When you leave the house to go for a run…you’re a runner.Jake Davis, 2017
I started running again last week. I suppose I should qualify this a little bit, and give you some background information on me and my frenemy, running. This is going to be a long one, so buckle up. As such, there won’t exactly be a TL;DR, but if you haven’t got a lot of time, you can skip the history and scroll to the heading at the bottom for the main point.
I’m relatively short, let’s start with that.
I’m only about 5’6″ tall, and I’ve got short, thick hobbit legs – ridiculously huge calves and wide-ass feet. To keep the Tolkien references going, I’m built much more like Gimli than I am like Legolas – and as with the dichotomy between those two in The Two Towers, I’m good at sprinting, but distance has always been an issue for me.
I was in middle school the first time a gym teacher ever forced me to “run” a mile. Yeah, adolescent me was not having it. I think the best time I ever got during those three awkward years was in the thirteen minute range because I would only run when the teacher was looking.
In high school I only ever took P.E. for one year because I blew out my knee my sophomore year and got a P.E. waiver
for medical reasons because I hated P.E. I remember one time during my freshman year in which I actually “ran” a mile. I did it in nine minutes and some seconds. Other than that, I’d never tried to run the whole thing, and after I blew my knee out, I definitely milked the excuse to get out of any kind of running activity.
Looney Toon wisdom
I started making my dislike of running an essential part of my identity. In fact, I adopted a quote from Yosemite Sam as my standard answer when the subject of running came up. “The only things [I’ll] run for, are money and public office.”
The sad fact was, by adopting the joke I was also adopting an identity as someone who hates running. It was funny when I was in high school and only weighed a buck thirty five, but when I hit twenty and started getting a gut from my laziness and proclivity for Jack in the Box, the joke had lost some of its luster.
Giving it a go in my twenties
After my first serious breakup, I decided that I would have to start working harder to stay in shape, and sometime in my early twenties I started running a mile or so a couple of times a week. I hated every minute of it, but I was vain and only motivated by the cheeseburger gut I’d developed (by the way, I didn’t stop eating cheeseburgers, either, so I’m sure that didn’t help).
Did you catch it? I used the M-word. The word that we eschew every Monday when we remind ourselves of our fitness Mantra: “F— motivation; cultivate discipline.” The mantra, by the way comes from the community at NerdFitness, so make sure you check them out, too. A lot of the success I’ve had has come as a result of Steve Kamb’s inspiration and his team’s hard work.
I said that I was “motivated” by vanity. That was the downfall there. As soon as I started going through some rough personal times and my self-esteem plummeted, I didn’t care about how I looked anymore, and I lost any chance of losing the gut I’d built up over the previous couple of years.
Motivation left, and it didn’t come back for a while.
That’s the problem with “motivation.” It’s fickle. It’s fragile. It’s flaky. It’s fly-by-night. It’s f… you get the point. It comes into your life for a bit, usually in the form of some grand sweeping vision of a self you’d like to be, then it leaves you as soon as you realize the goals you’ve set for yourself are too big.
This was the case for me. I had a lot of other self-cultivation I was working on during that time, and I felt cultivating my mind and soul were more important than cultivating my body – until I decided to join the military.
How the Air Force shaped me up…
On September 26th, 2001 (15 days after 9/11 if you’re bad at math), I joined the Washington Air National Guard. There are some out there, who, when speaking of the military, might look at the Air Guard as possibly the “softest” branch of service out there. Now, I’ll admit that it wasn’t the Marines or the Army. My basic training didn’t last as long as it would have in those branches of service.
Instead, I had nearly seven months of technical school immediately following basic under which we were “phased out” of the overbearing supervision of BMT gradually, so you might actually say that I had almost eight months of BMT, though it got significantly easier in tech school.
Back on track, Sergeant…
Yes ma’am. Okay, phallic saber-rattling over who’s branch of service is the best aside, the point about joining up was that I knew I had to get in shape. I didn’t meet the weight requirement to enlist until right up to the week I shipped out for basic. At that time, the maximum allowable weight for my height was 174 lbs, and when I weighed in at Lackland AFB, I weighed 174 on the dot.
When I graduated BMT, I weighed only 155 lbs, but I wasn’t in the best shape of my life. I had lost a lot of muscle mass toward the end because of the infamous BMT cold that nearly every troop gets during basic.
In order to graduate basic training, I had to run a mile and a half in under 14:45 – at least I think that was the time to beat, it’s been nearly twenty years. I remember that I beat it with about fifteen seconds to spare, and that was probably the fastest I’d ever run.
The Tech-School months
After BMT I spent the next several months being forced to run for a half-hour at a time at least three times a week. I hated it. I focused so much on my hatred of running that I had no idea how much it was helping me. By the time the end of my days in tech school came around, I was cheating on runs the same way I had when I was in P.E.
Motivation fails again…
I had no motivation, and the “discipline” they were forcing on me was external, not internal discipline. Remember the second part of the mantra? Discipline demands cultivation. And the very word cultivation means to grow. Think of an acorn becoming an oak. That’s cultivation.
