Jim Simmons traces his origin as a runner to a time when he was supposed to be taking it easy. He began a trek toward losing 85 pounds while he was on vacation in 2007 in Lake Tahoe. And he just celebrated his 45th birthday Sept. 5 by winning his age group in the On the Waterfront 5-kilometer race with a time of 18:16.
Jim Simmons traces his origin as a runner to a time when he was supposed to be taking it easy.
To keep his habit of early morning rising from disturbing others during a Memorial Day 2007 family vacation in Lake Tahoe, Simmons went for a walk around the area of their rented condominium. After a lap or two, he thought he might like to run the approximately one-mile loop he was tracing.
“That’s what did it,” said Simmons, who celebrated his 45th birthday Sept. 5 by winning his age group in the On the Waterfront 5-kilometer race with a time of 18:16. “It kicked my butt. It was a mile loop and I couldn’t do it. I made it my goal to be able to do it by the end of the week, but I never made it.”
Simmons’ Lake Tahoe failure came near the beginning of what is now an 85-pound weight loss that gained momentum when he added running to a regimen he began in March 2007.
“In December of 2006, I started getting a lot of chronic back pain,” said Simmons, an electrician at the Byron Nuclear Power Station, who was carrying 245 pounds on his 5-foot-8 frame at the time. “What I do at work is strenuous, and I would come home, and literally, I would just want to lay down because I would be so tired and sore.
“I also had plantar fasciitis and one knee was bothering me, and it was all weight-related.”
Simmons said he began losing weight by “cutting back on all the junk I was eating — the cakes, cookies and so on, all the refined sugar and flour. I replaced them with vegetables, protein and drinking a lot of water.”
He also started spending his lunch breaks at work walking up and down the eight 50-foot long stairways inside the power plant. “I got to where I would just go to one set of stairs and go up and down that for 10 minutes and then go to the next one,” he said. “It took a while to do that and it was just to get moving and get me sweating. It was a workout, but it wasn’t all that much fun.”
But that run in Lake Tahoe was a different story.
“Trying to make that mile, I enjoyed that so much,” he said. “No. 1 was the scenery and the fresh air, and because it was beautiful. And No. 2 was because I felt so good all day long when it started out with some activity. So when I came back home. I decided that I needed to find somebody to run with, somebody who would keep me motivated.”
An Internet search connected him to the Rockford Road Runners club. Simmons began running with various buddy groups, and eventually, with the Tuesday night Road Crew running program at the YMCA of Rock River Valley.
Simmons said his first race, a 5-kilometer run at Davis in the fall of 2007, taught him a lesson about overconfidence and running his own pace when he failed to finish ahead of an obviously older runner.
“I was thinking, ‘OK, I can’t keep up with this guy but I can keep going,’ ” he said. “I was thinking don’t stop and don’t walk. I finished the race, but I was dying and I was hooked.
“I started running just because it felt good and to get in shape. I enjoyed the competitiveness and setting goals. It was a hobby and I’d never had many hobbies what with work, our kids growing up and being involved in church, but I got to know a lot of the runners and there are just so many people with such a great attitude.”
Simmons quickly built his running stamina and speed. He lost almost all of the 85 pounds in the first year after taking up running, and completed his first marathon, the Tecumseh Trail Marathon in Bloomington, Ind., last December. His goal, he said, is to complete a 100-mile race, preferably as a trail run because he still enjoys the peace of running in the woods.
Although he has a reputation for speed — he ranks second in his age group in this year’s Road Runners circuit race standings — Simmons also has shown he’s not above having a little fun in a race. His race accessories have, on various occasions, included a wig, a skirt, star-shaped sunglasses, plastic leis and a plastic-horned Viking helmet.
“I think runners are a great group of people,” Simmons said. “They know how to enjoy themselves and they know how to have fun in a good way.”
He said having fun doesn’t detract from his health goal.
“The weight loss has been easy to maintain because I’ve stayed active,” Simmons said. “When I first started to lose weight, I was really regimented. Maybe my diet was even a little bit too extreme, but now I can eat pretty much whatever I want to because I exercise so much.
“I try to eat healthy, but I don’t concentrate on it because I know I’m active.”
Mike DeDoncker can be reached at (815) 987-1382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.