It's worth noting, before I begin to ramble about my current situation, that I'm not a massive fan of using only my own experience and/or situation as an anecdote to pass on value, because that value may be uniquely mine, and of no value, or even hurtful to others. That said, this is a difficult and often overlooked aspect of training that I hope is valuable to share, although it is entirely based on my own experiences.
In my early twenties, I fell into bad eating, drinking and lifestyle habits. I struggled with my fitness, was markedly unhealthy, and gained weight pretty consistently from age 20, to around 27, albeit with a few short-lived attempts to buck the trend. This was a break from my childhood and teens, where I had done well in a variety of sports, and took my fitness, health and physique for granted. At age 27 I found fitness. It was a complicated discovery, imperfect, well-intentioned, and unconventional, but ultimately it left me in great physical shape, with physical capacity I hadn't even enjoyed in my teens, in a relatively short period of time. A year later I was unrecognisable to friends and family, and even to myself in the mirror. The biggest change that had happened though, wasn't the loss of 30+kg, it was between the ears. I hadn't realised just how embarrassed I was by my appearance, how much it limited my daily activities, and how many opportunities I passed up or shied away from because of my weight.
Over the next decade, I constantly sought challenges, physical and mental progress, and understanding of all things health and fitness. I have gained just a little weight, 1-3kg, for very short periods of time to facilitate certain goals, or on odd occasions as a result of a lax couple of weeks on holiday. On the whole though, I have remained very lean. Now, for the first time since my forays into gym culture in my late teens and aged 20, I am actively trying to gain weight. Not just muscle, size, and the appearance of strength, actual scale weight. Worse still, I am doing so knowing full well that some of my capacity that I hold dear as part of my broader fitness will inevitably take a hit.
So why am I doing it? A few days ago, I announced on my Instagram that next year I will be attempting to carry a 65kg yoke for a marathon. Although I have only recently decided on the specifics of this challenge, since I last competitively weightlifted in January, I decided I needed to do something that required size and strength I hadn't previously had, to change the challenge. While Mountain Murph (this year's event where I scaled each of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Mount Snowdon, wearing a 9kg weight vest, and performing 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 squats atop each peak) was different from last year's Guinness World Record - most distance covered in 24 hours carrying a 40lb pack - they were done with similar levels of preparation, and were ultimately the result of a pretty linear progression over a 4 year window. I need something different. 65kg is a huge weight, when talking the kinds of time and distance we are, at least. I'm not confident, I know it will present me my highest challenge of failure to date, I know it will require more specialised training than anything that has gone before, and I know that the sacrifices required will be many. This is all very much compounded by the fact I need to gain weight, and sacrifice some of my hard earned fitness. So the question arises, is it just ego?
This is a difficult question for me, and I suspect for many. Some ego is essential. It's our idea of self. It's what gives us the confidence to attempt something like this to begin with. But it's also a deadly enemy. It can steel joy and contentment. It can shatter happiness. It can twist reality. So just how much ego is good, and how much is bad? I have no idea. What I do know, is that I need some of it. But there's definitely a part of me that struggles with the idea of not being lean, of not being as well rounded in my fitness, and that's nothing to do with ego. How do I know? Because the fears I have are that I find and justify the same excuses again that I used to years ago. "It's just one more bite to eat." "Size is strength." "You earned this." Ultimately there is a big difference between where I am aiming to be, and where I previously was, but the demons point out the similarities. As the post below discusses, I'm already 5.5kg up on when I lifted at the British Championships in January, and for mainly genetic reasons, I tend to carry weight on my stomach. It's already noticeable to me and since I estimate I need another 5kg of weight, this will of course become more difficult.
So what's the plan? Well it's pretty simple really; this has become not just an experiment in what I'm physically capable of, how mentally resilient I am on the day, and in training beforehand, but in how emotionally competent and capable I am when confronting previous struggles. The only way I know how to tackle anything these days is systematically, Stoically and persistently.
I have my struggles, as everyone will, but I'm documenting them now, and preparing to proceed in spite of them, maybe even because of them. Maybe the biggest victory if I achieve this won't be physical, or mental, but emotional.