In 2017 I had just come off a hard season of my life. I had lost a friend (she didn’t die, we simply parted ways) who I was going to open a gym with. I took the split hard, and felt lost for a while. I had spent so much time and energy preparing for something that never came to fruition. I wasted gallons of emotional energy trying to live up to the version of me that on paper would bring in clients; the jacked, powerful trainer, who had it together all the time. Muscular but not manly, thin but not too skinny, tough love, but empathetic. I felt defeated, lost, and unsure of who I was or what I was supposed to do next.
So naturally, I decided to sign up for something I had never done before; the Tacoma 1/2 marathon. You may have noticed, but I am not a runner. Out of place, out of ideas, and out of steam I signed up for a running event to take a break from weightlifting almost entirely. If I’m being honest I was probably also hoping I would lose a couple of pounds from all the cardio.
I conned a buddy of mine to run with me; another all or nothing type personality, knowing we would either have a blast or vow to never run again after it was over. I had a training plan of sorts (something I pulled off google or Pinterest, instead of a proper training plan or running coach) and off I went. About 3 months of running laps around our local parks and I was hitting my 14 mile distance about a week before the race. I was shocked I could do it (albeit very slowly), but I could walk the next day and that was good enough for me.
A few days before the race, I passed out trying to stand up out of bed. I have had chronic back pain for years from a herniated disc (no, I did not get injured running or weightlifting), and finally my body revolted against the running and said “no more.” I was out. No race for me, I couldn’t stand without help, forget running. By the time race day came, I made a sign for my friend and hobbled to places around the course I could cheer him on from the car with his wife.
Honestly, I think my friend wished he was in my position instead and of running. The race was miserable. We didn’t train together so I had no idea what his plan looked like; but he is an active guy, has a degree in exercise science, and I figured he knew what he was doing. Nope.
He did complete the race, which is more than I can say for myself, but it was a textbook case in what not to do. Pick a pacer faster than you can handle for the first part of the race? Check. Overestimate ability and under train? Check. Proper Nutrition? What’s that?
You would think after a performance like that, he would say never again. I sure did.
Not this guy. This guy goes the next day and signs up for something even crazier. An Ironman 70.3 (1/2 ironman.) Naturally . . .
When I think about setting goals, creating systems, habit stacking, and all of the metrics we use to see progress this story is the one that comes to mind. After a failure or a disastrous showing, my first instinct is to crawl back into my hole and hide for shame. I have taken that approach more than once, I am sorry to say.
But this guy, this guy decides to do the exact opposite and go for an even crazier goal.
6 years later and the trend still continues, he is now prepping for an ultra man race. (I didn’t know what that is either…) A 3 day race that includes a 10k swim and a 90 mile bike ride on day 1, a 171 mile bike ride on day 2, and finishes up with a double marathon.
So, I had so many questions for him.
Why continue to do something that you were categorically bad at the first time? Do you truly love it?
Have you achieved what you thought you would? In fact, what is that?
How have your thoughts about your body and your athleticism changed?
Some of the answers I suppose should have been obvious. Some still shocked me.
Why? That anyone would voluntarily spend hours and hours doing cardio unless they truly loved it is crazy to me. But why sign up for this craziness in the first place? The amount of time he has to commit weekly just to not be laughed off a course is about 20 hours a week. That’s another part time job! On top of that he is a husband, father, and yes holds down another full time job.
The first answer again, probably should not have surprised me. But when I asked him “why, oh why” did you ever get into this? He said it plain as day.
“I didn’t want to be fat.”
I feel a great amount of relief to know that even a man this caliber of athlete still struggled with some of the same emotions an body image issues that I did, that so many of my friends, family, and clients do. So much so, that he made an entire lifestyle shift because he was sick of it!
Sometimes I wish there was a greater, deeper more intrinsic motivator for us to take action and take charge of our lives, but something as simple as just calling it like it is and saying “I don’t want to be fat anymore” can be the catalyst for some radical change.
