Darren McQueen Lost Half His Body Weight, Started Running Ultras – runnersworld.com

Darren McQueen Lost Half His Body Weight, Started Running Ultras  runnersworld.com

What started with a minor car accident ended up as a major life change.

When Darren McQueen got in a fender bender in 2014, he went into the doctor to make sure nothing was broken. But it wasn’t the X-rays that were alarming—it was the bloodwork.

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McQueen, 48, was told he was prediabetic, in addition to having high blood pressure. Then 43 years old and 387 pounds, his doctor said if he kept on the same path, his life expectancy would continue to shorten. That felt like a wake-up call, the Vancouver, Canada, resident tells Runner’s World.

“At that point, it felt like she told me I was dying,” he says. “I’d always been a heavier weight and could still be active, going wakeboarding and snowboarding, so I didn’t feel that vulnerable until that moment. Suddenly, I felt like I had to change my whole life.”

Growing up, McQueen was on numerous diets—from Weight Watchers to Nutrisystem—as his parents tried to help him lose the pounds. After he left home and became an electrician, he continued on the dieting track and found it was a yo-yo cycle that got him down to 190 pounds at one point, only to gain it all back when he stopped starving himself, he says.

At the same time, his interest in sports declined, especially as he developed back pain likely related to being sedentary and stressed out. By the time he turned 40, McQueen was trapped in an unhealthy cycle.

“I’d leave work and get fast food, then come home and have dinner along with four or five beers, and watch TV all night,” he says. “I’d call myself a professional couch potato.”

But that doctor’s visit five years ago made McQueen realize his lifelong dieting strategy wasn’t the answer. He needed to move. Referred by a friend to personal trainer and nutritionist Mandy Gill, she was frank with him at their first meeting: “If you commit to me, I’ll commit to you. But you have to commit.”

McQueen didn’t say yes right away—the lure of fast food and couch surfing was too great—but that night, he realized he wanted to go for it.

“I didn’t want to keep living the way I had been,” he says. “I decided to give it everything I had, and to do whatever Mandy said. It was the last straw, and it felt like I was either all in, or I was completely out. So, I chose to commit, and she kicked my ass.”

Gill started him with running for one minute and walking for four, along with strength training. McQueen says even with that modest amount of running, he was sore all the time, and experienced considerable inflammation in his knees. Gill, who’s a vegan, suggested he shift toward a more plant-based diet and it worked wonders, McQueen says.

Over the next year and a half, he started trail running, and was able to run more and walk less. He also switched to entirely plant-based meals and snacks, focusing on foods that give him fuel for working out, such as potatoes, yams, beans, vegetables, and tempeh. For longer runs, he and Gill make their own “energy balls” using homemade almond milk, hemp and chia seeds, unsweetened cocoa, coconut, dates, and bananas. For longer runs, McQueen uses packets filled with mashed yams instead of gel packs or gummy bears.

After tackling his first 5K in 2015, he moved on to a 10K, then a half marathon. For his full marathon milestone, he and Gill traveled to New Zealand together for the 2018 Hanmer Holiday Homes Alpine Marathon—a race filled with epic hills. He finished in 5:09:23.

In addition to increasing his mileage gradually over the past four years, strength training and speedwork—like 60-second hill repeats at a 5-percent incline and 3-minute hill intervals at a 10-percent incline—has been a major benefit to McQueen’s progress, Gill told Runner’s World.

“Many times, this type of training is overlooked when it comes to improving running performance, but it’s so important,” she says. “About 60 percent of our workouts focused on exercises such as deadlifts, back squats, front squats, and single-leg lunges. That helped his body be more responsive and tolerate more distance.”

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That distance now includes ultras. His first was the Tenderfoot Boogie—a 50K race that he completed in June, where he crossed the finish line in 9:02:40.

“To go from only being able to run for a minute at a time to doing that race felt amazing—it was something to see how far I’d come,” he says. “Most of all, it showed me that I have so much left that I want to accomplish, I’m really ready to keep challenging myself.”

Now, he and Gill are considering a 70K “rim to rim to rim” Grand Canyon run in May. He currently weighs in at 193 pounds—about half his starting weight—and will be ready to tackle it, Gill says.

“When we go back and look at the workouts he did when he started, the ones he says kicked his ass, those wouldn’t even be a warmup for him now,” she says. “Thanks to strength training and speedwork, his body has drastically changed, and more than that, he’s always looking for the next big challenge.”