Fitness Is A Journey (Here's A Little About Mine)
“It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey to get there.”
Such a phrase is probably familiar to you and no doubt a bit cliché at this point, but as with most cliches it carries a good amount of truth. When we set out to travel to a “new place,” either physically or spiritually, we discover things about ourselves and the world. We expand our minds, and we grow important aspects of our wellness such as self-confidence, fulfillment, and perspective.
We stagnate by sitting still, but we grow stronger and more learned by moving.
When I decided to embark on a “fitness journey” in my mid- to late-thirties, little did I know where it would lead me. At the time I was a bit of a physical and mental/emotional wreck from years of taking prescription medications and from the withdrawal those medications had caused me. Here, for example, is a journal entry of mine from January of 2014, my last full month of tapering Xanax.
Friday, January 17, 2014:
Yesterday the physical pain was almost unbearable in the evening. Leg, back, neck, head, and abdominal pain made it feel as if I had been in a terrible accident. Today has been mental: unable to think straight, focus, speak with people for very long, feel as if going insane, unable to get out of head for a larger perspective, almost out of breath when trying to think. The feeling of unreality is bad as well. The feeling of not being able to do learn a new task, hold a new thought or maintain a normal conversation without someone knowing something is wrong is pretty bad.
As you can see, I wasn’t exactly feeling in top form.
So my fitness journey began with simple thoughts and simple goals. I simply wanted to lose some weight, regain some muscle, and find some confirmation that I was indeed still alive and able to function physically and cognitively.
I’d always been athletic as a youngster, and I was determined to get back in touch with that piece of my identity—somehow, someway. I knew I was still there somewhere, the “in shape Mike”—somewhere beneath the Paxil mush, the Paxil guilt, the Xanax fear, the Xanax pains, and the general fog. I just wanted to pull old me up from the depths, and maybe discover a “new me” along the way.
But at first, it was just one step at a time. It was just simple exercising to remind myself that I was alive and sane when I otherwise felt like a corpse or a basket case.
I forced myself to walk in the park. And then I forced myself to walk around the neighborhood with earbuds and inspiring music. I forced myself to do sit-ups on a battered old Ab Roller (anyone remember those?), and I occasionally shadow-boxed with music in the bathroom when the weather was cold outside (not unusual in Wisconsin).
I would do light weights at home or at a nearby gym, and occasionally, when I was alone in the office on Friday afternoons at work, I would even drop down and do pushups just outside of my cubicle. Again, I needed comforting reminders that I was alive.
I quit Paxil in late 2012 and Xanax in early 2014, and by 2015 I was seeing improvements, both in how I looked and felt. My exercise goals were still pretty modest—pushup and sit-up goals, along with some light weights or walking a few times a week.
But by the end of 2015 I did something I truly never envisioned myself doing. I signed my wife and I up for a local 5K run. We prepared for the event by going to parks and walking/jogging, and even though I had to stop twice to walk during the 3.11 miles, I felt really proud after completing the event.
And somehow, in the preparation for that 5K (or maybe somewhere in the walks, pushups, or sit-ups before that) the seeds of running had been planted. Who would have guessed?
Back when I was still only walking for exercise, one of my younger brothers said to me: “You know, at some point you’re probably going to want to start running. You’ll want to get the heart rate up a little higher, and you’re going to get bored with just walking.”
“I’ve never liked running just for the sake of running,” I said. I had always played a lot of basketball growing up, all through grade school and high school, and the running was peripheral to the thrill of the game. It was done in service of the game. You didn’t even know you were doing it.
But running three or four or five miles at a time, just for the sake of running? Not only did it seem impossible, it seemed … well, okay, it seemed impossible. Impossible for the lungs, impossible for the legs, impossible for the mind. Impossible to get motivated or stay interested. Impossible to understand why anyone would do it.
However, by 2016 I was running regular 5Ks and 10Ks (no walk breaks anymore) and I was timing myself while doing so (I was no Usain Bolt, but I liked to track my progress). Also, from late 2015 into 2016 I resolved to work out every day for a year, no days off. I felt that such a resolution would help to improve sleep, energy, mood, productivity, and self-confidence. I followed-through on that resolution, and the new commitment to "everyday" fitness did improve my wellness while allowing me to prove something important to myself.
I didn’t sign-up for any more formal running events (too expensive and too early in the morning), and I instead opted to find my own routes, at parks or by simply pulling over on the side of the road and running through random neighborhoods. Such freedom there is in that sort of running: No money needed, no predetermined route or sign-up sheet, and no one else as organizer or overseer of your adventure.
It’s just you and your world. You just put on your shorts and shoes and then drive until you decide to pull the car over.
You then slip on the sunglasses, set the fitness watch to start, and see where your legs take you. And in an hour or whatever, you feel like you’ve completed a true journey and become a new person. The mind is clearer and more relaxed, the soul has found peace, and inspiration is again coursing through the veins.
Exercise is never just about achieving some weight on the scale or looking good for a picture (although there is nothing wrong with those motivating factors). It is about finding yourself, loving yourself, getting in touch with your body and mind, and getting closer to God. It is about proving something to yourself, caring for yourself, and finding the inspiration and energy you need to live your best life.
