Seven Times Down, Eight Times Up…

Doing it over until you get it right.

I doubt that there’s a person alive who hasn’t, at one time or another, said to themselves that they needed to a, lose weight and b, get in better shape. It is the curse of our age, our zeitgeist, that none among seems content with who we are and what we look like.

Women may have specific body parts that they think are too big or too small, but for men fitness comes down to ripped abs. I don’t know why. To be honest, I don’t even know what ripped abs have to do with fitness, but I know that having “six-pack abs” is the single most important fitness goal for men.

My search for the holy grail of abs started over 40 years ago as a high school student. I can remember asking my P.E. teacher, the wrestling coach, how I could lose some of my early teenage flab and develop a strong, flat stomach. I don’t remember everything he told me, but I do remember hanging from some machine while curling my legs up into a “pike” position. It didn’t work.

I took the attitude that a large beer belly was as much as sign of budding masculinity as ripped abs for most of my collegiate years. It was only when the specter of basic training loomed in my future that I made any attempt to tighten up my gut.

Over the years I’ve done sit-ups and crunches until I was blue in the face, which usually meant about 5 of them. I’ve done them with my legs straight and bent, I’ve curled from the spine, I’ve pulled from the chin, I’ve put my hands under my head, over my head, at my side, crossed over my chest, and nearly everywhere else one can put their hands. I’ve used weights, I’ve used appliances, I’ve used straps and bands and belts. The results were always the same. I stopped before the six pack appeared.

My history with running wasn’t much better. Becoming a runner seemed to be a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I ran so that I could play baseball. I ran because I couldn’t shoot a basketball. I ran because I wanted to lose weight. I ran because I knew someone who ran and I wanted to say I ran too. What I never did, until this last time, was run because I wanted to run.

For me, that was the difference. The last time I decided to become a runner, now nearly 12 years ago, I started running because I wanted to run. I wasn’t running in order to get anywhere, to become anything, to get anything or to lose anything. I ran because I wanted to run.

To be honest, I didn’t know why I wanted to run. At least at first I didn’t. I didn’t want to race. I wasn’t training for anything specific. I was running because, finally, running – just simply getting out of the house and running – was my only goal. If I ran, I was a runner. It was the easiest thing I’d ever done.

It’s not that the running was easy. It wasn’t. It was dreadful. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that I wasn’t any good. My abject lack of talent was obvious even to me. Running was difficult. Being a runner was easy.

The easiest times for me to be a runner was when I wasn’t running. Spending hours with my logbook, devising intricate training plans with dates and times, distances and predicted paces was easy. And it made me feel like a runner. Choosing foods that I thought would make me a better runner was easy. And it made be feel like a runner.

Eventually, picking out races, training, and concocting race strategies was easy too. So easy that I would spend hours contemplating the pros and cons of negative splits and finishing kicks. I would experiment with shoes and socks. I would buy the latest products. I would read everything I could about running.

The more time I spent not running the more I felt like a runner. In time I was thinking like a runner, acting like a runner, even living like a runner. The only time in my life that I didn’t feel like a runner was when I was running.

In time, though, I came to grips with the runner that I was. I came to understand that in order for me to run for the rest of my life, I would have to be a runner first. I would have to focus on all those times when I felt like a runner and learn to forgive myself for those times when I didn’t.

And it worked. This time I stayed with it. The difference was that I didn’t run myself into being a runner. I became a runner who ran.

Waddle on, friends.

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