Sébastien’s Quest for Fitness
By Donald Wade
On May 1st 2017, Sébastien Godin quit smoking, without really thinking about it. He was 44 years old, overweight, around 120 Kg (265 lbs), suffering from ulcerative colitis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sugar levels, fatty liver disease and feeling depressed. "I didn't even realize I was stopping at that time because, in my mind, I was going to buy another pack the next day. But when the next day came, I decided to hold off a little bit more. And then a little more. After a few days, I realized I was on to something but would need to remove any remaining stress factors from the equation to be successful", he said.
For the next two weeks, he locked himself in and did nothing but re-watch Star Trek episodes, abstained from watching the news and did not answer the phone. In short, he became a hermit. He shut himself from the outside world and just ate a lot. "I also realized that to be successful, I needed to quit any alcohol for at least six months. Those who smoke or have previously smoked know what I mean - that urge to light up you get when drinking even just one beer", he confided.
Thus, the journey began. After hiding from everything for about two weeks, he decided to go outside and do something healthy: walking. After a few weeks of walking, he tried 1-minute runs 5 to 10 of them thrice a week, having read that the three-times-a-week limit was recommended when you first start. He also started a healthier diet. He chose the lifestyle change over the lifelong pill plasters.
Gradually, his running improved. It motivated him in all aspects of his life and made him feel better. After a month or so, he was walking 5 to 10 km daily, three times a week. He would also add running to his walk. By then, he was running every other song. Amusing side note: his taste in music didn't help him at first, as Heavy Metal songs tend to be longer. At that point, he also realized that he needed better equipment, especially better shoes. The blisters became his first running threshold; when he secretly thought of himself as a runner and justify buying gear.
By the end of June, just 6 weeks into his quest for fitness, he ran his first non-stop 5K in 35 minutes, a very satisfying feeling. He wanted more; the 10K was a natural progression which he ran mid-August, about three months after quitting smoking. By then, he was starting to feel really healthy.
But he wasn't done because he was having too much fun. So, he registered for the Legs for Literacy half-marathon. "Registering for a race a few months before the event gives you more motivation. You paid for it; now justify your investment. So, six months after quitting smoking and losing about 35 kg (~77 lbs), I ran my first official half-marathon race in 1h49m", he said.
As a bonus, his cholesterol, sugar and liver issues were now under control, feeling lucky that it wasn't too far gone for a lifestyle change.
Of course, now he wanted more. So, he registered for the Fredericton marathon. "I didn't know anything about marathon training and still had that perception starting runners often get when they feel like an imposter and not a true runner. I was shy. I didn't want to ask for help. I just ran and ran and ran - with no plan", he admitted.
On the drive to the Fredericton marathon, someone asked him what pace he expected to run. He had to answer, "What's a pace?" He didn’t know nothing about running; didn't even own a running watch. He was just going to see if he could run 42.2 KM - no matter the finish time. "To this day, I think this is how anyone's first marathon should be run, with no expectations. Just feel it. Suffer it. Enjoy it", he added. He finished the race with a time of 3h57m, without a single stop or walking break.
At that point, he knew that he was hooked for life. He was already planning his next marathon on the drive back to Moncton. A few weeks after the marathon, he finally decided to find a running group since he was ready and confident enough to start running with other people. The Wednesday Running Room running group allowed him to meet new friends, learn about running and have a sense of belonging. He bought his first running watch and that rocked his world.
By then, he had made the decision not to drink alcohol anymore. "I gave myself a six-month break when I quit smoking, but now I felt so much better that I thought, "What's the point?" And I wasn't bothered anymore when people smoked or drank around me. It was an easy decision. The best decision for me", he said.
Sébastien was lucky enough to avoid those injuries that linger for months or, even worse, prevent you from running altogether. But he had to come to terms with his Ulcerative Colitis, a chronic disease that affects the digestive tract in the large intestine area. Simply put, the immune system attacks the colon for no apparent reason, causing many uncomfortable and painful issues. It comes and goes in no discernable patterns. A flare can last a few weeks, or it can last many months. " Nothing you do can prevent it from happening. It will pop up out of nowhere, and just like that, it will just go away. There is no cure. At first, you try all those pseudo-miracle diets that those charlatans try to sell you, only to eventually come to terms with your prognosis: it's there for life, so listen to an actual doctor, take the medicine they prescribe, and learn to live with it", he added.
But there's always a positive side to every story. Sébastien wouldn't be in the physical shape he is today without UC because it forces him to eat correctly and live healthier. The proper diet and exercising help mutter the symptoms. Having to drop out of the Resurgo marathon because of flare up, he turned to more manageable short distances in search of the all-powerful runner's high. It's free medicine for your brain.
That's when he discovered the RunNB Super Series. "It gave me a goal to aim at to keep my mind off my disappointment. And it worked very well. I was having fun, and it helped my ongoing flare go by easier", he said.
Now fifty years old, Sébastien feels in the best shape of his life, even when factoring in UC, and he owes it all to running. He started track lessons with Marc Beaudoin and Patty Blanchard and improved his running considerably going from running a 5 km in just under 25 minutes to under 19 minutes in an 18-month timespan, improving his pace from 5:48 in a 10 km in 2021 to an impressive 3:44 pace in a 5 km this year.
"Sure, I have to deal with health issues from time to time, but who doesn't. Running (or any exercise) activates the brain's happy zone and makes your life seem exciting", he concluded.
Six years into his 180-degree turnaround, Sébastien says he’s the happiest he’s ever been, and running is a big part of it. It's hard to argue against a 50 kg (110 lbs) weight loss if you need any motivation to start the journey. And it’s not over for Sébastien. He’s curious about pushing his body to the next level.
Sébastien joins Kelly O’Toole and Ghislain Comeau in the list of inspiring stories that confirms that running can help you shed the weight and become a healthier person. That’s the RunNB motto: For a Healthier New Brunswick!
Sébastien Godin lives in Moncton.