I lost a bunch of weight last two years and finished a lot of races, and for that reason people now come to me on occasion and ask me how I did it. I have no idea! Cigarettes and tears?

Back in October of 2010 I woke up at 5:30am in my tiny room above the Zeitgeist, the sound and smell of diesel trucks passing below on Duboce instantly giving me a headache. It was near the end of October, and I hadn’t had a drink in weeks. The problem was, even on high doses of the muscle relaxant Baclofen and a Trazodone before bed, I was still suffering from wicked insomnia. And there I was before dawn, with 90 long minutes until Four Barrel was due to open and I thought to myself, “Where can I go right now that’s not here?”

The best answer I could come up with was the gym.

Since then I’ve collected finisher medals from over a dozen events including sprint, olympic and long course triathlons; a half and a full marathon; the legendary Dipsea Race and some other shit that even I’ve lost track of at this point. I lost over sixty pounds, then gained fifteen of it back — all muscle. My training rides take me across the Golden Gate Bridge, I tap the foot of the Willie Mays statue for speed and luck on my training runs and my backyard pool is now Aquatic Park.

To say that it changed my life would probably be an understatement; it pains me to say something so trite with any sincerity, but at least in part training has helped save my life so far. But mostly it’s just something that I really enjoy which somehow simultaneously keeps me sane and gets me high and with almost entirely positive consequences.

Positive consequences that have rippled throughout my life — from work to relationships to clothes, which now hang off me like I was a mannequin cut to a perfect size medium. There’s still some obligation and compulsion involved which honestly get in the way more often than they help, and it has not been universally positive: For instance, it can get very expensive! But every once in a while I learn something important about myself and experience real, true joy and wonder.

Now if only I could give up smoking.

But enough about me. This column is intended to be about you. When Eve suggested this column, my initial concern was that beyond my personal experience, all I really have to share are more questions. How does one best stay active while living in a dense, hilly, expensive city like San Francisco? Where can you find the space? Yet more difficult, where do you find the time and money? What if you don’t have a car, or any equipment, or social support like a team or a coach? What if you’ve never done anything remotely athletic? What if you have, and you hated it? And most importantly, how can you can you turn a bout of ephemeral inspiration — “That looks fun! I wish I could do that! I bet it would feel great!” or maybe “What the fuck am I going to do with myself at 5:30 in the morning!?” — into a commitment?

I have answered a few of these for myself, but don’t know which, if any, apply more generally. For instance, for everyone out there who wants the health benefits but hates the process and the sense of dread that comes with obligation, it might be time to reframe your view on working out. Because ultimately, it is a privilege! And it is a privilege that is relatively accessible which carries minimal cost to others while fostering both independence and community!

Yes, it is a privilege to have the time, it is a privilege to have the resources and it is a privilege to have the ability. But I think at least to some degree these are all things we are all mostly capable of finding. Which I find both humbling and empowering, as there is inspiration in both top performers who can leverage every advantage and even moreso the stragglers coming in last who finished the race in spite of numerous disadvantages.

Actively pursuing physical fitness, whatever that might mean for you and your situation and however you might go about achieving it, is a grace and a blessing, not a commandment or a curse. I see it as helping become more secure in being myself and effective in doing what I want to do. There can be salvation and redemption in it! Also? Ecstasy and hallucinations. (Seriously! Fuck yeah!)

Next week, I’ll be kicking off a series on training for the California International Marathon, looking back at preparing for my first race last year and my efforts to qualify for the Boston Marathon this year. I’ll also be checking out local sports clubs, athletic venues, groups and classes. I’m signed up for my first cyclocross race and looking forward to checking out some hard-hitting roller derby action in the coming weeks.

This can be fun! Now excuse me while I step outside for some performance dehancing drugs.

Jackson West has previously written about cycling in San Francisco for the Appeal. Have a question or suggestion or just a story to share? Send it in! For more indulgent, self-involved health and wellness coverage visit Fitness Douchebags.

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