Ask A Runner: Harvey Hahn

Board member and frequent contributor Dr. Harvey Hahn was recently featured on Runner’s World for his incredible story of transformation, from sick and overweight to running marathons. Life & Health Network interviewed Dr. Hahn to learn more about what motivates him to keep running.

What’s your running story? 

I’d always hated running, even in college. I loved basketball and other sports, but running simply for running’s sake was horrible. But after I had a knee surgery, I knew I needed to exercise so I started exercising on an elliptical, but then moved onto a treadmill. I was just doing the bare minimum–30 minutes just to lose weight. My longest run was 4 miles at that point.

Then, I visited my best friend for the weekend and he wanted to run with me. He had done his “long run” the day before so this was just going to be a “recovery’ run.” It was super hot and he lives in a hilly part of Virginia but we did a 5-miler and he destroyed me! I literally didn’t stop sweating for hours. I felt so bad because I kept having to mop up my sweat from the kitchen floor while his wife and kids stared at me! The funny thing is that, for the rest of the day, including a long car ride home to Ohio, I felt great! Really energetic and really mentally sharp. It was then that then figured out that it was a byproduct of running, so that’s when I decide to start running seriously, so I could feel like that every day!

What do you consider to be your best run ever? 

The hilly and hot 5-miler in the first question really sticks in my mind as my “best run” because that was my turning point. I’ve had a bunch of other great runs. My wife and I did a 9-miler from Fishermen’s Wharf in San Francisco, to the bottom of the Golden Gate Bridge, and back. That was awesome, with a great view and great company. Another great run was the most recent L.A. marathon. I had gotten injured so I wasn’t in the best marathon shape, but I also didn’t want to just throw my registration money away so I decided to run it—really slowly. It was the worst marathon time of my nine attempts, but it was the most enjoyable. Great sites and I felt great afterwards. In fact, I felt so good that I went running two days later, when typically I have to recover for a week or so. I’ve had some good times, but those runs stand out as both memorable and motivating.

What kinds of running injuries are you susceptible to?

If you increase your running slowly, that really helps reduce your risk of injury. Also, strength training helps, such as squats, lunges, and plyometrics. Also, your risk for injury increases as you age. I’ve had a bunch of minor injuries: Achilles tendonitis, runner’s knee, illeotibial band syndrome (which really hurts), ankle sprains, and plantar fasciitis (the injury that interrupted my training for the L.A. marathon). What’s important to realize is that slow running actually makes your muscles and joints stronger and thus helps prevent injuries. When studied, running actually makes your knees better.

Do you have a running support network?

When it comes to running, one of the most important factors for me is to run with my family. I want to help keep them healthy so that they don’t have to fight weight or chronic medical conditions when they get older. My oldest Josh does 3-4 miles every day before school to help him focus. We all do a long run on Sundays together. Typically we run slowly together for 5-6 miles, then I run home with them and go out again to run more by myself. I’d probably be in better shape if I ran those 5-6 miles at my own pace, but my primary goal is my family’s health, with my race times being secondary.

We tried to get a running club going out here, but it’s been pretty hit-and-miss. At one point during the winter, the only people showing up were my family members, but we’re trying to get it going again this spring. Having said that, I’m happy that I’ve been able to get some of my friends and coworkers into running. We also do a monthly health walk called Health Strides, where doctors volunteer their time to walk and talk with anyone in the community.

Three words that describe your running?

Average. I’m not fast and I’m not slow. I’m just average and I’m okay with that.


Needed.  If I don’t run, I don’t feel right.  Running is great for stress relief and mental clarity. It helps my mood as well.

How do you stay motivated when you don’t want to run? 

I think of how I’ll feel later on that day if I don’t run. Almost every work out feels good once you get going. If you can just get that first mile or first set of pushups in, then everything else starts rolling.

What advice do you have for people who want to start running but think they can’t?

YOU CAN.  I never thought I’d ever be able to or even want to do a marathon, but I do two or three per year now. There are so manyy stories of people who were complete couch potatoes who now run intensely in full Ironman competitions or ultra-marathons.  Many of the Biggest Loser contestants run and finish marathons. If you start slow, you can build up to anything. The best part of these health stories isn’t necessarily the weight loss, but about how people’s confidence grew and how they feel, now that they’ve taken back their lives. Truly inspirational.

What’s your running goal for 2017?

I have a 50k planned for this spring.  I also want to qualify for the Boston Marathon (I’m 0 for 9 attempts) so have a fall marathon set-up.  I also want to do more trail running, because it’s so nice to be out in nature.

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Harvey Hahn, MD, FACC

Dr. Hahn graduated from Loma Linda University in 1994. He is currently the director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program at the Kettering Medical Center in Kettering Ohio.

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