imagined. 

John U. Bacon is the author of seven national bestsellers. The latest, OVERTIME: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football, is out this fall. 

* * * * *

OVERTIME: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football debuted at #13 on the Publisher’s Weekly list of national bestsellers. That makes seven national bestsellers in a row, for which I can thank YOU!

After great events in Philadelphia on Wednesday and DC on Thursday, I’ll be in Williamsburg, VA, on Saturday. For more information on those events and many others ahead, check out johnubacon.com/events/.

I’m also in ESPN’s celebration of 150 years of college football, The American Game, 11 one-hour episodes running on Tuesday nights, and The Greatest (mascots, innovations, etc.), which runs 30-minutes on Thursday nights.

Please follow me on Twitter! https://twitter.com/Johnubacon. A fun way to swap witticisms — if we’re lucky! 44.6K followers and growing.


THE DOS EQUIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL FOOTBALL COLLEGE, on which I play the “professor” teaching ten classes on the sport. And yes, there IS a final exam! 12 questions to test your knowledge — and if you get a bunch right, they send you a certificate! Enjoy — and good luck!

We have plenty of excerpts, stories, and reviews out there, too, some listed below. Two more come out this week in The Wolverine print copy and the Ann Arbor Observer.

Let’s start with the EXCERPTS:

The first excerpt, “Hard to Beat the Cheaters,” on Michigan’s approach to recruiting, appeared in Postgame.com, Yahoo sport’s longform section.

The second, on the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry (derived from two chapters titled “Bad Blood” and “Cavalry’s Coming”), ran in the famed MGoBlog.com

The most recent excerpt, on the roller coaster recruiting process of five-star defensive back Daxton Hill, appeared in Sam Webb’s excellent Michigan Insider Thursday night.


On the Big Ten Network with anchor Dave Revsine

In the Sporting News, with Bill Bender

With Jeff Arnold of Forbes.com


From Greg Dooley’s MVictors.com: “Punching Back.”

And even Ohio State’s top football website, Eleven Warriors:

I’ve read everything John U. Bacon has ever written and I’ve never been bored or disappointed.

Sprinkling character profiles into the storyline of Wolverines’ 2018 campaign produces a quick and captivating read – even if your position in Michigan’s football orbit is as an Ohio State fan. 

Hope to see you down the road on the book tour!

Again, thanks for your support!


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20 comments Leave a comment  

  • Homer Meeks November 8, 2019 at 9:54 am

    Message good luck John. I need to do similar. Weight gain is sooo easy. Weight loss not so much! (Required)

  • Suzanne Kilpela November 8, 2019 at 10:02 am

    Fantastic! The mind is definitely your ‘secret sauce’ for your body goal! Your sharing is the ‘secret sauce’ for motivating others. Congratulations!

  • Kevin Thompson November 8, 2019 at 10:04 am

    One of your most relevant and inspirational (behaviorally, not spiritually😁) posts. I’ll be 62 tomorrow and have told my partner that, after watching a friend train for and run last weekend’s NY Marathon (for a charity), I’m thinking about giving it another go. (I ran two in the late 80’s). She’s not too keen on it, citing potential knee (nothing yet) and back (occasional kinks) problems, but I have this over-inflated image of my own fitness and am about 40-60 on training for a marathon next year. I run 2-3 times a week for between 3-4 miles per run.

    If you’re ever looking for a running partner for a longer run, let me know. My schedule is very flexible. (You might recognize my face as I’ve seen you at restaurants and your latest book event at Hill, but then again, probably not.) If not, good luck on this journey. I would expect there is another book churning around in your head as you run!

  • Sandor Slomovits November 8, 2019 at 10:31 am

    Message (Required) Way to go, John! You’re doing a very good thing – and your sense of humor has not gotten flabby at all.
    If your knees continue to detect low grade radiation, try biking and cross country skiing. Far less stress on the knees and good workouts. And here’s a less ambitious goal than running a marathon, but a fun one to do as a family – walk the Bridge on Labor Day. Ten miles for the round trip and by next September your son will probably be ready to do it with you. My best to you and your family.

  • Steven Sherlag, M’88 M Law ‘91 November 8, 2019 at 10:42 am

    Good work Bacon!! If I had to read “bacon” every time I saw my name, I’d struggle too.

    Let’s get a healthy dinner when you’re in PDX in a couple of weeks.

  • john w minton jr November 8, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Congratulations. You can do it. I did.


  • David Darnton November 8, 2019 at 11:28 am

    Message (Required)

    Ron was correct. Ignore any training schedules at this stage; just get out there at least five days a week. Buy new shoes often; don’t try to stretch out the old pair for another couple of weeks. Keep them fresh. Run on dirt, grass, and tracks as much as possible. Sleep 8 hours a night if you can. Keep it up indoors throughout the winter if it gets too cold for you outside. In the spring you can explore marathon training schedules, but for now just focus on the commitment to running. If you don’t go out and do it on days when you don’t feel like it, you’ll never have days when it feels great. If you stay with it, I guarantee you will have days when you feel great. It’s the best gift you can give to yourself and by extension to the ones you love.

  • Mick Stewart November 8, 2019 at 11:35 am

    Good for you and good for your family.
    Prediction: you will feel better and better as you advance.
    Caveat: mind the injuries, even the seemingly small injuries. Ron Warhurst can advise you about that.

