COMFORT FOOD: I was working construction, and I got laid off when the economy took a crash. I was eating for comfort: pizza, hamburgers, fries, chicken nuggets ... and I was drinking, smoking, chewing, everything.

Smoking Cessation 101: Since I was laid off, I couldn't afford to buy cigarettes or chewing tobacco, so I stopped cold turkey. I loved the mental challenge. My wife and I helped put on a fundraiser for a sick little girl in 2007, a classmate of my kids'. I put in money for a three-month membership to a gym and started going five or six days a week.

A SLOW START: I could run maybe half a mile or a mile. It was another mental challenge to force myself to go to the gym, and it was fun. I was losing weight slowly. I wouldn't even step on a scale; I was mainly trying to be healthy and get myself motivated. After the first month, I started thinking, why do I run and then put junk food back in? So I slowly incorporated healthy food into it.

Zero to 26.2 in three years: I used to think running was ridiculous. But last winter, I'd wake up and throw on some long johns and sweatshirts and run 5 miles when it was 10 below. It's kind of healing; it clears my mind. It helps me mentally with two jobs, four kids and a wife. I don't know if I would be able to do all that and handle it without being healthy. I just signed up for Grandma's Marathon with my three older brothers.

Couch potato no more: I got a job two-and-a-half years ago with Fed Ex grounds crew at the airport, and more recently a job as a service tech for a pool company. I work at Fed Ex 4-7:30 a.m. I'm home by 4:30 or 5 from the pool job. We have dinner, I work out or run, play with the kids or do yard work, hang out as a family, put the kids to bed at 8, and go to bed at 9:30. I don't get a lot of sleep.

Picture-perfect: My oldest son says, "You look so different now from the pictures on the mantel." The kids come running with me sometimes: I'll go for a 5-mile run and the older two will bike and I'll push the younger two in the stroller. What I like to eat is different now. I love spinach. Now everybody teases me if I have a chicken nugget: "Oh, do you have to go run five miles now?"

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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