History repeating itself?

I have almost zero cravings for those things that got me to my sad state in the first place. I haven’t had a french fry through this entire journey and my beer consumption has been virtually nada. During the first couple of weeks, one of which I was on vacation, I slipped up and had a couple here and there, but in the past few weeks not a one, nor a real desire to have any. It was a conscious decision to break the habit, but now that it’s broken it’s not taking a lot of effort or willpower to keep it that way.

Of course, that’s always been the problem with me. When I’m working out and pushing myself I don’t want to eat the bad stuff because I know it’ll only make it more difficult to push and get better. The unfortunate flip side is that when I’m not working out, it’s always easy to slip back into those old habits. That’s how I went from finishing in the top 5% of the Atlanta Marathon in 1999 to having a hard time finishing in the middle of the pack during a 5K in 2007.

10 years ago I went through a similar cycle. I’d been away at college for two years, having left my athletic career in high school I had plenty of time to pick up some bad habits. Having never really followed a healthy living regimen besides all the time on the playing field and in the weight room growing up (translation, playing hard but eating like shit) it was easy for me to pack on the poundage, and boy did I, topping the scales at a hefty 225lbs.

Not happy with the way things were going, I transferred to a different university my junior year, and in the spirit of new beginnings I started going to the fitness center every night for the first quarter. During that first quarter I dropped about 20lbs by spending time on the stairmaster, lifting weights and improving my diet.

In January of my junior year I signed up for a jogging class to fulfill my P.E. requirement, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. That class was pretty much divided between two groups.

The first group was there simply to fulfill a requirement and only wanted to work as hard as was necessary to get through the class. The second group was very small, 3 guys and me. The other 3 guys had been cross country runners in high school and were there to fulfill a requirement and show how superior they were to each other and everyone else in the class. I had been a soccer player my entire life so I was no stranger to running, but I’d also been out of high school a couple of years longer then them and as I said, hadn’t had much physical activity in those two years. I was there to lose weight, get in shape and kick their ass. I was ready to suffer to get where I wanted, and suffer I did.

We started out on ~15 minute runs, which our instructor had mapped out as a distance of a little over a mile and a half. During those first few weeks my goal was just to keep the front runners in sight, which I almost always did. By the end of the quarter I’d dropped another 25lbs, we were running about 4 miles, and while I can’t honestly say they were trying to keep me in sight, I can honestly say each day we battled it out and I won my fair share of the “races”.

Of course, it’s really not as simple as I went to jogging class and dropped weight and got fleet of foot. I still went and did my 30 minutes on the treadmill every night during that quarter and I never rode the bus unless I absolutely had to. I’d scheduled my classes so I had time to walk across campus to get to my classes and I paid very close attention to what I ate. During that time of my life food was fuel, simple as that.

To keep myself running through the spring and summer I signed up to run the Peachtree Road Race, and being the young buck I was, I actually thought I’d be able to run so I trained hard for it. Once I got there, I was frustrated and annoyed of course, because when you wind up in the back with the majority of the herd it’s an event, it’s a party, but it is NOT a race. Funny thing is, I didn’t miss a Peachtree Road Race from that year (1998) until 2007 when I had a 6 month old son at home that I wanted to spend my free time with. During more than half of those years I was there, it was as part of the herd, just there for the atmosphere with no intention of trying to set a PR.

Coming off my Peachtree letdown, I needed a new goal and set my sights on the Atlanta Half Marathon which takes place on Thanksgiving morning. I didn’t really have a good training regimen for it, there was no real mileage set up, or pre-race taper but I still did it in 1 hour and 31 minutes by just going out there and running 4-5 times a week and winning a couple of 5Ks along the way.

After that half marathon I was hooked. I was starting to consider myself as a runner. So I continued to run through my senior year, perpetually finishing in the top 3 in 5K races around the Athens area. After the Peachtree that year I decided I wanted to run the full marathon. I was taking one class during the summer so I could graduate and my girlfriend was in a different city, so I had all the time in the world to train. That summer I was out of my room and running by 7am every morning. It probably doesn’t sound like it, but those actually were good times :)

A week or two before the full marathon I ran a half marathon on a much more challenging course, finished second place with a time of 1:16ish, I don’t remember the exact time and was feeling good. Then I ran the marathon, didn’t stick to the pace I’d trained for, hit the wall around the 21st mile, had run with a wet sock that had bunched up under the ball of my foot causing what I thought was just mild irritation at the time. My foot ended up aching for months and I haven’t really done any meaningful running since. Around that same time I got a job, was back to being a full time student and had a foot that hurt like hell when I’d try to run. By the time my foot was feeling better it was 90 degrees outside and I wasn’t in very good shape for running. I’d been lifting hard, so I hadn’t gotten fat as a result of the layoff, but I just wasn’t into the suffering it would take to get back to running at what I would have considered a respectable level.

Life took over from there and I let it. Sure, I’ve made a couple of respectable runs at getting back in shape since then, and like now, I’ve had some moderate success but have always managed to get derailed. I’m determined not to let that happen again. This is a priority. It’s starting to feel like my last chance to lay the foundation for a healthy lifestyle as I get older. It’s also important to me that I be a good example for my son and maybe light that competitive spirit in my brother to get him moving more too. My parents are by no stretch of the imagination good role models when it comes to physical fitness or eating well and I’d like to think we can break that cycle. We’re following in their footsteps right now, and I want that to change, but I guess we’ll see.

As far as what’s next for me, I have 2 weeks of “Body for Life” left, then I need to make a decision. On one hand, there’s that runner in me that really wants to run that 15K and the half marathon as I mentioned in a previous post. On the other hand, there’s the father and full time workerbee in me that’s not sure he can commit to giving that much time to the running gods right now. My best shot at success may be to stick with the high intensity, short and sweet type of workouts I’m doing now. There are a ton of them out there, so I shouldn’t get bored or in a rut. Decisions decisions.

Right now I’m leaning towards training for the half, just because I like the symmetry of it being 10 years later. If I set out to train for it and find that it’s too much of a time suck, I can always abandon it and go back to the HITT type stuff without losing much. I think the most important thing is that I don’t let that impact my psyche negatively as a failure.