I know most of you reading this series are wondering how this can apply to you. My goal in writing this series has not been to create Boston Marathon runners, Ironman athletes, or triathletes. My goal in writing this has been to inspire you to take the first step; realize you are important to yourself and those around you, and make a commitment to yourself to start your journey. I began my journey several times during those first few months. The day it truly began, however, was when I made a firm commitment to begin and stick with my exercise plan and make better choices in my diet.
I must let you know that I am not special, despite what my mom always told me. I am no different than you. In fact, I probably have less will power than you. What I have done and accomplished, you can too. You don’t have to eat brussell sprouts or kale to get there (unless you truly like these). What you have to do to get there is take action. You have it within yourself to implement the change necessary to reclaim a healthier you. I promise, if I can do it, you can too. It just takes action.
I understood unless I took action I would never reclaim my health. I needed to make changes in my diet, and when I began my true commitment, I started making better choices. I stopped eating fast food completely.
I think it is also important to point out that I believe it is important to eat chocolate, dessert, ice cream, and to indulge yourself — in healthy moderation.
I believe life is fun. I think it is important to enjoy life to its fullest. If you make your diet a chore, it becomes drudgery. Reward yourself and make it fun. Instead of eating an entire candy bar, eat a mini candy piece of chocolate or have a smaller serving.
In addition to diet, I sat down and wrote out a real exercise plan. I made a commitment to follow it day in and day out and scheduled a day off here and there. Rest is important to recharge your batteries. As you become fit, you need less down time. I started small with a goal of exercising every day for a few minutes. I made it fun. I was flexible with my plan. If it was raining the morning I would get up to run, I would ride my bike trainer in the garage, or I would swim at lunch, or hike when I got home (I live on the Appalachian Trail). The key to success is to NOT negotiate with the voice inside you that wants to run two miles tomorrow instead of one mile today. Do not listen to that voice. Do not do what I did. Learn from my mistakes and save yourself disappointment.
Slowly with this plan, I began to lose weight. It was automatic. I began to feel better. I had more energy. I slept better. I wasn’t starving myself or killing myself exercising. I was having fun enjoying being outside knowing I was on a path to a better me. I had people noticing I was in a better mood at work.
Change does not come without cost. In my case the cost was changing to a better diet and exercising a little each day.
The benefits far outweigh any perceived cost. In fact, it will be the best investment you ever make. You are worth that investment.
My personal plan can be outlined very simply:
I cut out ALL fast food. I made healthier choices with my diet. I did not eat serving portions until I was full but rather, I ate until I was satisfied and stopped — and there is a huge difference.
Do not overeat! When you go to a restaurant, eat half of what is served and bring the rest home for another meal. The portions are too large. At home eat on smaller plates and don’t pile on food. I cut out a lot of snacks and when I did snack, I had fruit or a small yogurt cup. I carried a bottle of water around most of the time (still do) because it was easier to drink water than to nervously social snack throughout the day — and drinking water satisfied the urge to eat.
I cut out all beer and ended my hobby as a master brewer.
I sat down and wrote out an exercise plan and made a commitment to exercise 45 minutes per day, allowing myself flexibility to make changes as weather and schedule dictated. If I had something come up, I would split my day up into two 25-minute sessions but remained true to my commitment. I started off walking and increasing the distance each time. Then I began to run. I would ride my bike. I started swimming. I hiked outside on trails. I began to realize I was spending more time with my wife sharing these things together and, as a result, we grew even closer.
One Saturday in August 2012, two months after starting my health-reclamation plan, my wife and I ran a 5K trail race. I placed second in my age group! I am still so proud of that trophy. I made a new commitment to become a runner again. I was having so much fun being outside and thankful that I had the gift of a second chance that it became effortless. That November in 2012 my wife and I ran that half marathon that she first told me she wanted to run. We did it together. I was well on the way to a happy, healthier me.
In 2013 after 6 months into my health- reclamation project, I started really feeling and seeing the rewards of my efforts. I became interested…okay I fell in love with triathlon. I made a commitment to be competitive in triathlon. I ran 16 triathlons and 15 road races in 2013. Remember that marathon I didn’t want to run in college; the one where I walked off the LSU track team and never returned? I always hated feeling like a quitter because of leaving the track team. I had unfinished business to take care of, and in October 2013 I tackled one of the hilliest marathons in the nation: the Mount Desert Island Marathon in Maine. I found that marathon cathartic and rewarding and fairly easy to run and, as a result, made a promise to turn my sights to qualifying for the Boston Marathon at my next marathon. During 2013 I also became an Ironman. I finished the year ranked 61st in the world in my age group and became an All World Athlete by the World Triathlon Corporation.
I chose the Louisiana Marathon on January 19th, 2014 to make my Boston Marathon qualifying bid. I chose it because it runs through LSU, the very place where 36 years before, I walked off the LSU track and quit. The very site and location of my failure became the achievement of a goal, and I qualified for Boston that day with my family and friends watching and giving me support. I never doubted that I would qualify that day.
What else is in store for me? I don’t know. What I do know is that there are times when I am on a run and I get misty-eyed from the pure joy of being outside, feeling the wind brushing past my skin and feeling the power coming from my legs with each stride. I love the sound my feet make with each footfall early in the morning when it is just me and the road and nature. I love seeing my breath on a cool morning in the fall or feeling the humidity of the coming summer day. Running for me is the most pure activity. At these times on a run I realize the gift I have been given: the gift of a second chance. There is no greater joy for me than at these moments by myself early in the morning.
What I was, I no longer am. What I am, I will not be. What I will be is destined for change, for I am a chrysalis.
What is in store for you? The power of a change and healthier lifestyle is within you. You simply have to take the first step. Realize you are worth the effort, for your sake and the loved ones around you that care about you. Make that commitment today. Do not put it off like I did. Your life is going to be awesome. Like me, you are a chrysalis destined to be a butterfly and you will fly; it is within your grasp. You simply need to start!
Love Gently Live Justly Race Hard
Stephen Ruffin lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee with his wife Karen. They have two grown children. Stephen and his wife embrace the multi-sport lifestyle. Stephen is a Boston Marathon qualifier, Ironman, and All World Athlete. He is avid about the sport of triathlon and credits the sport with reclaiming his health. He is sponsored by TriBike Transport and competes on Team TBT.
He can be reached on his Linkedin page under: Steve Ruffin. Or you can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org