Firefighter gets off the couch, into marathon shape
By CATHY DYSON
When Randy Feltner decides to do something, he gives it his all, even if all he’s doing is camping out on the couch, watching sports shows and consuming everything in sight.
Feltner used to do a lot of sitting around and drinking, to the point he joked that Captain Morgan, a brand of rum, was his blood type. Then, almost two years ago, he decided to pick himself up off the couch and start exercising.
Even he couldn’t have predicted where his quest to get in shape would lead.
The 32-year-old Colonial Beach firefighter has become a runner, something he never imagined his flat-footed self doing. Not only has he done two half-marathons and six triathlons in the past two years, he’s poised to take on an event he still can’t believe he agreed to do.
Feltner will be among 30,000 participants in the 37th annual Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 28. With other runners from across the United States and 54 countries, he’ll run 26.2 miles, starting in Arlington and finishing at the Marine Corps War Memorial.
He’ll represent the International Association of Firefighters’ charitable foundation, a group that provides disaster relief and helps families of fallen firefighters.
Feltner keeps telling himself he’s running for a good cause, but it’s still quite the challenge for someone who wouldn’t have considered walking around the block a few years ago.
But once Feltner committed to turning up the heat on his weight-loss program—and fighting the heart disease that runs in his family—he realized he likes the feeling he gets when he runs. It goes with what he calls his addictive personality.
“I feel empowered. It’s something I can control,” he sad. “It’s not just the running, it’s everything. I’m controlling my life and how it’s going to go.”
‘TIME TO DO SOMETHING’
Feltner always liked team sports and played football at Colonial Beach High School. After graduation in 1998, he had several jobs—at McDonald’s, a hardware store and repossessing vehicles—before he went to work at GEICO.
There was always food around the office, and what he didn’t gobble there during his 12-hour shifts, he grabbed on the way home.
“Lots of food and very little movement,” he said.
By the time he got engaged at age 22, he weighed 272 pounds—about 100 pounds more than he did in high school.
His future wife, Katie, wanted to lose weight before the wedding, and he told her to go ahead.
“I really didn’t want to put forth the effort,” he said. “I wanted to sit on the couch and watch SportsCenter.”
She started cooking healthier meals, and he had no choice but to eat them. She also started running.
About the same time, in 2003, Feltner applied for his current job, as a full-time firefighter at the Navy base in Dahlgren. He wasn’t surprised that his blood pressure was high—it often ran about 170 over 100—but he was shocked that a doctor thought he had an enlarged heart.
A second look showed that wasn’t the case. The way Feltner described it, the doctor said he’d gotten so fat, his diaphragm was pushing down on his heart, making it look wider than it really was.
Feltner’s father had suffered a heart attack, and his grandfather died from one. Other firefighters he knew were dropping from heart disease.
“I decided that day, when I couldn’t walk up the stairs without breathing hard, that it was time to do something,” Feltner said.
‘PRETTY DETERMINED GUY’
Feltner had gotten more active after joining the Dahlgren fire station. He had been playing basketball during his shifts at the base and his time at the Colonial Beach Volunteer Fire Department, where he’s been a member for 12 years.
He also started lifting weights, and the guys at work joined him.
He lost weight from 2003 on, from fad diets, but the pounds always seemed to come back.
Jim Jett, a fellow volunteer at Colonial Beach, remembered when guys would gather at the firehouse to watch football games. Feltner would be the first to dive into the pizza and chicken wings, Jett said.
But when Feltner made it clear in January 2010 that he was kicking old habits, he became “pretty religious about keeping his diet straight and not splurging on fast food,” Jett said.
“He’s a pretty determined guy,” he added. “Everything he’s wanted to do, he’s been able to do.”
Perhaps he has his wife to thank for that. Katie ran her first half-marathon in December 2009, and a month later, Feltner got serious about making changes to his lifestyle—not just going on another diet.
“I told myself, if she can do it, I can get my fat tail off the couch and do it, too,” he said.
A MARATHON? NO THANKS
Feltner started with an 8K run in Virginia Beach and met his goal to finish, even though he said he thought he was having a heart attack by the end.
Then, he did a 10K and trained for a triathlon in Colonial Beach. He had a meltdown during the swimming portion, when he got kicked in the face and swallowed water. Lifeguards had to get him out of the river.
Determined to complete the biking, running and swimming portions of a triathlon, he entered another a few weeks later and met his goal.
Then, his wife did her first of two marathons. Feltner didn’t feel compelled to match her efforts.
“I had no interest in ever running more than 13 miles at once,” he said.
But when a fellow firefighter asked him if he’d represent the union’s charitable group in the Marine Corps marathon, Feltner agreed. He also set a goal of raising $1,000 for the charity, which he’s met.
Feltner trained even more and was at the King George YMCA so much, he became a trainer. He works with others on their regimens, as well as his own during the down times.
He’s always willing to “go the extra mile,” said Elizabeth Clark, director of the King George YMCA.
“Randy cares about the whole person, and staff and members really like him,” she said. “I am so proud of him because he strives for excellence in his own health.”
‘TAKING CARE OF MYSELF’
Feltner is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 215 pounds. He’d like to get down to 200, but says he’ll never be “the skinny guy.”
He’ll continue eating more chicken and fish than beef, more egg whites and turkey sausage than brownies and pizza.
“It’s a lifestyle change, and it’s hard. It’s hard every day,” he said. “With my personality and the way I love to eat, if I go off the diet, I’m going to go off the deep end.”
He’s confident he’ll finish the Marine Corps Marathon, though he’s not sure if he’ll beat his wife’s time. She did her second marathon in under five hours.
He just wants to make it across the finish line and stay in good shape for the race he’s part of every day: life.
“I could die in a fire tomorrow, but that’s probably not going to happen,” Feltner said. “But I’m definitely not going to die of a heart attack, because I’m taking care of myself.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425