The morning air clings to my skin like sweat after a long, afternoon run, and I’m less than a quarter mile in. A morning run is different. There is none of the clutter from the day to cloud my thoughts. Only possibilities. Time to relax into my warm-up pace and let the Peter Frampton tune in my headphones take me back to starting line of this crazy race.
I discovered Frampton back in seventh grade — that was about the time I discovered the gym. I was a scrawny kid trying to bulk up for football season. Olympic lifting and peanut butter sandwiches coated with chalky, imitation-banana flavored Weight On powder ruled the day. It was like eating wet cement, but at 60 pounds with three pounds of rocks in my pocket, I was hardly an intimidating presence in the St. Genevieve Catholic Elementary third-string defensive secondary. I would do anything to gain weight.
It didn’t happen.
But in the gym and on the field, I found a love for hard work.
By mile two, my breathing is steady. My feet bound off the pavement like I could do this all day. Running slow is harder than running fast. My body wants to go, so I throttle up. 9:05 should be just about right. I’ve got 8.75 miles, today, and Barry White is telling me I Can’t Get Enough.
In high school, it became painfully obvious that I was not a football player. Hell, I didn’t break 100 pounds till the summer before my junior year. That didn’t keep me from slinging iron around the small gym above the furniture store half-a-mile from my house. I would run to and from my workout. I hated running then. Not for any other reason than it sucked.
By the time I graduated high school, I had a gym partner who shit bigger turds than me. He beat the crap out of me every day after work. Working out was more about getting massive to look good in the bars than anything else. With hair like that, I needed all the help I could get. It worked for him. I remained kinda puny.
By the half-way point, my feet are swimming inside my shoes. I can feel my toenails rake the inside, and I pray I don’t rip a couple off before I get home. Billy Joel is in a New York State of Mind, as I make the turn for home.
Then came a wife and kids. Those little bundles of joy, smelling all fresh, and cooing back from behind the blanket are the perfect recipe for pounds. My workouts became shagging flies in the back yard. The only gym I ever entered was to watch my kids get buff on the gymnastics floor, or roll around the wrestling mat.
The weight I had so desperately chased caught me after my 40th birthday. Two knee injuries, and my 50th birthday had me convinced I’d never lift again. My entire body paid the price. Then came the phone call.
My cousin wanted me to run. Not just run. Run through mud. And climb stuff. And carry things. He called it a Tough Mudder. It sounded like fun, but could I get my fat, broken body in shape in just 3 months?
My trainer’s first bit of advice — You can’t sculpt fat, so don’t even try. Just eat right and work hard. Everything else will take care of itself.
My mind wanders off Greg Allman’s guitar bleeding into my ears, and onto the aches I’m going to feel in my knees later today. I’m still running my 9-minute pace, feeling strong, but these last three miles are going to be long.
The feeling of accomplishment in conquering the Mudder drove my team to run 5 more obstacle course races that year, including the grueling Spartan Trifecta. My wife called it my mid-life crisis, but I was hooked. If I was going to run obstacle races, I needed more strength than bootcamp could provide.
I found Crossfit.
The weight lifting, the gymnastics, the rowing, sweat angels, the rips, the camaraderie, the family. I had forgotten how much fun slinging iron could be.
Crossfit taught me how to attack training. How to push through the pain. How to embrace the suck, to suffer with a smile. It taught me when to push, and when to pull back.
It taught me that for an old guy, I’m in pretty decent shape.
The tinkling keyboards of Eminence Front drift through my headphones as Mile 7 begins. I feel like I could run forever.
In the three years that followed the first rush of obstacle races, I have only taken about 8 months off — that was to rebuild our house after the floods of August 2016. I have begun to cut back on the obstacle races. I still run at least two a year, but training like I did that first year takes a toll on old joints. Last January, I competed in my first half marathon.
I still love it. I’m just a little more focused on strength. Crossfit taught me that fitness is not about how you look, how much you can lift, or how far you can run. Fitness is about living better.
One mile left. Lynard Skynard is complaining about That Smell. I can’t blame them. Time to kick it up a notch and finish this thing. I cross my driveway three and a half years since my first run — 25 pounds lighter, 2 minutes faster, and more than 2007 miles from where I started.