Exactly two years ago yesterday, I completed my first run of what would become a new lifestyle for me. Well, it was part slow jog, part walk. But that’s really the only way a couch potato can start. Since that first run, I’ve lost over thirty pounds and I’m in the best physical shape of my life. Also, I eat a lot.
I haven’t always been active or athletic or anything of the sort. I didn’t play sports in high school or college, and I spent most of my life at least a little overweight and sometimes a lot overweight. I only say that to say I’m convinced if I can do it, anyone can do it. It didn’t come naturally to me and it wasn’t easy.
In the past two years, I’ve run two 10K races, three half marathons, and one full marathon, and I’m planning for more. I now run six days a week, every week, unless I’m sick or something major interrupts my schedule. My distance varies, but I usually run over forty miles a week. I ran over 1,500 miles in 2014 and my goal is to run at least 1,800 miles this year, although I might break 2,000.
Some thoughts on how I went from couch potato to marathoner:
Previous stretches in my life where I ran with any regularity were knocked off track by my distaste for running in bad weather. If it was particularly hot, or cold, or rainy, I’d skip it. One key to me being consistent this time was a gym membership. For the first several months I didn’t run outside at all. I needed a routine to keep me in line with no opportunity to talk myself out of it. So every weekday I’d get up, put on running clothes, take the kids to school if needed, then head to the gym. I never let myself debate whether or not I’d get dressed out for running. I just climbed out of bed and did it. And not having to deal with bad weather ensured I had no excuses. Other perks of running at the gym include having easy access to a bathroom and a place to set a water bottle.
As my love of running has grown, I now try to avoid the treadmill whenever possible. I’ll run in the rain (if it’s not too cold out), I’ll run in freezing weather (if it’s not raining), and I’ll run in 90 degree heat (where I welcome the rain). I still have a gym membership so that when the weather is really bad, I can still run. I also do a little upper body strength training a couple times a week. But it took me a while to develop the desire to battle the elements for the sake of a run.
I think one thing that discourages people trying to get healthier with exercise is a lack of noticeable progress. The most common way people measure progress in fitness is with a scale, and if the needle doesn’t move, folks get discouraged. And they don’t see progress because they don’t put enough effort into it. Too many people put in the minimum effort for a while then give up when it doesn’t get them anywhere. So I would encourage people to give at least a little consideration to the cliche “no pain, no gain,” where pain is defined as actual sweating and maybe a little soreness after a run. I’m not talking about ignoring serious injury, just dealing with the normal aches that properly accompany a shift from a sedentary lifestyle to one filled with regular exercise. Pro tip: soreness will stop being an issue if you’re consistent for a few months.
After I got over the hump early on and could run for a few miles, I set mileage goals. Over time my positive reinforcement shifted from seeing the numbers on the scale decrease to seeing my mileage and pace increase. Now, instead of trying to limit my portions during meals in order to lose weight, I worry about satisfying my insatiable appetite. I’m always hungry.
I have a drive to compete with myself. I always want to run farther and faster and go harder. I want to be a little better than I was a couple weeks ago, and I want do things that would have seemed impossible a few months ago. I’ve gone from a place where 4 miles at an average pace of 12:00 minutes per mile was a strong run for me to a place where 8 miles at an average pace of 8:15 minutes per miles is a strong run for me. And I’ll keep pushing.
As I said above, if I can do it, anyone can do it. I’m not a health nut. I don’t have a bunch of health nut friends. I don’t have a lifelong history of regular exercise. I eat hamburgers and BBQ and hot wings and pizza and drink lots of beer, and I enjoy every bite and every sip. But by being deliberate about making running a habit, I’ve come to love it.
Finally, I close with a link to a comic from my favorite comic artist, Matthew Inman, author of The Oatmeal. His magnum opus, “The terrible & wonderful reasons why I run long distances” was first published just a few months after I started running, and it struck a chord with me then.
The terrible & wonderful reasons why I run long distances. by The Oatmeal
Although as someone who at the time still viewed five miles as a long distance, I couldn’t fully relate to it. I recently revisited it after finishing my own first marathon, and it resonated deeply with me. I, too, was the fat kid. I, too, am the Blerch. I, too, hate eating iceberg lettuce. Inman’s reasons for running are my own.