So late last year (around August/September) I was overweight. Not obese, but I was starting to feel that if I kept up my lifestyle at the time (which included breakfasts of sausages, beans, eggs, and toast) I would be well on my way. At that point I decided I needed to do something about it.
Now it's worth noting that I wasn't just overweight, I was unfit as well. Completely so. A solid minute of running was enough to bring pain to my calves, tightness to my chest, and a shortness to my breath. I couldn't do a push-up, couldn't do a pull-up, and the most exercise I got was walking to and from work. I was hovering around 90kg and over 22% body fat. At 6'1" I wasn't far into overweight territory, but it was getting to the point that I couldn't deny I was getting fat.
When I say I decided I needed to do something about it, this isn't the first time I'd made such a decision. Like many unfit people I'd decided I was going to "get fit" a number of times in the past. Only it never really worked. Now I've actually done it I'm able to see why, I made a lot of mistakes. And it's easy to get discouraged when things don't go well and just give up, something I did a lot of in the past.
This time was different though, this time I had a goal.
I was going to run Tough Mudder by the 4th of May this year, as of writing that's three weeks from this saturday. Crazy right? A lot of my friends and family thought so, hell I thought so. But at the same time it's that goal that pushed me on, that nagged at me when I didn't exercise, when I was tempted by over indulgence. A lot of people thought I wouldn't be able to do it, and yet this only reinforced my will to do so. As a sort of "Screw you" to all the doubters. Heck I think a couple of my friends have money riding on whether I complete it or not.
Now I generally hate business buzzwords, but one thing that struck me about this was it was a SMART objective. That's Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-sensitive. And for once those criteria made sense to me. Instead of vaguely thinking I should "get in shape" I had a specific aim in mind, to become fit enough to compete in this race. Getting in shape or losing weight, while admirable concepts in spirit make for lousy objectives. They're not quantifiable, it's hard to strive towards a goal when you don't even know where the finish line is. Hence measurable, if I complete this course I'll have achieved my goal.
Next is achievable, make sure your goal is possible within the time you've allotted for it. Unrealistic goals only set you up for failure, and make you disheartened when you don't reach them. Naturally you don't want to make your goals too easily achievable though, otherwise there's not much to work for. Goals should be challenging and realistic. Relevancy is a fairly obvious one that doesn't need mentioning.
Time-sensitive? This is important. If you don't slap a deadline on it you won't work towards it. I procrastinate badly enough with deadlines, it's incredibly difficult for me to get things done without them. I had 7-8 months to whip myself into shape for this, if I didn't I'd lose my entry fee and I'd have proven everyone's doubts about my physical capabilities correct. And that's one thing missing from the SMART critera: Consequence. If you set a consequence for failure you're more likely to work towards the goal to avoid the penalties. In my case it was financial loss, I'd have wasted a not insignificant amount of money on it if I failed to compete.
A goal is not always enough though, you also have to find the means to achieve it. I talked before about some of the mistakes I'd made while trying to get in shape before. It wasn't just that I didn't have a specific goal with a deadline, it was that I was trying to do too much too fast. I'd try running and despair when I could only run a minute, I tried martial arts and found myself destroyed after the warm-up. In short I did everything except what I should have done: start from scratch.
This time I avoided that mistake, I tried a program called "Couch to 5k". It didn't matter if I could only run for a minute, because it didn't ask me to do any more than that to start with. It had me run, walk for a bit, and then run again. And then week on week it increased the time spent running and decreased the time walking. About ten weeks later? I was running for a solid half hour and covering roughly 5km in that time. Now? Over the weekend I did 10km in 55 minutes. Sure it's no 8 minute mile, but there's a gulf of distance between my ability to run now and my ability to run then.
And I felt better afterwards than I did after that first run months ago. Despite the fact it involved only 8(!) minutes of actual running and barely covered 2-3km (walking included) of distance. After that first run I was out of breath, sweating, calves ablaze. On Saturday? My legs felt fine and I think most of what took my breath away was the sprint I threw in at the end.
Finally one more thing that's necessary, a will not to give up. It sounds cheesy, but I have yet to abandon a run midway through. Oh there's been plenty of times I've slowed down a bit, plenty of times I've avoided going running at all. But once I've started running I haven't stopped until I've reached the finish. Despite many parts of me screaming in agony to do so. Heck, even the 10k run I wanted to stop for the first 5k. Just before the halfway point I was willing it to be over. My time was slowing from a little over 5 minutes a kilometre to 6 minutes. But after that? I sped up. The first half is always the hardest, and if you can avoid giving up during it you can always finish.
I feel quietly confident about Tough Mudder now. If I can run 10k in one go I'm sure I can complete the running portion of it. The obstacles break it up and no segment of the course will be nearly that long. I can still only do a single pull-up, but my upper body strength should now be enough to give most of the obstacles a run for their money. Even if I'll need a helping hand with a few of them.
If anyone is wondering I'm now hovering around the 80kg and 18% body fat marks, and I feel fantastic. Next time I'll go into what I did regarding diet, and finding a form of exercise I actually enjoyed. Because frankly I find running boring as hell.