You can achieve whatever you want if you can harness the power of your mind. This is by far the most important aspect of fitness and life in general. Whatever shape you are in right now you can transform yourself very rapidly if you can get your head in the right place. Whatever disease or illness you have, whatever addiction is holding you back; smoking, alcohol, drugs, sugar, you can turn it around and achieve whatever your dream is. Nowhere is this more true than in fitness because what you put in tends to be exactly what you get out. As a personal trainer, I’ve heard all the lame excuses: injuries imagined or real, slow metabolism, not gifted at such and such an activity, too old now, kids get in the way, too busy with work etc etc. The truth is that if you really want to achieve something, you will make time or find a way to make that your main goal and you will see whatever gets in your way as a minor hiccup not a show stopper. And somebody please tell me again what is really more important than your health?
I will use some examples from my own life, not to blow my own trumpet again, but just to prove my point that anything is possible at any age, whatever your condition, but you have to stop procrastinating and making excuses and just take the first step. Isn’t there a saying that the hardest part of a 1000 mile walk is the first step, or something like that? This is so true. Once you commit to the goal you just gather momentum from that moment.
In my mid twenties I was a mental and physical wreck after a severe nervous breakdown. I weighed 7 stones precisely, drank neat whisky around the clock and had a 40 a day cigarette habit. I took no exercise and ate only junk food. I started walking the dog, began to feel better for the fresh air and exercise. Walking became jogging, then running. I became obsessed with running and within a couple of years was able to run at around 5 min 10 second miles, placing well in many road races and winning local fun runs etc. This is testament not only to the power of the mind but also to the unbelievable repair and recovery capacity of the human body. I was not a ‘natural road runner’, having short legs and a set of lungs ruined by smoking.
Seven or eight years of running plus the odd triathlon then, in my mid thirties I retired from sport using the birth of my son as an excuse. Again I let myself get out of shape (although never as bad as before). My wife is an excellent cook and I soon became massively overweight on curries and sugar and drink. In my early fifties I weighed around 85 kilos (a lot as I’m only 5’5″tall) and was again massively unfit.
Around this time I started thinking about triathlon again and had always been in awe of those guys who did Ironman distances, thinking them superhuman. I started training, joined a great club (Abingdon and Vale Tri Club) and began building up my distances. I did Sprint Triathlons, then Olympic distance. I completed my first ultra marathon (a 100 kilometre run along the Ridgeway), then finally, last year, the culmination of 6 years of training, I achieved my goal and entered the ranks of the superhuman (as I saw it) by completing my first Ironman distance – not fast, but that was irrelevant. I did it despite being one of the world’s worst swimmers! In two months time, I take on my biggest challenge yet – a 100 mile run along the Thames from Richmond to Oxford (probably twice as hard as an ironman).
When I first started training for these long distance endurance races, the distances just seemed completely unachievable. I would run for 10 miles and be dead on my feet. Surely I could never complete these crazy distances? However, I just kept visualising myself crossing the finishing line, proving everybody wrong and the training sessions got longer and longer. When I completed my 100 kilometres run I never had any doubt from start to finish that I would complete. I just kept my head in the present and focused on the next step or the next kilometre, never looking ahead to see the enormity of the task or thinking how far there was to go. What I learnt that day was crucial: there are no limits other than those we place upon ourselves – our bodies are like machines that can just go on and on forever provided the mind is in the right place. Knowing this made completing the ironman distance inevitable.
And I’m nothing special at all. Only yesterday I got talking to a guy in the pool. He was telling me about a race he was training for which involved running from London to Dover (87 miles), followed by a swim across the Channel to France, then a bike ride to Paris. Yesterday he did a 29 mile run, followed by a 102 mile bike ride and 3 hours in the pool as training. Talking to him, he looked as fresh as a daisy! Another friend of mine recently did 5 times the Ironman distance back to back without stopping. Anybody can do this if they want it badly enough, it’s only about motivation.
So forgive me if I’m not sympathetic if you tell me you can’t lose weight because you’ve got a sweet tooth or a slow metabolism or you can’t train because you’re too old at 40 or you’ll start training next year because you’re just too busy right now. You don’t have to be ordinary like everyone else, don’t let them drag you down to their level, aspire to be great, not necessarily in the grand scheme of things comparing yourself with others, but in your own mind, where you can be heroic and free yourself from the shackles of the limitations we all impose on ourselves. Believe me, there is nothing that gives confidence like completing an ironman distance triathlon. You feel like you’re untouchable, like there’s nothing you cannot do. You talk and others listen. It’s crazy really because it’s not that difficult to do, anyone can do it if they want it badly enough, no special talent required.
My own example also proves that it’s not where you are now that matters, it’s what you can become. People are judged by how they appear now – obese or alcoholic or drug addicted or whatever. But nobody stays the same forever – people change all through their lives for good and bad, but everybody, without exception, can transform themselves and it doesn’t take long if you really want it. If I can inspire one person to take that first step then this post will have been worthwhile.
If anybody wants to read about what doing an ironman distance race feels like, you may wish to look at my previous blog post here: