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City Lights: Slow and steady makes the race

February 01, 2012|By Michael Miller
  • Jim Christensen holds up the pants he wore when he started Weight Watchers more than a decade ago. Christensen is running in the Surf City Half Marathon this year and has lost 223 pounds from his peak weight.
Jim Christensen holds up the pants he wore when he started… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Jim Christensen will run the Surf City USA Half Marathon this weekend — which means, mathematically speaking, he will run 13.1 miles.

It's a much longer distance than his finish line a few years ago, when he struggled to make it two houses down.

The Huntington Beach resident has entered the half marathon three times since 2008. He's never finished first, but competition is the least of his concerns. Every time Christensen completes the final mile — in fact, every time he completes a few paces — he remembers how he conditioned himself to run by shedding 226 pounds.

Yes, 226 pounds. That's not a typo.

Christensen, a shipping department manager at a dry wall factory in Long Beach, weighed more than 400 pounds when he started the slow process toward getting fit in the mid-2000s. A doctor had told his mother she needed to slim down before an operation, and Christensen and his wife, Diane, decided to join her in Weight Watchers.

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Ultimately, his mother lost 65 pounds and his wife, 73. But Christensen had the furthest to go to reach running shape.

A smoker since age 13, he quit at 39 and promptly replaced cigarettes with food. By his mid-50s, he had packed on so many pounds that it hurt just to take the trash cans to the end of the driveway.

"I would take one out and huff and puff and sit there and sweat all over the place," Christensen said.

To get in the habit of walking distances, Christensen started with a short one: two houses down, then back. Soon, he pushed himself to cover three houses, then four.

The first time he walked around the block, he did it without thinking. His family's cat had wandered out of the house, and Christensen set out to find it, not realizing until he got home how far the search had taken him.

"They didn't believe me," he said. "They made me do it again."

Christensen took a part-time job with Weight Watchers, and a colleague convinced him to join her in the Surf City USA Half Marathon. The first time he ran it, the weather was cold and rainy and he and his wife bought plastic ponchos for the event. He was determined to tough it out, though, and pulled himself over the finish line in three hours and 31 minutes.

This year, Christensen has only one goal: to beat his time last year, when he came in at 2:45. His mother has passed on, but Diane will join him again.

Regardless of the race's outcome, the Christensens have one personal trophy at home that shows how far they've come. That would be a pair of Jim's old shorts, so large that he can fit both his legs inside one half, and which he often takes to Weight Watchers meetings to wow the audience.

"When I bring the pants out, they really react," he said. "When you see them in real life, it's a whole different thing than seeing them in a picture."

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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