BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — It’s 6:50 a.m., and Kyle Mitofsky is bouncing from one foot to the other.
Surrounded by a sea of runners on race day, he’s just another pair of sneakers in the crowd. But his journey to starting line of the Vermont City Marathon started long before his alarm went off Sunday morning.
Two years ago, running was a foreign, intimidating form of exercise for Mitofsky — not a hobby and certainly not a passion. He weighed 340 pounds and had been overweight his whole life.
“If I wanted something I ate it,” he said. “That was the sole criteria that I evaluated food on.”
His healthy shift started with adopting a vegetarian diet in June 2015, which helped him like a wider variety of foods that were unprocessed.
“I found and replaced all the junk food I was eating with vegetables,” he said. “If you’re eating really sweet food on a regular basis, vegetables taste like sandpaper. You’re so over-saturated that it’s hard to enjoy that stuff.”
He quickly started seeing results and began exercising in addition to his new diet.
“I think the first race I signed up for was a 5K, and I was wholly unprepared,” Mitofsky said. “In fact, every race I’ve signed up for, I’ve been wholly unprepared. When I signed up a triathlon I had never swam laps in my life.”
He edged up from the first 5K — a 3.1-mile race — and tackled more before moving to 10Ks and finally a half marathon in October. Each time, he signed up for the race without knowing if he would be ready. In January, he registered for the Vermont City Marathon before he could talk himself out of it.
“I spent some time off running and got a little stir-crazy in the dead of winter,” Mitofsky said. “I hit submit on the credit-card button, and as soon as I did I was like, ‘What in the world was I thinking?’”
For Burlington resident Mitofsky, running is the perfect sport people who are looking to improve their health.
“Even if you can’t run a mile, that’s fine,” he said. “Give yourself time. Go slower. Lace up your shoes every day and try to go out and do it. If you do that for a week straight, and then a month, and then two months, you’re going to be a 5K runner or a 5K run-walker.”
He likes the community aspect of running the best.
“Running is a great sport because, 99 percent of the people who are running the VCM aren’t doing so to beat someone else,” he said. “Everyone else’s time has no impact on their time. They’re looking to accomplish something for themselves, not at the expense of someone else.”
Mitofsky said not everyone would share his enthusiasm for running multiple times a week.
“If you don’t like running, that’s OK. That’s just one direction,” he said. “If you like dodgeball or tennis or basketball or rollerblading, those are all great things to do. Enjoying it is the important part.”
Today and beyond
Mitofsky was hoping to cross the finish line around 4 hours 30 minutes.
What’s next for him?
“I’d be happy to wade around in the marathon pool for awhile before thinking about ultra-ing,” he said, referring to running distances longer than marathons. “There are so many new challenges that I get to enjoy exploring as someone who has made a commitment to physical health. I want to continue doing incrementally better than myself.”
For others who might be considering a leap into a healthier life, Mitofsky is full of advice. But the two most important factors he says are doing things you enjoy and starting today.
“Do it now. There is a saying that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and the second best time is today. I started this very late in life, and I wish I would’ve started sooner. But starting now is the next best option I had.”
At 7 a.m. on the dot, the runners begin moving forward. After a few minutes of awkward shuffling — an anxious electricity in the air as the runners jockey for position — it’s time for Mitofsky’s starting group of runners expected to run a 10-minute-mile pace.
“Everyone is running their own race,” he says. “If I finish, and I hope I will, I’m going to be really happy with my time.”
He puts one foot in front of the other and runs toward his next goal.
Mitofsky finishes the Vermont City Marathon with an unofficial time of 4:28:37, on track with his training prediction.