Chuck McDanal landed in Polk county over twenty years ago when his then wife of one year decided she wanted to move back home. He had lived in California, New Hampshire, Virginia and Washington D.C., but Florida was foreign land. “I knew nothing about Florida other than old Miami Vice reruns with glasshouses and cigarette boats,” he said.
When he arrived things were simpler than he was used to. “Florida was phosphate, citrus, cattle and pick-up trucks,” he said. He moved to Winter Haven for five years, then headed over to Lakeland where he lives currently. He is proud to have seen the county grow up. Not only is Lakeland a city that he considers a pretty cool place to start a family, but it is also a city he explores by foot every single day.
“Some people run just to cross-train for another sport or because they want to eat another cheeseburger, but running is such a part of the fabric of my life,” he said. “I run because it makes me happy and it brings joy to my life.” He noted that many people who aren’t runners would think that line is absurd, but they don’t yet know it like he does.
Chuck wasn’t always a runner. He ran here and there in high school, for training during his time in the Marine Corp., and then a bit to spend time with his father who ran. He was never serious about it until eight years ago when the newest place to run was installed right by his home.
“When they started pulling out that old railroad bed and putting in the Fort Fraser trail I saw it as a sign and had no excuse,” he said. “I would drive my wife’s car to the top of the hill and then run because I was too lazy to run up the hill.” He claims his only reasoning for taking her car over his was because she had the mom car and he didn’t mind sweating in it on the way home! The race he is most excited to watch newcomers complete now was a feat for him on his first try. He said, “In 2010, I ran the Gasparilla 5k and I wasn’t even sure that I could finish it. I’ve been hooked ever since.” Little did he know, he would end up running race after race and then nine different marathons all over the country. This past March he ran the Myrtle Beach marathon and for the first time he accomplished a major goal by qualifying for the Boston Marathon!
It didn’t come easy. He did a two-month experiment to calculate that 1700 calories of clean food was exactly what his body needed plus running each day. He realized that a massage once a month wasn’t a luxury, but a necessity. He saw how yoga and weight training loosen his body and counterbalance the runs. He tested out different shoes from FitNiche to find his favorites for each race. Chuck refined his training strategies time and time again to now trains every day, 60 to 70 miles per week.
When does he find the time to balance work, family, and a social life? He wakes up while the rest of us are sleeping. Each morning he sets his alarm for 3:30 am. “There are people who get up, get dressed and get out the door to go run. Then there are people like me who get up, have a cup of coffee, sit there and drink it, be at one with the world and then go run,” he said.
Chuck set what he calls bucket list times for each distance race and has been breaking them ever since. As incredible as it feels to achieve his life goals in running, he’s humbled by the fact that it’s such a personal sport. “It doesn’t really matter how good you are because there’s always somebody who’s way better. You’re just not really competing against other people as much as you are yourself,” he said. He broke a 1:40 in a half marathon at OUC in Orlando. He beat twenty minutes at a 5k in the fall. In December, he even beat a wicked fast six minute mile to hit his goal of starting it with a five.
Chuck gives most of his credit to local non-profit, Lakeland Runners Club, which he is on the board of. Formerly President and Vice President, Chuck says this group of over 700 members is a tribe of all different people who have one thing in common. “It’s interesting as a community because we all share a love for running, but it’s not like everybody is the same political party or the same faith or has the same job,” he said. “If there’s a new face there and they’re going the right pace you meet new people and you hear their stories about why they run and where they’re from.”
Meeting people and seeing new places are two of his favorite things about the sport. When he travels he checks to see if any races are going on as a way to explore. This year he ran through Switzerland.
“Zurich has a midnight race on New Years that, because of where it is on the globe, is the first run on the planet for 2018. We’re running into the dark along this dark river, everyone with headlamps on and all of Zurich is blowing up in fireworks around us,” he said. For Chuck running isn’t just a sport. It’s a way to get from here to there, a way to spark a friendship, a way to sightsee, and a way to stay healthy each day.