Preparing for the Boston Marathon: A Little Momentum, and a Lot of Incentive

by | Jan 30, 2020 | Uncategorized | 4 comments

INTRO: In November, I told you about my mission to lose 40 pounds after the scale gave me a rude awakening on my 55th birthday. Today I give you an update on my efforts, which now include training for the Boston Marathon in April, and what I’ve learned along the way.

PRO TIP: Listen to the audio version, which has a nice little surprise at the end, courtesy of Teddy, 4.

Last time I checked in with you, I made a few confessions:

-I turned 55 this past summer. 

-That same day I tipped the scale at a staggering 205 pounds – a full 40 pounds over my, um, “Coaching Weight.” And I stand only 5-foot-8. According to the Body Mass Index, I was technically obese. 

According to my three year old son, Teddy, I was “Daddy Fatty Waddy.”

Something had to give – and I quickly concluded it was my gut. 

So I committed to eating better, and eating less. Since my M.O. on book deadlines was crushing a full package of Oreo Double-stuffs in one sitting, if I could just cut that back to half a package, I would be making dramatic steps forward. 

I also committed to a rigorous exercise program: training for a marathon. And not just any marathon, but the Granddaddy of them All: Boston, which runs April 20.  

With a lot of support from a grossly overqualified team of coaches, scientists, and other experts, it’s all worked pretty well – so far. 

Seven months later, I’ve lost 28 pounds, with 12 more to go. I’m down to 177 for the first time in years. I now fit into clothes that are no longer in style — if they ever were. 

On Sunday I ran the first half of the Boston Marathon. So, all I need to do is double that, and voila, I’ll be a marathoner, right? 

Well, maybe not quite. When I talked with Bill Rodgers, who won it four times, and Michigan’s own Greg Meyer, who won Boston in 1983, they explained the first “half” of the race is 20 miles – and that’s the easy part. The second is 6 miles, and there’s no preparing for that. Wish me luck. 

As for my pace, I’d describe it as “technically forward.” When Teddy asked me to run with him, I was impressed by how fast he was, and told him so. 

His reply: “You’re slow as a snail.”

My kid, everybody. My kid. 

My 11-minute miles will fall far short of breaking a four-hour marathon, but it certainly beats my previous pace, which I set on the couch. 

Like the old song says, “I’m not very fast, but I go pretty far.” I’ve learned to run my own race, and Embrace My Inner Tortoise.

I’ve tried a few different approaches to my diet, too, starting with Veganism, but I’ve settled on a few basic principles. The first: When you are not hungry, do not eat. This sounds silly, but I used to break that rule all the time. 

I learned this from Teddy, who nevereats when he’s not hungry. I just can’t make him do it – even when I offer him a Stroopwaffel, his favorite, after dinner. 

“Whoa!” he’ll say, and then: “No danks. Maybe later.” He’s not being tough. He’s just not being stupid – like his dad. I’ve slowly learned it’s better to feel a little hungry once in a while than to feel bloated. 

Second, I try to put my shoes on, every day. When I can’t run, I walk – something I’ve enjoyed far more than I expected. 

Third: Don’t listen to everyone’s advice. Yes, even mine. And yes, I get the irony. They will offer it by the truckload, and it will spoil all the fun. My one exception: the experts I’ve recruited for this mission. 

Finally, be patient. Trying to lose 40 pounds and run 26.2 miles, it’s easy to get discouraged. So I keep in mind one of Bo Schembechler’s favorite sayings: “Every day, you get better, or you get worse.” 

If you do something to get better every day, good things start happening. Example: the “buttons of shame” on my dress shirts, which used to threaten to pop whenever I sat down, now hang loose, unstressed. Progress!

Really, this mission isn’t about losing pounds or gaining miles, but something more basic: to live better, and to feel better, for as long as I can. And when I do that, life seems to slow down, and I enjoy it more. 

There are still more miles ahead of me than behind me – and I’m still 55, with all that comes with that, including a risk of injury. But I do have some things I didn’t have before: a little momentum, and a lot incentive. 

I asked Teddy, when I cross the finish line, “Are you going to say Daddy Fatty Waddy at the finish line, he said, “No, I’m gonna say, ‘Yeah, you did it Daddy.’”

Awww. Thank you, Teddy. 

Here’s hoping that gets me across the finish line. 

* * * * *

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!

We’ve had more than 30 events coast-to-coast, including two last week in Florida. This week: New Orleans, Dallas, and Houston! Thanks to you all! For more information on those events and many others ahead, check out

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! A fun way to swap witticisms — if we’re lucky! 44.9K 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, 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

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


From Greg Dooley’s “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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  1. David Stringer

    Good post. I remember a comment my dad made about his own running: “They time me with a calendar.”

  2. Stephen Murdock

    Sounds like you are making great strides ! I did 5 marathon’s in my 40’s and I concur with Bill & Greg. I always tell people that a full marathon feels more like 3x as long as a half. My own amateur advice is to do your best not to stop, especially towards those last 6 miles. Once you stop, the legs start to tighten up, muscle spasms can happen, and it’s all downhill after that. Even a real slow jog/fast walk through the drinking stations is better than taking a “quick stop.” Good luck !

  3. Russ

    As a guy who followed a similar path to my first marathon a couple years ago, remember there is only one goal: 26.2 miles. The time does not matter. And yes, the wall is real, and you’ll meet it around mile 20 or 21. You received good advice about the last “half” of the race being the last 10km.

    Keep moving forward.

  4. Andrea Charles

    Dear John, through this article you have proven you are a man with great insights and also a great stride. Pushing yourself at this age is so encouraging and also develops enthusiasm amongst people reading your journey in training for the marathon to take it up with the same mental state and to never give up. Thank you for sharing your personal experience and rendering the same with such great emotion


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