Way back when I was 18 my uncle Ed (I’ve changed his name) lived with me. He was fighting a bad divorce and my dad offered him the spare room.
Obviously I knew Ed before he moved in with us. We used to go visit him every couple of weeks and I always enjoyed seeing him. He was, and still is, a good guy. But you don’t reallly know somebody until you live with them.
At 18 I wasn’t a healthy kid. I’d been putting on weight for years and my diet was typical of any teenager. I especially enjoyed Lucozade and a bacon sandwich for breakfast, followed by a mid morning cake. The rest of the food I ate that followed only got worse.
It didn’t help me that I broke my foot when I was 15 and spent 6 weeks sitting down doing nothing. I put weight on then and didn’t really lose it again properly.
Ed though, he looked healthy. I didn’t understand anything at all about nutrition or diet or exercise when I was 18, but I could tell Ed was healthy. His face was taut and angular, he smiled a lot, and he stood upright and walked with purpose.
You only get to see somebody’s routine and habits when you live with them, and I started to see Ed’s strange daily routine. My unhealthy 18 year old brain didn’t understand any of it.
He did this weird thing where he made eggs into omelettes from scratch. He only put weird healthy stuff in it too like mushrooms and onions. In fact, this weirdo cooked most of his food from scratch. He told me it was so he knew exactly what he was eating and he could see the ingredients.
Ed did this other weird thing too where he went running for pleasure. He told me he enjoyed running even though it tired him out. It gave him time to think and for a little while everything else didn’t matter. I guess he really needed that at the time.
He took me out for a run once or twice and I nearly died. This running stuff was way too hard for me.
Although Ed and I got on well, we didn’t really have anything in common. I was a young geek into computers, video games and sitting on my arse. He was some weirdo who liked sports and exercising.
We had one thing in common, and it was the only active thing I did at the time. I played American Football, and Ed quite enjoyed watching it. He also tried to coach me through the fitness side of it too but until recently I never really paid attention.
His most important teaching to me was simple but his most profound.
I was just about to leave for training one day when Ed told me I should be running more, focusing on my fitness. I half-scoffed at him and nodded. I hated running.
He could see me dismissing his excellent advice, and that’s when his most important teaching rolled from his tongue.
“I used to play football, but I was never very good at it. Nearly every other player on the team were better than me. They could score goals better than me, move better than me and they understood the game better than me. In terms of skills and nearly every other way you’d measure a good player, they were better than me.”
“Except for one thing, and nobody came close to me with this one. My fitness. I was the fittest player on the team by a mile.”
“In the first 30 minutes of a game everybody had lots of speed and skill. I’d do rubbish at this point but I’d keep up with them. Then as soon as we got past the 30 minutes things would start to turn.”
“After 30 minutes all the best players started to get tired. Their skill started to get worse, until they got to the point where they were dragging themselves around the field. They were worse than useless.”
“At this point I’d run rings around everybody. I was still fresh and still had speed. Nobody could keep up with me. For the full 90 minutes of every game I never tired. Everybody else became rubbish after 30 minutes.”
“It’s all because I focused on my fitness.”
Despite Ed’s world crumbling around him, outwardly nothing ever seemed amiss. He smiled a lot. He looked healthy. He exercised and he looked in great shape.
When everything else was crumbling and falling down, he still just focused on his fitness.