If you like the IDEA of being physically active but you feel that you are:
- too old
- too out-of-shape
- just not ‘athletic’ enough
you should know that you are NOT alone! There are a LOT of people who watch shows like American Ninja Warrior or Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge and think ‘MAN it would be awesome to be able to do something like that!’. . .I should know, because I was one of them!
To be fair, I USED to be fairly athletic. . .back when I was a kid I played soccer for my school from 6th – 12th grade. . .I played a few years of basket ball and a few years ‘running and jumping’ for the Track & Field Team. I even trained in a Martial Art during my twenties. My basic life experience up until that point was that I could do pretty much any physical activity that I wanted to! Then. . .life happened. . .
When I entered my early thirties a couple of things happened all at once. . .I found that there were just too few hours in the day to do all that I had been. . .my job required me to work long hours. . .I was training at my dojo a few nights a week. . .and my wife and I just had our third son. . .I needed to be home more to help out, so I decided it was time to press ‘pause’ on anything ‘extra-curricular’. So I stopped going to my dojo, assuming that it would only be until my wife and I could adjust to family life with three young boys! I never went back. Family life did settle down eventually (I think. . .or maybe we just became somewhat accustomed to the chaos). . .but time had passed and I was now in my late thirties. I had developed a new ‘work-out’ routine that I’d been following the majority of my thirties:
- sit for over an hour in a car
- sit for 8+ hours in front of a computer monitor (12 or more is better!)
- hydrate with 4-6 cups of coffee (take an occasional Red Bull, Monster, or equivalent energy drink. . .but AVOID WATER!)
- sit for over an hour in a car again
- sit in front of a T.V. until drowsy. . .make sure not to get more than 3-4 hours of sleep!
It was during this period of my life that some idiot decided to make stairs steeper than they had been! After going up only one flight of steps I would need to catch my breath and could feel my heart pounding. My knees would complain. My feet hurt. It was all so strange to me and I knew it wasn’t good but I didn’t do anything to change. . .not until I had a medical scare that involved blood and a toilet that I won’t get too detailed about (too late) that led to an Upper and Lower G.I. (camera’s going in very sensitive areas) FOLLOWED by a late night trip to the E.R. when I was having so many chest pains I thought it might be a heart attack (it was not)! That experience led me to cut back SEVERELY on coffee and start to eat more healthy (I even began drinking water again). However I didn’t start to exercise because my knees still hurt and stairs were still too steep. It was a half measure that at least fixed my bowel issue and helped clear up an issue I had been having with heart-burn (acid reflux). Still, I fondly remembered the days gone by where I used to run and jump and felt invincible. Those days were long gone now. . .I was one of those Dads who watched his sons run but couldn’t join in. . .at least not for very long and not without lasting joint soreness. Some more time passed and the company I work for decided to have a ‘health-fair’. . .everyone was encouraged to join in and sign up for a FREE ‘bio-metrics’ blood screening (probably just so the company could decided just how much health insurance they needed to provide. . .and what positions might be opening up soon. . .) Since they were offering a few bucks off your insurance cost if you played along, I went ahead and signed up. Well. . .let me just tell you that when you are ALREADY feeling like you’ve hit the bottom of the ‘health barrel’ and the nurse who is reading your results suddenly looks at you like she might be seeing a ghost, it motivates you to want to change! She actually told me in hushed tones that I should see a Doctor urgently because my Cholesterol levels were ‘not good’. At this point I was 38 years old and already disgusted with myself. . .I wasn’t fat and didn’t even consider myself to be overweight. . .my knees complained a bit so, ok, sure, I could stand to lose a little weight, but still. . .I was 5’8″ and 175lbs. . .there was SOME fat there but not a TON, right? Regardless. . .knowing that I got out of breath at the drop of a hat AND I’d had a few scary brushes with medical issues, I decided it was finally time to DO something about it! I was going to be an example to my boys whether I liked it or not! I was either going to be an example of a man who had let himself go, developed serious health problems, gave up, and died earlier than he should have. . .OR. . .I was going to be an example of a man who took control of his health, forced his body to get back into shape, and didn’t back down from a challenge.
