Becoming a Runner At Age 30

Putting One Foot In Front Of the Other

Pictured above: Definitely not me

I’ve been a creature of habit since my first day on this planet. For everything I do, I figure out what works and I stick with it. As an infant I preferred my dark brown teddy bear with the M&Ms shirt. I wouldn’t play with any other stuffed animal because that one “worked.”

Today my daily routine is built on habit more than any other time in my life. I always get up at 5:00 AM, even on weekends. I eat the same meal for breakfast every day. I continually re-watch the same three TV shows: Breaking Bad, The Office, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. (On a side note, if you haven’t watched Breaking Bad, you’re really missing out. It might be the greatest show in the history of television.)

I don’t think of myself as a slave to my routines. Not everyone needs to have a military-strict regimen like I do, but it works out very well for me. It allows me to spend less time thinking about what I consider less important, such as what I should wear to work, and focus more on the bigger picture, like how I can sell my boss on a new idea I thought of while I was tying my shoes this morning. (And to the therapist I saw as a teenager — you know who you are — who told me living with so many habitual routines is unhealthy and introversion is a psychological disorder, I kindly invite you to permanently relocate to a deserted island and never provide “therapy” to young, impressionable minds ever again.)

But my routines aren’t without downsides. For example, here’s something that’s “worked” very well for me for the past five years: sitting on my ass, eating junk food, and burning less calories than an arthritic sloth.

I used to be in great physical shape. I served in the Army for four years, and I hit my peak when I finished Officer Candidate School. We were human granite statues, all of us; our physicality surely could have only been rivaled by Army Rangers, Navy Seals, and professional athletes. For us, running 10 miles before breakfast wasn’t a big deal.

That was nine years and 50 pounds ago. Today I’d be lucky to do 20 push-ups without stopping.

I had a “moment” a month ago. I realized if I don’t start exercising, I’m not going to be very mobile when I’m old. I need to keep my body going while I’m still vertical. My “moment” came when I became completely out of breath after walking up two flights of stairs.

I decided to start working out again, not with the goal of being in “Army shape,” but simply being a healthier person. The problem is as a creature of habit, my current lifestyle doesn’t easily allow for an exercising habit to form.

I currently work from home in Nashville one week, and the next week I work in Houston, so it’s a 50/50 split between being home and living in a hotel — the same room in the same hotel every trip, of course. I start work no later than 6:00 AM, which makes it hard to work out beforehand. I usually work through lunch and eat at my desk, and quitting time tends to be anywhere from 5:00 to 6:30 PM. And when I’m done for the day, I prefer to be done. My brain is fried, and I don’t want to do anything besides sit in a La-Z-Boy recliner, wear sweatpants and an old t-shirt, bourbon on the rocks in hand, in a dark, quiet room. My adult responsibilities usually require more of me, such as paying bills and cutting the grass, but I do (read: don’t do) what I can.

This leaves the weekend to exercise. But to form a habit, I need something I can do every day, no matter where I am.

Assuming I can find a consistent time of day to exercise, what would I do? I’m constantly on the road, so I don’t want to try anything requiring special equipment (e.g., treadmills, ellipticals, etc.) — you never know what equipment will be available.

Lift weights? No — I may not always have a gym available to me. Ride a bike? (Think Schwinn, not Harley.) No — bringing it with me when I travel would be too burdensome. Play tennis? No — I won’t always have someone to play with.

By process of elimination, I decided to try running. There’s no equipment needed besides a good pair of shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt, which I can easily bring with me everywhere I go. I can make a habit of this.

Assuming I can manage getting up at 4:00 AM.

The author as a First Lieutenant in Basra, Iraq, January 2010. You know you love the ‘stache.

Only one problem remains. When I was a platoon leader in Basra, Iraq, I injured my right knee pretty badly when I slipped in some mud (yes, it rains a hell of a lot in southern Iraq, regardless of how you may picture it). The doctors said I tore cartilage off the back of my right knee cap and I’d never be able to run again.

I spent my last year the Army watching my platoon run without me, which was demoralizing to a lieutenant who was supposed to be leading his Soldiers.

Without any logical explanation, my knee has hurt less and less since I left the military. Would it hold up during a run? Only one way to find out.

Bring it on.

(Update 2 November 2015: My knee is killing me, but I haven’t quit! I’m working towards getting a new diagnosis from an orthopedic surgeon. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.)

That was almost a month ago. I’ve ran every day for four weeks, and I feel great. My knee doesn’t hurt whatsoever, and the tiny staircase that facilitated my “moment” is but an afterthought.

It’s incredible how much progress I’ve made. My first run was only a quarter of a mile. Now I’m running 1.25 miles, alternating between running for 90 seconds and walking for 30 seconds. My goal is to run four or five miles every morning without walking or stopping. I know I can do it, but I need to manage my expectations. The last time I “became a runner” I was 21 years old, and now I’m 30. I’m older than almost everyone in the NFL. But this only reinforces my need to get back in shape. If I don’t do it now, it will only get harder as the years pass.

I have a long road ahead of me (obvious pun is obvious), but it’s only a matter of time.

I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other until I get there.

Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, how much routine do you prefer having in your life? Leave a response and share your ideas.

Alex is a Xavier University alumnus, Army veteran, statistician, and tennis pro. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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