They say that sometimes the stars just align. That some days, you go out there, and it all comes together. If you have any doubt of that, just look at what happened to the San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis this weekend – a decade of toiling it out with an awful team, only to see all your dreams and hopes come together in 40 seconds in front of a national television audience.
It’s a reminder of why we can never give up on our goals. Our goals are not a linear path from point A to point B. They are fraught with setbacks and sidetracks and just-about-ready-to-give-ups. But for whatever reason, some of us stick with our goals. It’s nice to know that for some of us, many of us, we get there.
I got there. Today. After 9 years of trying. In a big way.
And let me tell you, it feels pretty damn good.
* * *
I first started running – in earnest – in January 2003. At the time, I was smoking a hearty pack-and-a-half a day. And prolly drinking the same.
A year prior, we had gone to watch Heidi’s former roommate, Pam, compete in the Tucson marathon. I was captivated by the atmosphere. She finished in just over 4 hours – an amazing time which I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. As we walked back to the car with her, I said: “I’m gonna’ do a marathon, too.” It seemed a fairly ridiculous claim. But I was serious. I knew nobody there really believed me.
I was cool with that. I barely believed me, too.
But a year and a few months later, I came across an opportunity to train for the Rock n’ Roll San Diego Marathon set for June 2003. It was some sort of informational meeting, in January 2003, coupled with a 3-mile training run. I went, and huffed and puffed through it. There was a big group of us and I’m pretty sure that nobody else that joined us that first day left thinking, “I can do this.”
But I did.
That day initiated a long-time commitment to running. I completed that first marathon. In 5 and a half hours. There were times when I cut back my drinking, and my smoking, during that training. And there were times that I didn’t.
San Diego was the first. I did the inaugural Rock n’ Roll Arizona in 2004, the New York Marathon in 2005, San Diego again in 2006, Arizona again in 2007. I switched gears and stepped it up, opting to go for a full Ironman triathlon in 2008 (that’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2 mile run), packed in a few more marathons that year, did Arizona again in 2009, another Ironman in 2010 and Arizona’s full marathon again in 2011.
Every year had it’s pros and cons. And every year brought me a little closer to my goal of conquering my demons – demons of addiction and an unsettled mind.
But I never fully beat them. I spent an 8-month stint in 2005 in a 12-step program; only to realize I really didn’t belong. And I spent much longer, many years, in fact, searching for the source of my restlessness – the very thing that could lead me to bike 100 miles, get off my bike, and run 10 miles more or lead me to think that downing 10 beers and a pack of smokes were both perfectly fun, and acceptable, activities.
This had gone on forever, it seemed. But with each passing year, the commitment to health led me slowly, surely, towards making the healthy choices more, and the unhealthy choices less. A pack-and-a-half a week, led to a pack a week, to a pack every two weeks, to a few cigarettes a day, to a few a week, to almost none. It has been slow, and gradual, and not without conflict. But it has been decidedly in the right direction.
It’s proof that not everybody’s road to healthy living starts with cold turkey, but with an idea of what you want to be, and a determined effort, one day at a time, to get there.
We have good days and bad. Winning the battle, often, is by slowly having more good days than bad. Eventually, the good days become the habit. The bad days become the exception.
After a decade long fight, I’m very happy to say: The bad days are definitely the exception.
* * *
It’s safe to say, though, that the last year has definitely been the turning point; and more specifically, the 9 months that have followed Beckett’s clearance from the hospital.
I fell into, by dumb luck, the services of Oscar Garcia, a personal trainer who lives in my neighborhood. I came to him, at quite possibly, my most broken time in the last five years.
In the months that followed Ironman 2010 and Beckett’s stint in the hospital, I gained an impressive 20 pounds in four months, going from 195 pounds, to a stout 215. My flowy, button-up shirts were pushed to their extremes when I sat down.
We were at a fundraiser in April 2011 for Beckett’s elementary school. There was a silent auction item for one month with a trainer. I bid. And I won.
I had no idea what I was getting in to.
Oscar made me do push-ups, and pull-ups, and burpees, and dips, and flip tires, and jump rope, and lift barbells and do, well, all kinds of crazy shit you couldn’t have paid me to do a year prior.
