I don't remember the exact date, but I remember the time and place painfully well. I was sitting in my home office, working on a kitchen design plan. It was a weekday afternoon, late spring 2009. The Great Recession had killed my showroom job, but I was still getting some independent design gigs. My then-husband was getting ready for a business trip.
He strolled into the room, but instead of our usual kiss and hug goodbye, he told me he was no longer in love with me. I froze. I don't remember saying a word. I do remember sitting there stunned while he picked up his suitcase and left for the airport.
I was glad to have a few days on my own to process this devastating life change. When I was sure I was alone, I went downstairs to the family room.
It was a familiar spot. We'd spent most of our free hours for the past six years sitting there, bingeing on both TV and junk food. At that moment, as my marriage was collapsing, I realized that I needed to get off the couch, or the stress heading my way would give me a heart attack — or a stroke. I was 48 years old, 233 pounds, and completely sedentary.
Newly motivated, I started swimming again, as I'd done in college and grad school, enjoying the meditative quality of the water and its gentle buoyancy. I worked my way back up to one mile, three times a week, and this renewed activity inspired healthier eating to better fuel my laps. I shed 30 pounds by the time we signed divorce papers that December.
Over the next two years, I lost about 100 pounds. I also got back into strength training, working with a trainer who knew what 50-something women needed to get strong and stay safe. I'd last lifted weights in my 30s, and I was sure my workouts — especially with a pre-osteoporosis diagnosis — had to change.
But even though I was eating healthfully and exercising six days a week, I found it tough to keep the pounds from creeping back. It was hard to stay motivated to work out as hard as I apparently needed to in order to stay at a healthy weight. Being congenitally hypothyroid probably didn't help either, but my doctor insisted my levels were correct. I couldn't blame my underperforming gland.
Then, while volunteering at an obstacle course race (OCR) in early 2013, I noticed that the participants came in just about every size, shape, speed and ability. Could — should — I do one of these? I went home and found a local OCR group online to check out the next weekend.
That group inspired me to train in local gyms and on local trails with fellow enthusiasts and sign up for the shortest Spartan Race (a 5K-ish sprint) the following January. I had seven months to get physically and mentally ready. I never mastered the rope climb, but I did learn how to get over walls, army crawl, carry heavy objects up hills, and do burpees — lots and lots of burpees!
After completing that first challenging event (what the OCR community calls "losing your sparkle"), the biggest lesson I learned was that training and fueling for athletic goals was much more motivating for me than dieting and exercising. While most women my age were getting their mud during spa treatments, I was getting mine under barbed wire and loving the camaraderie and new capabilities I'd gained.
I was in the best shape I'd been in for decades and started looking for new event goals. In the course of the next two years I completed five more OCRs, one road and one trail marathon, and a sprint distance triathlon. I also summited Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. Each adventure worked my muscles in different ways, demanded different nutrition, challenged me mentally as well as physically and presented its own recovery needs.
I came to understand that recovery is not to be underestimated. During my Marine Corps Marathon training in 2016, the popliteal muscle behind my knee (one I never knew existed) started howling from overuse. Active Release Techniques got me to the start and finish lines of that race. Aiming a handheld massaging showerhead at the muscle helped ease discomfort too, as did foam rolling and using my yoga mat for stretching.
Now, having a bedroom that facilitates deep sleep helps me with overall recovery. Having a well-equipped kitchen makes proper fueling easier, and my well-organized storage area helps me get out of the house faster on race or training days. Realizing that my home can either support my fitness goals or sabotage them has been one of my biggest life lessons.
I'm currently training for my toughest challenge yet: summiting Mount Kilimanjaro for my 60th birthday in December. My recent arthritis diagnosis will make it harder to achieve the required mileage and altitude, but it also adds to the satisfaction of progressing from couch to Kili.
Even if the pandemic gods don't cooperate for 2020, I'll have spent most of this year hiking, rucking and strength training (via Zoom now) in ways that my 233-pound, 48-year-old self couldn't have imagined. I'll have new opportunities to hit that goal and others in 2021.
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC, is a wellness design consultant, Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach and the author of three books on design and remodeling. The latest, Wellness by Design: A Room-by-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness and Happiness (Simon & Schuster/Tiller Press), forthcoming September 1 (and available for preorder), shares how we all can rethink and redo our living spaces for physical and emotional well-being. Find her at jamiegold.net.