Getting Real

Until you exorcise the memories that keep you from succeeding, there's no point in exercising your body. You can be the best runner you can be, if you're realistic about your abilities and your goals


Posted: 6 August 2003
by John Bingham

This section is adapted from No Need For Speed - A Beginner's Guide To The Joy Of Running, by John Bingham. Buy this book!

You may be uncomfortable hearing that no one can tell you what your fitness goals should be. No one can tell you how much activity is right for you, what eating strategy will work best, or how long it will take to achieve your early fitness goals. It’s true that there’s no shortage of people who will try. Friends, spouses, and even authors of books are certain that they know what’s best for you. They don’t.

As a 43-year-old smoker with 80 excess pounds and a long history of overeating, I didn’t want to face my own reality. I’d gotten very good at ignoring my body and even better at ignoring my soul. Getting real was about the last thing on my mind.

You have to get real and stay real. You have to start by being honest with yourself, then continue to look honestly at where you are, where you’re going, and where you want to be. It isn’t always easy and it isn’t always fun, but the more honest you are with yourself, the more likely you will succeed. This is the first stumbling block toward a life of activity. As a friend once told me, most people spend their lives working jobs they don’t like in order to buy things they don’t need in order to impress people they don’t know. Most of us don’t have much experience with getting real.

What does getting real mean to you? What does getting real have to do with losing weight, getting fit, walking, running, and feeling better? It has everything to do with it. It’s like asking the question, "How do you get to Chicago?" It all depends on where you start.

Are you a former high school athlete? Were you ever in better shape than you are right now? Do you, as I did, have a history of starting on fitness and weight-loss programs with unbridled enthusiasm only to fail in a matter of a few weeks? Do you, as I did, have a closet filled with "fat" clothes, "thin" clothes, and "clothes that I’ll never be able to wear again, but keep just to make me feel bad?" Are you returning to running after a few years of inactivity? Are you motivated by the event T-shirts? Do you want a marathon medal? Do you want to start running in order to run or because you think running might be a means to some other end?

These are the easy questions to answer. These are the questions that you can figure out in a few minutes. But these are not the questions that you need to answer in the long run. Getting real means digging deeper. For me, getting real meant looking honestly at my thoughts and beliefs about myself as an athlete. I had to dig back into my memory and find the beginnings of my opinions about my body, my potential, and myself. The culprit: one excruciatingly embarassing school basketball game that put me off doing any sport for 32 years. That was it.

Exorcising the Memories
What messages do you carry with you about your abilities as an athlete? The memories of the "glory days" haunt some people. Endlessly reliving what it was like when they were in "the best shape of their lives" keeps these people from starting over. They can’t face how far they’ve fallen since they were at the top of their game.

Less athletically gifted people like me must erase old images, old failures, and the voices that convinced us we would never be athletic. The voice may be that of a sibling, a friend, or a teacher. If you listen carefully, I guarantee that you’ll hear a voice telling you what your athletic potential is.

Years later, most of us still believe that voice. We still believe that our past failures predict future failures. We cling to our childhood and adolescent images as if life were a snapshot, not a motion picture. Until we exorcise the memories that keep us from succeeding, there’s no point in exercising the body. It isn’t the added weight on our bodies that keeps us locked in inactivity; it’s the added weight on our spirits. The thought of ourselves as unathletic keeps us from becoming athletes. Our inability to imagine ourselves as runners keeps us on the sidelines.

Starting a running career or restarting an athletic career means accepting the truth about yourself. It means accepting the truth about where you are, and the distance between there and where you want to be. It means accepting that you may never achieve all of your goals. But that’s no reason not to achieve some of them.


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Discuss this article

Such a good article! It really describes what happened when i started running! It was amazing to read that someone else actually felt the same! I didnt realise it but actually running has helped me in so many ways with my illness, depression etc. Amazing to read stuff like this.
Posted: 12/09/2003 at 13:29

Good article! It makes you realise we are all only human and that our personal goals within the running world are all pretty much the same.I may not be the best runner but I get so much back from it and like yourself it has helped me through difficult times.
Posted: 12/09/2003 at 21:44

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