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The Long Haul

I am writing this around the middle of February and I am thinking this is just about the time that many of the New Years resolutions have lost their momentum and people who were intent on making changes in their lives begin to settle back into the couch and turn on the TV. I find a similarity in the stair climbing events that I enjoy participating in. I see newbie stair climbers start the race and hit the bottom of the steps flying up the stairs and whooping with excitement, I think to myself that I will be seeing them again and sure enough about the 30th floor they are standing to the side, hands on their knees with their chest heaving trying to get more air. The problem is they didn’t respect the course they were running and completely underestimated the endurance and demands of the event. Stair climbing like all endurance events is about getting into the right pace and rhythm that gives the best sustainable progress. I like to save my WOOO HOOO for the top of the stairs to celebrate finishing the climb well.

I have a friend I train with that that has been running marathons for decades. He has been preparing for a 100 mile ultra marathon for months, during our training sessions he told me his plan is to actually start by walking the first couple of miles then go into a slow run. Can you imagine being an accomplished runner starting a race you have been training for by walking and allowing the field to get away from you! I believe the man is wise because he knows how demanding the course he is about to run will be to complete. Everyone feels good at the start of the race  the key is to find a sustainable pace that will get you to the finish!

 

I have people tell me with excitement that they lost 15 pounds last month and I encourage them to stay on it. I sometimes think that their excitement is similar to the whoops of the inexperienced stair climbers hitting the first few floors of a skyscraper. Making changes to you physical condition is a much longer more demanding process than a hundred mile run or climbing a building. I am convinced that if most people took on the task of walking from New York City to Los Angeles in the same way they tried to make changes to their bodies they would sprint the first 100 yards, jog the next mile, walk for a while then quit before they left the city limits.

 

I believe one of the keys to making changes to your body, strength and fitness level is to balance your effort and progress with sustainability. Do you want to make improvements to your life and health? Do you want it bad enough to do it very slowly? What is important is not how you eat for a day or a week, it is how you will eat for the next several years that is important. Having a great workout is not great if you make yourself so sore or are so overwhelmed that you stop exercising a week later. Don’t misunderstand that I believe you should not stretch yourself to do more, better and different things with nutrition and exercise, you just need to be very careful to protect good habits that you develop and keep what you are doing sustainable. I frequently ask myself “Can I do this the rest of my life?” If the answer is yes I keep on doing it and start looking for a little more.

 

Two years ago bringing the groceries into the house or going up 15 steps would make me breath hard. I weighed 340 pounds and did nothing for exercise. Today I will climb up and down as many as 10,000 stairs in a workout and will go up and down 3,000 stairs routinely. I got from where I was to where I am by starting very slowly, doing ridiculously easy workouts and making very small changes to my exercise habits over a long period of time. Our bodies are amazing in their ability to adapt to the environment they are put in. If we sit on the couch, watch TV and eat bon bon’s our body will get really good at doing that. If we walk, swim, cycle, run, climb, ski or lift our bodies will adapt and get really good at that in time. We can not control the rate of change of our bodies but we can choose the  environment we put our bodies in (on the couch or exercising), and we can also control how slowly and carefully we make the changes.