When Frank Murphy was a kid, he could eat pretty much whatever he wanted. But “at some point,” he says, “that magical ability just disappeared.”
He started to gain weight, little by little, every year. By the time he was 43, he weighed 239 pounds.
That’s when he applied to be on Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner, a free, competition-style, weight-loss program held in his adopted Indiana hometown.
Out of about 250 applicants, the founders of the program pick 25 participants each season. And, according to Murphy, they “put you through the ringer”: group workouts before work, meetings with nutritionists and behavioral coaches, and tracking every single thing that enters your mouth on MyFitnessPal. The whole thing is run by volunteers, so the contestants don’t have to pay a thing.
It’s just like “The Biggest Loser,” except there’s no elimination, no weight-loss ranch and no TV cameras.
And still, says Murphy, “it was life-changing.”
But he realized his slimmed-down frame was a gift: “I’ve got this new body that’s capable of crazy stuff.”
In March 2013, he tracked his food for the first time (and has recorded everything since). He also ditched soda. By the end of the program, he’d lost 88 pounds and was declared Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner, based on the percentage of weight lost. “I didn’t take the lead until the last week,” he beams.
And he hasn’t stopped since. To celebrate their weight loss, the Smallest Winner group trained to run a local half-marathon. As he lay on the ground after finishing the race, Murphy thought, “I wonder how far I could go?” Plenty further, apparently. He completed his first marathon a year later, hitting his 1,000th mile as he crossed the finish line. Then he ran a 50K and, last year, a 50-miler. Earlier this month, he completed back-to-back marathons — one on Saturday and one on Sunday, all on an indoor track.
It surprised even him. It never occurred to Murphy he could be a runner — in fact, he admits he used to think they were “kind of annoying.” But he realized his slimmed-down frame was a gift. “I’ve got this new body that’s capable of crazy stuff,” he explains.
Murphy also knew he wanted to help other people have the same life-changing experience he did. The next year, he returned to the Smallest Winner program to serve as a mentor to the new contestants. Then he really got serious about running, earning his Road Runners Club of America running coach certification. That now allows him to volunteer as a running coach for Smallest Winner, and work with the Fat 2 Fitness pace team, a training program that helps people lose weight and train toward their fitness goals.
Because he knows how hard it can be for someone who’s overweight to get started running and working out, he’s able to identify with the soon-to-be athletes. “I really understand what they’re going through,” he says. “I’ve been there.”
Murphy was tested again last year, when he slipped on a patch of ice and shattered his ankle. Without the ability to run, he worried he’d fall back into his old habits and gain weight again. He and his wife, Rose, went back into bootcamp mode, tracking their food and fitness in MyFitnessPal and sticking to a strict diet. To his delight, he was able to keep the weight off as he completed his physical therapy.
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Now that he’s back to running, he still eats healthy and logs it all, but tries to be more moderate. During his back-to-back marathons, for example, he simply approximated how many calories he ate while running, instead of logging every single drink and gel.
One of his big lessons? “There are no secrets” when it comes to your consumption habits: Eat healthy foods in moderation, and see how it all adds up at the end of the day. The data analyst in him loves the technology of tracking all of his calories consumed and miles run — even if distance running isn’t necessarily good for losing weight, especially as he’s gotten fitter. “This is definitely a lifestyle for me now,” he says.
When people come to him asking for his help to lose weight, that’s what he tells them: Start with logging everything that enters your mouth, without any changes, and you’ll see some obvious ways to improve. And, then, pretty soon you’ll be the smallest winner.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN