During the last 4 years I lost 18 kilos and I went from not being able to run more than 300 meters to running (and actually finishing in time) a 220 kilometers race, in 31 hours and a half. What follows is the story behind this process.
The intent is to share some real life facts and stories about how I changed – dramatically, one may say – during the last 4 years. The goal of this post is by no means to brag or to show off – I’m sure there are other, more spectacular stories out there – but to inspire and motivate normal people, just like you and me, to achieve extraordinary goals. So, prepare to dive in 🙂 In 3, 2, 1…
The Starting Point
Let me start by stating some dry facts: 4 years ago I was weighing 95 kilos, and I was 1.82 meters tall (well, II’m still 1.82 meters tall, that didn’t change). My body fat percentage was around 29%. I couldn’t run for more than 300 meters without feeling my head exploding. Nor that I actually felt the need to run anyway. I was very sedentary and my favorite pastime was sitting on the couch and watching movies. Or soccer games. Or reading. Or Discovery documentaries for hours and hours and hours. But all of the above while sitting.
I was also quite depressed, trying to understand – and face – some other disturbing events from my life, like my second divorce and a drastic, “totally unexpected” drop in my financial status.
Just 2 years before that moment, I was a successful online entrepreneur, I knew how a 5 zeroes account in USD or EUR looked like (and how it can be used, or abused) and, generally, speaking, I was doing quite well financially. But in just 2 years, my revenue (and the value of the properties I owed) dropped dramatically, as a consequence of the real estate marked meltdown. I’m touching these two secondary aspects (my relationship and financial status) just as connecting factors for the losing weight story, they’re not directly related to this (you’ll see more about the reasons I’m talking about them at the end of the article).
No matter how hard I try, I can’t isolate “that” moment when I decided to run. Maybe because there were more than one. I know for sure that I took this decision at least a dozen of times. As with all our resolutions and habit creation attempts, the path is never straight. It never goes from A to B directly. It’s nonlinear.
But what I do remember was the first day that I actually ran. I went in the park, all equipped and stuff, with a brand new running app fired up on my iPhone, took a deep breath and started. I ran 300 meters and then stopped, on the verge of choking. And I mean it. Choking like in not being able to breathe, head exploding, face all red and stuff. It was bad.
I walked for a few hundred meters and then tried to run again. This time I ran around 200 meters (less than the first time, anyway), and stopped before the choking limit.
And then I went home. It was enough.
But then in a few days I went running again, although I sucked big time. It wasn’t a lifestyle yet, on the contrary. As a matter of fact, I actually had to make time for it, to squeeze it in my daily schedule of being miserable. On top of being normally miserable, I added being miserable because of running.
I know it sounds strange now, but, with respect to the truth, this is how it actually was.
In a few weeks I made it to the first kilometer. Like in the first kilometer ran continuously, without stopping. That must have been a very good day, because I celebrated it with a few beers. And, probably, a week off from running. Now I can do 1 kilometer man. I’m good. I deserve some rest.
And then I started to make small, tedious progress. 1.2 kilometers, then in a few days 1.5 kilometers and so on.
One of these days, I saw on the Internet an ad about a triathlon competition at the seaside. It was something about bloggers. At that time I was still heavily identifying myself with this concept, of being a blogger, so I thought I should give it a try. Of course, it wasn’t about the whole deal, just the running part. It was a relay participation and I took the running part.
I signed up, I went there and I ran. In my team there was a much more advanced athlete (I don’t know why I got so lucky, but, again, this is how it happened). He ran with me the whole 5 kilometers (which seemed like a huge, huge deal, for me, the longest distance being 3 or 4 kilometers for me at the time). He also made the cycling part very fast and he almost dragged me after him during the run. I reached the finish in a very damaged state (both mentally and emotionally). But it was my first official race.
In a few hours the organizers announced the podium, and, to my surprise, our team came in the second place. Because of the other guy, of course, not because of me. So, I actually got to go on stage and get a medal. It was very, very strange.
In a burst of over-confidence, I subscribed to my first marathon, which was in less than one month.
“I will have time to train, there are more than 3 weeks until then”, I said to myself.
The First Marathon
Of course I didn’t have time to train. It is impossible to train for a marathon in just 3 weeks. It’s not impossible to finish a marathon if you train only 3 weeks, as we will see in a moment, but for proper training, and in order to avoid the ordeal to which I subjected myself, you need more than 3 weeks. Anyway, the longest race before the marathon was only 15 kilometers and I felt it very hard.
At this stage I had a few information about nutrition (but very scarce) and sport drinks and gels. But I also had an attitude of “I know stuff, I don’t have to learn”. Which made me not to apply even the little things I knew. I even had some sport drinks and one gel with me, during the marathon, but I didn’t use any of it.
Everything went ok at that marathon, until kilometer 26, when I found myself unable to move. Until there I was running slowly, but constantly and I was advancing steadily. But then I hit the wall. Literally, it was like I took a hit from a train. All of a sudden: “poof”, and I couldn’t run anymore. The good news was that I could walk.
So I started to walk. Eventually, after many walk-run reprises, after 5 hours and 20 minutes, I finished my first marathon. I was drained.
I was able to function normally only after 48 hours (that’s how long the recovery process took) and I had black toenails for 6 months. I’m sure a lot of this pain could have been avoided with proper training and especially with proper nutrition and hydration.
But anyway, in terms of psychological awareness, this was the main “click”. The next day, after seeing myself in the mirror I realized I just finished a marathon. I was still hurting a lot, I was still feeling miserable, but, somehow, through this solid appearance of depression and unworthiness, a small light was creeping in. The light that was saying: “you’re actually ok. Or even more than ok. You can actually finish a marathon. Almost crawling, almost missing the time limit, but you finished it.”
And from that point on, I made running a habit. It took me more than 6 months from the moment I started.
How To Lose Weight – And When This Happens
Now, there is a very important information about the moment when I actually started to lose weight. If you look at the picture from my first marathon, you’ll see that I was quite chubby. And the reason is that in the first 6 months of running I almost didn’t lose any weight at all. I know it’s not a very good news, especially if you’re after some magical, fast way to shred off some fat, but that’s, again, the truth. There are many reasons for that, we won’t go into details right now.
I started to lose weight a few months after the first marathon. I think it was exactly one year since I started to run. That’s how long it took me. But the actual process of losing weight happened very fast, it was a matter of weeks in which, suddenly, my metabolism made a big switch. It seemed like finally, seeing that can’t negotiate any deal with me, my body resigned and adapted. “Ok, it looks like I’m not going to get away with this, so I may as well lose that weight and adapt”. Sort of.
For the next year, I continued to increase my training in small steps. In the summer of 2014 I ran my first ultra-marathon (60k). After this, I signed up for a 220 km race in Hungary, this year. It happened in Hungary and the story of it could be a book in itself.
Now, during this 4 years, let’s see what worked, what made the habit stick, what made me become a runner.
1. Small Steps
Every time I tried to be conscious about the process and to enjoy it, it worked really well. When I was focusing on small, manageable parts, things were great. As a matter of fact, that’s how it all come to life: through small steps. As you already read, when I tried to accomplish enormous tasks, like running a marathon with only 3 weeks of training, although I made it, the overall result wasn’t very happy.
And we’re not talking about being an overachiever here, that’s not the goal. I don’t think that having a “I can do whatever I want, no matter the consequences” attitude is going to provide a fulfilling life. On the contrary. The cost of trying to make too big of a step can be very high, especially if we talk about physical activities. In much simpler words, there’s no gain in finishing a marathon if after that you spend 6 months recovering. It simply doesn’t make any sense.
The vast majority of my trainings are happening in the morning, between 5 and 8 AM. There were a few exceptions, when I trained for a race potentially longer than 24 hours when I ran at various times of the day, just to adjust my body with that situation, but, overall, I run very early in the morning.
That means that I had to incorporate another habit in my routine: getting up early. And that needs discipline. It won’t happen by itself. You have to work at it. And the same goes for any another aspect of keeping a healthy and balanced lifestyle: you need to actively work at it. You need to be disciplined.
3. Groups of Like-Minded People
A year ago I realized that my progress as a runner will be faster if I’ll join a community or a group of like-minded people. The moment I decided that, I received an invitation to join a running coaching program, called CIA (no link whatsoever with what you think, obviously).
The fact that you surround yourself with people having the same preoccupations, same goals, same values, counts enormously. The shared energy will help you go through some down stages very well. Even if you don’t feel like running, if you promised to somebody you’ll join them, then you’ll get up and go meet them.
What Didn’t Work
There were also a few approaches that didn’t work as expected, here are just 3 of them.
1. Wanting Too Much, Too Fast
I already wrote about it above. I won’t go through it again, but I find it so important that I thought it will be worthwhile to mention it twice.
And I could also add something: listen to your body. If it is too much, too fast, your body will tell it to you, somehow. Don’t wait until you get injured.
2. Not Having a Specific Goal
For the first few months, my running was chaotic. The moment I decided to sign up for that triathlon, things got into shape. And they continued to stay into shape as long as I was putting goals ahead them.
It doesn’t matter if the next goal is bigger than the last one. What counts is to have a direction. To know where you’re going.
