Filling the Void

By Michael Valone

 

Please forgive me if this is a bit wordy. You shouldn’t be reading this. In fact, I shouldn’t be writing this. Honestly, I should be dead.

 

I used to have a big problem. In some ways I always will. I’m going to stop at calling it an addiction. I feel that diminishes the accomplishments of people who have overcome far more daunting challenges in their lives. Let’s just say for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a strong affinity for overeating. Okay. There it is. We will leave it at that.

 

When I think of where it all started, I am still bewildered. There’s no flashbulb moment of trauma I can remember well enough to say when and how it all started. My childhood was good and my family more than made up for the absence of a father figure in my life. The usual teenage angst did not account for what I was starting to feel. For whatever reason, I had a void in my life. Something was missing. I was empty and needed to be full. To do this, I needed to eat. A lot.

Some people find their pain at the bottom of a bottle or the end of a needle. I found mine in the fading silhouette of the nearest drive thru window. I knew I had a problem when I got on a first name basis with all the workers at the fast food counters. I knew I had a huge problem when they were correcting my order for me.

 

There was always a reason to eat. I ate when I had a good day, a reward for a job well done. I ate when I had a bad day, desperately trying to numb myself, ridding my mind of recent painful events. When I think of the food, I am ashamed. Many people go hungry in this world, even in this country. I ate long past what was needed for sustenance. This was gluttony, plain and
simple. I did this to myself. I made a choice to shut myself off from life and the goodness of people, wallowing in my own selfishness.


What stopped me was pure happenstance. I decided I needed to go upstairs for something. Whatever it was, I can’t remember. I was in a rush. I ran up. I was winded when I reached the top. Doubled over after running up fifteen steps, I found myself practically on my knees. I made my way to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I hadn’t looked in a while. I didn’t really have any good reason to. I was well beyond caring for my appearance. Could that really be me? I stepped on the scale. My heart was still racing when I saw the number: 298 pounds. At only 20 years old, I was headed down a terribly unhealthy road. If I had kept this pace to my current age, 34, I could have expected to reach over 600 pounds. It was then I decided life was more important than this cycle of extreme eating.


Slowly I made changes. I walked. I ate better. I saw progress on the scale. More importantly, I began to feel a little better about myself each day. I got a dog. Thankfully, dogs do not let you sit idly by. They want you to be active with them.

 

Then I saw him across the street: a lean guy moving faster than I could ever hope to. “I think I can try this,” I thought, and I did. I ran. I ran with dogs. I started to run with people. I entered a race with a friend and loved it. I met more people. I made new friends. I strengthened existing relationships. I ran more.

 

There are still struggles. To say otherwise would be deceptive to you and me. I still find that in times of stress I turn to food for
comfort. I have to stop myself because I know what letting go will mean. There are other times I just don’t feel like running. However, I always feel better when I get out there and put one foot in front of the other. I will battle this for the rest of my life. That is okay. I am able to go on with the comfort that I am not alone anymore. I found something that I took away from myself so many years ago: the sense of belonging.


Rochester, as I have come to learn, has an exceptional running community. It is filled with many extremely talented runners. I cannot believe how many insanely gifted runners have taken the time to talk to me and get to know me a little better. They are all so approachable and genuinely want to help. They have helped make this slowpoke a little faster and a little more knowledgeable about an activity that I am absolutely convinced has saved me. Yet, while running has saved me, it is this incredible community that sustains me.

 

I’m just an ordinary guy. There are stories more extraordinary than mine everywhere. I’m in no position to give any runner advice. I’ll leave that to many more skilled than myself.

 

What I can tell you is that determination has gotten me farther than I could have ever dreamed. I have so many miles behind
me and over a hundred pounds lost. With this determination I’ve been able to finish marathons. I’ve been able to finish ultras. I’m
so slow ,but I try to be steady. You’ll find me in the back of the pack usually and that is just fine with me. The finish is always the goal and I want to reach it screaming with the joy that this reawakening has brought me.


This brings me to you. If you have made it this far, I thank you. I needed to tell you. I need to tell you what you mean to me. I need to tell you that I’m grateful something happened to turn my life around. I need you to know that I gave up on the world, but the world didn’t give up on me. I wouldn’t know you otherwise. That would be the real tragedy: that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to know somebody as unique as you.


I’m going to try something foolish. Something I have no business doing. I’m going to attempt Trailsroc’s Mighty Mosquito 99 mile race this August. I’m going to try to stay upright for a day. I don’t know what the outcome will be. I hope to finish. What keeps me going is the thought that I’ll be surrounded by people I’ve come to know and love: my wife, my friends, my brothers and sisters in life. I want time to slow down that day. It will hurt. It has to. But I will embrace the pain. It will be welcomed
because it will be different than the pain I was inflicting on myself so many years ago. I want to finish so very badly. I hope to see you there. It will be very easy to find me. I’ll be the runner decked out in orange with tears in my eyes and gratitude in my heart. Thank you so very much. Our journey isn’t over.