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Identifying Who I Am As an Athlete: P. Mark Version 3.0

As I shared in my last blog, a lot of my efforts have shifted from running goals to bodybuilding goals.  As I have fully engaged in heavy lifting more frequently and long runs less frequently, inner conflicts began to surface.  I began to ponder…

  • Am I shifting just because I am getting older and slower? (I turn 52 tomorrow)
  • Should I focus on muscle measurements or strength goals as the primary target?
  • How does this effect my long-term participation in the local running community?

And…  For heaven’s sake!  Why is this question of athletic identity so important to me?

Athletic Identity

Let’s start with that last one. I am a father, grandfather, husband, Christian, professor, researcher, author, and so much more.  Why in the world does my athletic identity feel like such an important matter?

Certainly, it was absolutely critical to me in my teenage years.  I belonged to my church, my school, my cross country team, and my track team.  I had a place.  I had some personal success, but I scored points for the team.  So many teens feel lost.  I knew who I was.  The teen years were difficult, but running was part of what made them good for me.

When injury took me away from running, I let it go for nearly a quarter of a century.  I would lift weight periodically, but never with competition in mind.  I would go for runs, but almost always just to go relax.  There was no formal training or competition.  For about 24 years, my athletic identity was more like a relic of the past rather than a current need.  The glory days were gone.  I was doing important work in the field of education, in church, and serving my community.

Why, then, did the importance of athletic identity once again rise in importance?  Okay, so life did not go as planned.  Around 2008, I was trying harder than ever to make a difference and I got knocked on my butt.  My midlife attempts to save the world backfired.  At one moment in 2009, I was at the same kind of identity crisis as I was at a teen.  I knew I had a lot to offer the world.  Jesus was still my rock, but I was reeling with self-doubt and in need of some direction.  I had achieved great things up to this point, but I suddenly felt like I needed to re-establish my identity.

I responded to this identity crisis in many of the same ways as I had when I was a teenager.  I joined new groups, tried new relationships, but most importantly I started running again.  Not just running, but training.  I joined the Knoxville Track Club and started training and racing.  I did a half marathon, then a marathon… I eventually set my sites on qualifying for Boston.

My renewed identity as a runner was an important part of rebuilding my self-identity as a strong, capable person.  My new job a Carson-Newman University helped tremendously as well, but it was my running achievements that connected me back to that strong feeling of identity to which I clung as a teenager.  Here I was clinging to it just as strongly.  If my high school running identity was version 1.0, then my new running career started at 42 years old was “P. Mark 2.0”

I went on to achieve some pretty cool things.  I wasn’t world class, but I was the best runner I could be.  I also had the hardware to prove it in medals and trophies.

What happened to P. Mark version 2.0?

After I finished an Ironman, ran Boston a few times, and set a solid personal record in the marathon, I just sort of lost some steam.  I was training hard, but lacked the same intensity which developed this late-blooming athlete.  I had some extra duties and a packed personal life as well.  I was getting worn out.  I would set goals once in a while, but I never could stay focused on one goal long enough to achieve it.  I burned the candle at both ends until the fire went out.

To be honest, I was glad to let P. Mark 2.0 fizzle out.  I focused more on just doing the things I felt like doing.  By late 2018, I was still an okay runner by my own standards but I was getting more out of achieving weightlifting improvements.  I had no major goal to set my sites upon.

Why P. Mark version 3.0?

As I am writing this blog, it is finally dawning on me.  P. Mark version 3.0 is necessary.  It is only part of who I am.  It does not define me in any major way, but it is absolutely critical.  I realize that I always feel the most like myself when athletic endeavors are a part of my life.  It does not need to be running.  I am as happy going for a two hour swim as I am going for a two hour run.  I love to ride my mountain bike on the trails near our house in South Knoxville.

I feel joy when I lift hard, run hard, bike hard, and swim hard.  God has built it into my soul.  To deny my athletic identity is to deny a part of what God has designed.

