Ten Years of a Moderately Healthy Lifestyle
tl;dr: You can enjoy running. Persistence is key. Goals are overrated. Running = meditation = happiness.
This post isn’t specifically about weight loss. I admit, the title and pictures are a little click-baity and I’m sorry for that. But, that doesn’t make it untrue. Over the past ten years I did lose weight, became fit, and ran distances I never thought possible… But the most significant benefit I gained was a complete, unintentional surprise: contentment and happiness through running.
Like most people, for much of my life I never liked running. But my perspective on running has changed drastically over the years. As is typical, I started running for weight-loss reasons even though I hated it. Ten years ago (practically to the day), I was at my heaviest weight: 205lbs. I saw a picture of myself at 195lbs and thought I looked good! So, I started exercising to lose a little weight. Surprisingly, it happened relatively quickly. Then I continued running simply to be healthy.
Once those things happened I unintentionally got better at running and could run longer distances. I never considered myself a “runner” and never had the desire to be one. But every time I would hit a new personal distance record – four, five, six miles – I became increasingly motivated simply because I wasn’t ‘trying.’ People would be impressed with how far I ran, but to me it was easy. I just had to keep doing it.
It took me about seven years to hit seven miles “naturally” (i.e. without training or pushing myself; just simple persistence). I vividly remember that first seven-mile run. It felt like a significant milestone and a genuine turning point in my perspective on running. I realized running was something I actually enjoyed! And my persistence was an achievement I was proud of.
I loved my time in the local park where I’d run. (Turns out, summertime is the worst, and winter is surprisingly serene, calm, and pleasant. I never really liked winter until I started running.) I loved being outside in nature, sometimes listening to the wind and the birds, but usually lost in an audiobook or podcast. I listened to music since I began running, at first to keep me motivated, but now it’s more just background noise. Whether I listened to audiobooks or podcasts, ambient mood music or dubstep, or just the wind in the trees, it all depended on my mood at the time.
Looking back, I believe that was my (personal) secret: I never pushed myself. When I got tired or bored or I just didn’t feel like running anymore, I stopped! I never made it something I didn’t enjoy or I didn’t want to do. I tried to make sure it was something I would look forward to. I didn’t even push myself to do it every day, I just knew I was going to run – I made it part of my routine – and I forgot about it. It just became something I did.
Around that first seven-mile milestone my distances increased relatively rapidly – again, semi-unintentionally. (Initially, it took me almost a full year to run an entire mile without stopping, and probably two more to run my first 5k.) I found myself at the end of a run and thought to myself, “Hell, I can keep going…” so I did! I did my first half-marathon about a year later – eight years after I first started running.
It was October (my favorite time of the year) and I had never previously ran more than nine or ten miles. But this day I had accidentally ran ten and still felt good. I figured I’d already come this far and only needed three more miles to accomplish something I never thought in a million years I’d do! I wrestled in high school and running was the worst part; I always hated running and never understood “runners.” And here I was, finishing my first half-marathon practically accidentally.
I didn’t tell anyone right away after I did it. It was “mine,” ya know? I didn’t do it for anyone else, or for anyone else’s praise. It wasn’t even a goal I set out to accomplish in the first place! But I was secretly proud of it nonetheless. I eventually told my wife and close friends – mainly to let them know why I was gone for so long, ha! (Running can take a lot of time.)
That was a little over two years ago now. Since then, in addition to my normal daily eight-ish-mile runs, I’ve done, on average, one to two “long runs” (13-15 miles) per month. This past October, exactly two years after my first half-marathon, I did six in one month – another accidental accomplishment. (I had a lot of time off work that month, haha.)
It’s funny because, now, the actual running aspect has become a byproduct; it’s just something I sorta do subconsciously. I’ve become much more focused on the Nature around me and the thoughts inside me. It’s far more meditative than it is exercise. I’ll let my mind wander and miles may pass before I even remember that I’m even running.
And that’s what running has become for me: meditation.
I went through a lot over the past ten years including my dad dying and almost getting a divorce, among much else. (My wife and I are better than ever now, though, BTW.) I firmly believe running helped me through those difficult times and I’m not sure where I’d be now if I hadn’t been running (read: meditating).
