In this episode we bring you a marathon success story with Academy member Jon Lepley who after a life-long struggle with addiction decided to run a marathon at the age of 40 and well . . . you will just have to hear what happened next!
And in the quick tip segment, Angie will explain how to intelligently gauge your response to training so you know if what you’re doing is working.
Jon Lepley is a long time listener to the podcast and Academy member from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is the Medical Director at Eagleville Hospital -a large inpatient drug and alcohol treatment facility with a long legacy of treating underserved and stigmatized people. Before this he was the doctor at the Philadelphia Jail where he started an addiction treatment program that has now been studied by other correctional systems around the country. Last year alone he was able to treat 1200 people entering the Philadelphia jail addicted to heroin.
This interview was inspired by an email that Jon sent us back in April. His story is a powerful illustration of how running can help turn one’s life around.
Here is the email.
I’ve been meaning to reach out for a few months now. I didn’t really make time to contribute to your episode 262 last year, and I just wanted to make sure you were aware of the role your podcast played in my life these past few years.
I spent many years of my life addicted to various drugs and alcohol. There’s no real cause for that, it’s just how I’m put together. I had been able to achieve a lot of things despite these addictions…finishing college, getting in to medical school, becoming a doctor, getting married…or perhaps partly because of it. Most of these endeavors were largely undertaken in attempt to “fix” myself. However, by age 30, my use of drugs and alcohol was simply not sustainable. I found myself in a ton of debt and out of work and in a psychiatric hospital…just lucky to be alive.
I did receive addiction treatment at age 30, and a second chance at a career. I figured out how to go through life without using drugs and alcohol for the sake of retaining a medical license, but I definitely did not figure out how to be content in life. In the years that followed, I found myself on a downward spiral of different sorts. By age 37 I had totally lost my way and reached even lower depths without the aid of addictive substances. From a career standpoint, I decided to quit my job and work nearly 90 miles from my home as a doctor in the Philadelphia Jail system. Truth be told, I just wanted to hide from the world. A relatively massive big city jail system seemed like a good place to do that.
It was in that bleak setting that I found your podcast. I just turned 40 years old and was working as a jail doctor 90 miles from my family. In some ways, I did thrive in that jail environment. I learned how to be a good doctor and how to genuinely care for people while setting healthy boundaries. But a familiar boredom was setting in and I aspired to nothing in particular. The idea of running a marathon at age 40 popped in to my head, and gave me a spark. I clung to that as something to give me purpose.
From July until November of 2015, I probably listened to every one of your back podcasts as I joined MTA and committed to running a marathon. To this day, whenever I hear the opening of your podcast, it still reminds me of that time almost 4 years ago. So many mornings of getting up before dawn, and strapping lights on to my knuckles, and (no matter how tired I felt) running whatever number of miles were on the training plan that day.
I can see now that I was on a path back then. I didn’t believe in God back then, but he definitely put me on that starting line of the marathon that day. To this day, after years of being involved in MTA and running many marathons and half marathons, I still have never run so many miles as I did in the 3 months preparing for that first marathon. These days, I seemingly am always injuring something anytime I exceed 20 miles per week. But not back then. Not before that first marathon. I ran hundreds of miles…hundreds of thousands of individual steps…without so much as a twisted ankle or pulled muscle in 2015.
After all of those miles, the importance of that marathon seemed to dwarf everything else that was going on in my life. I was filled with fear and that fear functioned as a form of anesthesia on race day. I felt good for the first 10 miles and so I ran way too fast. By mile 13, fear was only taking me so far and I realized that I felt way more tired than I should feel for only being half way done. At mile 18, everything fell apart. I felt tired and defeated and certain that I could not finish. I still remember how badly I felt in that moment, knowing that I worked so hard and that I was about to fail anyway despite all of it. Not knowing how else to cope, I simply started to find reasons to be grateful.
Everything about that day changed for me once I decided to just be grateful. I suddenly saw things as they really were. I could see how unimportant being able to run 26.2 miles on that particular day really was in the grand scheme of things. Truly important things in life came in to focus. I was able to see how far I had come as an athlete and a human being. I could see how much I loved my job at the jail, and that I was a father to an amazing daughter, and that people whom cared about me would be waiting for me at the Finish Line. I found myself able to keep pushing forward, always finding some reason to be grateful as a way to cope with my fatigue and pain. I was different person from the one who started when I crossed the Finish Line that day.
It wasn’t sheer guts and determination that got me through those last 8 miles. For me, it was gratitude. Gratitude is definitely a theme in all of your podcasts and that’s surely no coincidence that it’s what got me to the finish line that day.
The success in my career and my marriage that followed after that first marathon are also no coincidence. I learned so many things from that process that I couldn’t possibly fit it all in one email. I have since started one of the largest medication assisted treatment programs in the country at the Philadelphia jail. I was able to treat over 1200 people entering the Philadelphia jail addicted to heroin last year alone. In January of this year, I left that job on good terms in order to take a job as Medical Director at Eagleville Hospital, which is a large inpatient drug and alcohol treatment facility with a long legacy of treating underserved and stigmatized people. Eagleville Hospital is much closer to my home and allows me to see my family every day (whether they like it or not).
So thank you for coming in to my life with your podcast and with Marathon Training Academy. You truly helped me to change my life.
Jon Lepley, DO
Also Mentioned in This Episode
Soar Running -They’re giving away a SOAR Summer Training Bundle to 2 lucky winners: each bundle includes a pair of shorts or bottoms, a T-shirt or vest and a Lightweight Cap. Simply head over to www.soarrunning.com/mta to enter and for your chance to win.
VARIDESK -the world’s leading standing desk solution, converting any desk into a standing desk so you can maintain a healthy active lifestyle in the office or at home.
Love Beets -offers ready-to-eat beet products, perfect for beet lovers and beet newbies alike! Find their products at most major retailers nationwide, like Kroger, Whole Foods, Costco, and more. Check out lovebeets.com and use code MTA at checkout for 20% off online orders.
The Runner’s Toolbox for injury prevention. Eight inexpensive items to keep at home.