In 2013, at the age of 38, I decided to run my very first 5k (3.1 miles). I had never run anything longer than one mile in my life but my wife had been running in our cities annual 5k race for a few years. . .I had been cheering her on from the sidelines with our boys and secretly admiring her accomplishment. The mere thought of trying to run that far made my knees hurt, but I decided that if she could do it. . .then I could do it too! Probably! In fact, in a true sign of leadership. . .I signed up the whole family! I set up a few ‘family training runs’ leading up to the event and quickly found that I was the slowest. . .by far! The loop we were running was 3.8 miles and even our 5-year-old was out pacing me. . .by a lot! Well, we ran that 5k in 2013 and we all finished it. . .and even though I was slow I committed to doing it every year, thinking that it would be a motivator to get into better shape. And it was, to some degree. . .but I wouldn’t say that I was consistently staying active. . .I would go on a few run’s now and then during the year, but my knees would start hurting and I never got very good at running. . .however I still did that 5k in 2014. . .and again in 2015. . .and by that time it had become a family tradition. I wouldn’t say that I was in ‘great’ shape, but for the last 2-3 years I had been starting to ‘turn the ship around’. . .my knees had stopped hurting at least. . .then in 2016 things finally ‘clicked’.
I had always watched shows like American Ninja Warrior, American Grit, and Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge with utter fascination! I’d see people who claimed to be ‘average’ running thru mud, scaling walls, and climbing ropes. . .all the while looking like they were having fun! The harder the obstacle they faced the greater the joy they seemed to get from conquering it and it raised a question in me. . .what if I could do that? I mean, surely my knees wouldn’t take it and I knew I wouldn’t be anywhere near as fast as they seemed to be. . .but what if I COULD DO that? I had known of Spartan Races for a while and even had a few friends at work who had actually done a few. . .they were my age, so what was holding me back? When I took a closer look at Spartan Races I found that there was a Sprint event happening that December only 20 minutes from my house! Now, maybe it was the fact that it was only February and December was still a long way off. . .or maybe I was finally getting tired of standing behind the safety of ‘what if?’. . .or just getting disgusted with myself for being too afraid of failure to even try in the first place. Whatever the reason, I found myself signing up. . .and that’s when something downright magical happened. . .I started being consistent with my training! I found that nothing motivates someone better than FEAR! In my case, it was the FEAR of failing! I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to complete the course. . .I was afraid that I would embarrass myself on an obstacle. . .I was afraid of a lot of things, but mostly it boiled down to I didn’t want to find out that I had been right for all those years and I just wasn’t able to be active anymore. So I let that fear motivate me. . .and I started training!
If you don’t know, a Spartan Race comes in 3 different basic categories:
- Sprint = 3-5 miles with 20-23 obstacles
- Super = 8-10 miles with 24-29 obstacles
- Beast = 12-14 miles with 30-35 obstacles
I was training for the Sprint, so I worked my running distance up to 5 miles to make sure that I would be able to actually complete the distance. . .check that box! I also did a fair amount of internet research to see what obstacles I might be facing. . .I found that there were a fair number of obstacles that seemed to be at every event, but then there were others that may or may not be there. I wasn’t too worried about the 6′ and 7′ walls since I knew I was running in a heat that allowed you to get help from other racers. . .plus my wife had decided to sign up with me so we could help each other! The big concern was the 25′ rope climb! I had never climbed a rope before, let alone that high up. . .but I found a local cross-fit gym owner who agreed to give my wife and I a quick 30 minute lesson, and low and behold, we both learned how to climb a rope! Having prepared as much as I knew how, the day in December finally came when my wife and I went to the event. I was both giddy with excitement to finally be trying this thing I’d always wanted to and anxious with worry that I still wouldn’t be good enough to finish it! Well, it was NOT easy by any stretch, but it was NOT impossible either! It took us longer than we thought it would but we both finished successfully and it felt awesome! I was so high on that feeling of accomplishment that I went on to complete a Spartan TriFecta in 2017 (that’s when you do all 3 distances in one calendar year). I also completed my first ever Half Marathon (13.1 miles) and went on to do 2 more that same year.
Looking back I can honestly say that the Spartan Sprint in 2016 was my personal tipping point. . .facing that down and completing it was what gave me the confidence and drive to go on to bigger challenges! Instead of looking at a race or event and asking ‘What if?’ I find myself asking ‘Why not?’ Now, I’ve done several events after that and it’s not always easy. . .and I’m not always as prepared as I’d like to be (work can get busy and cut back on training time). . .but I don’t let that be an excuse to not try anymore. I have found that most times, the hardest part to finishing a challenge is simply to START the challenge! I’ve spent too much time in my life ‘wondering’ what’s possible. . .now I’m looking to find out. I’ve completed 2 Spartan TriFecta’s so far and should complete another couple this year (3 in 2018, 4 total). . .I’ve completed several Half Marathons. . .I consider myself a very ‘average’ athlete with an ‘unusual’ drive. . .I want to see just how far I can take this. . .see what I can accomplish. Hopefully by writing this blog I can help to inspire other middle-aged men (or women) who might also be fed up with ‘giving up’ on themselves to take that scary first step and sign up for a running event. . .and then do the hardest part and SHOW UP to the starting line!