My dearest friend Melissa has no idea, but she’s a major influencer in my fitness journey. When I met her she was almost perpetually in athleisure and training for some big race. I thought she was one of those freaks of nature where fitness just came easy to them. Little did I know, up until recently, she had never really considered herself a runner. She told me that it was a story she had told herself, and she decided to change it and started running. Now she’s run a kajillion half marathons, and finished the New York Marathon for the first time last fall. She’s a badass. She inspired me with her story changing, and I started working my way up to a 5K because of her.
I love working out. I love lifting weights, I love yoga, I love cardio dance parties, the lot. I love basically any mode of fitness except barre (which can go die a slow and awful death in my opinion). But, until very recently, I did not love running. I had hay fever as a child, and running outside made me wheezy. I decided to forget that whole running thing and took dance classes instead. But thanks to Melissa, I was able to run a very slow, very fraught 5K. Then I found out she was doing a Spartan Race. For those who don’t know what a Spartan Race is, it’s like a 5K for super fit people who think just plain running on a flat surface is boooooring. This race would be 5 kilometers up and down ski trails at Tuxedo Ridge Ski Park. As if that weren’t enough, runners would also encounter 22 obstacles to overcome throughout the race. You wouldn’t know the obstacles until the day of, but they usually involve crawling under barbed wire, wading through mud, climbing ropes, and carrying some super heavy stuff. Melissa told me she couldn’t even do a pushup, but she was determined to train for this race. As someone who can totally do pushups, but would be hard pressed to run even one mile on an incline, I signed up with her.
Fitness journeys are the most material way to learn life’s greatest lessons. The metaphors are easily transferred to other ares of our life. This race was no different. Here are just a few lessons I learned in this context. I can’t wait to apply them to other areas of my life.
Incremental, consistent effort actually works
My usual experience with a step-by-step approach is a few weeks of dedication seeing very few results, and as soon as I see the tiniest improvement, I take a step back in awe of may handiwork, and take a 'well deserved' break. This break usually extends far beyond what is needed, and I eventually fall out of habit. Because consistent effort over a long period of time can be exhausting! I’m only half kidding. Even if the daily effort is merely fifteen minutes of work, we can reach exhaustion just from fighting the resistance to get our body and/or brain to do something new. But with Spartan I was armed with a deadline. I didn’t want to embarrass myself or hurt myself, so I trained at least three times a week. I followed the suggested training programs on their website, and at first I thought they were way too easy. I’m usually used to working myself to death and then having to take a break because of a small injury (sensing a pattern, friends?). My wonderfully astute fiancé reminded me that a slow training program would prevent injury and I stuck with it. Dang, did I get super strong! I’m still surprised with how much improvement started with such a seemingly easy workout. Of course the workouts got challenging eventually, but just by showing up day by day I was seeing and feeling a difference.
You usually need to stretch yourself to reach the next level
I’ve always been strong enough to do about a 30 second plank. It wasn’t until six weeks into training that I really had to stretch far beyond that. I saw the workout sheet and the ’60 second plank’ seared into my brain. One whole minute? I can barely do 30 seconds! The first few planks were not pretty. I had to take lots of breaks, and I was staring at my timer willing to hold on. I usually hold a plank and run a sonnet through my head—but sonnets do not last one minute long. After about a week of sad minute long planks, I’ll be damned if I couldn’t hold a 60 second plank with solid strength and what one might even call ‘ease.’ I told my body where we were headed, and for two weeks my body could barely get by, and then something clicked. The strength was gained, and I could hold that plank like a boss. Like, have tea on my back while I sit here and plank, kind of boss. It’s such a great example of creating a stretch goal and letting your brain, body, or whatever else rise to the occasion. Goals are meant to be missed. If you reach all your goals, you are not reaching far enough.
If you want to walk fast, go alone. If you want to walk far, go together
The day of the race I was running with Melissa and her 50 year old boss, Rob. We all had various levels of strength and/or endurance, and both of them were nursing injuries. We. were. terrified. As we jumped over the ‘starter wall’ to get to the starting line (yup, there’s an obstacle before the race even starts) my eyes started tearing up. I was totally overwhelmed. Not just from the mountain looming in front of me, but also the warning you’re given with your bib number that states you may die or be seriously injured. Gulp. We had agreed to do this race as a team. The main goal was to finish, not to win. I’ll admit there were times in the race when I totally wanted to run up ahead. I felt great! We were walking most of the steep inclines, and part of me wanted to bound up them with abandon. But there were also times on the course where I couldn’t have gone on without them. Melissa gave me a boost over a seven foot wall, we helped each other over terrifyingly tall structures. We cheered each other through burpees. Rob attempted to catch me when I completely bit it off of the monkey bars. It was so much better to experience this race with them than to have run along alone. I may have had a better finish time, but the value of the experience would have been severely diminished.
Surround yourself with positive people who have similar goals
We had this awesome guy in our group that played music on a bluetooth speaker through a lot of the race. We danced and sang with him and encouraged his teammates while they encouraged us. It was so fun. There is something so uplifting about a community that has collectively worked towards this one event. Whether it’s a warmup for an even bigger race, or their first race like me, we all worked and trained for this day. If Rob and Melissa weren’t in sight, someone else in the group was cheering me on. The volunteers were supportive. A fellow group of runners gave me a bit of a cookie from my favorite shop in Astoria along the way. Little kids cheered their parents along from the sidelines. It was so wonderfully positive, and so so fun. As much as you can, surround yourself with people who are reaching just as far and are working just as hard as you are.
Beware of the finish line
I finished the race, training is done, someone hand me a beer and chips. I’m kidding! But this is an important phenomenon to be aware of. Creating habits with a finish line in mind create urgency and a big reason to continue your efforts. However, once that goal is reached, it’s easy to lay back and relax for way too long, undoing all of your hard work. Before you’re reaching any finish line, I encourage you to have an ‘after’ plan. Do you have a new goal? A new challenge? Each new habit or new experience is hopefully a stepping stone to the next! I will definitely do a race again. I wasn’t able to do every challenge, and it would feel so good to be able to blow through all the obstacles int he course. So what’s next for me? I’m back to training! I have a goal to do one unassisted pull-up. That means almost doubling the strength I have now. I also want to get better at running/walking at an incline. Those two efforts combined will continue my training. And maybe I’ll run just a normal 5K and revel in how EASY it is!
How has your fitness journey surprised you? How have you translated those lessons into other areas of your life?