I never thought the day would come. I told myself I would never be one of them. But before I knew what had happened it was too late. The trap had sprung.
Over the two months of November and December 2017, I trained 28 days out of an available 58. That’s a 48% grade if you’re counting. For some, that may not seem worthy of any anxiety, but measured against the past two decades of my life, I’d flunked the final months of the year.
I hadn’t been that undisciplined since my first year of university when I packed on 30 pounds in 4 months. And we’re not talking good weight. At the age of 19, it was a hard but important lesson learned. A lesson that for nearly 20 years has kept me honest and committed to a very regular training regimen.
This time, the descent into laziness was more insidious. My weight was relatively unchanged. I might have become a touch soft around the edges but when I did train, I still felt “fit”. I could still move some decent weight and trail run or hike with a loaded pack at a decent clip. My clothes still fit just fine. But something had changed.
Worse, I was caught by surprise. I knew I’d been slacking…but this much? It wasn’t until early January, when I sat down to analyze and reflect on the past year, that I realized I’d begun to slide down the slippery slope of middle-aged manhood. The reality captured in my training log was undeniable, and the trend was not positive. Of those 28 training days, most occurred in November and early December. There was no escaping the truth regardless of how many times I counted and re-counted the training days. The numbers didn’t lie. And then the harshest reality of all hit home: I didn’t care. The fire that had been burning for the better part of two decades had been snuffed out.
At first, I told myself the reasons for slacking off were more than justifiable. Family commitments, the demands of a growing and expanding business, the shorter days of winter. But the truth quickly became clear, I just didn’t care anymore. I’d become the man I told myself I never would. One of them. A man that looked at his busy schedule and decided that training wasn’t essential to his life. That exercise wasn’t going to help put food on the table this week, provide materially for his wife and children, help meet his work deadlines, or—to be blunt—get him laid. You may even be nodding your head at this point. They were all valid and defensible reasons.
There were far more important and urgent things to focus on. Things that mattered more than some vain notion of fitness or—as hard as it is for me to admit—some performance oriented goal that no longer motivated me. I’d seen for myself time and again that when push came to shove, grit mattered more than being fit and you either had it or you didn’t. I’d tested myself on enough occasions to know that I could draw on a healthy store of grit when the time came, or at least enough to get me through a tough mountain hunt. My primary reasons for training were centered around my hunting goals, so…why bother?
The first few weeks of 2018, have been interesting to say the least. For the first time in almost two decades, I have found myself asking that very question: Why bother? Why should I set aside the time to train with any decent regularity when I have so many other responsibilities to juggle? Why should I care? I’ve been on enough hunts to know what it takes. Why not just do the absolute bare minimum and train when I can and not worry about it when I can’t? Why force myself to do something I don’t have time for at this stage of my life? I’ll be 38 in less than two weeks. I have two kids under the age of 5. Life is too short to spend priceless time on something that doesn’t produce a tangible benefit for my family or my business. As sure as the night is dark, I had become one of them. A modern man without a physical North Star. A man that had accepted the conventional wisdom of modern life. That an above average level of physical fitness was a nice to have, not a need to have. Don’t most men knocking on the door of 40 find themselves in similar situations? I’m not a professional athlete. Why bother?
And this my dear reader, brings us to the answer to that question. Why bother? Because modern life is soft. Do we need to train anymore? The answer, unequivocally is no. But does the wolf kept in captivity need to kill for its food? Take him out of his cage and he’s still a killer. The figurative zoos most of us find ourselves in are no less real for not having fences. Our killer instincts are slowly but surely being peeled away every damned day. But unlike the wolf, we too easily forget where we came from.
Training is not about appearance and it is not about performance. Those are byproducts of a dedicated program, no doubt. But those are insufficient to maintain your motivation over a lifetime. Trust me, I’m living that reality as I write this article.
Why bother? Because it is the only way to find out what I’m made of. Am I a wolf or a fluffy, yapping, domesticated lapdog that only exists because it feeds at the trough of modern existence?
Training is the only way to hone my killer instincts on a regular basis. To prove to myself—and no one else—that I can still cut it outside the cage of modern life. Anyone can grit it out for a single event or trip. Anyone can “peak” when everything goes right. Anyone can find the motivation when they’re well-rested, stress-free and not fighting the clock day in and day out. But are they willing to strain, suffer and—every so often—face and slay their inner demons with regularity? Are they willing to set an example and realize their full potential physically and mentally? Are they standing toe-to-toe with “good enough” and knocking it on its ass every time it steps into the octagon of life?
The real killers live it, week in and week out. And do so until they’ve had their last howl at the moon. Why bother? Because I need to keep my teeth sharp and my legs ready to run with the pack.
Do I want to be fit enough to achieve everything I could dream of in the mountains? Yes. Do I have to be? Questionable. I know a lot of guys that could stand to lose 20 pounds that are far better hunters than I’ll ever be. Do I feel physically and mentally better when I train with consistency? Undoubtedly. Is this sufficient to block off a portion of my calendar, push back a writing deadline, re-schedule a podcast recording or forgo quality time with my wife and kids? Nope.
At this stage of my life, the only reason to keep pushing, to keep straining, and to keep suffering is because like the wolf, it’s what made me who I am. It’s what I came from and what will make me all that I will ever be. And I’ve never liked lapdogs. It’s time to stop typing and prove that I can still earn my place in the pack.