By Jared Willbergh
My journey into health and fitness began and ended about 7 years ago when I bought my first bike. The guy at REI told me that the bike would be perfect for me, and convinced me to buy all of the gear, including the spandex and the pedals. The bike was heavy and clunky, and the guy assured me that I would fall the first time trying to clip in to the pedals. I laughed and shook my head. No way am I going to fall. My first ride was a whopping 11 miles from my apartment to my parents’ house. Now 11 miles is a warm-up for me and I usually don’t even break a sweat —but back then that distance seemed like torture. Every part of my body hurt, I fell once because I couldn’t figure out how to unclip my feet from the pedals, and I had to call my wife, ashamed, to come pick me up.
Fast forward four years to the time right after my daughter was born. I was 30 pounds overweight, just lost my job, stressed out, and didn’t know what to do. We mostly ate Chinese food or pizza because that’s what was easiest and closest to us. That’s when I knew it was time for a change. I ended up getting a new job, and we moved to a completely new city to get a fresh start. I walked out into the garage of our new house, and saw my bike sitting there. I grabbed it and yelled back at my wife that I was going for a ride. She calmly expressed what a bad idea this might be due to my last experience, and gave me a dirty look as I rode away. It was a short ride but something had changed. I no longer felt stressed, and I had a strange sort of energy.
I kept with it and eventually short rides turned into longer ones, and paved bike trails turned into serious road riding. Then I decided to start running. My job requires frequent travel so to cure the boredom of being away from home I ran on hotel treadmills. Let me be the first to warn you that running on a hotel treadmill is equivalent to running in a dungeon. Since I couldn’t travel with my bike, this was the best way I found to melt away the stress and keep the energy going. Again I finally escaped from the treadmill dungeons and started running on pavement. Shorter runs turned into longer ones, and now I find myself running whenever I can. (What do you do on your lunch hour?)
Soon after that, swimming started. One of my coworkers tapped me on the shoulder and said “Hey, I bet you would be good at swimming. You should give it a try!” Why not? I am crazy enough to try anything once. Same concept applies here. Training came naturally to me, and like most triathletes or crazy endurance junkies I was waking up before the sun comes up to ride, run, or swim. I just kept going and eventually I put all three together and entered my first triathlon.
I knew that getting into all this would force me to change my diet. But I made a serious mistake at first. I went carb free, and mostly stuck with protein bars and shakes. I know what you’re thinking, aren’t endurance athletes supposed to eat carbs? Haven’t you ever heard of carb loading? During this time I lost the weight, but I was angry all of the time and the wife kept telling me I was too skinny. I had started listening to a health and fitness podcast done by a Paleo athlete, who put forth a novel concept — which I happily adopted. The concept was, “Don’t eat anything that was once in a package or didn’t come from the earth.” [Read more about Paleo eating here.] This concept, however, presents some challenges for any normal human.
My wife and daughter would glare at me when I put anything “Paleo” on the dinner table, and traveling makes it hard to stick with any type of diet. So I modified the titles of what I cook, and stopped calling my meals Paleo. And I started bringing healthy snacks and shopping at grocery stores when I travel, instead of eating out. I should make the disclaimer that I consider my diet now to be more of a modified Paleo also focusing on clean eating. I also gave up protein bars, and only take and consume whole foods on the bike or before a run. Adopting this approach has naturally made me feel better and I encourage you to get out there and do the same!
Jared Willbergh is a husband, cyclist, runner, swimmer, amateur triathlete, and all around endurance sports junkie. In his spare time, he enjoys studying nutrition, crafting new recipes to fuel his endurance hobbies, and spending time with his family. You will usually find him in the kitchen, running on his lunch hour, or riding his bike up tall mountains. Jared lives in Brentwood, CA with his wife and three-year-old daughter.