I was out on a run with some friends and we all got to talking about my former self, that guy that weighed 245 pounds when I started running and what it took to lose 70 pounds and be where I am now. As we ran along we all passed around certain thoughts about what it took, but it all boiled down to two main streams of thought.
The first was that it took strength, and not the weight lifter in the gym strength, although that is valuable, but rather a fortitude strength that comes from within. To decide to be healthy is going to take more than a New Year’s Resolution; it is going to take reaching into the depths of who you are and consciously, every day making decisions that will result in a different outcome than what you were getting before.
The second is that it is going to take commitment, and this is not a faint of heart commitment, this is commitment to not swerve left or right but to doggedly pursue something worthy of your pursuit. For me this took some really strange habits that I still follow to this day.
Strength Is More Than The Size of Your Biceps
Strength for me is that thing that happens internally when you first make the commitment to do something beyond what you may think you are capable of right now. I will never forget when I decided to run a marathon. After all, everybody decides to run their first 5K, and then the next challenge out there is a marathon, right?
In December 2010 I completed my first 5K after beginning running in October 2010. This all began when in January 2010 I woke up one day struggling to fit into a size 38 pair of pants and then going to a store to find out what size I really was and realizing I was really a size 40, which scared me whole bunches. I was only 46 at the time, but I was picturing in my mind going from 40 to 50 with relative ease and ending up the world’s fattest man. This took my first strength moment and it took commitment.
My wife and I had heard an advertisement for a 10 week boot camp at a local gym where they were going to cover not just gym work but also nutrition. Since we both knew we had horrid eating habits, in other words we ate whatever was set in front of us and often ate out along with copious amounts of wine, we knew that just joining a gym or the Y wasn’t going to make it happen. I remembered back to my Navy boot camp days, where the drill instructor hammered into our heads how we were going to act and when we were going to act and that we were no longer allowed to ask why we were going to act; we were just going to do it.
Anyway, we began this boot camp session which was three nights a week plus Saturday. Saturday was a morning session on nutrition which included trips to the local grocery store to purchase proper foods and learn to read labels of what was actually in the prepared meals we seemed to gravitate to. We learned the value of vegetables, which I up to this point considered potatoes and corn as the only vegetables worth eating, and we learned how many calories our bodies really required. Through our exercise classes at the gym and even Zumba, which I must say I was really good at with my lack of rhythm and my white boy dance moves, some of the fat was slipping off and there was even some muscle beginning to peak through.
When we had finished the 10 week boot camp I was down more than 10 pounds, and we kept going. The only portion of the whole gym thing that threw me off, as I rediscovered that I could breath while moving, was when we had to go for a run. Years of abuse and not paying attention to my knees meant that every step on a run was painful as my knees screamed out for relief, until one day we were doing a kick boxing class and they drug out these inline skate looking things that had a half moon looking tread with a spring on the bottom. They were called Kangoo boots, and we learned to control and strengthen our core while doing all the kick boxing moves we had learned in our shoes. It added a whole new dimension and was to get our core strengthened. We both loved bouncing up and down in our Kangoo boots and had a blast laughing at our lack of balance and just really loving the whole thing. Then IT happened!
One Saturday our instructor had finished a sentence, and he said “outside for a lap around the building”. Before when we had done this it was my least favorite thing, but in these boots all the rebound was down in the boot and there was none on my knees. Suddenly I discovered I could run, and I enjoyed it. By the end of that October my wife and I made a commitment to buy our own boots, and we began running around our neighborhood.
First it was a run to the end of the block and back. Then it was a run to the end of the townhouses (about two blocks away) and back. Then it was a run into the fancy neighborhood behind our townhouses and back, and then we graduated to a mile. Eventually a mile became two and then three, and that was what I thought I would kind of gravitate to, that three miles seemed like a nice challenging distance, until I ran my first 5K, which led to signing up for a marathon, which naturally six years later led to 5 miles being a short run, since of course that is how everybody’s mind works.
See Your Goals Through to The End
The trick to the whole thing though was strength and commitment. It takes strength to push through what you are used to doing, the sedentary movements that won’t get you where you want to be, and then it takes commitment to keep moving towards a goal.
Living an ultra life doesn’t just happen; all along the way you are going to have to make hard decisions that years later you will look back at them and think “that was easy”, but deciding to go to a gym and lose weight when you did not look like gym material takes strength. It takes commitment to keep going back when you don’t see or feel any progress, especially through the pain of muscles doing things they haven’t for years.
And in case you think I’m only talking about physical training, I want to let you in on a very huge secret: if you are emotionally out of shape it is going to take the same strength and commitment to get your emotions in shape. It’ll be a different kind of boot camp you’ll have to put yourself through, but it is the same decision-making process of firmly resolving to do something about your current condition and then keeping with it through all of the trials. Spiritually out of shape and can’t seem to connect with your God? Same thing. Mentally out of sorts — can’t seem to focus or get over the pain of regrets holding you back? Same thing. Professionally stuck in the same place with no possibility of advancement, or feel like you’re in a rut or spinning your wheels in a mud bog? Same strength and commitment.
Living an ultra life, a life to the full, is all about not just letting life happen to you or settling for what is before you, but it’s all about deciding to do something about it and then reaching down inside yourself for that strength that is there (it always has been) and putting it to good use. It is all about deciding then that no matter what trials and struggles may come your way that you are going to keep on keeping on and you are going to commit to being the best you that you can possibly be. These trail markers will keep you moving on a trail towards that ultra life that you deserve.