Every January it was the same routine. This would be the year that I would change my life. This would be the year that I would quit smoking, lose weight, cut down on my drinking and learn to be a better human being.
No matter how counterintuitive the program seemed to be, if I thought it was the easiest, fastest, least painful way to become who and what I wanted to be, I bought into it. Eat 10 bananas a day? Sure. Eat nothing but grapefruit and Fig Newtons? Alrighty. Drink 70 glasses of water a day. Sign me up.
I tried going on a low-carb diet. And a low-fat diet. I went on a low-carb, low-fat diet. I tried a high-protein diet. I bought supplements, lotions and magic potions. I believed every promise. And I gave it my best shot. For about three weeks.
The plan was always the same and so were the results. I would stop doing all the things I liked to do, stop eating all the foods I liked to eat, force myself to do things I hated every day and eat food I thought tasted terrible. And I did this EVERY year. Is it any wonder I failed for most of my life?
When people ask me why everything changed at 43 years old, I don’t have a good answer. All I know for sure is that for the first time in my life being active made more sense than being inactive.
I did a lot of walking at first, then a little more running and eventually was doing mostly running with a little walking. I was also cycling and — eventually — swimming. It was as if my mind had been taken over by a healthy, active alien.
What did work, for me, was starting to think of my body as a tool that I needed to use to do the things I wanted to do. I stopped worrying so much about what my body looked like and concerned myself more with what it could, or couldn’t, do.
I come from a round people. At any family gathering you are likely to see a group of round people. There would be very few tall people. Even fewer thin people. Nope. We were, and are, a round family.
When I decided I wanted to run faster in a 5K, I figured a leaner body would be a better tool. It was, to be honest, still a round body, but it was a LEANER round body.
During the years when I was running six marathons a year as a part of the Runner’s World pacing team, I needed a body that was durable but not necessarily fast. My training — my body — was focused on endurance and avoiding injury.
When a colleague at Runner’s World UK invited me to team with him in an Adventure Race, my body needed to be stronger and more versatile. Still round. Just a stronger round and a more versatile round.
Somewhere in this process of using my body as a tool to accomplish goals, I came to understand that no matter what I ate or how many supplements I took or how much I trained, the body I would see in the mirror was my body. It would be the same long-waisted, short-inseamed body that I’ve always had. It was more durable. It was stronger. It was healthier by every definition. And it was mine.
I believe that for all of us, there has to come a moment, an epiphany really, when we accept that we can never overcome our DNA. We have to fully embrace both the miracle and limitations of training. We have to find within ourselves everything that we need to become our best selves.
For me, that’s when the joy came rushing in. Once I stopped trying to change my body into something I liked looking at and transformed it into something that I liked being in, I was at peace with myself. It’s a great feeling.