Back to Fitness: A New Mindset

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By John Andersen

One of the most rewarding aspects of owning a running store is getting to interact with people of all different backgrounds who are working on getting “Back to Fitness,” this column’s namesake. Whether coming back from raising three kids to overcoming health problems to just getting in shape for the first time ever, starting on a new fitness plan is really more like starting a new life plan, with big consequences. The future for these people is so bright and the possibilities are seemingly endless.

Sadly, the number one limiting factor in people’s success in getting back to fitness is simply their own mindset. And I completely get it. It is HARD going from “couch to 5k.” There is so much unknown, the initial work is typically very hard, and there are likely to be some bumps in the road. Still, we all hold our future in our own hands and ultimately we choose how to live.

Recently, a story I read got me thinking. It was an article on what “elite” ultramarathon runners do that the “mid-pack” runners should be doing. I won’t bore you with that particular article, but I thought of the more relevant point: what do successful local athletes do that our couch-to-5k people should be doing, too. I began to think on that and I realized every important thing I could find was not so much physical, as it was mental–a mindset.

So here is my list of what “local elites” do that “Back to Fitness” folks should also do. And who I mean by “local elites” are not necessarily the people who are out winning all the local 5Ks and half marathons. No, these are the people who have jobs and kids just like the rest of us, who also manage to exercise and perform at a very high level. These are the marathoners, the iron mans, the long-distance cyclists whom you know and work with or are friends with.

Local elites see themselves as athletes. Yes, they may be working professionals or moms of three, but these people have another identity: athlete. They are excited about and committed to the athletic goals they set for themselves. They look at their body as a machine and are constantly looking for ways to improve it. They train. They know that if they apply stress to their body, and then give it the recovery it needs, they will get stronger/faster/better. Back to Fitness people need to see themselves as athletes, too. Okay, you’ve got four young kids and weight 80 more pounds than you did in college and you can barely walk up stairs without getting winded–you probably don’t feel very athletic. But you need to change your mindset and look at yourself as athletes looks at themselves to gain a new level of motivation and commitment to getting fit.

Local elites work really hard. It’s easy to look at that 110-pound woman who is running down the road light and easy as a feather and just hate her, right? “Some people just have an easy time with this stuff.” Well, more often than not, that person has worked really hard to be where she is. I used to think of people who ran marathons as just freaks of nature to be able to even do that. Then I trained for one. And ran one. And I gained an entirely new perspective on what we are capable of if we work for it. Back to Fitness people need to work really hard, too, but don’t get down by seeing those fast, thin people. They didn’t always used to be like that and they work hard!

Local elites don’t have any time either. They have to be at work at 7 a.m. They have kids and lawn. They have to travel. But they find time. They make time. I am convinced that everyone has time to get fitness back into his or her life. Many times they have to cut out time-wasters like television and social media. Or sometimes they just have to commit to getting out of bed earlier. Local elites hate getting up at 4:30-5 a.m., but they do it.

Local elites consider rest and recovery as very important. They cherish sleep. They give their bodies a chance to adapt when they start something new. They are okay not exercising when they are sick or just overworked. But they don’t get derailed or sidelined for long.

Local elites see food as fuel. For many people, their relationship with food is a huge barrier to getting back to fitness. Many studies have shown that healthy eating is far more important than exercise in achieving weight loss. As local elites gear up their miles, they realize that what they put into their body truly does affect how they perform. Back to Fitness people should see food not as a reward or a punishment, but as fuel for their athletic endeavors.

Local elites fail. A lot. These athletes have only gotten where they are by taking some risks now and again, but everyone fails at something. Whether it’s keeping free from injury to performing up to expectations at a race, local elites fail and get frustrated a lot. But they don’t quit. Back to Fitness people need to realize that they are going to fail a lot and get frustrated a lot, but they should not let this stop their progress.

Local elites take the lessons they learn from training and racing and apply it into their real life. These athletes have been at low points in training and even during the middle of a race, and have somehow managed to come out of it and grow in the process. Those are some of the more rewarding achievements, those that were just as much a mental victory as a physical victory. Pushing their bodies and their minds through these tough spots makes them more resilient in your day-to-day life, which is surely also filled with challenges. Back to Fitness people should look at every failure and frustration as good mental training for life.

Local elites want to see other people achieve success! They are not hypercompetitive crazies! The vast majority of local elites are normal people who love to encourage others to break through barriers, just like they did one day long ago.

If you are a “Back to Fitness-er,” don’t let your head get in the way of your success. Give yourself some credit! Come up with goals, work hard, and approach them like the athlete you are and can be!

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