From losing 100+ lbs through running to sharing miles with some of the most famous runners in the world; An Interview with Gary Snow (AKA the SNOWMAN!)
Name: Gary Snow @running.snowman
Day Job: I’m an IT manager for a local law enforcement agency in my area. I manage everything from virtual servers and laptops to in-car printers and smartphones. It keeps me really busy but I love it.
AER: You've had quite the weight loss journey. Can you tell us a little bit about that and maybe some tips for people looking to break into running?
GARY: My weight loss journey has been such an incredible experience. It all started in December 2014. I had been separated from my now ex-wife and was coping with that by doing a lot of stress eating of mostly comfort foods. By this point, I had gotten to 304.6 pounds and wasn’t doing any exercising. I went that month to my doctor for my yearly physical. He usually would tell me how important weight loss was for me but this time he really stressed it. You see, at that time, I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea (used a CPAP), a fatty liver, and a C-Reactive Protein level above 50 (normal is below 5mg/l) which indicates high levels of inflammation and high risk of a heart event. Heart disease runs in the family. I also have hypothyroidism which I had been first diagnosed with back in college in the mid-90s. All of my medical issues except my hypothyroidism could be resolved or at least mitigated by weight loss according to my doctor. I told him I would try to start exercising more. He made a statement that stuck with me… “Gary, you can’t outrun a bad diet!” And then he said he was so worried for me that he felt he should refer me to a bariatric surgeon to consider gastric bypass. I immediately said no to that option and asked him to give me six months and I would show him I could do this.
Starting that January, I began counting calories. I downloaded MyFitnessPal and started watching what I ate. I also started using my elliptical every day.
AER: What do you remember about the start of your running journey? What was that first run like?
GARY: At first, I couldn’t do more than ten minutes without my heart pounding and me thinking I was about to die. But I stuck with it. I put some positive, motivating pictures up around my little workout area in my bedroom and I would often picture myself after losing a lot of weight and how much better I would feel. You see, before my thyroid had gone bad in college I used to weigh only 153 pounds and I’m 6’ tall so I was super skinny back then and I remembered how that felt. Anyway, little by little each day I would lose a little weight and get a little stronger. I started incorporating some free weights and sit-ups at night after the elliptical and by that Father’s Day weekend in June 2015, I had lost my first 50 pounds! I remembered it was that weekend because that Saturday, I drove over to the next county to see my younger brother Chris run a 5k and he won overall 1st place. I was so proud of him! After the race, while we were taking a picture together, he talked me into doing a 5k with him in July in Wilmington, the TriSpan 5k/10k. It would be my first race ever. I had run in high school and college some for elective PE classes but never enjoyed it. I thought my brother was crazy for thinking I could run a whole 3.1 miles. I was still weighing around 250 pounds at this point. But I agreed to do it.
I went to a local running store and bought my first pair of running shoes, Hoka Stinson Lites. The next day, after church I went down to the local high school track. No one was around so I knew I could try running and not get embarrassed if I couldn’t run well or far. I stepped onto the track, stretched for a minute, and took off. I didn’t make it a full quarter mile. I thought I was gonna die! Lol. My brother had talked me into this saying, “You’ve been working out for 6 months now and you’re getting into better shape. You can do this!” At this point, I was beginning to doubt it though but I also didn’t want to let my little brother down. I knew I had tackled the elliptical one day at a time with consistency and I knew running would be the same if I would just stick with it. So I started running after work, going as far as I could and then walking to catch my breath till I could do more running than walking. I hadn’t heard of Couch to 5K yet but I was essentially doing it instinctively.
Race day rolled around that mid-July. It was in the 70s already that Saturday morning in downtown Wilmington down by the Cape Fear river waterfront. Hundreds of people showed up for this more than thirty year old annual event. My other younger brother, Hank, had also came down to run with us. My sister in law, Kim, agreed to pace with me. She had a Garmin watch and helped me keep up with my pace and time as I didn’t have anything like that yet. The event staff played the National Anthem, we prayed, and then the horn sounded! I was running my first race! My adrenaline was pumping as I passed the spectators who were cheering all the runners. This was so cool! I didn’t want it to end, that is, until the first mile and then I really did want it to end. Hahaha. I ended up running that first 5K in about 40 minutes but I was so stoked. It was the first time that I felt both like I was about to pass out and yet at the same time was wanting to do it all over again. It was a feeling which would repeat each time I crossed a finish line. That evening I started researching everything about running. I ordered my first Garmin, a Forerunner 15 and began reading Born to Run. I had fallen in love! Since then I have had so many tremendous experiences. I met my friend Charlie Engle that next January when running on a 50 mile relay team down at the 1st annual Southern Tour trail race near Wilmington. He and my brother Chris were already friends and so Chris introduced us. Charlie is a really down to earth guy and gave me some running tips that first conversation. I couldn’t believe I was talking to a guy that ran across the Sahara Desert. He is such an inspiration. In the spring of 2016, Charlie and Chris, along with 5 other runners, put together the IceBreaker Run for mental health awareness. It was a relay run across the United States. I got the chance to meet up with them outside of Columbia, SC and ran a few miles with Catra Corbett and her cool dog TruMan. I also had the blessing to meet the late David Clark. Every time I meet these well-known runners I find the same thing… no matter where they’re from or their background, they all are so supportive of other runners! It’s like running into family members that you didn’t even know you had. That’s what is so cool about the running community and what makes this sport so special.
