One hundred and fifteen miles–that’s about how much I have run since completing the Swedish 5K two months ago. That’s more than four full marathons, though admittedly I’ve run this distance at a 3.6-mile clip four days a week for the last eight weeks, far more manageable than taking on a 26-mile run in one shot. (Let’s be honest here: I would more than shit myself if I had to run a marathon right now.)
Since that morning at the end of July, not only have I run more than I have in my entire life, but my approach to exercise and eating has changed, too. I’m less worried about the number on the scale when I step on and look down, hoping–praying even, despite my complete lack of faith in a higher power–that it’s less than last time. My unhealthy obsession with that one number has made me get all Bobby Knight on my body, yelling and cursing at myself when I haven’t done as well as I could have–should have–even when I was trying as hard as I could. There were times when I’d stare at myself in the mirror and wish for another body, a little Ray Lewis in the shoulders, a little Tyson Beckford in the abs, a touch of Hulk Hogan in the biceps and triceps. But slowly, what looks back at me in the mirror has changed, and seeing this progress means I’ve been less hard on myself, becoming more Coach K than Bobby Knight, learning from my decisions rather than getting mad and throwing a chair at a referee.
Then about a month ago, I decided to stop weighing myself everyday entirely, pledging that I’d obsess less and work more–running, lifting weights, walking, continuing to prove to myself that I can do things physically I’ve never been able to do. I wouldn’t beat myself up; instead, I’d be encouraging, staring into the mirror and telling myself, “You are a champion” even when some days I wanted to say, “You are a fat fuck” or “You really shouldn’t have eaten that.” Obsessing less has helped me understand that some days I’ll slip up and eat a little bit more than I should or throw down on a dessert, (When you live with a pregnant woman, dessert is considered an entree.) but I can’t hold these choices against myself–I just have to learn from it and move on, run harder or bench more next time and let the self-hate go.
More than the weight loss and the muscle, running has empowered me to not hate myself, to not stand in front of that mirror and wish I had someone else’s body parts, or was someone else entirely. Running the 5k proved I could do something I never imagined, and continuing to run several days a week since has caused my confidence to soar to levels normally only achieved through hard liquor. For all too long, I lived a life of self-doubt and anger, regularly allowing fear of failure to prevent me from taking on a challenge and then being mad at myself for quitting or not even trying, but when I take my first step up the steep hill about a mile into my 3.6-mile jaunt, doubt drips away like the sweat from my forehead.
Don’t get me wrong though–this isn’t George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech. Honestly, the war is far from over, though now I’d characterize my weight loss as less of a war and more of a stand-off where I’m armed with low-fat mayo instead of a gun. I’m still 18 lbs. from my goal and considered obese by BMI standards (I’d have to lose another 40 lbs. to be in the normal range for BMI.), but I can say something that I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say in my life: I am finally happy, and despite the excessive sweating, huffing and wheezing, the complete exhaustion and the bloody nipples, I’m happiest after running, when I come home red-faced and worn, my arm hair wind-blown and bursting out from my tank top, and look at my wife, her stomach full of love and our future (Ice cream and tater tots, too!) and think, “I don’t deserve any of this.”
And then I remember I actually do.