Inspirational Runner: Derek Mitchell
On April 13, 2017, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Mitchell. Mitchell is renowned in the running community because of his incredibly inspiring story of running 5k races to tackle his issues with health and weight. Read below to learn more about Derek, his inspiring story, and how running not only helped to change his life, but the lives of many other people as well.
RC: Can you tell us a little about the condition that led to many of your issues with your weight, prolactinoma? What signals told you that you it was time to see a doctor?
DM: Prolactinoma is a condition where there is a tumor on your pituitary gland. This increases your body’s production the hormone prolactin, but it also decreased my ability to produce testosterone. I’ve had the condition since puberty, which is an important time for your metabolism because your body is changing. When you hit your teen years your energy and metabolism are supposed to increase, but since my body wasn’t producing the correct amount of testosterone, my metabolism stayed slow and remains slow.
Six years I began experiencing headaches and blurry vision. Then, one day, I made a phone call and was talking jibberish and eventually passed out. At the doctor, as soon as they heard about headaches and vision problems, they ordered an MRI. The MRI showed that the tumor on my pituitary gland had grown so large that it was pressing on my optic nerve.
RC: Why did you choose running 5Ks as the way to tackle your weight?
DM: About 4 years ago my family ran a 5K together in Joplin, Missouri, so I knew running a 5k was possible. The idea to sign up for a 5k was actually my sister’s idea, who had just run the Chicago marathon. So, we decided that beginning in January 2015, I began walking around my neighborhood to get ready for the first 5k in my plan. The 5k was a great motivator. Eventually, I took the 5k idea and expanded it to one 5k per month, and some months I ended up doing 2 or 3.
RC: What advice do you have for people who want to start running?
DM: The best advice I can give is to start small, listen to your body, and do what you can. Even if it means only walking to the end of your driveway and back on day 1, that’s fine. You will go a little further the next day, maybe to the end of your block. And then even further the day after that. The real key is consistency. You have to understand that you are going to falter, but you can’t let those setbacks define you. You have to get back up and keep moving forward.
RC: What has been your favorite race so far?
DM: My favorite race was on July 4th in Washington DC. I ran across the finish line carrying the American flag. It was absolutely incredible.
RC: How does the impact you have had on other runners made you feel? Any especially inspiring moments with one of your fans or supporters?
DM: Sometimes the response I have gotten is overwhelming. I love meeting new people and hearing that my story has helped them make a positive change in their lives. There is one woman, who after reading about my story, deciding to start doing 5ks herself. We have chatted and met, and even ran some 5ks together.
RC: What is your goal for running races in 2017?
DM: I don’t have a goal this year actually, because work keeps me really busy right now. But, I am going to do a Tough Mudder in October. It’s an extremely challenging race and is a lot of work. But, it really gives you the best and worst feelings in the world at the same time. It’s the challenge of getting through the course, but then the satisfaction and joy of completing the race that gets you in the end. I also love the community and camaraderie of the Tough Mudder races. Their slogan is “Leave No Mudder Behind,” and your team and other racers really support and encourage each other. That is what I love the most about the Tough Mudder races.
RC: In an interview with Runners’ World, you mentioned that sometimes you feel like you want to quit racing. What motivates you to continue? How do you lift your spirits and get yourself to keep racing?
DM: Not to sound repetitive, but like I talked about before, the biggest motivation really is to hear stories from and about the people who have seen me as an inspiration. The messages I get are inspirational and the members of the running groups I am in are are supportive and encouraging. That is what keeps me going, even when I get up and feel like I can’t possibly run that day.