May 17th, 2012

Beyond the Goals of a Former Couch Potato

Ramona Falls

On my 49th birthday, I climbed stairs all day long. By choice.

It didn’t feel like it was going to be my best day. In fact, it felt like it was going to be my worst day. During the hard days when I began training myself and then set an audacious goal, I was feeling a lot better than the day I decided I would be going for it. I banged a knee two weeks before and was still suffering serious stiffness and pain (in what’s usually my good knee). Sciatica was making it’s presence known. Plus, my birthday dinner was the night before – and we indulged in a 3 course meal of fun, family, fondue and drinks. Not exactly the prep one might do before a “marathon.”

Because of my broken body, my goal was just to get up and down the stairs at Thousand Steps (Laguna Beach, CA) 10 times – equivalent to climbing & descending the Sears Tower in Chicago. If I made it 14 times, I would set a new personal record – beating what I did an hour after I screwed up my knee. (Apparently I stay committed to working out no matter what. Who, me?!). It would be amazing to beat or even meet my former record, feeling like I was.

(But secretly, I wanted to make it 26 times. If it were possible.)

I didn’t think it was possible.

And then it happened.

Stairs Goal

I climbed (and descended) more than the equivalent of the tallest building in the world. Twice. That’s 28 times down and up Thousand Steps – almost triple what I thought I was capable of that morning. I would’ve gone for 30, but my battery died in my iPhone (no music?!) and it was getting dark. So I settled for “only” doing better than I thought was impossible. It took me from 10am – 5pm with a lunch break and a couple of bathroom/recovery/water breaks, but I did it. With a broken body!

Now, that wasn’t the 49 times (based my age – CRAZY) that inspired the original goal-setting. But when measured in buildings, I’m still happy with my accomplishment.

Here’s the tricks I employed to make this happen:

  1. Set the goal for a certain date. I loves me a deadline. (When you sign up to do a 5k or a marathon, you’re doing the same thing – committing.)
  2. Visualize the goal. (I looked up equivalent building heights to be able to “see” what I was really doing. Here’s some tall buildings to measure against if you want to climb some equivalent heights.)
  3. Track the goal. (I graphed my progress. It was just a spread sheet that I jotted a number in after every workout – and the data in graph form. I’m a data geek, so this really helps me. And on days where I got hard, I imagined what my graph would look like if I quit and somehow I kept going.)
  4. Monitored how I was feeling as I got closer to the goal. (Took it “easy” in the two weeks before “go for it” day. Chose not to add further repetitions. Basically listened to my body throughout the whole process, except for the big day.)
  5. Decided to do it. (I had no contingency plan. Not doing it was not an option. Period.)

Each time up and down I’d post a picture to Facebook of something I was seeing. The gorgeous beach at the bottom. The nice people working out. The stairs looking up or down. The bougainvillea or nasturtiums. It was a way of counting and having people with me via social media (Facebook, in this case).

Thousand Steps Beach Stairs Up and Down

During the 13th round a very pregnant woman joined me from the hospital nearby – she was trying to move her labor along with some movement. She slowly went up and down – twice! I asked to take her picture and said I’d send it to her so she could remember this part of her labor. She said she didn’t want to see any pictures of herself because she didn’t like how she looked right now. Because she was pregnant. This was so incredibly sad to me. I hate it when our culture imposes ridiculous body image issues on so many women. Be happy with who you are, where you are, right this moment. There’s no room for anything else. (Much more on that in a future post.)

I kept my goal as my own little secret all day amongst the strangers working out around me. People would come and go – everyone goes their own pace and ability – something I love about the stairs. Lots of people talk about how many they’re doing or how it’s going for them or other friendly greetings and chit chat. But that day was my own. My ego would whisper “tell someone” and my wisdom would say “no, this is yours.” It was my own soothing meditation – I was in a total zone. Everything felt different. I noticed a half dozen pill bugs that had fallen on a step and been trapped, so I’d pick them up and put them back into the dirt over the rails. I’d look for a stick each time I went up to mark my repetitions – and that became part of the meditation. What I was feeling in my own body became a distant second to bug and stick discovery. Revelation.

28x Thousand Steps Beach Stairs Workout Stick Markers

Even as my knee flared out with an icepick-like pain on the 18th time up and down I kept going (very slowly) and eventually got back into the zone again. That zone felt so good I thought, “I need to do this on my own more often.” Feeling solitude while doing it seemed to have some effect that was meditative.

My body was broke down for about a week after that day. Working up to my goal came so gradually, I rarely was so sore I couldn’t work out in a couple of days. Not so after this crazy feat. That means the typical schedule of climbing about 1/2 of the Sears Tower 4x a week (plus a steep hill at the end of every workout that I don’t track on the graph) came to a standstill because my broken body was even more broken. That’s not good. I decided that having the crazy (for me) goal was extremely motivating initially (constant improvement). This is why people train for events. But it can also get in the way of why you’re doing it in the first place: to create a regular practice of movement.

So, no more crazy goals. Just regular fitness.

Look at the difference between what I was able to do a few weeks before, and what I was able to do only because I decided to do it. It was a simple as that.

ETA: One of the many reasons I started stairs training was to improve my hiking ability so I could go where I wanted to go. I went hiking a couple of months later to Ramona Falls – a 7 mile hike with about 1,100′ of elevation gain. TOTAL CAKEWALK! (See first photo.)

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