It was a few months after he took up running in 2010 that Columbus resident Joe Bell decided he was ready for a half-marathon.
Bell, who took up running as a way to get back in shape, had always been a pretty good athlete and figured his athletic skills would carry him through 13.1 miles.
He also thought running was a pretty simple thing. What was there to learn?
“I showed up at my first half-marathon (the 2010 Kentucky Derby Festival) in a black jacket, a backward Miller Lite hat and some horrible (shoes),” he said.
“I didn’t finish. I realized I was out of shape.”
Bell, now 33, learned that he needed to take running seriously if he was going to get better.
That’s why he was kind of shocked when he ran a 2:59 in last year’s Mill Race Marathon. He felt prepared going into the race.
“I made lots of little mistakes in the race,” he said. “I needed to keep my calorie count up. It got a little warm. I thought my pace was OK.
“I definitely wanted to run faster.”
CHILDREN: 1-year-old son, Jude
OCCUPATION: INDOT (Seymour), civil engineer
RUNNING HISTORY: Starting running four years ago to lose weight and regain health; since has run 16 marathons
GOAL FOR MILL RACE MARATHON: Break 2:50
The Republic will be following Joe Bell in his preparation for the Sept. 27 Mill Race Marathon. Look for his first runner’s diary July 13.
Bell is not an elite runner, and he stressed that his battle is “racing the clock,” and himself. But he wants to redeem himself with a better effort in the 2014 Mill Race Marathon. He is determined to break 2:50.
As he prepares for the race on Sept. 27, he will write a weekly diary for The Republic. Bell, who is a member of the Quaff-On! racing team, will give readers a look at a serious runner who will train hard with a specific time in mind.
“Running in your hometown, it means something to me,” said Bell, who works for the Indiana Department of Transportation in Seymour as a civil engineer. “I want to come back to this race and run well.”
Bell grew up in Lexington, Kentucky and attended the University of Kentucky (2008 graduate) before moving to Columbus six years ago. While in high school, he was a 400- and 800-meter runner but never tried longer distances. In college, he played some soccer but didn’t do any distance running.
Also while he was in college, Bell took up another hobby. Eating.
“It was pretty easy to gain weight in college,” he said. “I had a good time. But there is some regret there.”
When Bell turned 29, he weighed 200 pounds on his 6-foot frame.
“I had health issues,” he said. “All the usual stuff, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. I had put on 50 pounds.”
He decided to begin running to lose weight.
“The first four or five months was agonizing,” he said. “I barely could make it a full week running a mile every day.”
Besides not being able to catch his breath, Bell had an assortment of aches and pains.
“It was something different every time,” he said. “Usually it was just a weak excuse not to run.”
However, Bell said he always has been strict with himself once he set a goal, and he was determined to see it through.
“I knew I wasn’t the fastest runner, but I knew running was something I could do. I knew I could see measurable results.”
After failing to finish the Kentucky Derby Festival Half Marathon, he got advice and went back to work. That same summer, he finished the 2010 Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis, noting that one of his happiest running moments came when he saw the 25-mile marker of that race.
Since then he has run another 15 marathons.
“I never really had one clear epiphany,” he said of running. “It was a constant, slow improvement. The way I approach it is that I put a lot of pressure on myself to get better.”
With a wife, Tiffany, and a 1-year-old son, Jude, Bell has to keep a balance in his life to make everything work. “At first, running didn’t occupy so much time,” he said. “Then it became more and more.
“I have to work my runs around a schedule.”
About a year and a half ago, he was asked to join Quaff-On!.
“They are just a good group of guys similar to me,” he said. “Only all those guys are faster than me.”
The running club includes last year’s marathon champion, Danny Fisher, who designs their workouts.
Besides concentrating on his own form now, Bell likes to spread the word about the healthy benefits of running.
“People see you out running,” he said. “You can get them interested. And you find that the energy spills over into your professional career and your work ethic. I would say that it’s better than a cup of coffee in the morning.”
Now back at 150 pounds, Bell said that his advice to those who start to run would be “just take baby steps. You’re not going to jump into a half-marathon and finish it. But you can do it.”
He said he will continue to do it the rest of his life.
“Definitely as long as I can move one leg in front of the other,” he said.