Whew. Now that was a grinding run I thought to myself as I crossed the finish line of my twelfth 5K race of the year.
The journey that brought me to this point on a cold and blustery day was one that I did not even fathom way back on Valentine’s Day weekend when this all started. It was also a frigid day back on that afternoon when I finally succumbed to the reality that I looked and felt like crap. Oh, there was no mistake about how I looked. Perhaps I was in denial for months and had settled into the winter malaise that most adhere to, and use as an excuse to let themselves go. Yet, it was more than that. Much more. I have always been an active person with an upbeat and youthful outlook, and from what I have been told, appear younger than my chronological age. That all seemed to fall apart as the winter of 2015 dragged into 2016 and I was feeling the damage of what I had done to myself physically. On that cold windy day in February as I participated in the Cupid’s Undie Run for charity I hit rock bottom. I was out of breath and huffing it after jogging less than a mile. I felt like a slug, and after seeing pictures of my bloated form, looked like one. Even worse, after I had sent my parents some pics of me at the event they mentioned that I looked kind of portly.
Actually, my dad said I looked fat. I knew right then and there that a change was needed.
Not just a small tweaking of my diet but something way more drastic. Something that would change my whole lifestyle. I am a half decently intelligent person, and aware of the physiological changes that accompany the aging process. Basically, I’m not stupid but more like avoiding the reality of what my current situation had become. I never thought hitting 50 was something to panic about as many people do. They go into a mid-life crisis. They go into denial. They do some idiotic things. I wasn’t like that. I just took it in stride, and keep moving on like normal. Age is just a number, and I still do things just as I did when younger. Hit the gym and weight train, still listen to rock and metal, go to concerts, go out dancing, bar hopping with friends, late night partying, diners at 3am, etc. Maybe I do have a bit of a Peter Pan complex but it also keeps me young. Then again, maybe doing all of this constantly and keeping up this pace attributed to the demise of my physical well-being. Let’s be real with myself here – I was drinking way too much, eating way too many bad foods, and massively slacking with my sleep and cardio. I knew it, and had no one to blame but myself. I had become a paunchy shell of my former being.
It is one of the hardest things for a person to do. Look at themselves in the mirror and admit their faults. Strip down totally naked and tear yourself down. Be brutally honest with yourself. No one likes to do that, especially one like me who always took pride in his physical abilities and appearance. It was a hard thing to do. I hated who I had become. I felt tired. I felt sick. I felt lazy. I felt old. This was not me. This was not how I wanted to proceed with my life at this point. I see it all the time here in NYC. Guys much younger than me who look aged beyond their years. Men in their late 20’s, 30’s and 40’s still desperately trying to hold onto their frat boy days. Looking fat and out of shape as they hit the bars after work for happy hour. Brunch with their wives and kids in tow on the weekend all looking tired and miserable. Smoking outside their place of employment and hacking up a lung. Taking the elevator up to the second floor because they can barely climb a flight of stairs without being out of breath. I did not want to become part of that group. These people have basically given up already or lost their drive for fitness. I did not want to become a statistic.
Honestly, this scares the hell out of me.
Sometimes pictures do not lie. I saw the images of myself at the Undie Run and was aghast at what I looked like. Overweight and pudgy. This was not the man I wanted to be, but it was the one who I had become. I owed it to myself to make a change and be the person I need to be, and not just for myself, but also for those around me who I love. My fiancée, my family, my friends. My attitude had changed and people noticed I was not happy. Some sensed I was a bit depressed. A total 180 from what all who know me to be. I didn’t fit right in much of my clothing and my pants size had ballooned up to a 40 inch waist. There was no way I was going to settle for this and purchase bigger clothes just to get by. It was time to turn the corner and get back in gear. If not for myself, then for those around me. For the woman I love. Time to bring back healthy, fit, upbeat, and positive Phil.
Time to make a stand.
As I awoke the morning of February 15 I set into motion a plan of action. One that would be a long-term strategy back into the realm of fitness. This was not going to be easy and I knew it. Sure, I had completed the Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and other obstacle course runs in the last few years but those were one-time events that I needed some short-term intense training for. This was something that I knew needed to be set up for the long haul. I was up for the challenge. An overhaul of my diet and training habits.
