How running and an 80/20 approach helped me keep 60 pounds off for 10 years

As a runner, you always hear about the magic and mystique of the Boston Marathon, but stepping off the bus in Hopkinton, Mass., where the marathon begins, and experiencing it in person was a whole new level. A mix of emotions ranging from imposter syndrome to nerves to excitement washed over me as I started to fully grasp what I was about to do — and what it took to get to this moment. My overweight and out-of-shape self had never imagined that running one of the most prestigious marathons in the world was in the cards when I bought my first pair of running shoes in September 2014 with the intention to start jogging to lose some extra pounds.

photo of yosef leaning agains a tree drinking a beer. This image was taken before he got into running  (Courtesy Yosef Herzog)
photo of yosef leaning agains a tree drinking a beer. This image was taken before he got into running (Courtesy Yosef Herzog)

I was 29 at the time and starting to really get into a groove with my job as a stage manager at TODAY. I had been active in high school and college athletics on the volleyball team but let fitness fall to the wayside as my 20s progressed. It got to a point where I couldn’t tie my shoes without feeling out of breath. My self-confidence was low and I realized I had to make a change or enter my 30s in an unhealthy state. Running was a byproduct of this mindset — a tool to help lose the weight, along with proper nutrition and strength training.

At first the running was just plain difficult, and not enjoyable. In fact, I vomited twice and almost fainted during my initial fitness evaluation with a trainer at the NBC Fitness Center before I even stepped foot on a treadmill. After that moment I promised myself I would run 3 miles every day until I lost the weight, and I did just that until the first 30 pounds came off 10 weeks later. These early runs were 35-minute slogs of run/walking in order to hit my 3-mile goal each day.

Eventually the shock of consistent exercise and proper nutrition started to change my body chemistry and composition in ways that took some getting used to. My waist size shrank, and I had to buy new pants almost every 2 weeks. My cravings slowly shifted from sweets and carbs to … OK, those cravings never changed, but I learned to manage them a bit better. I added in a strength training regimen and scaled back on the running to lose another 30 pounds and add some muscle.

photo of yosef holding an nbc mic. This image was taken before he got into running  (Courtesy Yosef Herzog)
photo of yosef holding an nbc mic. This image was taken before he got into running (Courtesy Yosef Herzog)

Once the weight came off, I realized something had happened that I didn’t expect: Running had become part of my daily life as much as work, sleep or any other part of my daily routine. The slogs turned into jogs that turned into runs and I started to really enjoy the peace and solitude they brought me. I loved the simplicity of a sport I could do anytime and anywhere.

In the spring of May 2015 a friend convinced me to sign up for a 10K and my love for racing just took off from there. I was running my first half marathon in March 2016 and eventually my first marathon in November 2017, with a time of 3 hours, 48 minutes. By the time I signed up for my second marathon in 2018, I had joined a group marathon training program led by Nike NYC called Project Moonshot that really started to open up possibilities for me. I shaved 20 minutes off my finish time, finishing in 3:30, and that’s when I decided I wanted to complete all of the six World Marathon Majors, a series of the biggest and most well-known marathons in the world. This included the storied Boston Marathon — even though time-qualifying for Boston seemed so far out of the realm of my capabilities (at the time, that meant finishing in under 3 hours). But I kept at it, stuck to my training and never gave up. I ran Berlin in 2019 in 3:10 and started to feel like I was getting close and could actually achieve this mountain of a goal I had set. After a couple setbacks including the pandemic and knee surgery, I aged into the next age bracket that “only” required a time under 3:05 to qualify. In October 2022 I ran the Chicago marathon and qualified there for Boston with a finishing time of 3:04:11. Running the Boston Marathon was one of the most memorable days for many reasons including temps that topped 73 degrees and hills that seemed to never end, but I pushed through and finished with a time of 3:18. Tokyo, here I come.

Yosef running in a race (Sarah Stafford)
Yosef running in a race (Sarah Stafford)

As I’m nearing the 10-year mark since this journey began, there are a few things I constantly remind myself to stay on track. Quick fixes and fad diets can be appealing to many looking to make a change, but until you find something you can really integrate into your lifestyle, it’ll always be easy to fall back on bad habits. However, small changes are sustainable: a healthy food swap at lunch or a 10-minute walk each day, as long as it’s consistent.

I’m also a big believer in an 80/20 dietary lifestyle during the week. For me that means eating clean and healthy Monday through Friday —  think lean proteins, vegetables and healthy carbs like quinoa, brown rice or faro — and indulging a bit more on weekends. I think it’s important not to cut anything out completely but rather to moderate and balance the indulgent foods along with the healthy foods. In the mood for pizza? Eat it! Just maybe have one slice instead of two. Want a cheeseburger? Go for it! Just maybe take off the top of the bun or lose the cheese.

And, as I’ve learned, it also helps if you find something that you love — maybe not at first, but over time, you might surprise yourself.

As I enter my 40s this year, I remain grateful for a sport that has enabled me to achieve my fitness goals while extending my running community. After running the NYC Marathon with TODAY's Sheinelle Jones this past fall, we’ve continued our weekly runs with other TODAY staffers and it’s been amazing to see everyone else enjoy running the way I do and completing their own races.

If I did it, anyone can.

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