The Inspirational Story of a 545-Pound Man Running 5K Races Like There’s No Tomorrow

Meet Derek Mitchell, an inspiring 35-year-old race runner who weighs a whopping 545 pounds. Despite his heavy frame, he’s spent the past year walking and running a total of 21 5k races and two 10k events. He even made it halfway through a muddy, 10-mile obstacle course!

Mitchell, a Kansas City native, was diagnosed with a noncancerous tumor on his pituitary gland five years ago, a condition that slows down his metabolism and is the primary cause for his obesity. Although he was put on medication to shrink the tumor, Mitchell felt that “at one point, I was using that condition as a crutch, telling myself, ‘I’ll wait for the pills to start working before I start working out or change my eating habits.’”

But he realised that wasn’t a very good plan in November 2014, when his body weight reached an all-time high of 625 pounds. “That’s when I knew I needed to make a change, and decided to start with a new year’s resolution.” So in the beginning of 2015, he cut soda from his diet, switched to more nutritious food options, and tried switching to a healthier lifestyle.


Owing to his weight at the time, Mitchell’s initial exercise routine was pretty much walking as far as his body would allow him to. “There was a streetlight I found and (walking) there and back was three-fourths of a mile, so I just walked down to it and back,” he explained, speaking to KMBC TV. “I was up to a mile a day, then a mile-and-a-half a day.”

Recognising his determination to get fit, it was Mitchell’s sister who encouraged him to try signing up for races. “My sister said it was great that I was eating better, but that I needed to add physical exercise,” he said. “We came up with the idea of a 5K a month as a way to keep me exercising to get ready for them.” But Mitchell was so conspicuous at his very first 5K event in March that pretty soon he became a celebrity of sorts, getting invited to 5Ks all over the US.


Having completed that first 5K in his hometown in 1:27:44, he was pretty excited to do it again, and all the support and encouragement he received from fellow runners inspired him as well. “The running community is awesome,” he said. “I have gotten nothing but support from them. It’s amazing how supportive everyone is at these races.”

Mitchell also caught the attention of Crossfit trainer Chase Knight, who offered to work with him. “The fact is, I knew he would succeed,” Knight said. “I asked for 10 volunteers to come in here and do the workout and he came in here. I wanted him to meet the community. I had nine people stand up and he was the tenth.”


Thanks to his dedication, hard work, and community support, Mitchell not only completed over 20 5k races and lost 87 pounds in 2015, but also discovered a passion for running. In fact, he truly believes that if anyone can finish a 5K, it’s him. “It’s one of the most encouraging places to be in the world,” he said. “Everyone is like, ‘I’m going to be the biggest and slowest person out there.’ I’ve been the biggest and slowest person and I still love every minute of it.”

“There’s nothing like it,” he told The Advocate. “There’s a sense of accomplishment when you cross the finish line. I did this, all of this, on my own. I had people here supporting me, but MY feet crossed the starting line and MY feet crossed the finish line.”


Mitchell has become an incredible source of inspiration to people dealing weight issues around the world. He’s got over 21,000 followers on his Facebook page, he was featured in the December issue of Runner’s World magazine, and he’s also been chosen as a spokesperson for health insurance firm Humana. He’s already completed seven 5Ks in 2016, and wants to keep going until he’s done with 30.

For those who want to follow his example, his advice is simple: “If you can just walk to the end of the block, then just walk to the end of the block, but be consistent. If you consistently walk to the end of the block, soon you’ll find you can walk two blocks, then three, then four, etc.”


Photos: Derek Mitchell/Facebook