Version 3.0 will simply have some tweaks.  Goal setting gives direction to the workouts. God gives me joy while I am working out.  I can set any goal I want and be happy with it.

For now, here is what I understand about P. Mark the athlete as of July 5, 2019:Kiawah 2018

  • I will continue to lift weight with specific goals of size for arms, legs, chest & back.
  • I will continue to focus my running on shorter distances for now (800 meters to 5K).
  • I will begin to build my bike power numbers to prepare for cycling and triathlon in the years to come.

In short, the distance runner in version 2.0 has been replaced by an athlete building power.

Although I anticipate a return to Ironman races in a year or two, I will not train long distance until that time comes.  I am a 52 year old athlete (as of tomorrow) who is building power for the next round.  That is who I am right now.

Blessings to you and yours,

P. Mark





From Runner to a Bodybuilding Runner

I will always be a runner.
I am pretty sure I was born that way.
That will not change.

I returned to competitive running in 2009 after a 25 year break.  I had run periodically, but for 25 years there was no training plan; there was no focus.  I could go months without running and just go out once in a while for a random run anywhere between 3 and 10 miles.  I could go months without running.  I was busy with career and family.

From 2009 to 2018, I was focused.   I turned to competitive running for many reasons.  My kids were growing and required less time.  I had a bit more time and energy.   I was in the midst of major life transitions and needed stress relief.  I was also in need of getting back to a good level of fitness.  Running was a match for my situation.

More than that, I am a runner.  I had been distracted by important things, but I had ignored the runner in me.

I longed to return to the days:

  • when runners high was almost a daily occurrence
  • when I felt free of the chains of stress for about an hour each day
  • when I felt the connection between my body and my soul

I simply feel like myself when I am running.

I poured myself into the role of competitive runner.  I lived and breathed it for 9 years.  I went from barely finishing my first marathon to running qualifying for Boston on a regular basis.  I went from novice runner to running coach and book author.

I eventually tried my hand at Ironman triathlons.  I completed two of them.  I enjoyed the process, but it did not feel natural to me.  I may do another in a few years, but it is not my passion.  I love to run.

I started running again in 2009 at the age of 42.  I am now 51 years old.  If I  worked very intensely, I might be able to get faster and set a couple of personal records.  I just do no not want to work that hard at running any more.  I will always love running, but I am burned out on the serious training and competition.  I will continue to run, but only when I feel like going for a run.  I will do speed work periodically, but only when I feel like running fast.  I will do long runs, but only when i feel like doing a long run.

great shapeI still enjoy those things.  I am just not willing to force myself to do them on a schedule.  I will do them for the love of running.

Phase 2: From Running to Bodybuilding

Over the last several years, I would do some intense strength training in the off seasons.  Just like running, I loved it when I was young.  Just like running, I would periodically lift weights just for the pleasure of the process.  I enjoyed it.  When I would go through this off-season strength training, my love of it was rekindled.  Now that I am taking a break from intense training for competitive running, I have time an energy to focus on strength training.  I now spend more hours lifting weights than I do running each week.

I am still a runner, but I am a runner who is also a bodybuilder.

I will run a few races now and then.  I am very involved in my local track club, supporting others as they run for fun, for health, and for competition.  I am still a runner, but I am a runner who is also a bodybuilder.

I have switched:

  • from setting running goals to setting strength and size of my muscles
  • from training programs for marathons to training programs focused on body parts (bicep is my current target)
  • from time on the road to time in the gym

Does this change who I am?  No. I am still a runner, but I am a runner who is also a bodybuilder.

  • I will do long runs, but more often I will do deep, heavy squats.
  • I will do speed work periodically, but I will spend more time doing walking lunges with 100 lbs sitting on my shoulders.
  • I will do trail runs, but I will spend more energy sculpting my arms, chest, shoulders, and back.
  • I will stop measuring success by race results and start measuring success by measuring the size and proportions of my muscles.

I consider myself to be many things: a mathematics teacher, a professor, a Christian, a father, a friend, and a runner to name a few.  It is just time to add bodybuilding to the list.

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