State College marathon man running from weight woes
Doug Schunk had just finished the Marine Corps Marathon in three hours and 45 minutes — a disappointing time for him.
As he hobbled through the post-race crowd, he began assessing his performance and assigning blame:
He had failed to eat right that weekend. He didn’t get enough sleep. He hadn’t done his homework on Washington, D.C., public transportation and had to rush to the starting line. And he was paying for his missteps with a time 15 minutes off his goal, plus legs that had started screaming at mile 20 and continued now even after he’d stopped running.
He found a massage booth and eased his lanky body onto the table. A massage therapist, a woman in her 20s, stretched his legs and asked how he’d done.
Schunk reluctantly repeated his time. “I’m kind of down on myself,” he said. “I thought I’d get 3:30.”
The therapist assured him that 3:45 was an excellent time. And as she worked on his legs, Schunk, 34, of State College decided she was right.
“Well, compared to where I was a few years ago, I guess I can’t complain,” he said.
“Where were you a few years ago?” the young lady asked.
“330,” Schunk replied.
She stopped working on his aching muscles. A fellow marathoner — a man in his 40s on a table next to him — turned and stared at Schunk.
“Are you kidding me?” the man asked.
“No,” Schunk replied. “I was 330 pounds.”
“You weren’t,” the stunned massage therapist said.
“I was,” Schunk said. “I had a problem.”
That conversation happened in October, with Schunk weighing in at his new normal of 190 pounds.
But five years and 140 pounds ago, he was so overweight that he became winded by climbing stairs and began sweating just thinking about exercise.
“I’d always been the husky, fat kid,” Schunk said. “At some point I just kind of embraced it. I thought, ‘Well, this is who I am.’ ”
The change started after his son was born in 2010. Schunk went for an annual checkup, and his doctor found that his cholesterol levels were off the charts. The doctor considered Schunk’s family history — his dad had a pacemaker put in on his 40th birthday — and sat him down for a serious talk.
You need to make changes, the doctor said. Now.
The first 50 came off easily. His friends were doing a trendy P90X workout, so Schunk tried it, and it worked. For a while.
But he got stuck at 280 pounds. In 2012, he told himself that he could do better.
“That’s when I discovered running,” Schunk said.
After tucking his son Matthew into bed, Schunk would slip out of the house for short jogs around the neighborhood, figuring it would help burn off some of the calories he consumed at dinner. The more he ran, the longer he could go. In time, he could run several miles without stopping.
“Then one day I went to the gym and realized that the T-shirt I brought was my wife’s,” Schunk said. “She’s 5 feet 3 inches, 110 pounds, maybe. But I held it up and thought, ‘Wait a minute — this might fit me.’
“It was a little snug, but it kind of fit. I said, ‘Huh. How about that.’ ”
After a summer of running, Schunk, a high school chemistry teacher, returned to school — where teachers he had known for years failed to recognize him.
One student asked if he had a terminal disease. “I didn’t know how to take that,” he said. “I guess as a compliment.”
He kept running, and the pounds kept dropping. In 2014, he ran his first half marathon, clocking a 1:56 in the Pittsburgh Marathon. He returned last year and ran a personal best 1:36 — a speedy pace of 7:21 per mile.
These days, he is training for the full Pittsburgh Marathon on May 1 and hoping to improve on his 3:45 time in Washington.
If he falls short, that’s fine.
Schunk knows how far he’s come. And if he ever needs to be reminded, he simply opens his bedroom closet and pulls out two pairs of pants that fit him five years ago.
“Forty-six waist,” he said, holding the comically oversized pants in front of his 34-inch waist. “Sometimes I look at myself and I really don’t see the difference because it happened gradually. But then I hold up these pants and …
“Yeah. I’ve done some serious work.”