In those first months, before I really actually talked to Oscar, I couldn’t tell you why I stuck with it. It was something to do, I guess. And it was better than nothing.
Eventually, I figured out what we were doing was something called CrossFit – a method of training in which you work all of your body’s systems – your aerobic, your anaerobic, your arms, core, chest, arms, legs and everything in between.
The weight and the inches started to melt away.
But more importantly, I began to learn about Oscar, a man who had been on his own lifelong journey of discovery – from growing up in Mexico, to emigrating to the US, to starting his own plumbing company (which ultimately ending up serving the celebs of L.A.), to running his own million-dollar real-estate business, to losing it all, to rediscovering himself while working at Starbucks and doing Bikram yoga, to realizing his goal was to help others rediscover themselves.
Somehow this guy accumulated this group of like-minded people around him – many of them amazing, but broken in some little way. And together, we merged into a group of really laid back, fun people who supported each other and grew.
The people I started with were fat, out-of-shape and could’ve easily just given up. There were 60-year-olds who’d never lifted a weight, former ATV-riding champions who’d gotten massively out of shape, moms who’d never worked out a day in their life.
If you could see those people today: 3, 6, 9 months later, you wouldn’t believe it was possible. For them, like me, it was all about identifying a goal and saying: no more excuses, instead of choosing to be unhealthy, I’m choosing to be healthy. And that was pretty much all it took. Once you make that choice, it’s just about showing up to do the workout, and – not to simplify too much – choosing the carrots over the french fries.
* * *
But I’ve gone way off target here. And that’s only because my brain has been given a lot to think about today.
If this is less than normally concise, I apologize. I’ve had a friend whose had a stroke recently; and somebody else whom I like very much, I’ve learned her husband and daughter both have cancer.
I’m constantly reminded life is complex. And I’m trying not to be overwhelmed by those thoughts as I spill what’s on my mind tonight.
* * *
So to get back to the point, I did it. I broke the 2-hour mark on a half-marathon – the first of three hardcore fitness goals I set many years ago – a sub 2-hour half-marathon, a sub 4-hour full marathon, and a sub 12-hour Ironman.
1 down, 2 to go.
For those of you who don’t know, let me tell you why sub-2 is such a big deal. To do a sub-2, you have to run under a 9:13/mile pace for 13.1 miles.
For some people, and god bless ’em, this comes easy. But for me, with my 6’+ bulky frame, it does not. It’s the equivalent of running at close to your top speed, and holding that pace for 2 hours straight.
It means not just that you can run, but that you have the stamina and the health to maintain it for a couple hours.
I’d never come close. The best I’d ever done prior to today was holding a 10:13/mile pace for a full race.
I did 3.1 mile race in October with obstacles where, for some unexpected reason, I ran a 7:47 pace. It blew me away.
So I thought I had a chance.
Today, at mile 3, I was running a 8:45/mile pace. At mile 6, an 8:53 pace. At the halfway point, an 8:57 pace.
It was here, I knew it was possible.
At mile 9, I was hanging in with a 8:59/mile pace. With 4.1 miles to go, I knew this was my chance.
I kept saying to myself, you’ve been trying for 10 years, almost, to be at this place where you had a real chance to do it, And so at that point, despite total exhaustion, I decided I would do it.
For the last four miles, I pushed my body.
I said: “You can deal with the consequences later, but if you go sub-2, you’ll have that forever.”
I did it.
* * *
As I look back over all I’ve typed tonight, the whole thing seems sort of blow-hardish.
It seems like I’ve conquered some great thing, but the truth is, my life is still a work in progress.
I’m riddled with flaws; and sometimes, as I talk about my accomplishments, the whole thing feels like a lie.
I still struggle with the same things I struggled with 10 years ago.
My addictive side still gets the best of me more than I care to fully admit.
I’m not the dad, or the husband, I wish to be.
I’m still prone to bad moods, or bad days.
I know I could do better. And I know that my own selfishness gets in the way.
But, god damn it, I’m trying.
I want to be better.
And I know I’m making progress, even if sometimes it’s not perfectly clear.
But at least I have that stat – proven by chip technology – to show I’m on my way.
That’s my number. That’s my proof.
And I’m sticking with it.