Escaping the Big Guy Box (Part 1: Marathon)

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When we’re little kids, we start putting ourselves in boxes. We’re trying to form our identities, so our boxes are defined by what we do. We say, “I’m in band, I play football, I’m good at math…”

At first, these boxes are like chalk on the sidewalk, and we can step outside them at any time. The problem with these boxes, though, is that—as we get older—the walls get thicker, and it gets much, much harder to get out.

In time, our box is no longer defined by what we do. It becomes the reverse: what we do is defined by our box.

My box was Big Guy. This guy I knew called me “Cupcake”; the jocks on the basketball team called me “Tits”. And for nearly two and a half decades of my life, I lived in my big guy box. Sure, I would try to lose weight. “Take small steps,” my mother would tell me, and I’d try to lose five pounds. I tried to lose five pounds for ten goddamn years. It was like trying to escape from prison with a pencil eraser.

And then something snapped. I felt shame—certainly for being overweight, but even more so about repeatedly failing at small goals. My aspirations were so small I was embarrassed to tell people what they were.

So I decided to start setting crazy goals. If I was going to fail, I at least wanted to fail spectacularly. I wanted to set goals so absurd that people would laugh at me just for trying.

So I decided I was going to run the Chicago Marathon… And the Memphis Marathon… After losing 60 pounds… After running 1,000 miles… In ten months.

Now, if you’re a hardcore runner, you probably don’t think that’s terribly impressive. That’s because no one ever called you “Cupcake” or “Tits”. When you’re a Big Guy, saying you’re going to run 1,000 miles—basically from Chicago to Boston—is like saying you’re going to run to the moon.

But I did run the miles and marathons, and I escaped the Big Guy box pretty convincingly. It turns out, though, that losing that weight was just a byproduct of the real lesson I learned: most of what we perceive to be our limits are nothing but illusions. And when we actually get right up close and challenge them, they usually disappear.

[See Part 2 for “Nice Bell! or How I Found My Way Into the Ridiculous Sport of Triathlon.”]