From Amateur to Athlete

So, you want to become a runner? Or perhaps mountain biking tempts you.

Maybe you fancy ballroom dance, or triathlon; or maybe you’d just like to fit into an outfit that’s getting a bit too snug. Where do you start? How do you get from here, to there?

Find your passion. What goal excites you, scares you (in a good way) and inspires you? It takes drive to accomplish great outcomes. But it has to be your passion and no one else’s. This is your journey, and your passion provides the “fuel.”

Begin with the end in mind. Dr. Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” suggests this habit. Realizing your dream begins with clarifying it. If you want to complete a triathlon, it’s necessary to know how to swim. A bike will also come in handy as will a little running prowess. Start visualizing where you’re going, and the path to that destination becomes clearer.

Commit. Signing up for an event clarifies the “what,” “when,” and “where” of your goal. Whether your entry fee is $25 or $125, few of us like to throw away money. Putting some skin in the game is a declaration to commitment.

Accountability is similar to commitment, but often involves someone else. Build others into your world to hold you accountable. Those others can be a club, a class, or a less formal group; or the “other” can be an app or an unblinking, unforgiving training log. Perhaps even learn the habit of holding yourself accountable.

Start small—and humble. Forget about what you did last year, or in your glory days. Start like a beginner, and avoid the pitfalls of pride. If your goal is running a mile, start by walking a mile. “I can do that!” you exclaim. Precisely! Learn to succeed. Work up to that first mile with a 50-50 mix of running and walking. Set a test run—a half mile without stopping. Every little step is a small victory and is a physical and mental step forward. Teach yourself “I can.” You’ll find it more than a little addictive, and that motivation will carry you to the next step.

Develop your plan…and work it! You’ve got family, work and unrelenting obligations. Forget what you can’t do, and discover what you can. No time? Do it over lunch, or the morning. Too cold or rainy to bike? Hit the stationary bicycle. Find the will and seek the way. Be driven in pursuit of your goal.

Be flexible. “Wait, you said ‘be driven’ 3 seconds ago!” Yes, I did, but life is about balance. If you show up for your swim and realize you left your suit home, find Plan B. Be kind to your body, and your spirit. If your spouse is putting up with your workouts and stinky laundry, do them a solid and tell them, “Yes, I’d love to have breakfast together tomorrow,” even if that means being a little flexible with your workout, or skipping one altogether.

Have Fun and Enjoy the Process. Celebrate every victory, from “That’s the furthest run yet!” to, “I didn’t know how much fun running in the snow could be.” Document your victories on social media if you’re an extrovert, or reward yourself by meeting your training buddies at the local café after your Sunday run— and if you’re wise, absorb their unique joy and wisdom as well. Feel the distant yet ever-closer reward of reaching your ultimate goal, and taste mini-victories along the path. You’ll never regret the joy and self-respect you earn along the way.

How I trained for my first marathon.

I’ve run six half marathons and hundreds of shorter events since high school. Somewhere along the line, I entered my 40s and kept on aging. Before I got too old, I decided to run a marathon.

I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), and then announced my plans. This set me up to be a man who does what he set out to do, or a fraud.

I got to work and started small. My first long runs were 5-8 miles, paltry compared to the 26.2-mile marathon, but you have to start somewhere. I slowly increased mileage, intensity and strength. Long runs became 17 miles (tying my longest ever, 25 years prior) and then longer. I wrote down every workout, and took great joy in doing so. It was like writing a novel starring myself.

I found the motivation. Motivation is like internal fire, but consistency can’t rely on moods. I created patterns and stuck to them. Why run in the morning? Because waking up to an alarm is foolish if you just turn it off. Why lift weights at lunch on Mondays? Because that’s what I do on Mondays at lunch. It became weird NOT to do these things. I found myself going to the places where I needed to be, doing what I needed to do. I was the horse and the rider—and sometimes both.

I found the time. This avowed night owl made a decision to become a morning athlete. I got up at 6:30 a.m., and was running by 7. Soon I learned I could get up at 6:15…or even 6. Then my runs got longer, and I realized I had to get up at 5:45 or earlier. Too dark? I bought a headlamp. Too cold? I bought the right gear. Icy roads?

I changed my routes. And for those mornings when I had trouble getting going, my second alarm (yes, I set a second one to go off 5 minutes after the first) got me out of bed.

I found the flexibility. On October 23, 2013, the day of the 38th Annual MCM, I was at home, injured. I dusted myself off, did the work to heal, and refocused. On October 27, 2014, after 3 hours 8 minutes and 20 seconds (and 25 months of dedication), I became a marathoner.

Since the marathon, I’ve taken time to recover. I have a few aches and pains, but none of grave concern. My goal now is less to run faster and further, and more to age gracefully. A few post-marathon extra pounds and a desire to stay young are refocusing my desires to stay fit, and the fact that I’m qualified for the 2016 Boston Marathon whispers in my ear. I don’t know if I’ll ever run another marathon, or what comes next, but I embrace the joy of having options and possibilities. Life is good, and I plan to savor the journey.