Cultivation requires starting small, which we’ll get to at the end of this post, and there’s nothing small about the way the United States military works to instill discipline in its troops. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I didn’t get any discipline from being in the Air Guard, but I only got it in certain areas, because that’s all I was ready for. I learned some major life lessons during my time in the guard – about discipline, values, and the type of person I really want to be. Unfortunately it took a while for those lessons to kick in.
After I graduated tech school, I never passed another Air Force PT test. Somehow, for five more years in the guard, I managed not to get demoted or kicked out. More than likely because the standards were completely in flux back in those days.
The wasted years
I got out of tech school when I was twenty four, and I weighed about 170 when I came home. Shortly after, I was back up to over 200, and it wasn’t long after that that I really just let myself go.
I’m going to keep beating this horse to death because it’s so vital to my overall point. I had tied my hatred of exercise and lack of physical fitness to my identity. As soon as that really kicked in (around 25 or so) I completely lost all interest in maintaining any kind of pretense about getting back into shape.
My weight skyrocketed, and by the time 2007 rolled around, I was 29, on my honeymoon in Hawaii, and both my ex-wife and I were worried that we would be too fat to fly on the helicopter tour we’d booked. I weighed in at 260 – just barely under the limit.
I was embarrassed and ashamed, but not enough to really do anything about it at the time. I was having too much fun eating out five nights a week, laying on the couch watching TV, and getting zero exercise. Besides, I’d already accepted my identity as a fat person, and I couldn’t see how I would ever be able to summon the discipline to change that.
There were failed attempts that lasted a month or two at a time during those years, but I never lost more than 20 or 30 lbs, and those gains were not enough to “motivate” me to continue.
Fast-forward to late 2016.
When I got divorced in 2012 I lost a bunch of weight because that’s what everyone does when they get divorced. I quickly gained most of it back within a few months and by 2016, I was back up into the 260s.
Fixing my sleep started a chain reaction.
I’ve written here before about how as soon as I solved my sleep-apnea problem I began to get a lot of energy back. I also, as a result of getting actual sleep for the first time in years, started digesting more efficiently at night, and started losing weight without much effort.
I was dealing with anxiety and depression at this point as well, and wasn’t eating much. Though it wasn’t a health start, I began to lose weight in the summer of 2016, and by September I’d read Steve Kamb’s book, Level Up Your Life. It taught me how to set and achieve goals, and encouraged me to be as imaginative as I wanted with them. One of those goals was to keep the weight loss going, so I literally just started with a commitment to walk five minutes every day at lunchtime – an idea which comes from NerdFitness.
After a few weeks of that, my confidence was built, and I found I loved the outside air. Even as the winter came on, however, I found myself walking every day for at least five minutes at lunch. During that time, I also began doing bodyweight exercises at home three times a week. I found I could usually complete a full workout in about 40 minutes, so it wasn’t too much of a time commitment for me, and I found that I always felt really good afterward.
Breaking free of the running barrier…
One morning in the spring of 2017 I decided to take a walk. I got outside with my workout shoes on, and something in me said, “you could probably run a little and then walk the rest…” So I did. I ran a half a mile, walked another half mile, then walked the full mile home. I was so proud of myself I was nearly skipping on the way home. I’d lived so long with this attachment to my identity that I hated running, but I felt so good after that little half-mile run, that I decided I could do it again in two days. And I did. And I ran a little farther that time.
By the middle of that summer, I was running on a beach in Tampa with no shirt on. A fat guy doesn’t do that shit, I’ll tell you that. I made a joke on Twitter about it, saying “At what point do I consider myself a runner?” The quote at the beginning of this long post was my cousin Jake’s response. He’s a great guy who lives in New Zealand and has adventures. I look up to him.
I took his words to heart, and I never let those voices back in my head that said “I’m not a runner.” I may have had a shitty year and lost some progress – I got back up to about 220 by Christmas – but I’m now back to 195.
I’d been working my way back to running, because, even though I didn’t hold on to that old negative part of my identity, I knew I was going to have to baby-step up to it after not having run for over a year. So this year when I started working out again, I started walking and ran just a quarter or half mile at a time while I was on the treadmill for thirty minutes.
Then I started training on the elliptical machines to get my heart used to running speed while saving the impact on my knees (which still suck, by the way).
Finally, last week, I started running on the treadmill. I did it twice last week, and I ran a mile and a half on the road yesterday without stopping. I didn’t time myself because it’s not about the time – or even the distance at this point. It’s about the fact that I feel like a runner again, and I love it!
Okay, I’ve rambled on here enough. I’m heading to the gym now to run for a bit, then lift some weights. Hope to see you there (even in if “there” for you is across the world)!
Edit/Update: I added some more photos and links for ya’s now that I’m back from the gym. FYI: Today’s cardio workout was 30 min. on the treadmill – running a mile and a half straight, then walking at 3.6mph for the remainder of the thirty minutes. Then I hit the weights. I am still a little tender on the shoulder, but I managed to do 3×10 reps of shoulder presses at 40lbs each arm, 3×5 assisted pull-ups, and 3×10 goblet lunges.