All I truly have to give is my experience, strength and hope…
Scientists have been saying for a while now (at least for a decade, the notion is just making the news cycle again) that happiness and the ability to enjoy life are contagious and I believe this to be true, down to my baby toes. This belief is not based on an emotional “feeling” or “hope” (though you’re more than welcome to add one or both if you wish), but on cold, hard, eyewitness fact. Not only have I caught it, I’ve passed it on and more importantly I’ve seen it pass through a room of mopers faster than a wildfire.
I follow the fitness blog of somewhat of a super-chick. She and I are a lot alike in many ways (and very different at the same time). She wrote a post yesterday entitled, Elite Athletes Don’t Give Up – Why Should You? The gist of the post is that many professional athletes come from an existence that is, to say the least, less than desirable and that they must work hard to rise to the top of their sport in order to be paid to play for a living and the one thing they have over the rest of us is that they simply won’t give up. They also have a positive mental attitude (PMA) which allows them to push through difficulties as well. These, I believe, are also contagious – I’ve had them passed on to me, passed them on and have seen them passed on to others as well.
Physical fitness or the desire to be fit are a little less contagious but they can be caught if the person so chooses (sadly, as I’ve seen on countless occasions, this one does require the host’s willingness to accept the bug). The tough part in this choice of lifestyle, at least as it has been my experience, is that it can take a long time before it sets in. In my case, I started running in my early 30’s because I’d packed on about 45 pounds. Now I’d been skinny all of my life but my metabolism or “furnace” started to fade – or for the lack of a better metaphor, produced less heat – when I hit 30 or 31. In addition, I quit cigarettes right about the same time and discovered that food actually does taste really good. Like most people who realize they are getting larger around the midsection but don’t want to do anything about it, I decided that I’d get fat but changed my mind the very next day (let’s just say my thinking evolved – it just did so quickly) and I picked up running. I quickly lost 24 pounds but still had a bit of a belly and every winter, when miles were cut because of snow and/or cold, I’d develop love handles and gain a few back. I liked running, never loved it, but stuck with it because the thought of getting fat scared the hell out of me and no matter what, running sucked a lot less than getting fat. This see-saw continued for almost ten years before I found the one thing that I could enjoy, even love, on a daily basis – the one thing that would change my life, get my furnace kicking on over-drive again: Cycling.
Here’s the progression:
31 years old, Couch potato, 195 pounds (up from 150 or so)
31-40 years old, Running, 520-850 miles per year; 170-171 pounds – little belly and love handles over winter. Changed diet little.
Cycling/Triathlon Training, 2,050 miles first year*, 5,400 second year (40-present); lean, mean, awesome machine – furnace fire is back to full blast. 155-160 pounds, no love handles, no belly. I’ve found true joy – I actually get giddy to go for a ride, daily. My first year I dropped some very bad dietary habits (chief among them, soda) so I could lean up and be faster. Attained peak body satisfaction last year, continues to present (if not even more so).
In other words, I’ve stuck with this for more than ten years before I was finally satisfied with where I was. Ten years of not quitting before the miracle could happen. Ten years of minor injuries, setbacks and normal post-run soreness. Ten years of occasionally suiting up when everything else in me said stay in bed. Ten years of yo-yo body fat before I made it and the furnace kicked into high gear. We have a semi-famous saying in recovery: “Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”
Well folks, this applies to fitness as well. This process could have been a lot faster had I worked harder, but this is no reason for despair (as some may suggest), for I have one bit of knowledge, one tiny notion that changes that attitude: It took what it took because I needed to go through what I did to get to where I wanted to be. I needed the yo-yo, I needed the trouble dropping weight. I had to be prepared to accept the freedom and happiness that comes with crossing a goal line of sorts, because anyone who has been where I am knows that when you cross the goal line it is definitely not the time for an end zone dance. The beautiful thing about crossing that goal line is that doing so opens up a new, much longer field. Recovery is based on the exact same principle, and specifically why I was able to stick with running for so long… I didn’t have to be perfect, I didn’t have to drop all of the weight at once, I didn’t have to see all of the results I wanted right now because just dropping the 24 pounds, running and finding my place in the running community was better than where I was when I made the decision to get fat in the first place. In other words, there were benefits to be recognized even if I wasn’t exactly where I’d hoped to be. I just had to stick it out, I had to go through the entire process, so when my foot touched that pedal for the first time, when I plunked my butt down on my first saddle as an athlete with a triathlon goal, it would set off a reaction in me that would change my life in such a positive way that I simply can’t quantify it in words without sounding crazy to someone who hasn’t been where I now stand.
This is my experience. This is my strength. And my hope is that passing this on might help someone else to see life, and fitness, differently.
P.S. Go back to that link to the AA Promises and read them. Just think of those two paragraphs as applying to fitness rather than to my alcoholism… Do you see?
* I started tracking my mileage a week or two prior to buying my first bike at the end of May – I’m guessing a little bit on the overall first year mileage. Tracked miles are around 1,850 – I added on another 200 miles for the first five months of that year, probably a little low, but it really shouldn’t matter that much.