On Turning an Ox Into An Antelope

I come from a long line of oxen.

My grandfather John was over six feet tall and tipped the scale at over two hundred pounds of muscle. He boxed in the Irish bars of the Bronx, then settled into a life as a car mechanic and garage owner. He was an ox — the kind of man who dug wells for recreation.

My grandfather Tom grew up as a runner for the New Haven Rail Road, chasing down workers in homes and bars and bringing them in to the job. Later, he’d help run a tobacco farm, working in the fields before and after days at a engine manufacturer.

My father is equally as stubborn and strong. He came up on his family’s farm, crouching beneath muslin, weeding broad leaf tobacco. When I was kid, weekend activities with my father would often involve moving yards of stone from one end of the yard to the other, or digging a trench to lay a drainage pipe. He found these activities relaxing. I found them interminable. My father was an unskilled hand, but he could work all day. My childhood weekends proved that. While the man spent his working life in an office, he still has the hands of a farmer.

When I was born, I was the biggest baby at Bridgeport hospital. Ten pounds, two ounces. I was eating solid food within months, and if family legend is to be believed, could put away a pound of shrimp before I was a year old. I was always big for my age. I was on the swim team throughout my youth, but it never came easy. In hindsight, football probably would have been a better sport.

All of this is to say that, by genetics, I’m built to be big and strong and pull shit all day long.

I am meant to be an ox.


But that is not who I want to be. I want to be fast and light and run all day long. I want to cover ground gracefully and efficiently. I want to out distance my predators.

I want to be an antelope.

In my physical life, I’ve always responded best to strength training, and worst to aerobic conditioning. If I look at a weight, I put on muscle. If I run fifty miles a week, I barely improve my 5k time. This is my fate. If I want to move from ox to antelope, I’ll need to get faster, through long miles and speed work. I’ll also need to get thinner. There’s just no other way.

Dream me.

For too long, I’ve let me running cover up for the fact that I’m not a particularly healthy eater. With the miles I run, I can avoid getting fat, but until I start watching what I eat, I’m never going to get thin.

So how do I go about that? Being me, I’ve taken a somewhat extreme approach and decided to do the Whole 30, eliminating from my diet refined carbs, sugar, alcohol and a whole host of other things. I started yesterday. I’ll have more to say on this diet in future posts. But for now, I want to note that I know this is unsustainable, and I know the science behind these type of low-carb no sugar diets is still evolving.

I don’t care.

I’m not doing this because I think the Whole 30 is a sustainable way to eat. I’m doing it to reset a number of bad habits I’ve formed over the years. I need to stop thinking a beer or two is an every night thing; I need to stop having a bag of chips at lunch.

I need to start from scratch and rebuild my diet in a more sustainable way — into a diet where beer and chips aren’t outlawed, but they’re not the default either.

I need to build this antelope from the ground up.

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  1. Emily Harting

    I won’t even go into why cleanses are terrible for your body – including the Whole 30 – I respect your desire to do it to “re-set” and attempt to break some bad habits. It saddens me, however, that you want to be an antelope when you are obviously an awesome (and healthy, fit, running, weight lifting) ox and I also think this will bring you nothing but heartache and disappointment. Not to be a Debbie Downer. I just think trying to become something you aren’t – especially in a physical way – is a losing battle and actually is way worse for you in the long run – screwing badly with your internal weight set-point and metabolism, for instance. I’d encourage you to look into “Health At Every Size” before you move along this path. http://www.lindabacon.org/haesbook/

    1. seanv2

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Emily. I appreciate your concern and you raise a valid point. Of course I know you cannot change an ox into an antelope. Trying to do so is silly. I have no plans to starve myself, nor would I ever advocate anyone doing so. I plan to make better decisions about what I eat, and I plan to use the next month to reset a number a bad habits which I think have hindered my running performance. Running fast brings me joy. I want to run faster. Losing some weight, and resetting some of my poor diet choices, should help me do that — I’d like to try.

      I also think it is important for me to note that this isn’t really about health — its about performance. I think most doctors would say I’m perfectly healthy at my current weight, and if this running thing was just about a healthy lifestyle, I wouldn’t do it nearly as much as I do. This is about something else for me. It is about trying to find a better me through the discipline and consistency that running (and eating well) requires.

      I enjoy that process and while it has often brought disappointment, at a race not run fast enough, or a mileage goal not met, that has never lead to heartache. Rather, it has lead to excitement and anticipation to try again. To fail again, but fail better.

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