When I was younger, I was active. I played a lot of sport because I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the teamwork, I enjoyed being around my friends, I enjoyed the challenge and I enjoyed the feeling of running fast and playing hard.
As I aged, things changed. I still enjoyed the concept of playing sport, but adult life began to get in the way. The teams that I played with slowly disbanded, and gradually I became less active.
Not long ago, I began to realise that I was living a fairly sedentary lifestyle. I was working hard and hadn’t taken the time to think about the impact that a lack of exercise was having on my overall health. It sounds funny, but it didn’t help that I am apparently physically unable to “get fat” – while my body looked healthy enough, it was slowly starting to struggle.
I started running. I had no real goal, I just felt a need to get out and do some kind of physical activity. It was hard work, but I began to feel a little better again.
Then I Became A Dad
Being a new dad is tough. It is really hard work, possibly the most challenging thing I have done. When Hannah came along, I was determined to be there for everything. From day one I was to be a massive part of her life. I did that, and I am so happy that I did. I have a wonderful relationship with my daughter now because of it and I wouldn’t change that for anything.
While I don’t regret the amount of time and energy I put into those early days, I recognise that it did have a significant impact on my fitness. Running was the first thing to be pushed aside. That is to be expected I guess. I have talked to many fathers and the story is usually the same – exercise time all but disappeared the moment their kids came along.
Back On The Horse
The thing about newborns is that the quickly become regular babies… then they quickly become toddlers. I’m not sure (because Hannah is still a toddler), but I’m willing to bet that they then quickly become kids, then teenagers, then adults.
Time moves by fast. While my daughter was changing and establishing herself in this world, I was perhaps moving a little slower than I should have been. After just a few months she was well set in her routine. Yet my routine was not back on track. I was still putting my own fitness last, and that was a mistake.
Again, I think it is a common mistake we fathers (and mothers) make. If you are a parent, stop and think for a second – are you taking the time to look after yourself, or are you trying so hard to be everything for everyone else that you just don’t have the time to get active?
Hannah was well over a year old before I began to think about exercise again. It was a general feeling of constant tiredness and lethargy that prompted me to get out and go running once again. I’m not going to lie, it was a struggle. I was not the perfect physical specimen that I used to be (…why are you laughing?).
The Wake Up Call
As I said earlier, I have the good fortune of a slim build. In all my time of inactivity, I didn’t put on any weight. I may have become a little wobblier around the stomach, but really, I was still a slim guy.
That is a blessing, no doubt about it, but it also has its problems. It meant that I had no external indicator as to how bad things were getting with my health. I could keep eating rubbish and not really exercising, and still convince myself that I was in pretty good shape.
I wasn’t. One morning towards the end of last year, I was made aware of that in the most painful of ways. I was relaxing with my family, when all of a sudden I felt the most crippling pain in my lower back. It felt like bad gas, but I couldn’t shift it and no amount of moving about could get me comfortable. It was so bad that I had to call for a doctor to visit my home, because I couldn’t stand the thought of trying to get to the hospital.
The doctor came and examined me. To cut a long and fairly gruesome story short, I had a kidney stone and my lifestyle was to blame – too much junk food, not enough water and not enough exercise.
Small Changes Lead to a Healthier Dad
That was enough. Anyone who has had a kidney stone knows what I am talking about. It is the type of pain you NEVER want to experience again. The news from the doctor was not great – 50% of people who form a kidney stone will get another one within 10 years.
Not me. There is no way that I am going to go through that again, not if I have any say in the matter. And I do have a say, because kidney stones are really (at least in my case) a self-inflicted injury. They are (usually) the direct result of a supersaturation of calcium in the kidneys. Too much dairy, too much salt, too much animal protein and not enough water flushing it all out.
I didn’t have to make huge changes, just a few small things. Upping my water consumption was the big change – some days I wouldn’t even touch a glass, now I drink at least 2.5 litres. I also became more disciplined about the amount of salt in my diet – salt leaches calcium from your bones, which contributes to the supersaturation of calcium in the kidneys. I haven’t cut anything out completely – salt and calcium are vital components of a balanced diet.
How I Run
Diet and hydration were the key factors in the kidney stone, but the whole ordeal was a reminder that I am no longer 20-something, and I can’t get away with putting fitness last. If I’m beginning to form kidney stones, what other health issues may be lurking in my future?
In some ways it is alarming to realise that I am not invincible, but in other ways it is motivating. My ongoing health is in my own hands. It is entirely up to me how I experience the rest of my life from this point on.
So I run.
I run because it is the simplest way for me to get fit. Running requires no special equipment. At its most basic – running requires a t-shirt, shorts and a pair of shoes. It can be done anywhere, it can be done any time, and it can be done for free.
I have a not-so-secret weapon to help motivate me even further – the Fitbit Blaze. I was fortunate enough to be sent one for review just a couple of weeks before the kidney stone dramas began. It has been a huge part of my running routine ever since. It helps me to track my progress and set goals – more on that in a bit.
I also have a second secret weapon – Music on my phone. Spotify’s Classic Rock Workout playlist is usually the music of choice, I find that when I really get going, I focus on enjoying the music while my feet do their thing.
I currently run early in the morning, three days a week. I run first thing because there are no excuses then. My alarm wakes me at 5am and I crawl out of bed. I’ll admit I’m pretty reluctant sometimes, but once I’m outside and warmed up, I’m ready to go and happy to be there.
Small Steps – Setting Goals
One of the great things about a fitness watch is the ability to track progress and set goals. Before, my running was pretty aimless, other than the vague understanding that I “wanted to get fitter”. In reality, I had no idea what that actually meant.
The first few runs with the Fitbit Blaze were an eye opener – I wasn’t running as far as I thought and I was plodding along at a fairly pedestrian pace. I wasn’t really getting my heart rate up high enough to get a good cardio workout either. That was okay – it was a baseline, a starting point from which I could improve.
I knew better than to try and make big leaps. Experience has taught me that big success comes through setting and reaching a series of small and manageable goals.
I set about extending my run to a full 2km. Once I was happy with that, I extended it to 3 kilometres, then to 4.
I also focussed on improving my time. I wanted to consistently run at under 5 minutes per kilometre. Once I am doing that comfortably, I will again increase my distance to 5km per run. I now refer to my big goal as “Five in Five at Five”. 5 kilometres in a time of 5 minutes per kilometre at 5am. I like the synchronicity of the fives. Maybe once I am comfortable with that goal, I will increase it to 5 days per week!
Where Am I now?
I like to think I’m travelling towards my goal fairly well. I have set myself the specific task of running consistent 5-minute (or less) kilometres for six runs straight. Once I do that, I will move up to 5km runs. If my run this morning was anything to go by, that time is fast approaching.
Of course, I have my good days and my bad, so my efforts this morning need to become consistent, but I feel I am well on my way.
What I do know is that I am a fitter and healthier dad than I have been in a long time. I haven’t done anything drastic to make these improvements, just a few small, manageable steps. Running is now part of my routine. I look forward to it and it doesn’t leave me feeling sore or fatigued because I have gradually built up my strength and stamina. If anything, it leaves me feeling refreshed and energised – there is something glorious about cruising downhill towards a stunning sunrise with great tunes in my ear.
Want to join me in becoming a healthier dad? Good. Put on your runners and take some small steps.