Stay The Course
Set Goals – I thought long and hard about the goals I wanted to establish. The top one was to lose weight. I needed to lose about 20 pounds of blubber over the course of the year. This would be attained by frequent weight training sessions in the gym, adding in a cardio regimen, and changing my nutritional intake. I always lifted weights so this part was not a problem. The major thing I did was adding in running to my training. Now, let’s be real here, I kind of hate running. Many of us do. I have a love/hate relationship with it. Yet, I get real bored jogging on a treadmill and prefer the open air and changing scenery of running outdoors. My plan of attack was to sign up for ten 5K races this year. Yes, ten. This way it would keep me motivated to hit the pavement 2-3 times each week to help build up my endurance while also burning calories. I found it hard to believe but along the way after completing each race I started to enjoy running more and more. I look forward to my nightly runs as it also helps me clear my mind and reduce stress. I even ran in a 5K race while away on vacation. Yes, I might be insane. The pounds came off and my clothes fit better. Now I look forward to these runs as my times have improved to the point where I took 1st place in my age group at a recent race.
That was exhilarating, and placed an exclamation point on all the hard work I put in so far!
The other major goal was a biggie. The change in my eating habits. I decided to stop eating all red meats, chicken, pork, and fowl. That’s right – no bacon, burgers, steak, etc. I went cold turkey so to speak and didn’t look back. No more greasy fried foods. No more processed junk. I don’t really miss any of it. My nutrition now includes a diet that mainly features plenty of fish, veggies, whole grains, salads, sweet potatoes, and other more wholesome foods. I experimented and taught myself how to prepare and cook different meals. It has been a learning experience and I enjoy it. Another thing I did was to cut down my alcohol intake big time. It was amazing how the pounds burned off by not consuming all the empty calories that fatty meats and booze pack on. Even going out for dinner we choose healthier options on the menu. I do have my cheat days now and then to keep my sanity. I enjoy some beers, desserts, ice cream, and pizza now and then. Heck, I am human. There is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself after all the hard work. The next day I just make sure to get back in the gym, or schedule a run.
You wanna play ya gotta pay!
Stay The Course – I knew when I announced my plans to friends and family it would raise some eyebrows, and illicit differing opinions. Some thought I was nuts to run in so many races. Some thought I wouldn’t cut back on the partying and drinking. Almost all thought I was crazy for giving up eating meats and eliminating these things from my diet. All in all, it was amusing to discover what people around me thought. My gal was my rock through all this, and went all in with the eating change even though she is not a fan of seafood. She likes some things I cook, and others I know she just tolerates. I appreciate and love her for this. In the long run, I knew this would pay off for both of us.
I also heard from many with their own views on how I should be training and eating. From those trying to tell me what I should add or take away from my food intake, to those trying to tell me how I should train, to some telling me to give up on 5K’s and run longer races, and those who did not believe that I would succeed with the goals I had established for myself. Unless you are getting advice from a solid source my opinion is to ignore most of what is thrown at you. Proceed with your plan. I did and continue to do so. It has worked out wonderfully for me. Stay positive, even on your worst days. I hit a major snag with life when in August my job position was eliminated and I was laid off. It’s a scary thing to be at a company for almost 20 years, and then the next day knowing you’re being shown the door after all the hard work, loyalty, and dedication you gave them. Such is life in today’s corporate America. Did I let this beat me? No, but I did go through a short transition period of depression and despair. Decided to take some time off to decompress and get my head together.
I came back mentally stronger and more determined to succeed.
Conquer – As I crossed the finish line of my 12th 5K race in 2016 the reality hit me of what I had just accomplished as the cold sea air blew into my face on the Coney Island boardwalk. Not only did I accomplish what I had initially set out to achieve, I demolished it and surpassed the ten race goal I had set. My weekly training runs of 3-5 miles have gotten better over the course of these past nine months. I dropped 20 pounds of unwanted weight, as did my gal. My jeans dropped from an ungodly 40 inch waist to an acceptable 36. I built muscle, tone, and strength along the way. I have stuck with my nutrition and fitness plan, and the results speak for themselves. Increased energy, a much healthier lifestyle, and a mentally better outlook on life. I am a stubborn person to begin with, and refused to sway or waiver from my plan. Considering I am doing all of this at an age when most are slowing down, and prefer the couch and Netflix, I am getting stronger, faster, and more determined. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Set a plan and proceed despite your age, present situation, or physical condition. You can achieve if you believe. Never give up or settle for less.
The only drawback of success is that I had to splurge on new clothes that fit right! I’ll gladly take that trade-off.
Stay determined. Stay motivated. Stay disciplined. Also, have fun along the way. Life is short, and we all only have one body so treat it right. There is a big difference between being old and getting older. My journey has just begun. Now let’s see where it takes me next.