Every Step Counts: One Runner's Journey to Get Fit for Life

Ready to get back into shape, but not sure if you can?

Runner Dan Burk has a message for you, no matter where you're at on your journey:

Every. Step. Counts.

He's a school principal and coach based in Michigan, and he's on a mission to:

  • Run more marathons
  • Get in better shape
  • Inspire people along the way as "a big guy" chasing finish lines, and...
  • Remind you every step counts no matter where you're at on your journey to get healthy

Got a big running goal?

But not sure how to get from where you are to where you want to be?

Here's a peek into Dan Burk's journey to show you how it's done...

Runner Dan Burk was named Principal of the Year in 2022. Outside of school and coaching youth sports, he's training to run the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon later this year.

The curious tipping point for Principal of the Year

Take a peek into the day-to-day life of St. Matthew Lutheran School Principal Dan Burk, in Westland, Mich., and you'll find a long list of wins, accomplishments, and successes:

But take a trip into the Wayback Machine, and Dan is first to recognize something was out of balance...

"I was doing really great things professionally," says Dan. 

"But I was failing at being healthy, being active, and eating right. I was even a little depressed. And I knew I had to make some changes."

  • He weighed 280 pounds
  • He was tired most of the time
  • And he was a long way from the high school cross country runner and collegiate wrestler he used to be

"I made up my mind that I wanted to do better and be better, no matter how long it might take."

Dan Burk and a few friends formed the Spare Tire Running Club to stay motivated, be accountable, and inspire other runners to get started.

Spare Tire Running Club: Every step counts

When Dan decided to get back into shape, he recruited a small group of friends to launch the Spare Tire Running Club.

  • They started walking.
  • They ran/walked a few 5Ks together in the Michigan area
  • They encouraged each other to balance fatherhood and fitness

"I started to fall back in love with running after a really long break," says Dan.

All the hard work and consistent effort started to pay off:

  • He lost weight.
  • He went from walking to jogging to running
  • And he signed up to run a marathon

"My first marathon was the Detroit Free Press Marathon, says Dan.

And for this principal, it was a learning opportunity:

"I didn't train for it as well as I could have," says Dan.

"I ran the first few miles, but it got pretty hard after that. I walked the second half just to beat the bus so I had a ride back."

Running 26.2 miles at the Grand Rapids Marathon was a little better.

"I ran the first 15 miles," says Dan. "I felt great. It kind of felt like I could run forever."

"But after that, I kind of hit the wall and started cramping. But I still managed to finish."

As a bigger runner, just trying to make it to the finish line, one mantra emerged for the Spare Tire Running Club:

  • Every step counts.
Dan Burk with Spare Tire Running Club honorary member Eric Green. Green is the Mens Cross Country Coach at Lawrence Technical University in Southfield, Mich.

What's that running shirt all about?

When Dan showed up to a local race wearing a "Spare Tire Running Club" T-shirt he didn't fit the profile of the typical runner.

"I'm a big guy," says Dan. "But I decided a long time ago, I wasn't going to let that stop me."

Lawrence Technical University Mens Cross Country Coach Eric Green happened to be at same race, cranked out an age-group win, and noticed Dan putting in the effort to go the distance wearing a "Spare Tire Running Club" shirt.

They grabbed a beer, and soon after Eric started helping Dan keep pushing forward.

Eric helped Dan...

  • Work through some injuries
  • Choose better running shoes better suited for being a bigger runner
  • Represent the Spare Tire Running Club with age-group wins at local races

"Dan is great to hang out with before and after races," says Eric. "His fellow group of Spare Tire Running club is an awesome bunch."

While Eric isn't trying to lose weight, he's quick to recognize Dan's effort to chase big goals.

"He still has that drive to get back in shape, and go after that feeling of accomplishment after finishing a race," says Eric.

"As he gets in better shape the weight should start to get better," says Eric. 

"He'll also have a better frame of mind by reducing the stress of being a administrator at his school."

Dan Burk is the founder and host of the Running My Journey Podcast.

Document your running journey

As a bigger guy, Dan knows he doesn't fit the stereotypical body type of a runner.

"When I see skinny guys doing reviews or race reports, I always think I'm not like that," says Dan.

For example: 

  • Running in a minimalist shoe may not be the best choice for a heavier runner.

"I don't find too many people my size reviewing running shoes and gear," says Dan.

"So I thought it might be cool to document my own journey to help bigger runners."

Dan launched the Running My Journey Podcast in 2022, recording 6 episodes so far:

  • Episode 6 - Grit 
  • Episode 5 - 5K Time Trial 
  • Episode 4 - Mental Health 
  • Episode 3 - C25K 
  • Episode 2 - Goals 
  • Running my Journey (Trailer)

"If just one person listens to this podcast and it helps them through something, it's worth the effort," says Dan.

The podcast serves as a way to:

  • Hold himself accountable
  • Encourage people to move more
  • Set goals and measure progress
  • Be real about the ups and downs of running, training and weight loss
  • Remind people "every step counts"

"It doesn't matter how fast you are or how much weight you have to lose," says Dan. "Every step counts."
Over the last 10 years...

  • His weight has fluctuated up and down.
  • He's been marathon ready, then started all over with C25K
  • And still refuses to give up on the goal to be better than yesterday

"I want to try to show anybody out there that might be struggling with their own demons, you're not alone," says Dan.

"If I can run a marathon and finish it, anybody can do it. And I'm here to help people get there any way I can."

Fun facts about Dan Burk

Instagram

Strava

Podcast

Favorite race

  • Detroit Free Press Marathon. This was my first marathon. You get to run across the Ambassador Bridge into Canada. Then run through a tunnel underneath the Detroit River.

Next marathon

Favorite running shoes

Favorite running watch

Favorite running app

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