10 Steps for getting back in the game

by Carl R. Ficks, Jr.


You want to run the race you’ve always wanted to run. You want to bike the century you’ve always wanted to bike. You want to hike the mountain you’ve always wanted to hike.

But you’re stuck. You feel like you’re running in wet concrete. Your legs are heavy, and you’re not moving forward. You also have a really busy life. And life has interfered with continuing, or chasing, your athletic hopes, dreams, desires.
You just want to feel the rush of adrenaline that endurance events never fail to provide. But it all seems too overwhelming to kick start.

Here are 10 tips to getting back into the game (in no particular order of importance):

1) Start Small: You may have one or more marathons, or halfs, under your belt. You may also have completed one or more century rides. But the finisher medals may be a bit dusty, and the t-shirts may have a few holes in them. That’s OK. You’re not going to climb Mt. Everest right out of the gates, so think “small,” like pigs in a blanket – little bite size hot dogs that you won’t choke on when you pop them into your mouth. If you accomplish one small task, you can move onto the next small task. Before you know it, you’ll have new finisher medals to hang.

2) Have a Plan: Commercial airlines file flight plans before each flight, and for good reason. They need to get from point A to point B, as safely and expeditiously as possible, and that does not happen without a plan. You should have a plan as well. Otherwise, you’ll be like a ship without a rudder – just tooling around in circles. Who wants to waste time doing that?

3) Go Easy on Yourself: When my first daughter was born, my father pulled me aside and said “go easier on her than you go on yourself.” Sage advice from a man I greatly respected. So I am passing it along. When you jump back into it, you will have good days and bad days, and the bad ones will likely outweigh the good ones. It will be hard work, but remember – there’s no miracle pill here – it’s going to be a slog. Don’t beat yourself up – if you’re willing to put in the hard work, you’ll be miles ahead (literally and metaphorically) of many other people.

4) Celebrate Small Milestones: If you haven’t run a BQ in 20 years, you may not be able to immediately lay down 8 minute miles. Do not be deterred. You just ran 2 miles without stopping? Congratulate yourself. Every step, every interval, every burpee, every box jump? Progress.

5) Compete Against Yourself: You have a big mouth neighbor, always flapping his or her gums about impressive race times. Who really cares? You certainly should not. This is about you – not whether you can run or bike faster than your neighbor. It’s really very simple – you only have to compete against yourself. And there are no mistakes here – it will be like a 6th grade science experiment, except this time, you’ll actually enjoy it.

6) Enjoy the Ride: In many ways, getting back in the game will be like reuniting with an old friend. It will feel comfortable, but it is also a new journey. And along this new journey, stop along the way. Marvel at the sunrise. Soak in the majestic flight path of a red-tailed hawk caught in the jetstream. Enjoy that flock of wild turkeys that irritatingly blocks the road when you’re in a rush, but really isn’t very irritating after all. Take a selfie in front of that waterfall you’ve always ridden by but have been too “busy” to look at more closely.

7) Block Out the Noise: Ignore the social media maniacs and shamers. Ignore the doubters. Blow off the haters. And stand tall when you bank each workout. Because you own it. And no shamer, doubter or hater can take it from you. And therein lies the beauty of what you want to do – it is YOURS!

8) Listen to Your Body: The body is a mystical and marvelous machine. It also talks to us. If you need a rest, take it. If you think you are hurt, go see a clinician. The “ostrich” thing really doesn’t work – the sand will suffocate you. Only you know your body best, and it’s the only one you have, so take care of it…and listen to it.

9) Be Selfish: The “stuff” of life is an infamous derailer. It likely derailed your plans to run or bike “forever.” Well, now it is time to get back on the rails. This is about you, so think about you and make it about you. The drive to take the first step has to be from the inside – you have to do it for yourself. External motivators work very well, but only AFTER you’ve started the quest for yourself.

10) Be Passionate: Half in, half out will not work. A “passing interest” also will not fly. Steve Prefontaine, an Olympian and perhaps one of America’s greatest distance runners, once said that to “give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” If you start this journey without passion, you can’t really give anything, never mind your best. And what’s the gift you’ll be sacrificing? The gift of recapturing that feeling of satisfaction, of meaning, of progress, of a task completed, of a mission accomplished.

George Sheehan was a cardiologist, prolific runner and an exceptional author. He said “not to yield says it all. The enduring, the surviving, does not stop with age. We may even grow more skillful at it as the years pass. So do not envy youth.”

Do not envy youth. So let’s get going. After all, we’re not getting any younger.