What does it mean to be an athlete?

I always thought of myself as a bit of an athlete. In high school, I was on the cross country and track teams. I even made varsity my senior year for track. However, as I look back on my achievements, I realize that I was just going through the motions. I was on a team following my coach’s direction for the hours that I was at practice. But when practice was over, I did whatever I wanted. I wasn’t drinking or smoking during that time, but I certainly wasn’t eating healthy. I wasn’t so much an athlete as a robot that went to practice and meets. My dreams of winning were as close as I ever got.

A few days ago, I finished the longest training run in my life. I had a 16 mile run in preparation for a 102 mile running race. The last four miles of my training run were nearly a limp just trying to get home! I just turned 34, but I don’t consider age to be a limiting factor from a physical perspective. From a mental perspective, I actually find it to be an advantage.

The race I’m training for is not part of some organized athletic function, but something that I voluntarily signed up for. Yes, I’m probably crazy signing up for a 102 mile running race when the longest I had ever run when I signed up was probably eight miles. I’m learning from my training (and thankful that I started early) that showing up is no longer the minimum requirement for my success. I must train and truly become some form of an athlete if I am to successfully complete this race.

The idea of an athlete to me after my last long training run is something more than somebody that organizes training a few times a week for a fixed duration. Training to become an athlete is now a controlled obsession. I must control my diet to get my weight to a reasonable amount to assist the rest of my body. Of the things that I eat, they need to compliment my training schedule to provide the nutrients necessary to complete my desired activity.

My controlled obsession must go beyond just my stated activity of running. I found out the hard way that 12 miles is my current breaking point. At that mark, my ab muscles start to give out and hurt! I’m going to have to do crunches and Pilates to strengthen up my core. I’ll by no means have a six pack when my training is complete, but I will be more capable of longer distances.

Training has shown me that the only thing in my future if I am to succeed is pain. At this point, I start to wonder if completing this training for an insanely long race is worth the effort. Then I remember how good I feel the day after a workout. People around me have a deeper respect for the dedication I have put into my training. Training to be an athlete is a sacrifice of time from my family and a re-discovering of myself.

Sacrifice and dicipline are the only two things that I have that I can add to get me through the process. I hope that my family and friends will support me as I go through this process. I’ll need their encouragement and support!