How many of you were athletes as a younger person? I know I was. I played all different sports, but settled into being a full-time football player by high school. I received a full-ride scholarship to Eastern Kentucky University and finished my career there. The camaraderie with my teammates, the coming together for one goal, and endless hours of preparation to win gave us all a reason push.
I loved to train and becoming the strongest, most dominant offensive lineman that school had ever seen was all the goal I needed. I trained up to twice a day, was disciplined with my eating, and put my body before everything else. During those times, the idea of lifting and running were as much a part of my day as breathing was. I can’t say I did become the most dominant player at my position, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying.
But even though you hang up the cleats, the athlete in you does not die. That part of us might go into hibernation, but the will to push, the desire to compete, and the itch to win never stop. Even for those of you who didn’t play organized sports, that athlete is there in you. How many of you have been involved in a pick-up basketball game that evolved into a live-or-die type of effort? Or you’re simply driven to work harder by being in a setting where you are surrounded by others who are giving their all?
I played sports for over fifteen years, I was the third child in a family of athletes, and I have married into a family of freak athletes. Athletics and competition never leave us, it simply needs to take on a different look.
The SLO Half Marathon
Recently, the annual San Luis Obispo Marathon + Half Marathon took place once again. This time, my wife, her father, and her sister participated in the 13.1-mile gut check. The rest of our family, including myself, waited along the last quarter mile of the race to watch the three finish a morning of pushing themselves to their personal limits.
Hundreds of runners passed by us on the glorious downhill to the finish line. The most remarkable thing I observed were the varying degrees of athlete who participated. Yes, there were the young dedicated runners who pranced by at a blistering clip showing the crowd this was likely a tune-up race for something bigger on the horizon. On the other end of the spectrum were those people in tears as they ran by — tears of pain and tears of elation. I saw a gentlemen hobbling by who was experiencing cramps in both of his legs. He had a look of terror on his face that displayed waves of pain mixed with fear of not finishing. I saw countless people moving at a pace just a sniff faster than a quick walk. And, I saw people moved to sobs in celebration of something that will be a milestone moment in their fitness and in their life.
Anyone can run this race — and anyone showed up.
The SLO Half Marathon is one of those events that continues to be a gathering of people who have decided to do something they never thought they could. It’s a weekend festival that culminates what is likely months of training for everyone who has committed to entering. Many of the participants have never before competed in their lives. This is their Super Bowl. And this incredible community comes out in massive crowds to celebrate this momentous time in these individuals’ lives.
Find Your Reason to Train
The inspiration and intention of this article is the feeling I got seeing these runners finish. I am a big guy, over 300lbs, and running 13.1 miles is the last thing I would ever want to do — until the day I watched that race. And no, the perceived misery that I assume most of these people were experiencing throughout the race is not what I’m wanting. I want to feel like they felt as they finished. I want to experience the jubilation of descending to the finish line. I want to run past my family and have that feeling of pride when I look at their faces. And, I want to experience, again, that feeling of finishing something that started months ago.
Follow Your Heart, Find Your Goal
Unfortunately, the fitness world is riddled with know-it-alls, pseudo-gurus, and critics who trip over themselves to tell you that your goals, ideas, and approach are wrong. They tell us what we need and hammer all of us with their infinite knowledge. Well, I am officially giving each of you permission to not listen.
No matter the reason you are training, just have one. Find a goal, enter a contest, do something you never thought you would. And then train for it. Make it a priority. Hold yourself accountable and insist that whatever you are working toward is near the top of your to-do list every day.
If you have a way of exercising that you love and that others criticize, don’t let them influence you. Stay the course. If you want to hike the Grand Canyon to the river and back in a day, start hiking now. If you have always wanted to do the Alcatraz Sharkfest Swim (swimming from Alcatraz Island to the marina in San Francisco), find a pool and get swimming. If you have never trained with weights but somewhere in the fabric of your being you want to be the winner of the 2020 CrossFit Games, get going.
And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. It’s your dream, not theirs. And I’m sure in your fantasy, they are nowhere to be found.
A Shining Example: Jim Shull from Downey
My father in-law, Jim Shull, is one of the fittest 62-year-olds you will ever meet. This guy wakes up every day with a hunger to do something to improve his fitness. He has a bunch of random pieces of equipment in his backyard, a pull-up bar, and a TRX. No matter how tired he is or what time of year it is, when I visit, I wake up each morning to the sound of him huffing and puffing behind the house doing his workout. One visit, I was leaving at 4:30am to drive home to make it to work and as I was pulling out of the driveway, a figure came whizzing by and startled me. It was Jim, running sprints down the length of his street. He’s an inspiration to say the least.
When we arrived home from the San Luis Obispo Marathon + Half Marathon, Jim sat on my couch with a quiet sense of satisfaction on his face. I asked him how he was feeling and then asked him why he ran the race. His response:
Running races like this reminds me that I’m alive. It gives me purpose and it keeps the days from becoming indistinguishable from one another. It’s too easy to allow yourself to get into habits of inactivity, to get into a place where you aren’t really living. I intend on living to a hundred and this is how I’m going to do it.
Find a race. Make a goal. Train your tail off.