Exercise, like healing, is never simply physical. It is mental, emotional, and yes spiritual.
In 2017, shortly after getting back from a vacation in Miami, I stumbled upon a book at my local library. It was about a man named “Raven” who lived in Miami Beach and had one hell of a running streak going on. He’d run eight miles on Miami Beach every day since 1975, and the really crazy part was anyone could join him on any given day. You just had to show up at the 5th Street Lifeguard Stand at 5:30 p.m. to be a part of the the day’s group. And if you completed the run, eight miles without walking—you got a nickname and became an official Raven Runner.
I couldn’t believe that I’d just been in Miami and hadn’t known about any of this. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t had the opportunity to run with the Raven. I vowed that if I got back to Miami the following year, that would change.
And it did.
In the winter of 2018 my wife and I were back in Miami, and although I was a bit nervous about doing it, I got myself down to Miami Beach, found the 5th Street Lifeguard Stand, and waited. Eventually Raven, and others, showed up, and even though I had to go to the bathroom pretty much the whole time, I finished the eight miles without stopping. And over the next few years, I’d run multiple times with Raven, and so would my wife and my 70-year-old mother (my Dad, after knee surgery, walked along).
Back in 2013, if you would have told me that I’d not only be running eight miles at a pop, but enjoying it and doing it with “strangers” on the beach in Miami, I would have told you to put down the pipe. Stop talking nonsense.
But again, life is about the journey. And so is physical fitness and exercise.
In the next couple of posts I’m going to share more about a couple of my runs with Raven—the scenery, the people, the stories, and the emotions—and I hope you find it interesting to come along with me.
I also hope that you’ll begin—or continue along—your own fitness journey this year. Get emotional about it. Get passionate about it. Get invested in it. Challenge yourself and find yourself. See how you grow and where it takes you.
Until next time,
Michael Priebe is a writer and personal development coach who has studied psychology, literature, and print journalism. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he graduated with honors. and over the years he has used both fiction and nonfiction formats to write about health, sports, professional life, politics, relationships, and spiritual issues. He puts out a variety of spiritually inspiring content at The Lovely Grind, and he blogs about his life at www.michaelpriebewriter.com. He invites you to find out more about his life coaching here, and he hopes you'll reach out to him on Facebook and Twitter.
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“I decided to use Michael’s coaching services because he seemed very genuine and trustworthy. After speaking with him a couple of times, I realized that I am strong enough to overcome certain obstacles, but also realized that I need not rush the process [of becoming medication free]. It was comforting talking to Michael about my withdrawal issues so that I could realize that what I’m going through is common, and it was also useful that Michael took the time to give me feedback in specific areas—like making a schedule and forming realistic expectations for myself. Michael gave me more useful feedback than a lot of mental health counselors I’ve had. Michael has helped me, and I hope he continues to help others. I would definitely recommend his coaching services.”
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Erikka, South Dakota
“It can be frustrating having to deal with [withdrawal] symptoms for months on end and getting next to no support from doctors or anyone in the medical community (people who for the most part are clueless). Simply getting a chance to speak with Michael—someone who has gone through what I have and is able to offer support—was comforting. I also really enjoyed his follow-up notes. They were insightful and helped me to consider things I hadn’t thought of. I very much enjoyed working with Michael, and I would recommend his coaching to anyone who is going through this process and looking for support.”
“Michael is relatable and non-judgemental. I liked his positivity and follow-up notes. He provided good support overall. I believe that if a person really wants to withdrawal from medication, then support like this, from someone who has personal experience, is invaluable, and for that reason I would recommend Michael’s coaching to others going through this process.”
Leanne – Ontario, Canada
"Because of Michael’s own experiences, he knows what serves and what damages. He helped me to control my intake of negative information, he made me more optimistic, and he gave me a sense of the “whole [healing] picture.” Michael is a good listener and his comments are very precise. I would definitely recommend his coaching to others going through withdrawal."
Miguel, Atlanta, GA
"I really enjoyed my coaching sessions with Michael and looked forward to each call. He is very easy to talk to and offers very good advice. Our conversations gave me hope and coping skills, and his follow-up notes and progress plan were very helpful; I reference them often to stay on track. I found it comforting talking to someone who has been through this and really understands the struggle. I now look at withdrawal as something that can be overcome, something that I can heal from. I felt very comfortable talking to Michael, and I would recommend his coaching services to others going through the withdrawal and healing process."
“I decided to try Michael’s coaching because, in his videos, he seemed so honest, relatable, upbeat, hopeful, and knowledgeable. I believe I got more out of Michael’s videos and coaching than I got from years of professional counseling. It is very comforting talking to him because it is like talking to a very knowledgeable, long-time, close friend. I have more hope for the future after talking to Michael, and that helps me to survive the times when I am feeling blue. I would recommend his coaching to those going through the withdrawal and healing process.”
“I really enjoyed the care that Michael put into every contact with me. I appreciate how he shared his own experiences, found out about my overall context, and made direct suggestions; it was so important to believe that I was not losing control of my mind and body and that I could carry on with living while going through the process. It was also helpful to set goals and a plan and check back in on these things. Michael’s coaching is very professional and authentic, and I would highly recommend him to anyone who is going through the withdrawal and healing process.”
Emma, United Kingdom
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