NORMAL — An athlete’s resume rarely includes both “football offensive lineman” and “marathoner.”
But former Lexington High School and Monmouth College lineman Josh Thomas is doing his part to change that.
The 24-year-old Normal resident will be on the starting line at 9 a.m. Saturday for the 31st edition of the Lake Run 12K at Lake Bloomington.
If any of his football teammates happen to attend, they may not recognize the 190-pounder, who tipped the scales at 295 in his playing days.
“After I stopped playing football, I did it to just lose weight a little bit and it just kind of progressed from there,” said the 6-foot-2 Thomas of his transformation into a distance runner. “That’s how it started, but now I just do it because I enjoy it.”
Now in his third year of racing, Thomas began by running a mile. Eventually that became a mile and a half. Before long his mother, Patti, suggested he contest a 5K road race.
“I really didn’t want to because I was like, ‘I’m not really good enough to do a 5K,’” said Thomas, who works at Growmark.
Thomas reduced his food intake and ate out less. By the time he weighed 210, he reluctantly entered a 5K. To his amazement, he placed in his age group.
“I was like ‘this is kind of cool,’” he said. “I got a medal and everything.”
That’s when his competitive juices kicked in.
“I’ve always been real competitive,” said Thomas, who was also a high school basketball player and a thrower in track. In fact, he won the 2007 McLean County shot put title.
By 2012, Thomas had completed his first half marathon (13.1 miles) in 1 hour, 32 minutes, 35 seconds, which he later topped with a 1:31:15. That sub-7:00-per-mile effort is the running accomplishment he’s most proud of.
Thomas felt he was ready for a full 26.2-miler when he entered the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon last November. He and frequent training partner, Scott Bundy, cruised the first 21 miles.
“We were on pace for about 3:30 for the total (distance),” Thomas said. “Then we both hit this huge wall. It was just terrible.”
Thomas finished in 4:17:44.
“Now I’m anxious to sign up for another one,” he said. “It was definitely a good learning experience. I know what I need to do for next time.”
Thomas’ Lake Run goal is to crack the 50-minute barrier. Last year, he won the 20-24 age group in 51:37.5. To break 50:00, he needs to average 6:42 per mile.
The Lake Run includes a 4.37-mile division, but Thomas prefers to go long.
“There are so many 5Ks around here, but you don’t get a ton of the longer races,” he said. “I really like the scenery all the way around the lake.”
Thomas usually trains five or six days per week, covering five to 10 miles at a time. His recent mileage has fluctuated between 25 and 35 a week.
Thomas, who has never had a serious injury from running, relies on magazines and online sources for workout advice, but he doesn’t follow it blindly.
“You can read all the books and magazines you want,” he said, “but what your body is telling you is probably what you should go with.”