One good thing about being unemployed—maybe the only good thing—was I could dress however I liked. No more business casual.

That morning in April 2009 I came in from a five-mile run around the neighborhood and plopped down in front of my laptop in my sweaty T-shirt and shorts. My wife, Mitzi, was at work, and the kids were at school. I was the only one with no place I had to be.

I checked my email, to see if I’d gotten any responses to the résumés I’d sent out. Nothing. Pretty much the same story since I’d gotten laid off two months earlier, after 13 years with an educational publishing company. I couldn’t even look for work in the same field because I’d signed a non-compete agreement when I was hired. Not that there were jobs available in educational publishing. Or publishing, period. Not in this economy.

I’d always believed things happen for a reason, and that in time, God would let me know what he had in mind for me. So I’d kept busy taking care of things around the house and applying for every position I was remotely qualified for. Mitzi remained confident that I would find something. But now I was getting scared. My severance pay would run out soon and I had no clearer idea of my future than the day I was asked to clear out my office cubicle. What was God waiting for?

I really would have sunk into depression if I hadn’t had running to pick me up. That and the blog I’d started writing about a year before the layoff. Initially it was just a place for me to brag about my running buddies and their racing accomplishments.

On our Saturday morning group runs, we’d get to talking about this running trend or that. Sometimes our debates would get lively and I’d go home intrigued enough to dig around online and find out more about the topic. I must be kind of a geek, because I really loved learning everything I could about fitness and nutrition and improving athletic performance.

I’d fill everyone in the following Saturday, and I got so into it, my friends nicknamed me Runner Dude, which is what I named my blog. I began posting my findings there. Before I knew it, I was getting comments not just from my friends, but also from people all over the country wanting to know more, even asking my advice.

I clicked on my blog. Lately I’d been posting daily. It gave some structure and purpose to my day, and at least for an hour or two, it kept me from worrying. Today I’d post something funny, I decided. Lord knows I could use a laugh. I found a video on YouTube about two guys who go a little nuts training for an ultramarathon. It was so hilarious it had me totally LOL.

And boy did it feel good to laugh out loud. Almost as good as running.

I started running in college at UNC Chapel Hill. I figured it would be a good way to get fit. Just for fun, I signed up for the 1984 Great Raleigh Road Race, a 10K run. I set out on the cordoned-off street, huffing along with thousands of other racers. I remember the burn in my thighs as I passed the first mile marker. Then I got into a rhythm, and the pain faded. Inhale, four strides, exhale. The next thing I knew I’d crossed the finish line. I wasn’t fast, but man, what a blast!

I was hooked. Thirteen years after that race, I ran my first marathon. When Mitzi and I moved to Greensboro, a year later, the thing I looked for right after a house and a church was a running route.

“Why don’t you run with us?” asked Rick, a friend from church. His Saturday morning runners’ group, the BlueLiners, trained on an 11-mile greenway trail.

A runners’ group? To me, running was a solitary pursuit. I showed up at the park Rick had told me about not quite knowing what to expect. There were four or five others in shorts and running shoes. “Hey, everybody,” Rick said, “this is Thad.”

The trail was tree-lined and hilly. After a few miles, we were out in the countryside. We crossed two lakes, climbed a couple of hills, passed a family of deer. We chatted as we ran. Eleven miles is a long way, but it seemed to me as if we covered the distance in no time at all.

I’ve run with the BlueLiners ever since. They’ve become some of my closest friends. They trained alongside me when I was working to get back in shape after a bout of ulcerative colitis in 2002 that required surgery.

They were with me after I ran the Honolulu Marathon and fractured my heel. For three months, I had to stay off my feet—doctor’s orders. I did strength training at the gym but I knew I needed more. So I stuck to my routine and still met the BlueLiners each Saturday. I walked while they ran. Each week the pain receded further and I got stronger until I was running with them again.

My commitment to fitness and nutrition, I was convinced, had played a huge part in keeping my colitis under control since my surgery. Running was more than a hobby. It was my ticket back to health.

I wrote an introduction to that funny video and posted it. Then, since I didn’t have anything else to do, I scrolled through my blog archive. Maybe it was seeing everything laid out in front of me on my laptop screen that did it. It wasn’t just a list of blog posts. It was a declaration. This goes beyond my health, I thought. This is my passion. This is my future.

I didn’t even give Mitzi a chance to put her things down when she walked in the door from work that night. “I know what I want to do,” I said. “I want to become a running coach and personal trainer. This means I’d have to go back to school…” Was she going to tell me I was crazy?

Instead, Mitzi looked me in the eye and said, “I was wondering when that would finally dawn on you.”

It took me six months to earn my certifications as a personal trainer and a running coach, and then last March I opened my own studio here in Greensboro, called, of course, RunnerDude’s Fitness. It’s not a large place. There’s an elliptical trainer, a treadmill, some dumbbells and medicine balls, and a Smith Rack universal machine for doing squats, bench presses and stretches. I can only train one or two clients at a time—more if we’re running outdoors. RunnerDude’s isn’t a threat to Gold’s Gym, but maybe one day it will be.

My first client was another member of the BlueLiners. I designed a series of full-body workouts for her, with exercises to strengthen her upper body, her lower body and her core. As she went through each routine, I explained what muscle groups she was working and how the training would improve her running fitness.

One day she finished a set of dumbbell lunges and stopped for a breather. “You know, before, I’d go the gym and feel lost. For the first time, I feel like I’m on a real program,” she said. “You know what you’re doing, Runner Dude.”

I was pumped. Was this my dream job or what? Or maybe I should say it’s the job I never would have dreamed of if I hadn’t gotten laid off. And to think I was wondering what God was waiting for. I’m so grateful he waited for me to see the incredible future he’d laid out for me!

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