After that first 1/2 marathon came the Ironman 70.3 (or the 1/2 ironman). This time was different, and he hired a coach for some help. But you know as well as I do, that even having the best coach and the best plan are useless unless you actually do the plan. He surprised me again and said he actually gained weight during training for this one! Even so, he managed to go from not being able to swim 50 yards to finishing the damn thing.
With a cut off time of 8.5 hours, he finished in 8 hours and 24 minutes.
This is where so many of us hang our hats. Yay. The goal has a check mark next to it. He did the Ironman 70.3; finished it. Let’s get back to real life.
Or if you are this guy you say to yourself “I can do better.”
And sign up for another.
In the next slew of races, there were ones that went unfinished, and personal records that were smashed.
In his first full Ironman, which took place in record breaking heat in Idaho, he freakin’ walked an entire marathon. Walked it. Still finished. With a cut off time of 17 hours, he clocked in at 16 hours 36 minutes.
I’m not even awake that long in a day.
A race in Victoria went unfinished due to a bike crash.
And a myriad of other disasters, complications and compromises along the way. And yet;
A mile in the pool used to take 50 minutes, now it takes him half that. Half.
He has lost 10% of his body fat over the course of training.
His work and family are thriving. The discipline built into his life, what was once a chore is now a pillar of his lifestyle and creates opportunity to growth, education, and persistence in the pursuit of excellence.
But the goal wasn’t just to complete these challenges anymore. The goal is to do the best he can.
Even after all this grit, this fortitude, this moxie; I thought for sure the physical changes he was after have either happened, or no longer matter, or both. In fact it’s a combination, which is one of my favorite shifts to see.
I asked him at one point if a six pack would make him better at this sport. “Nope.”
Would 6 pack, washboard, Captain America abs make any of us better? Better people, better friends, mothers, fathers? We clearly place emphasis as a society on things that don’t matter unless you are a physique competitor, but I digress.
“It would be nice to have a 6 pack. But I don’t need one.”
The reality is that at 33, he is now in the best physical shape of his life. Can accomplish things many of us can’t even fathom, and still is “unhappy with his body.”
“Being more lean is not worth the sacrifice in performance.”
Over the course of the last 6 years he went through one phase where he focused on speed, getting leaner, getting faster for a 1/2 marathon. Did it work? Yes. He was faster, and also about 12 lbs of muscle lighter. Another 10 month phase of lifting weights 5 x’s a week to regain that precious muscle, and he is now even faster than he was prior to the muscle loss.
Is that a combination of fat loss and muscle gain? Yeah, maybe? But the way I just read that was the lifting weights made him better at his sport.
So maybe he said it incredibly well when he said “I just don’t need it.” And frankly, going from 30% body fat to 20% body fat is nothing to sneeze at, so I am totally on board with a 4 pack and better performance too.
I shared last week the concept of systems, loving the process, leaning into it and I think this so greatly sums up those principles in a real life example. Are we all going to sign up for an Ironman tomorrow? (ummmm, yeah no) But the principle of doing the best for me, leaning into the experience and putting in the work day after day when you simply do not want to; allowing the systems and habits that are in place to guide you to your goals instead of checking a box is truly showing a little moxie.
I pointed out to him during our conversation that the “why” started out as not wanting to be fat. Check, he is certainly not that. But what is it now? What’s the “why” now that the physical part doesn’t matter anymore?
Now it is a part of his identity. The very fiber of his being. By setting a goal of completing an Ironman, he did in fact become Ironman. The habits, day in and day out of running, swimming, biking uses to be the things he had to do. Now they are a part of who he is.
Change at it’s core is a change in identity, not just the goal, the habits, or the process. At a cellular level he is a different person. He trained long enough, hard enough, often enough to become the person he wanted to be, not accomplish the task he wanted. The focus went from “what do I want to do” to “Who do I want to be.”
With that kind of attitude, I for one can’t wait to see what he cranks out next. I may even make another sign for it to cheer him on.