Superior man loses 260 pounds running

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Barry Brokaw thinks he once weighed 420 pounds. He's not sure. The scale kept reading "error" until he was under 400 pounds, he said.

Barry Brokaw lost 260 pounds after he became a committed runner. Submitted Photos.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Barry Brokaw thinks he once weighed 420 pounds. He's not sure. The scale kept reading "error" until he was under 400 pounds, he said.

Brokaw, a Superior, Wis., resident who now weighs 160 pounds, runs 50 to 75 miles a week, depending on if he's preparing for a race or not.

And he's going to run as a pacer Saturday in the Wild Hog Half Marathon in Grand Forks, which begins at 8 a.m.

As a pacer, he will carry a marker while running to indicate the steady pace he is going to run. Brokaw, 43, will complete the half marathon in 1 hour and 40 minutes, so other runners who want to complete the race in that time can keep pace with Brokaw to accomplish that goal.

That's a pace of 7 minutes and 38 seconds per mile.


"For a pacer, you need to be able to do that comfortably," Brokaw said.

Emily Spicer, a health and wellness specialist with Altru Health System who leads weight loss programs in the area, will run with her participants Friday in the 5K. She said running as a group gives support to people who may not have participated in big runs like the 5K before.

"By doing it as a team or a group effort, it kind of takes away the scariness factor," Spicer said.

Brokaw wasn't always comfortable running at that pace. When he was in the Army in the early 1990s, he said he "started and stopped (running) many times" while completing his physical fitness tests.

"Like everybody, I hated it," Brokaw said about running. "When I was in the military, I was never good at it."

He left the Army after a few years and noticed himself gaining weight. Brokaw said he has dealt with his weight fluctuating his entire life.

While pulling his daughter, Alexa, in a wagon on a walk in 2008, Brokaw realized he was winded and needed to change his lifestyle for his daughter.

Brokaw went to visit a weight loss clinic, but appointment delays postponed his hope of weight loss surgery. Meanwhile, he started working out on a StairMaster for six months to start shedding pounds.


He didn't have a coach to keep him motivated, but he said he did find motivation by watching "The Biggest Loser." While watching episodes from season three, Brokaw said he identified with a season three contestant named Erik Chopin, who was a similar age and weight as Brokaw.

"If he can do it, why not me?" Brokaw explained as to what was going through his mind while watching the show.

Brokaw started running outside in Superior even through the winter. He said he prefers running outside to running inside.

"For me, that's my time," Brokaw said. "If you're inside, you watch TV. Outside, I soak in the surroundings and let my mind wander."

Spicer noted that running is a good exercise to be active.

"Running is one of the most rigorous exercises there is to do, and one of the most efficient ways to burn calories," she said.

Spicer also said running should be paired with other activities, such as strength and weight training, as well as good eating habits. But she also emphasized that everyone is different, and weight loss will happen at different rates for different people.

Brock Jenkins of Newfolden, Minn., is also running as a pacer in the Wild Hog Half Marathon. He started running in 2012, and the Wild Hog was his first big run. Like Brokaw, Jenkins lost more than 130 pounds, but it took time to get into the habit of running.


"It takes about a good three weeks to a month to actually start to enjoy it," Jenkins said.

But after that, he said "there's the feeling of triumph" as "you look at your progression" and watch yourself improve.

While running, Brokaw said he doesn't have a strict diet that he follows, but he has cut out fast food and red meat. Instead, he opts for leaner meats, such as turkey and chicken.

Spicer said that one of the biggest misconceptions is that people "overcompensate when they start working out," meaning they think they need to eat more to run or reward themselves with sweets more often.

"Healthy eating is definitely one of the first steps that you take because you need to fuel yourself properly," she said.

Now Brokaw said his daughter has gotten into running with him. When Alexa Brokaw was younger, she was at the finish line to cheer her father on. But last Saturday she completed the Tunnel 10K in Duluth in 1 hour and 2 minutes.

"When she came across the finish line, she told me she was able to run the whole way," Barry Brokaw said, emphasizing that his 12-year-old ran 6.2 miles without stopping. "I was proud of her."

Barry Brokaw ran in the Twin Cities Marathon last October and in the BQ2 Marathon in the Chicago area earlier this month. His time in the BQ2, 3 hours 5 minutes and 26 seconds, qualified him for the 2016 Boston Marathon. He said he needed to finish in 3 hours and 15 minutes to qualify.

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon wasn't a goal for Barry Brokaw until last October. But as he improved, it seemed more possible.

"As I got faster, I thought maybe I could do it," he said.

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