  • Jackie November 8, 2019 at 11:37 am

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    John, a wonderful blog, glad you are experiencing success! Enjoyed meeting you in Cleveland as did our daughter in Philly!

  • Rick Beckett November 8, 2019 at 11:52 am

    Message (Required)Been there. Last January 1, weighed in at 217 (I am 6′). By spring break I was down to 185. I run 10-20 miles a week, and (an old man trick) mountain bike (from 500-1000 miles a year). I turn 52 this weekend, so I am in your neighborhood of age. I love ice cream(Culver’s Concrete Mixers), pizza(Jets), and double stuff oreo’s (but can also take on Loft House sugar cookies) as well. Keep it up. Proportions has worked for me. I didn’t snack after my dinner at night as an extra push. Look into a good bike. Easier on the joints and I ride with a buddy who is 60, I have a friend who is almost 70 and just finished the “Iceman Cometh” …..(look it up) There is hope. I am holding with my weight but am ready for the holiday battle…………

  • John W. Duerr November 8, 2019 at 12:08 pm


    Congratulations on your commitment to “Operation Fat Ass.” I would like to offer you some encouragement.

    I was a runner during my 30’s and 40’s and maintained a healthy weight of 150 pounds. But by the time I reached 55, your age, my 5′ 7″ frame had ballooned to 220 due to a pancreatic condition. The condition was corrected surgically, but the obesity remained. I returned to running and, over time, the excess pounds went away.

    Today, at 72 and old enough to be Teddy’s grandfather, I’m 150 pounds. I still run nearly every day.

    Your goals are within reach. Good luck.

  • Jolene Heiney November 8, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    …..John….Great read….I have not seen you in a while…. Congratulations on the weight loss and 20 miles a week…I couldn’t run 20 feet…..You have a beautiful family and even though I’ve been there for it all..I don’t know how Teddy is 4 ,already…The new kitties are too stinking cute!….Good luck at the Marathon…..Jolene

  • Bob Treadway November 8, 2019 at 1:44 pm

    John U.,

    I started my program at age 39 in 1978. I had gained too much weight and just wanted to fit into my clothes. I had stopped smoking and was gaining too much. I didn’t start with the marathon, but with five milers and then 10 K’s My first marathon was Cleveland in 1979. In time, I would run 15 marathons ending at age 55.

    I now “run” seventeen miles a week (2-4 a day with one day off) and participate in the annual Burns Park 5K in May. I am now 80 years old.
    I wish you well in your efforts. Y might want to read Peter Sagal’s book “The Incomplete Book of Running.”

  • Phil Hemenway November 8, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    Hi John,

    Great story. I did my last marathon at 46 years of age in Columbus. Cross the finish line by all means possible, there is no other option. Walking is acceptable, just cross the line.

    You will be surprised by the inspiration you get from fellow runners and spectators.

    My first marathon in Detroit (’99) I was running(suffering) into a headwind down Woodward in sleeting rain, mile 20 or so. There were a couple of female college students running in front of me and I surfed off one of the pair encouraging her weaker running mate. I pretended it was me she was talking to. No matter, it helped me through the next six miles. After you see the banner it is all downhill from there. You (and your son) will float on endless pride when you place your finishers medal on Teddy’s neck. A picture for the family album.

    You. Will. Finish.

  • Nancy Durance November 8, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    Way to go!!! 👏 You are on the right track! Sugar is my weakness too. Exercise is the key! Love my Fitbit for encouragement & tracking both diet & exercise!

  • Gabby Ring November 8, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    Proud of you for getting out there Prof Bacon! The hardest part is getting out of bed and out the door. Excited to see your progress and keep up with your training! Also Iet me know if you want to run together! I’ll run anywhere at any pace

  • Greg November 8, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    Go for it John! You might inspire a few of your senior hockey buddies.


  • Karl price November 8, 2019 at 6:39 pm

    John keep it up you are an inspiration for me. I lost 44 lbs 3 years ago but gained 25 back , it has to come off, I agree sugar is bad my Achilles heel also, I’m going to start trying lose again, thanks

  • Madeline Trimby November 8, 2019 at 11:32 pm

    Congratulations on your progress! I’m not into running or marathons, but do have two suggestions of really helpful books for losing weight and keeping it off:
    WHEAT BELLY by William Davis. MD–which suggests eliminating wheat (i.e. especially breads)–mainly because of all the genetic engineering that wheat has undergone. (And so many of our foods include wheat–as the first thing listed on the package–even foods that you wouldn’t think would contain wheat.) Lots of other suggestions in the book, too.
    ALWAYS HUNGRY? by David Ludwig, MD–about conquering your cravings, retraining you fat cells, and losing weight permanently. I learned about that book when we had a speaker from UM at our Wolverine Caucus several months ago. They use it in their work and as a way to potentially avoid Type 2 diabetes. People who follow his suggestions have not only lost weight, but inches off their waist.
    Best wishes on reaching your goals!

  • Ross Childs Your name (Required) November 11, 2019 at 2:54 am

    Your latest blog was GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Helen and I read it while we were in Ann Arbor for the Minnesota series.
    Tough losses.
    RossMessage (Required)


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