I didn’t go to bed last night overweight and out of shape. I didn’t take a magic pill before I went to sleep. It isn’t a miracle that I woke up this morning fit, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken a lot of time and hard work to get to where I am today. The efforts I’ve put into my fitness can be lost on strangers… “Of course, he’s in shape- he coaches CrossFit.” But I haven’t always been a coach. And I haven’t always been fit. The reality is everyone has to start somewhere.
I’m sure the experience I’m about to describe will be frighteningly familiar to a lot of people- the cycle of early 20’s weight gain followed by a fitness epiphany resulting in healthy and active lifestyles by the late 20’s is astonishingly repetitive. Just ask anyone you think to be “fit” to see “before pictures”… 9 times out of 10 you’ll be shocked. My story is hardly impressive compared to most, but it does illustrate the point: I haven’t always been in shape. Where you start isn’t what matters- the effort you put into improving your health and wellness is what counts.
I started about a year after college, at nearly 230 lbs. The long nights of case races, keg stands, and Taco Bell runs coupled with my sedentary, fast food lunch, 8-5 desk job had landed me exactly where so many people my age have been before: sloppy, lazy, overweight, and out of shape. I was unhappy with the way I looked and felt. To make a long story short, I decided to quit my job in order to enlist in the United States Army (if I ever write a book, it’d take an entire chapter to fully explain this decision). Before reporting to Basic Training, I did manage to lose quite a bit of weight mostly by dieting and a little “exercising” (looking back, I had no clue what I was doing). I suppose that was my first step towards improving my health and fitness.
Basic would be my second step- although a smaller step than you might think. Because of the way Basic is conducted in the modern US Army, physical training (PT) is not nearly as effective as it could potentially be, even for those of us who enlist in the infantry and have the privilege of attending Basic at Fort Benning, GA. Aside from the questionable nutrition served, the rigid PT program used at Basic is geared toward maximizing an Army Physical Fitness Test score (2 minutes of push-ups, 2 minutes of sit-ups, and a 2 mile run) more so than truly improving recruit’s physical fitness.
Basic did serve to kindle the fire that would become my first addiction: running. I didn’t enjoy running in Basic. Or in Airborne School afterwards- where we literally ran everywhere. But at least I was running. By the time I got to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC, I began to realize that like it or not, running was going to be a part of my life. I fought it for a long time- we tend to shy away from the things that don’t come naturally. But every morning, without fail, we’d be going for some sort of run for PT.
I never thought I’d be addicted to running. I’d never been a runner at any point in my life. Just 5 years ago running two miles would have seemed like an insurmountable task to me. But under the calm, steady guidance and encouragement of First Sergeant Joshua Carswell, I developed a hunger for improving my glaring weakness. It started with a 5K. Well… actually, it started with a realization that I’d be running more than 5K on a Saturday morning training run- and that maybe running a 5K would be more fun. Before I knew it, I was signing up for races at the rate of at least one a month. At some point I realized I NEEDED running- I didn’t feel right without my runs, and I was so much happier and relaxed after I had my endorphin release; I’d become addicted. And, as with all addictions, it began to grow. 5Ks and 10Ks weren’t enough- I wanted a bigger challenge.
That’s how I found myself signed up for my first half marathon- the Charleston Half Marathon- in January of 2011. 13.1 miles is the perfect running distance in my opinion. It’s far enough that it’s a challenge for me, it requires some training to perform well, but it’s a distance that’s still fun to run. I have no interest in running a full marathon- it isn’t a personal goal of mine, I have no interest in the time commitment the training requires, and I like to be able to function after races.
My running addiction would continue through the next year as I started grad school at MUSC. I learned to get creative with my races- to find the runs that had big post-race parties, the themed runs, themud runs… anything to get my friends to run with me. Finally, I came across a long distance relay race, the Palmetto 70. It was perfect- shorter, harder runs plus we were part of a “team” instead of racing against each other. I was hooked before we ever started that morning, and I still am to this day.
A funny thing happened that weekend- one of our teammates had not been running in preparation for the race. He would tell us during the race that he’d been going to CrossFit instead. Mark would later suggest as competitive as I am, that I would love CrossFit. That was all it took for me to sign up. I had been looking for a CrossFit gym near my house in downtown Charleston- I hadn’t been able to find one downtown, and I really did not want to have to leave the peninsula. We happened to stop in a running store on King Street after our race, where I’d find a little flyer for CrossFit Discovery Downtown– a CrossFit box that I could run or ride my bike to. By the end of the next week I had met with Robert and was signed up, ready for class.
I certainly was not “out of shape” by the time I started CrossFit. My time in the Army, and all therunning I was doing, made sure of that. But I didn’t walk in and perform workouts “as prescribed.” I had to scale. I used bands for pull-ups. I wasn’t squatting 400+ lbs. I had to start with the basics- had to master the mechanics (something I still work on to this day). I took baby steps, pushed myself, and came in consistently. Over time, my hard work translated into noticeable and measurable improvements in my fitness.
We all have to start somewhere. I started 5 years ago, unhappy, overweight, and out of shape. Through the Army I found running, and through running I found CrossFit. It’s taken a lot of sweat and effort to get to where I am today. CrossFit works. But it doesn’t work overnight. It takes time and hard work. If you’re looking for a miracle diet or magic pill, you’re barking up the wrong tree. You won’t wake up with a rock hard body after one month of CrossFit. It’s a process, and you have to trust the process.
I’ve never claimed this to be easy, but it’s definitely worth it. Fitness is a lifelong journey, not a race, and not a destination.