Conquering Miles and Spreading Smiles

Aaron Riddle is on a quest, several quests actually. But his main objective is to run 50 marathons in 50 states by the time he turns — wait for it — age 50.

Along the way, the 38-year-old seeks to inspire others to get off the couch and pursue their dreams. His partner in inspiration is a cartoon pig that Riddle draws and uses as his own personal mascot.

But the Team Riddles mascot serves as more than just motivation. It’s symbolic of how far Riddle has come.

No freshman 15 here

All throughout school, Riddle was the “fat kid.”

“I was picked on constantly and very out of shape, even though I loved sports,” he says. “Eventually I made my way up the ranks on the high school football team and by senior year, I was a 315-pound offensive lineman who set numerous powerlifting records at my high school.” 

At college, he shed weight from walking around campus and began to take fitness seriously. He slimmed down to 195 pounds within a year, thanks to cardio and a weight training program. From 2001 to 2011, he maintained fitness with cross fit and following a Navy SEAL hard core workout program known as SEAL FIT.

“I became a die-hard workout type and enjoyed pushing myself to my limits,” Riddle recalls. “After getting used to running distances of up to 10 miles a business partner suggested I try and run a marathon.”

He ran the Richmond Marathon in November 2012, using Hal Higdon’s intermediate marathon training program, which included a local 10K race during the preceding May. “I set a goal of running under four hours in Richmond, and fell short by a minute,” says Riddle, who crossed the line in 4:01:08.

For the next four years, he set running aside and embraced heavy weight training. His weight reached 220.

“I was strong as an ox, but began to experience joint pain,” he recalls. “I decided to bring running back into my workout routine and train for another marathon (the Disney World Marathon in January 2017). I again followed a Hal Higdon routine and ran this marathon in 4:08:48.”

Something sparked Riddle’s desire during that race to refocus on running.

“It was after this marathon I decided to get serious about running,” he remembers. “I decided to do only running and body weight training. Even thought my second marathon in Disney World left me cramped and feeling beat down, I loved it. Since I do not like traveling that much, my wife suggested since I loved running, why not try to run a marathon in every state so we can travel together as a family, see the country, and I can have a marathon as an incentive for coming along.” 

And with that an audacious goal was hatched.

MTA coach comes to the rescue

To date, Riddle has completed marathons in nine states, the most recent being the Carlsbad Marathon where he set a marathon PR of 3:43:56. He credits Marathon Training Academy (MTA) coach Chris Galaty with his improved performances. 

“MTA has been a great resource to get me past the four-hour barrier with the marathon distance,” Riddle says. “After missing my four-hour goal by one minute in 2012, when I resumed running in 2017 my goal was to beat that time.”

Even though he had run a 1:38:07 half marathon, the four-hour marathon goal remained elusive even after five attempts. Riddle decided he needed help and reached out to MTA.

Galaty quickly diagnosed an issue — Riddle was way under fueling during races.

“The only fuel I used for my first marathon was water,” Riddle explains. “While I had started using some energy chews, I was not getting nearly the amount of carbs I needed during a race to keep me going through the 20-mile wall until the end of the marathon.”

They devised a fueling plan that Riddle practiced during training. It worked as he achieved his goal at the Mount Desert Island 2018 marathon in Maine with a time of 3:57:11. The same fueling plan propelled him to the PR at Carlsbad.

Goals for days

Riddle is all in on his goal, a change from when his motivation was to lose weight. “I am no longer in need of an internal ‘why’ to run. Running is part of my life and something I enjoy doing. I do not have to be motivated to get out of bed and go for a run in the pouring cold rain or single-digit temperatures — I WANT to do it.”

His commitment goes beyond the “50s” goal. He has also created sub-goals to keep his motivation high. Among them:

• Run to maintain fitness and stay healthy well into old age.
• Finish a 50-mile ultramarathon in 2020. 
• Complete a 100-mile ultramarathon.
• Qualify for the Boston Marathon.
• Help his brother grow as a runner too. “He started running from scratch in 2018 and is set to run his first half marathon in April. I will be there running it with him to push him and cheer him on.”

Be active

As a professional cartoonist, Riddle says he has always had an affinity for fun characters. When he adopted the “50s” goal, it was only natural to create a mascot.

“Living on a mountain in Virginia, we have many animals,” he says, noting those include five pigs. “It was an easy choice for the mascot. So now whenever I run a race or post a blog on my site, you are guaranteed to see a pig drawing of some sort! People at the local races recognize the Team Running Riddles pig when they see my shirt, so it seems to be accomplishing the branding goal.” 

As a lifelong introvert, the mascot helps Riddle motivate others.

“I don’t really share much of my private life at all, but since running is something that is public and people can see me doing at races, it’s different to me,” he says. “The reason I share my running life is to hopefully inspire others to become fit and healthy so they feel better and can live longer.”

But he knows not everyone will find the joy he has in running. The important thing, Riddle says, is to be active.

“You don’t have to like running,” he notes. “Just get active and do anything — bike, hike, play sports, walk, yoga — all of it is so much better than lying around watching TV or playing on your phone. I thought I was going to always be overweight when I was a kid but that isn’t true. If I can lose the weight and grow into someone that runs marathons, than YOU can too!” 

Speed drill

Name: Aaron Riddle
Hometown: Winchester, Virginia, USA.
Number of years running: 8-9
How many miles a week do you typically run: On average, I would say anywhere between 40 and 60 miles (depending on when my next marathon is scheduled for).
Point of pride: The fact that my family is a part of this running journey with me. When I do a marathon in a new state we make a family trip out of it. I get to run, and we get to do stuff as a family. It’s a win-win!
Favorite race distance: Marathon or longer!
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: It would have to be my traditional pre-race meal, three hours prior to start time, of one whole wheat bagel with almond butter, one banana, water and a cup of coffee. During a race I fuel with Clif hydration drink and GU energy gels.
Favorite piece of gear: Tough call. I think it would have to be my Garmin Fenix 3, mainly to be able to track my running data. I don’t get caught up in pace all the time, but being able to record my distance, time, elevation, etc. for every run I do is pretty cool.
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Silence with only the sounds of nature or race day around me. I do not run to any music or podcast. Why? I do not want it to be a crutch to my performance. While it can be a great motivator, if something would go wrong on race day and you did not have your music available, it might make your run much harder.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: I have two favorites. One is a mantra I picked up from following Navy SEAL workout training and that is “Looking good, feeling good, next stop Hollywood!” My personal one is “Pig Power!” 
Where can other runners connect or follow youhttp://RunningRiddles.com

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