3. Mixing Lifestyles
During the autumn-winter of 2013-2014 I had a small slippage. A few occasional clubbing nights and the accompanying beers and cigarettes took me off the market for almost half a year. I started to go out almost every weekend – the reason being, of course, that I was enjoying it. I don’t regret the partying and the fun, but I had to learn that once you choose a certain lifestyle, you have to keep choosing it over and over, otherwise you will miss the results.
It’s not like you can get out every weekend partying and then run a marathon every month and 2-3 ultra-marathons per year. It just doesn’t work like this. You have to make a choice. And stick to it.
The Current Status
As of July 2015, 4 years after I started all this running thing, I’m weighing 76.5 kilos, for 1.82 meters of height (told you I didn’t get taller) and my body fat percentage is at around 17-18% percent. I run 3-4 times a week and I’m constantly taking part in running competitions.
A couple of months ago I finished my first 220km ultra-marathon, (Ultrabalaton – The Aftermath), in 31 and a half hours, and I aim for an even longer and more difficult race for the next year, called Spartathlon (245 km).
Until then, I keep and attend to a running calendar of shorter events, like semi-marathons and marathons.
The Collateral Benefits
Well, that was my “how to lose weight” story. But wait, I think there was more at the beginning of the article. What about the post-divorce depression? What about my financial meltdown?
Well, the post-divorce depression… Let’s call it like this, but it was more like a deep confusion about how things work, confusion which made me interpret everything that was happening to me in very disturbing ways. Whatever we may call it, that thing badly affected my self-esteem and my overall feeling of unworthiness as a reliable partner.
To make a long story (very) short, after a while, this thing gently started to fade away, as the running schedule started to kick in.
I wouldn’t say that the running had a direct impact over it, or that the running “cured” it in some magical way. Nope. I did have my fair share of ups and downs, of one night stands and failed relationships since then, but, overall, my self-worth and relationship “worthiness” are normal again. I went over the blame, guilt and resentment. I went over the sadness and all the feelings of inadequacy. I can relate normally again to another potential partner. As a matter of fact, I think I learned a lot about how to relate to a potential partner, especially in the “friendship” department. And all this “curing” was somehow natural, organic.
But, to be completely honest, the main cause for this improvement was the continuum of little pieces of self-esteem built up during my training sessions, milestone after milestone, race after race, marathons after ultra-marathons. Piece by piece, I built a new playground for my emotional expression. I felt good about myself again, without the need for a partner who could validate me. So, running in itself didn’t act like a cure, but it set up the context so I can start curing myself.
Now I’m not close friend with my ex-wife, but we’re not enemies either. We respect each other, we can talk, we can make plans and stick to them (especially when it comes to our kid) and we can solve problems, if they arise. We just have a normal relationship, like two people who shared good times at some points in their lives and who now share the responsibility of a child. And it’s great.
Financially, well, I’m still struggling. I’m better than I was 4 years ago, but not significantly better. This is partly due to the fact that there are a lot of factors I can’t directly influence here. For instance, I can’t influence directly the real estate market. I can’t make the price of real estate higher if I just run faster. Or farther. It just won’t happen. It doesn’t work like this.
So this area is improving slower than the physical and emotional fitness. Nevertheless, I see progress here as well, and that’s all I want to see right now.
I’m over big expectations and dreams. In terms of money, I know how it is to ride big horses and, for a while, I admit it was fun. But I don’t want to do it again, at least not using the same approaches and principles as I did before.
If I’ll go ride big horses again, I’ll be more relaxed and more attentive to the long-term consequences of my moves. I may also start slower, without bells and whistles. I will stop often and look how far I came and, if need will be, I may stop entirely for a while, just to enjoy the scenery. I will be very careful about resources and wouldn’t try anything spectacular, just for the show. I may even let other runners pass me by, and I’d always do it with a smile.
I will pick the best strategy that I can think of, taking into account everything I know, and then, after deciding exactly what I have to do, I will just focus on my next move only, and be happy every time I reach a milestone, no matter how small.
I’ll do exactly how I do when I ran my ultra-marathons.
Running For My Life - from zero to ultramarathoner
The spooky thing about depression is that it sneaks in. There aren’t really trumpets and loud voices announcing: “Hail, hail, this is depression entering the room, all rise!” Nope. It’s slow, silent, creepy. It doesn’t even look like depression. It starts with small isolation thoughts like: “Maybe I shouldn’t get out today, I just don’t feel like going out”. And then it does the same next day. And then the day after that and so on. And then it starts to whisper louder and louder in your ears: “Why would you go outside, you loser? Didn’t have enough yet? Want more people to make fun of how much of a big, fat loser you are?”
And then you start to breath in guilt and shame, instead of air. Every breathe you take is putting more dark thoughts into your body.
Until you get stuck. You can’t move anymore. At all.
If you want to know how I got out of this space, eventually, check out my latest book on Amazon and Kindle.