My interests tend to drift, regularly hopping from one thing to another. One month it’s guitar, the next month it’s mountain biking, and the next month it’s reading classic fiction novels.
One thing that’s been consistent in my life since I was a teenager (at least my late teens) is fitness.
My Early Life as a Fat Kid
Running “THE MILE” Sucked
Prior to “getting in shape,” I had an aversion to working out. I distinctly remember dreading running “THE MILE” in gym class all through my childhood. I remember as a freshman in high school I ran an 8:30 mile and feeling so proud of myself for getting a “normal” time.
Probably every year since 1st grade I would get last place in my class when we ran a mile on the track in gym class. My time would be 11 or 12 minutes, more than double the time of the fastest kid in my class. So my decent time in freshman gym class was a big achievement for me.
Basketball Practice Was Fun, Until We Had to Run
Basketball was my sport as a kid. I thought I was going to go to KU and play for Roy Williams or Bill Self and then go to the NBA. I seriously believed that I was going to do this until I was 13 years old. (My AIM screen name was @NBASoon.) I was one of the better basketball players in my class, but I was no professional athlete.
I loved playing basketball. I loved basketball camp. I loved basketball games. I loved basketball practice, until the end when we had to run suicides. I was so out of shape that I had asthma attacks a few times during these sprints. I always dreaded this part of practice, and I always knew it was coming and was going to suck.
Getting in Shape
I remember when I was a sophomore in high school and I had to get a physical for some summer camp I was going to. I think I was 5’11”, and when I stepped on the scale the doctor said I weighed 192 pounds. The number scared me. I felt 200 pounds creeping up on me and I didn’t want to get there.
I don’t know what happened, but over the course of the next year I’d lose a lot of weight. I started going on runs occasionally. I remember listening to AC/DC on my iPod Nano and pushing myself to run a little farther or a little faster.
I started eating less. The biggest reason for me getting overweight in the first place was probably overeating. I remember after eating at restaurants I’d be so full that my stomach would hurt. Over the years of doing this I’d just come to think of that as normal. Just cutting down my portion sizes helped me lose weight pretty quickly.
I remember that I started drinking coffee around this time. Whenever I’d make a pot of coffee in the mornings or pick up a cup of coffee from the gas station on my way to school I wouldn’t get hungry until hours later.
During my freshman year of high school, my step-sister and I started going to tennis lessons a few times per week. I’d taken tennis lessons before when I was younger and I always enjoyed playing tennis with my dad or my brother. I loved playing tennis with my step-sister because we were pretty evenly matched.
Playing tennis was a fun way to stay active and during the summers, I’d play a lot. The tennis lessons that I went to were mostly girls, and maybe one other guy. But when we’d run at practice I found myself finishing ahead of everyone else. This was definitely the first time I’d ever finished first in any sort of running. It felt amazing.
At some point in middle school I started going on bike rides. My mom’s boyfriend was really into cycling, so we would load up our bikes and take them to the bike trails near my house. My mom, brother and I all really loved going on bike rides. We’d steadily increase the length of our rides starting at 8 miles or so, and working our way up to 20 miles.
Later, when I was in high school I got a road bike. As soon as I got a road bike and could ride faster and longer, I was hooked. We continued to go for rides as a family. We’d ride out in the country on roads with little traffic. Eventually we were going on long rides past farms and fields of corn.
After riding on our own for a few months, we signed up for a charity ride. These are bike rides with a marked course and “SAG” (support and gear) stops. There are trucks following to pick you up if you get a flat tire. My first charity ride was 32 miles, and this was my first time riding that distance. It was so fun riding with other people. I felt like I was a professional cyclist riding in the Tour de France. I remember that I averaged over 16mph for this ride. That was much faster than the 13 or 14mph I’d ride by myself.
Over the next few years I’d get really into cycling. I’d go on group rides a few nights a week and then ride by myself on other nights and on the weekends. I started racing bikes. I got a coach and trained a ton. I read every cycling book I could get my hands on. I watched every bike race I could on the internet.
I was in really good cycling shape. I participated in a few 70+ mile races. I rode 100 miles one time. However, that fitness hardly translated to anything else. My quads were strong as hell, but the rest of my body was atrophied into skin and bones. I was weak for anything besides cycling.
How Cycling Became Unhealthy For Me
I loved cycling and I still do. However, riding for hours and hours a week alone on the road grew incredibly monotonous. As cars passing me just a little too close became a more common occurance, I decided I’d had enough. I’ll go on a short bike ride every few weeks now, but it’s nothing like I used to do.
And the biggest problem I ran into when training for bike races was that I basically gave myself an eating disorder. I went from the 192 pounds that I mentioned above to 148 pounds. I recall a certain 6 month period when I basically lived on Golden Delicious apples and Clif bars.
- Jani Brajkovic opens up about his and the pro peloton’s eating disorders
- Sports dietician says eating disorders in cycling are becoming a serious problem
As it turns out my problem was not unique to me at all. I wanted to be fit. I hated being the fat kid or the out of shape kid who couldn’t keep up with everyone else on the mile. And cycling glorifies being light and skinny. In a sport where going uphill fast is essential, and Watts/KG is a crucial measurement, every pound you lose is a performance benefit.
After seeing very little success in my racing, I decided I was done with bikes for awhile. I turned to another form of fitness that turned out to be much better for me: the gym.
Going To The Gym
In college, we had long winter breaks. During winter break of my sophomore year, I started going to the gym a lot. I was no longer worried about being as light as possible for bike racing, I wanted my body to look better. My upper body was super underdeveloped from the years of riding my bike. I started benching and working on my upper body.
When you first start lifting weights you’re likely to see gains very quickly as your body adapts to the new stimulus. The quick strength and muscle gains helped keep me motivated and excited about going to the gym.
Once school got started back up, my roommate and I would go to the gym all the time. It was fun having a workout partner and we both saw some good progress. For the next few years I went to the gym consistently and got a lot stronger and gained a lot of muscle. I actually got up to 207 pounds at one point.
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I experimented with a number of different lifting programs and splits. I ended up doing some variation of push, pull and leg days. I enjoyed watching my lifts increase and improve over the years I went to the gym consistently.
One of my biggest issues with going to the gym is that it’s pretty isolating. Everyone has headphones on, and they rarely talk to each other. I would workout with a friend every so often, but the majority of my time at the gym was spent working out alone. When I worked out alone, it was much easier to skip the last set, or not push myself to use a heavier weight.
I needed a place to workout with other fit people who enjoyed pushing themselves. That’s where CrossFit came in.
I decided to go to CrossFit a few months ago (before COVID-19 hit and I had to stay at home). I immediately knew I was in the right place. At a traditional gym, there are a few people going hard, most people are just going through the motions, and then some people are walking on the treadmill at 1.5 miles per hour.
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At CrossFit, people show up expecting to go hard. This was something I loved about cycling. When you showed up for a group ride, everyone knew that they were about to crush themselves trying to go faster than the person next to them.
CrossFit combined the competitiveness of cycling, that I loved, with the strength and weightlifting movements I worked on in the gym.
Both cycling and basic weightlifting left big holes in my overall fitness. Cycling left me in great cardiovascular shape, but weak and injury prone. Weightlifting made me strong and allowed me to build muscle, but it lacked intensity and functional movement.
So I’m excited to get more CrossFit training in and see how much progress I can make. In a year or two I may completely change my training style and workouts again, but for now I’m sticking with CrossFit.
Training for Longevity
At some point I think it’s important to consider why I’m training. For cycling I had a clear goal: win races. For strength training my goal was: get stronger. Now my main goals are to keep my body fat low, increase my strength and maintain my fitness.
When I’m 65, 75, or 95 years old I want to be able to move well and to live an active life. Most training methods fail to consider this, even though longevity is probably the most important thing to train.
Thanks for reading. This really rambled on and jumped around from topic to topic, but I appreciate you taking the time to read!
My next post will be about sharing my passion for fitness and how I can help you improve your life through working out and eating healthy.