March 13th, 2012

Audacious Goals of a Former Couch Potato

Thousand Steps in Laguna Beach, CA

Nothing will make your whole life stand up and take notice more than doing something you thought you couldn’t do.”

–Me

As I mentioned in my prior musing, Confessions of a Former Couch Potato, on my first day I could barely make it up the 11½ flights of stairs (218 steps) once and that was resting every other landing. My first goal was to get up all the way without resting. Then I made it a goal to do a Thousand Steps (the name of the famous stairs) and had no way of knowing how long it might take. I set my sights on an 8 week goal to go all the way up and down 4½ times – without resting. I reached my goal 2½ weeks early. Shocker!

So I keep setting goals for myself. More about that in a moment.

That doesn’t mean the voices inside my head have ceased. I hear “you don’t have to do the whole thing” about three flights up every time, no matter how many times I’ve done it. And there’s a likely reason for it: that’s when my thighs start to burn. My brain multiplies that amount of burn by the amount of staircases left and decides I cannot handle 4 times more burn.

But that’s not how the body works. About half way up each time I get into a zone. By the time I’m 8 flights up I am climbing without thinking and the burn is hardly noticeable. I feel better on flight 10 than I do on flight 3. Realizing that was a game changer. I can now ignore my discomfort on the first half, knowing it will be gone by the second half. Makes me kick myself for resting half way up so many times – I never got to feel that zone because I was always starting from scratch after a rest – if only I had pushed through I would have felt better.

By the time I get to the top, I’m no longer breathing like I’m trying not to die and my heart is no longer pounding out of my chest – which was the condition I was in a few weeks ago. But still, every time I have to remind myself of all of that on flight 3.

Another little conversation I have with myself when I want to stop is “Yeah, I know you want to stop, but do you need to?” The answer to that question is always no. (Now.) When I first started and my thighs were turning to jelly, I really couldn’t go on. They never do that anymore. (Unfortunately.) So I keep going.

When someone has a fear of heights or of falling, they are advised not to look down. On the stairs, the key is not looking up. The best way to stay focused is to keep my eyes only on the few steps in front of me – not the whole task ahead of me. This is good life advice that can be applied to any complex task. I don’t have to see how I’m going to do the whole thing. The only thing I need to know is: Can I do the next step? And guess what? My answer to that question is always yes. I have a terrible habit of extrapolating difficulties out into the future and getting discouraged. Climbing the stairs is helping me focus on one task at a time.

Making progress this quickly creates a punctuated awareness of how much healthier I am now. My resting heart rate was in the low 70s when I started (average for my age). Now it’s in the mid 50s (holy cow!). You better believe that feels different. A couple weeks ago my heart rate would shoot up to 180 by the top of the stairs and recover down to 155 within a minute of resting. Now it’s 150 at the top and recovers quickly to 130. My lung capacity is so different, breathing in deep feels amazing any time of the day. The body is an amazing machine.

So much progress happened quickly because I do this regularly – four times a week. I push for more progress each time I go, but I started out slow so I was never discouraged by sharp or debilitating pains in my muscles. When I went the first time I thought it would take me forever to make it up once without resting – it really did seem impossible. Currently I make it up 5 times without a break, only 7 weeks later. Now I can’t really say anything seems impossible, now that I’ve seen, felt and lived what is possible. This impacts everything.

So it’s time for a new audacious goal.

I’d much rather report on what I already did, than what I intend to do. But I’m going to put a stake in the ground and head for it, like I did before. There’s a rumor/legend that someone in the neighborhood went up the whole thing as many times as his age on his birthday. We’ve been talking about it as a goal. Jokingly, I thought! And then I started to seriously consider it, much to my surprise. The story goes that the neighbor spent the day doing it, resting in between, visiting the beach, etc. and then would do more rounds until he reached his goal. My birthday is 8 weeks from yesterday and I’ll be 49. 49 times x 11½ flights = 563½ flights of stairs = 10,682 steps. Impossible, right? That means I have to multiply what I’m currently doing (57½ flights of stairs) by almost 10. In less than 2 months. When I graphed it out, it seemed impossible (all the more so because I have considerable extra weight on my frame).

Blue bars are progress completed, Yellow bars are projected goals. Breaks in color denote resting.

As crazy as that looks, I believe nothing is impossible now. There are people who race to the top of skyscrapers. Eddie Izzard completed 43 marathons in 52 days after just 5 weeks of training. I’m just talking about walking to the top of some stairs, with a bunch of resting and breaks in between. Easy peasy. Right?

There’s an exponential factor that kicks in – and I’m starting to feel it. At first I could do one time up and it felt like the limit. When I first did two times up, it felt like more than twice as much effort – and then it gradually became the new normal. Three was a lot more, and then not. Four felt like quite a bit more effort and then no extra effort at all. Five feels like I’m just getting started and I’m ready to take off – and that’s where I’m poised now. It feels like there’s not a whole lot of difference between doing 5 and 10. I want to see where the limit of this logic fails. Or succeeds.

Let’s do this thing. (This message brought to you by an endorphin high.)

We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”

–Oprah Winfrey

Want to see how I did?

 

 

Discipline . Move