It Ain't Pretty


Back in August, I wrote about Starting Over. Now that some time has passed and I am only a few weeks out from the Tough Mudder I vowed to participate in (George and I are signed up for Oct. 21), I find it appropriate to provide an update on this whole “Starting Over” process.

Simply put, it ain’t pretty.

I would like to say that after I signed up for the Tough Mudder that I went all gung-ho on the whole working out thing again. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.. I think, at best, I’ve made it to the gym four times in a week since it’s opened. Basically I’ve gotten in between 12-15 workouts in the last month. Not great for someone who signed up for a file-mile, 13-obstacle course.

Not wanting to push myself “too much” to the point where I want to quit, I’ve been taking things lightly. Perhaps too lightly. And when I do a strenuous workout, it is short… and brutal. The whole time, I’m thinking “this sucks, this sucks, this sucks.” I suppose that isn’t the attitude one should have when working out, but guess what? It's hard!

One thing that was important to me in starting my fitness routine again was determining my strength baselines by testing my one-rep max in different lifts that I tested in college. Not only did I feel that testing would help me see my development over longer periods of time, but it also helped me determine how much weight should be on the bar for longer sets.

Losing It

Testing is something we did in college, too. I was generally with the group that didn’t mind lifting heavy. We were able to lift a lot more than some other people, but looking back at it, I weighed a lot more than others on the team, too. At the point where we got to weight room testing, I’d already gained the freshman 15 in four months, and as a redshirt freshman, I can assure you it was not all muscle.

Of course, some of it was muscle. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I met with my nutritionist to do body composition testing. I was still in the “athletic” range, but I certainly didn’t feel that way. Flash forward two years - I started eating healthier, and I took a more cardio-based approach to my lifting routine. Except I realized I couldn't lift as much, which really bothered me. I didn’t feel out of shape, but I certainly did not feel strong. Going back to the nutritionist for body composition, we found that I had lost twelve pounds. I thought that would be great for my overall fitness, as I felt I had been carrying unhealthy weight. The problem, however, was that seven of those lost pounds were muscle.

I had let my body begin to atrophy. I had stopped emphasizing strength and instead tried to emphasize skinny. The fact that this was possible even while I was a college athlete working out daily is to set up how much more this sets in after college. I had lost seven pounds of muscle despite a rigorous college routine.

Now imagine no workout routine. For me, this meant not doing a real workout for eight months. For me, this meant losing another ten pounds, mostly muscle. For me, it means everything I used to be able to do it a whole lot harder.

A New Start

Now think about how long its been for you. Six months? Six years? Thirty-six years? Our muscles are like everything else in life - if not challenged, they cannot grow. But the initial stages are hard - especially if you are like me and don’t accept that you can’t just start off at your peak anymore. When you start over, you start from the bottom, you build the foundations. In testing my one-rep max, it doesn’t make sense anymore for me to try to start with 95% of my old max. The reality is, my old 1RM is my old 1RM. If I want to get back to that, I need to start with my new 1RM. I’m starting over. That means old 1RMs, fastest miles, highest jumps are a thing of the past.

It isn’t a great feeling, but it is a reality. And the truth is, building these foundations isn’t pretty. Especially when your husband gets it on camera. But, in wanting to be honest throughout this journey of starting over, I thought I’d share some of these photos with you.

The work that goes into growing and developing is hard. Whether it is growing and developing physically, whether it is working to rebuild healthy relationships with family, whether it is working to develop a spiritual foundation...none of it is pretty. It all takes a hard realization that things aren’t the way they ought to be. It takes the work in knowing you have to face some demons that led you to where you are now, and having the courage to overcome them. In Starting Over, there is pain. It ain’t pretty, but I am confident it will be worth it.

Sarah Cullen