So here I am, exactly ten years after I first started running. I’m 50lbs lighter, and happier and healthier than I’ve ever been… and it was all an accident. I guess the reason I’m posting this is to provide a little bit of inspiration and context to those who don’t respond well to defined goals and deadlines. It’s the new year and many people resolve to lose weight and get in shape but lose hope and give up just a few months in.
Trust me, I know I’m not doing anything significant; there are marathoners, ultra-marathoners, and triathletes that do what I do as an easy warmup. I know I’m nothing special. But what I’ve (accidentally) discovered is that competition and defined goals don’t have to be the point! Finish lines and stopwatches stress me out; that’s why I rarely participate in sponsored race events (except when friends are doing it for fun). Scales and tape measures can be useful but tend to deter people more than they help – especially when they don’t reach their goal in the predetermined timeframe.
For me, the ONLY requirement was persistence. If I didn’t feel like running one day, that was okay, but I had to at least take a couple steps. If I found myself a quarter-mile in and then wanted to quit, that was fine. But more often than not, I kept going. I was already there, so why not? (Full disclosure: I didn’t run every day. Still don’t. But now, definitely most days. It’s okay to take breaks, too.) I never pushed myself, but persistence was essential.
Relative fitness level and mobility wasn’t a problem because if you can walk to your car, you can jog down a street. If you keep at it, it only gets easier from there. And time was never an issue, either – especially at first. A fifteen-minute mile is not much faster than walking and only takes – fifteen minutes! (Eventually running can be time-consuming once you start running long. But by that point it’s for all the right reasons: physical and mental happiness! Everyone could use more of that in their lives.)
I never set distance or time goals. If I did, I would think about them with every step I took which made runs tedious. But when I stopped thinking about the finish and instead took stock of how I felt at the time, slowed down if I needed to catch my breath, and just smiled at that cool-looking tree I just passed, my experience became exponentially more enjoyable!
If you’re intimidated by trainers, long distances, or record times, forget about them! Forget about the goal, rid yourself of the pressure, and just enjoy the thing! I think of running like listening to a song. I don’t listen to a song to get to the end; I listen to the song because I enjoy the song itself. If I’m bored of it, I turn it off! Likewise, if I get tired of running, I head back to the car.
Given how much I’ve written about running here, it may seem like running is all I do… but it’s rarely at the forefront of my mind; I don’t even think about it. I have a full-time job, have tons of hobbies, I play music (albeit poorly), I hang out with family and watch movies, play lots of video games… And while I eat relatively healthy, I also still eat too many chips and nachos and bad shit for me, haha. (And, I drink… a lot. Way too much, actually. Practically every day. That’s my next big life change I have to think about… I just love beer so much! But that’s for another time.)
Point is, running didn’t require me to make drastic life changes. I didn’t have to make any changes, in fact, other than squeezing in a run every other day or so.
Whether your goal is to lose weight, feel better, or surpass some esoteric milestone, the ultimate underlying goal is to become happier, right?
Turns out, running can turn into a form of meditation which can lead to a deeper, more fundamental happiness that you can’t get from the short-lived joy you get from achieving some random goal! (Do you still find happiness today in winning that soccer game in the third grade?) Those moments will pass, but the serenity I’ve found in running is far more profound and affecting.
Like an ion engine or evolution: tiny changes over a long period of time can have drastic effects. Running consistently can have drastic effects not only on your physical body, but on your mind as well. My perspective and outlook on life has changed significantly since I began running…
After realizing how easy and enjoyable it became to run long distances, one unspoken/unofficial goal arose in the back of my mind: to one day run a marathon. I thought that would be a cool life achievement. But honestly, I don’t know if I ever will. I think I’ve hit a wall running “naturally” without pushing myself – I think my longest run so far was fifteen miles? – and a marathon is definitely something most people need to train for… especially me, given the amount of chips I eat and beer I drink, haha.
But maybe that’s okay. I’m happy now… and in the end, that’s all that really matters. :)