It's never too late

I love podcasts, especially those about running.

In a recent episode of my favorite running podcast, “Phedippidations”, Steve Runner, the host, described the remarkable way that our bodies regenerate. Our cells die off, only to be replaced by new cells. Our red blood cells stay with us for 120 days before they are cast off and replaced. Our epidermis is shed every couple of weeks for a new version of itself. Even our skeleton is completely replaced every 10 years.

As I thought about this, I was struck by how naturally our bodies change and renew themselves bit by bit. Day by day. Year by year. If our bodies can do this, why can’t we? If we are stuck in a cycle of couch sitting and pizza stuffing, are we doomed to live that life forever? Thankfully, no. We have a choice. We can slough off the old cells of a sedentary life and renew them with activity that will not only enliven our bodies, but our minds. It’s never too late.

I laugh when people ask what I ran in track. I had never been a part of any school athletic team. I was always the “bookworm” and I played my part well, studying like crazy with a pan of brownies by my ever-enlarging side. By the time I graduated from college, I had gained a good 40 pounds. It came on so slowly, I never really saw it. Only now can I look at those pictures and really see the person I’d become: a large, tired, slow, overweight girl with very bad hair and a lot of plaid shirts.

I’m not saying I didn’t exercise. I did the stairmaster religiously, every day for years. I fooled around with some of the weight machines at the gym, mostly those that simulated crunches. Occasionally I’d find myself jogging a few miles outside in my heavy, cotton Oregon Ducks sweatsuit and my yellow Walkman. But none of that made up for the copious amounts of bagels, “fat-free” brownies, sugar-laden cereal, low-fat ice cream, and, my most shameful admission, a six-can-a-day Mountain Dew habit.

It wasn’t until I had my first daughter and had to – for the first time – really focus on losing weight, that I started to change my routine. I eliminated some of the processed foods out of my diet. Not all at once, and not completely. I still love Diet Sunkist and will never turn down a bowl of chocolate ice cream. But I started paying more attention to what I was eating. At the same time, I started taking spin classes at the gym, and added strength training to my routine. Before I knew it, not only had I shed the baby weight, but I shed a few extra pounds, too.

By the time my second daughter was born, I was a fitness instructor and was already in great shape. But I found this second round of baby fat to be more difficult to lose. So, on a whim, I laced up some running shoes, and one sunny Saturday afternoon, decided to go for a run.

It literally started with a mile. Then I decided to run for 30 minutes. I got in the car to see how far I had gone and was shocked to find out that I had run just under four miles! I was hooked. I did a little research to find out what was causing the pain I felt in my knee with each run. Once I found out it was IT band syndrome, I incorporated stretches into my routine, and six months later, I was signing myself up for a marathon. I was 32 when I became a runner. A baby by some standards. A late bloomer by others.

I tell you this to show you that no matter what phase of life we are in or what bad habits we’ve cultivated, we can change. Need more proof? Here are just a few remarkable individuals who decided to take their life into their own hands and change for the better.

Ed Whitlock, a 73-year-old Canadian still runs sub-3 hour marathons. He didn’t start running until he was 41. Now he puts in around 100 miles a week.

Abby Ponce is a 43- year-old mother who started running at a young 40. She has now run three marathons and one 50K.

Jeff Le, a young 25-year old man, stepped onto the treadmill for the first time weighing in at 290 pounds. He ran for five minutes that day. Each day he’d add a minute to his time. In less than a year, he ran three marathons and even qualified for Boston. He lost an amazing 130 pounds.

Rosie Coates woke up at the age of 34 and decided she no longer wanted to weigh 300 pounds. She started running and is now 110 pounds lighter.

We are not made of stone. We are flesh and blood the moves and shifts with time. We can evolve and adapt. We have the freedom to choose our path and create the life we want. We cannot control what happens around us, but we can control how we will react and how we will allow our circumstances to shape who we are.

It may be too late to run a sub-3 hour marathon. In fact, for some of us it may be too late to be a marathoner. But it is never too late to take control of our lives and our bodies. Walk. Run. Bike. Swim. Whatever you choose, start now.

Shed the old epidermis and renew yourself, bit by bit. Day by day. Year by year.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24 Hour Fitness instructor, and marathoner who has finished 9 marathons, including Boston. She hopes to add another Boston, New York, and Utah Grand Slam to her achievements in 2011.

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