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One fine spring day, not long ago, I took a hard look in the mirror and realized that I had become a wide load on the highway of sloth. The situation was not optimal. You see, I was 33, at least 30 pounds overweight, and approaching my first-ever physical. Climbing the stairs to visit the candy machines at work left me winded, which made it hard to eat my Runts. Then there were the vacation photos, incriminating images of a pie-faced man wearing my clothes and hanging out with my wife. I would stare at them and wonder, Was it the bad lighting?
Thankfully, the slide was arrested when a buddy in Manhattan challenged me to a long-distance fit-a-thon—an anything-goes, six-week crash exercise program that would force the two of us into shape before we embarked on a midsummer surfing trip to Ditch Plains Beach on Long Island. If I didn't do something quick, I was going to look like a giant hors d'oeuvre up on that board.
My "plan," such as it was, involved a cobbled-together routine of aerobic exercise and weight lifting. I threw myself into everything at once, thinking, naturally, that I would explode into greatness. My wife and I registered for a half-marathon, and I started running five days a week. I jumped rope 250 times after breakfast, played basketball at noon, and skipped another 250 times in the afternoon. I hit the gym and pushed weights around, though with little rhyme or reason. I ate toast without butter, sandwiches without mayo, dinner without beer. I gave up Chunky Monkey and Chips Ahoy and went to bed with my stomach coiling.
After a month and a half, my running peaked at 30 miles a week, my rope-jumping at 1,000 skips a day. I lost the 30 pounds and—because my fingers had turned bony—my 18-karat Tiffany wedding band, which was torn off by a breaker. (Sorry again about that, Sweets.) I reported to my physical and got the thumbs-up from my doctor, though I neglected to inform him that I craved naps, possessed no libido, cowered at most foods, and had dizzy spells when I stood up.
You can guess what happened next. I exploded all right, but not exactly into greatness. I was chronically irritable, and during the half-marathon, my wife and I quarreled for nine miles, pulled off our numbers, and hitched a ride to the finish. (No one had told us there would be hills.) After a month or so, physiological entropy returned like a bad habit. I hung up my jump rope, stopped showing up for hoops, and reclaimed 15 pounds. I continued to run sporadically, but never again with such purpose.
Maybe this was a good thing, this dark night of my fitness soul. For if nothing else, it wised me up to the importance—nay, the necessity—of a reliable, well-conceived training plan. As a journalist who has written for years on health and fitness, I understood that athletic training is a somewhat improvisational science. But I also knew that during the last 25 years, enough time-tested, athlete-proven strategies, techniques, and guidance had emerged that the editors of Outside and I could craft a truly multifaceted, effective program—one that would forge me (and you) into the best shape possible, but more than that, one that would keep me (and you) there.
You now have access to the result of our quest, a five-month all-purpose workout plan for the outdoor athlete: The Shape of Your Life.
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