Friday, February 11, 2011

One Guy's Take on Getting Fit

Today's post comes from a colleague and friend of mine.  Joel grew up an athlete, wrestling being his primary sport of choice.  I came to know him a few years ago as he and a couple of other colleagues would ask me to join them on their weekend runs.  HA!  Me?  Run with YOU guys?!?!  You guys are half my size, elite, and marathon runners.  But for some reason, I went one day.  I learned that it's not about the fact that I can't keep the same pace as him/them.  It's the camaraderie that comes with the company.  I quickly realized I had a lot to learn about running, something I thought there was not much to.  Wrooooooong!  And so, I came to know Joel as more than one of the best read and written people I've ever met.  I found someone from whom I could learn.  We've run a handful of races together....well.....we've driven to a handful of races together.  Nonetheless, during the drives and water cooler chats, I came to realize that Joel had to work to get where he is much like all of us out there.  And so here's his take on how he lost a significant amount of weight, began eating right, and how he has sustained it.....years later.  I hope you can glean something from his experience and apply it to yours no matter where you are in your journey.  So........enjoy.

Getting Fit According to Joel
As I was preparing to step to the starting line of my very first 5k race, I saw a former teacher and coach from my high school.  He looked skeptically at me in my shorts and t-shirt on that hot June morning.  After we said our pleasantries to one another, he called me out, “I never thought I’d see you at a run. You hated running in school.”  This was a fact I couldn’t dispute.

I was a natural athlete in school.  It came pretty easy for me, but I certainly didn’t do much to go above and beyond when it came to conditioning.  After school, like many others, I put athletics behind me.  I went to college, became overweight, started working, became more overweight, overscheduled myself, became even more overweight.  I fell into the same trap that many do.  I had a million and five excuses for not trimming down and not exercising.  I was too busy with work.  I was busy at home starting a family.  It’s no lie.  I was busy.  But that wasn’t really why I wasn’t exercising.  The truth was that it was too damn hard, and I just didn’t want to do something that was hard.  Work was hard.  Being a good husband was hard.  Becoming a father was hard.  Why should I do something for recreation that is hard? On the other hand, lounging is easy.  Watching TV is easy.  Reading a book or magazine was easy.  I deserve a little down time.  That was my reasoning.  

Eventually this reasoning collapsed, and I became an avid runner.  Why?  That’s not an easy question to answer.  I find myself sometimes telling people that it was easy for me.  I just decided to lose weight and get fit and went and did it.  That’s not really the complete truth.  It wasn’t so much flipping a switch as it was flipping several switches over time until the last switch got flipped, and I just went out and got busy.

I had tried several times to establish an exercise routine and slim down.  I failed.  Many times.  The thing that finally made the difference for me was changing my focus.  All of my failed attempts started with my desire to lose weight.  I would lose some weight, but after a short time I would lose focus and return to my old ways.  What finally worked for me was to change my goal.  When I dropped from 235 down to 170, my focus wasn’t on losing weight.  I had decided that I wanted to be a runner.  I wanted to be a hiker.  I wanted to be a rock climber, and a skier, and a kayaker.  I wanted to have a life outdoors.  I decided I couldn’t do this at the level I wanted until I got in better shape.  So, that is what I did.

My exercise taught me about my diet.  I found that the more I ate the less I wanted to work out.  Also the more I ate the harder the workout was to finish.  I listened to my body, and it didn’t disappoint me.  For a while I became a little too overzealous.  My mantra became, “the hungry lion hunts best.”  I’ve mellowed over time, but I still try to listen closely to what my body is telling me.  I still try to moderate everything.  I skip the soda and the fast food (most of the time), but I don’t feel like I miss anything.  I try to keep my breakfasts and lunches very regular, so my dinners can be very large and filling.    

I found out a lot about myself by making the commitment to the daily practice of exercise.  The first thing I learned was that I missed being an athlete.  When I started running regularly, it had been over a decade since I had considered myself an athlete.  I didn’t realize how much I missed it.  I love the daily practice of being a runner.  I also learned that I really love doing something that is hard.  And I love it because it is hard.  Because when I finish something that would leave others in a heap, I feel this huge rush of satisfaction that I’ve done what others wouldn’t or couldn’t.  Finally, I learned that I missed having time to talk with myself.  In our busy lives it’s easy to keep your nose down and keep working and forget to take time to listen to yourself.  I’m not a spiritual person, but I found that running is the closes thing that I’ve found to prayer that really works for me.  It’s a chance to be silent and listen to myself or just listen to the birds.  And that is worth all the sweat that I put into it. 

I didn’t have a response to my teacher at the start of that 5k, and I’m not sure I do now.  But after running a couple of marathons and countless races of all distances and terrains, all I can say is that I’ve fallen in love with running.  It has become an important part of how I define myself and how I see the world.  I’m getting ready to lace up now.  Maybe I’ll see you on the trail.  

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