Last week, I worked out four times–the most since Brooks was born. It got me thinking quite a bit about my fitness journey over the last eight years–when exercise was no longer a mandate and requirement for athletic endeavors, namely playing baseball. And so I brought myself back to the moment when I realized that I had fallen out of shape and felt compelled to change the narrative. So I ran. I ran quite a bit in a short period of time, and that opened the door to a world I have wrestled with ever since graduating college.
After running a variety of races in my early to mid twenties, I simply became tired of the sport. Maybe it was the repetitive nature of the task–maybe not. If I had to pinpoint an event that changed the way I look at running to this day, it would have to be the marathon. 26.2 miles of…fun? I thought it would be. For some it evidently was–I was simply not one of those people.
Maybe I hadn’t trained enough (okay, I definitely didn’t). Still, I had bought into the running lifestyle and felt compelled to tackle a full marathon. When I had made the decision to sign up for the Bob Potts Rail Trail Marathon in York, PA, my family thought I was mad. I had never run more than a 5k, and the event was about six months away. At the time though, I worked from 3 p.m.-11 p.m., and I lived where I worked. Oh, and there was a nice trail where I worked. I quickly began logging 30-40 miles/week, sometimes more. I even remember running a half marathon on the trail just one month into training. At 24 years old, my body was fine with this type of shock–one that would require much more buildup and forewarning today. I was sore for a few days after the half, but I resumed my schedule two days later. I dropped from 230 pounds to 187 pounds in the six months leading up to the race, and I felt great about it. My wife joined up and ran with me, too. She had never trained for more than a half marathon, but she is secretly a bionic running machine, so completing 26.2 was going to be no problem for her. But for me? Different story.
On the day of, I ran freely for about 16 or 17 miles, riding the waves of adrenaline and the beauty of the day. And then Tara looked at me and said, “I don’t think we can stop running at this point.” I agreed. The only problem was that mile 19 became a nightmare. In the matter of a few strides, I could barely feel my calves, I felt pangs in my hip flexors, and my IT band flared up like it had about every two weeks leading up to the race. Oh, and I had never run more than 13 miles–yep, that anomaly of a day just one month into my “training” was the farthest I had gone! Still, I wanted badly to complete the race. And when my chances seemed bleak, Tara employed a bold strategy. She was going to run ahead of me and come back, keeping me in sight. I call this bold, but the reality was that she was tired of waiting for me but not willing to leave me. This went on for the final seven miles, and on that day, she probably ran at least 30. I began to invoke a strategy of locating a marker in the distance, power walking until reaching that object, and then running to the next marker. Sort of a life lesson, no? I repeated this method as a way of managing the pain and providing the best possible chance of finishing the race. Finally, we crossed the finish line together and I was so happy that I began to think about running another marathon–but I would train this time. I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
One week later, I went for a three mile run with the spirit and desire to one day be one of those really, really old people that looks only 60 or so. This would be the first run of my new life–for like many others that have run a full marathon, the event changed my life. A lot of marathoners fall in love with the endurance sport and embrace the distance. I was hoping to be one.
But the 26.2 miles made me realize that I was ready to do something totally different. Like a one hit wonder, I was run and done. I just couldn’t push myself to push anymore. I couldn’t find the motivation to train for anything more than a short race, and I started to dabble with powerlifting and P90X all the while. Over time, I have tried to achieve a greater balance, but the truth remains: it seems evident that for a flash in my lifetime, I was a runner. I was dedicated to the sport and fell in love with its challenges. But then my passion for running faded, and whether such was due to the mental anguish of the marathon, new interests, reasons unknown, or a combination of the aforementioned, I may never know. I am fine with that. I am fine with discovering new passions–overjoyed actually.
The years that followed my running journey yielded athletic endeavors and results that I would have never thought possible when I had originally signed up for the Rail Trail 26.2. But I guess that is how it all started. I never anticipated that I would run a marathon–until I got the idea in my head. I never thought I would bench 325, dead lift 445, or squat 455–until such goals were burnt into my mind and made possible by achieving other goals along the way. And the great thing about those numbers is that they, much like my marathon venture, simultaneously represent a progression of failure and relentless attack.
Now I find that I am less extreme in setting, embarking upon, and actualizing fitness goals. I no longer have a six pack. I no longer run for hours or lift weights that cause my wife to say, “don’t get hurt.” And maybe this is because I have become more conservative and conscious of balance, or maybe it is simply because I have shifted my priorities and experienced some injuries that have changed my approach to fitness. Maybe I’ll never fully know.
All I do know is that I now try to eat a few more salads than the younger me would, drink a few less beers, and focus a far deal more on how I can be a reliable husband, father, friend, and leader. And from time to time, I try to lift some heavy ass weights!