I did not run cross-country or track in high school or college. My introduction to running, farther than from home to first base, came when I joined the Marine Corps in 1999. The thought of running three miles was inconceivable for me, and when I crossed the finish line in 25:00 on my first Marine Corps physical fitness test (PFT) I was smoked. I was also a little disappointed that I was one of the last ones to finish, it did not sit well. That unsatisfied feeling sparked a small flame that would grow stronger for the next 18 years. What started as nagging dissatisfaction turned into a lifelong passion for running.
As a young Marine, I was taught that pain is weakness leaving the body and to never give anything less than 100% in terms of intensity and effort. The last thing a Marine wants to do is appear weak. But when you apply these mindsets to training to become a better athlete, they quickly lead to diminishing returns and injury. As a Marine, I never thought of myself as an athlete, we are warriors and being in top notch physical fitness is a natural by-product of the warrior ethos. As I began trying to improve my PFT score I had no idea what I was doing. I started by running more; surely if I do more of it I will get faster. That seemed to work as I quickly shaved a minute or two off my time. As I began training for Officer Candidate School (OCS) I began running even more, because officers are typically faster than enlisted Marines, by in large. It is hard to lead from the front if you are at the back of the pack. OCS kicked my running into high gear, by this time I was running a 20:00-20:30 PFT, far faster than a few years before.
After joining the officer ranks I began to run longer distances. I suspect this was partly because I found running meditative. It was a time to relax my mind from the rigors of college and stressing over complex problems. As I stepped up the distance, I realized that what seemed like a “long” distance changed each time I challenged myself to go farther. Run six miles? Ludicrous. Marathon? I would not have considered it. Each time I conquered a new distance I found out something about myself. I was exploring the limits of what was possible, or what I perceived as limits. There are no limits, there are only plateaus, to paraphrase a great mind of our time, Bruce Lee. You can stay on a plateau and become quite comfortable. Your body adapts specifically to deal with stresses that are imposed upon it. But staying on the plateau is your choice. I chose to continue up the next mountain.
As the years went by I continued to run, only loosely applying any type of structured training to my running regimen. I ran for weight management and to keep my sanity. I continued to break down perceived barriers, running half marathons, marathons, and ultramarathons. The barrier I am currently working on breaking down is the 100 mile distance. As with all the others, at first it seems impossible, but so did a six miler the decade prior. As I ramped up the distance I was also getting older and succumbing to the same problems we all face as our bodies react to neglect. But I realized that it didn’t have to be this way. Right now I run a consistent 19:00-19:30 3-mile PFT and I plan to continue to chop that time down.
The thing is, I don’t consider old age to be a problem, yes most people’s health suffers as they get older, but lets not blame that on a man-made concept called “time”. Let’s be honest and blame ourselves for not presenting our bodies with the appropriate stresses to invoke the proper adaptations. There are many stories of people in their 70s, 80, and beyond who are active, mobile, and even still competing in sports. This is not because they are superhuman, or a freak of nature, it is because they consistently made good decisions throughout their life. You are faced with hundreds of decisions every day, and you have to live with the consequences of those decisions. It’s called karma. It is simply your actions. Your actions have consequences, that is the way of things. If you live your life eating fast food, drinking beer, and snacking all day, well guess what the consequences will be?
If you always believe (literally) that pain is weakness leaving the body then you will eventually receive an injury. After several injuries due to my running, I chose to learn as much as I could about the sport; the art and science of running. I expanded this to cover exercise physiology in general. Why and how we run became the most important questions I sought to answer. I gained several certifications as a running coach and a personal trainer, which only opened my eyes to broader horizons. Anyone who claims to have all the answers is a fool. The more I learn, the more I realize how much there is that I don’t know. I realized that learning, like fitness, should be a lifelong activity. It is okay to set a short-term goal of achieving a certain time in the 5k, but do not lose sight of how that fits into the overall goal. If all you want to do is finish a 5k, be careful to not become that “old guy” who has only one stale story of greatness where they tell you about back in the day I ran a ##:## in the 5k. The reality is that now, that guy is fat, has had two knee replacements, multiple hip surgeries and has to sit in a wheelchair for the rest of his days. This story is about not falling into the cookie-cutter approach to life that accepts the excuse of old age for inactivity and poor health. It is about daily decisions. The reality is that we can uncover some uncomfortable truths if we are honest with ourselves. Keep in mind that I am not talking about people who were born with certain diseases or conditions, or who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Take Rob Jones for example, a Marine who lost both legs to enemy IED in Afghanistan. His unfortunate fate was not barrier to him doing incredible things, he decided to run a marathon every day for an entire month! Why? Because he decided to take control of his life. Read more about Rob Jones here.
If you look at yourself in the mirror and don’t like what you see, then do something about it. Make a decision, as you look into the reflection of your own eyes, to change the daily habits that have caused you to be where you do not want to be in life. Yes it will be hard, it will be uncomfortable, and you will sometimes miss being able to partake in this or that pleasure that you did before. The point here is that it is up to you to take charge of your life and start making decisions that will lead you to success. It is not a matter of if you can do it, rather when you are going to do it. Do you want your last thoughts in your physical body to be regret for not living a more active life?o