2019 was my best year so far. I ran on another 50 mile relay team in that year’s Southern Tour. One of the guys on my team, which I had named Because Uber Was Busy, was Jim Burrows. He and I met on Instagram and I asked him the month before if he would be interested in joining our team. I’m glad he did. We became great friends and still run together often. I was able to run as a charity runner in the 2019 Boston Marathon. It was also my first marathon ever! I raised $10,260 for a youth mentoring organization in Boston, Mass Mentoring Partnerships. I was able to raise the money in 5 months which was challenging but so special too. I ran that first marathon in 5:21. Not fast, but not too shabby for my first one, especially given that I trained myself. That May, just a month after Boston, I applied for a contest that Honey Stinger was having for its ambassadors. They were celebrating their first year as the main nutrition sponsor of the New York City Marathon and they were giving away 5 spots. I applied and on May 31, after I had just gotten home with my oldest son after getting his driver’s permit, I got an email from the New York Road Runners announcing that I had been invited to run the 2019 NYC Marathon on behalf of Honey Stinger! I about fell out! I called my coworkers via Facetime to tell all of them in my office and they were all cheering. I couldn’t believe that in my fourth year of running I was about to run my second World Major marathon. I finished it in 4:58, quite an improvement. My friend and coach, Jim Burrows, had helped me train for it. He also trained me for the 2020 Myrtle Beach Marathon. It is my current PR at 4:42 and is also the last in-person race I have run in.
AER: It's awesome to see that you are still running strong since I first read your article featured on runners world in 2017 (https://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/a20864373/how-running-changed-gary-snow/) ... What is the biggest between the runner you were then and the runner you are now?
GARY:The biggest difference between the runner I am now versus who I was at the start is I have learned to really appreciate the moments, even the hard ones. I have fallen in love with the process of training. I also have matured as a runner. When I began, I felt like I had to ‘prove myself’, that I was a ‘real’ runner. Now I know what being a runner means. And I have a real desire to help other who are interested or just starting out in running. Which brings me to what tips I would give to someone just starting out…
TIPS to new runners:
- Don’t give up. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your running and endurance.
- Three of the hardest things to learn is proper form, proper breathing technique, and proper hydration/fueling. But you will learn these things. It just takes consistency and testing.
- Don’t be afraid to ask fellow runners for help and tips.
- Keep a goal in front of you. Sign up for a race, start an IG running account, or anything similar that will help you with accountability.
- Get proper amounts of sleep.
- Find a good local running store where you can try out running shoes and even have your gait analyzed. Everyone’s feet are different so shoes that work for one person may not be for everybody.
- If you’re just starting out, try a good run/walk strategy such as C25K until you build up to all running.
- If you don’t have time for any other run in a week, try not to skip the long run.
- Don’t forget that running is fun. Don’t lose sight of the why.
- Share the sport with others.
AER: Do you find balance through running? If so, how?
Gary: I have found balance in running. I love running with friends but I also really love to throw on my shoes, my Aftershokz and just run while listening to a podcast, audiobook or music and just free my mind. I find running so relaxing. I can have a bad or stressful day and it just melts away in the rhythm of my legs turning over. I am blessed to be an ambassador for Honey Stinger (since 2018), Topo Athletic Shoes, HisGlory Apparel, Baleaf Sports, MedZone antichafing products, and I’m a member of the Garmin Crew.
AER: Favorite Alter Ego Running product?
GARY: I am also an unofficial ambassador for your products as I love your hats and singlets. My favorite is my new grey camo Cruiser trucker hat with the laser cut mesh. It is the best fitting, most comfortable hat I own!