By Jonathan Aluzas

I don’t like running, never have. ?I’ve heard many a runner wax poetic about the Zen of falling into the rhythm of the steps, the euphoria, etc.,

Spartan Sprint, November 2011

and have always found that to be complete bullshit. ?When I was young and playing club soccer, I ran, but there was a purpose to it then, a reason for doing it. ?I had to be in condition to last the whole game; I didn’t like being substituted so I made sure my conditioning was such that I never ran out of gas. ?But running for the sake of running, well, sucks.

In spite of this, somehow, I’ve become a runner. ?And let me tell you something: It’s a game-changer.

Personal trainers, group fitness instructors, coaches, we get in a rut sometimes, too. ?I realized I was in a training rut last year, so when a client, Dave, suggested we try out the Spartan Sprint in Malibu, I signed on (along with Joe, Stacey, Madeleine and a bunch of clients). ?In part, I did this because I knew it would force me to step up my game, my general conditioning, and add running to the mix, because the Sprint is a 3.5 mile obstacle course in the hills of Malibu, and I wanted to make sure I was well-prepared so I could excel, have fun, and not look like a tool in front of our clients. ?We created Spartan Training Camp classes and began to combine running with calisthenics. ?I also began running occasionally at home.

I hated every step. ?I would literally be cursing out loud on my neighborhood runs, in part because the beginning of the course is uphill and miserable. ?I would count every step, teeth gritted, until I arrived back at home. ?In the gym, most of the conversation was internal because I didn’t want the clients to hear me complaining (they still did). ?But, bit by bit, my conditioning improved, my stride quickened, my misery lessened. ?I knew I was getting better, but I needed confirmation. ?And I got it.

Game-Changer Moment #1

Leading up to the Spartan Sprint I knew that, in order to properly prepare, I was going to have to forsake martial arts for a while and concentrate on pure conditioning. ?So, I did. ?After two months of straight conditioning (Spartan Training Camp classes and extra running on the side) I decided to jump into a Muay Thai class on a Monday night. ?Normally, in a kickboxing class, you’ll warm up, do some bag work, some pad work, some drills and maybe finish with a few rounds of sparring, but on this Monday night I walked into a class full of people in full gear; headgear, shin guards, mouth pieces, gloves. ?We went straight into 8 rounds of full-contact sparring. ?Normally, I would hate this scenario because after a few rounds my conditioning begins to break down and it becomes target practice (I’ve always had good technique, but was never willing to do hard, sustained conditioning, and always paid the price for it in sparring). ?But this time I sailed through. ?I was rusty, so I took some shots, but I never ran out of gas. ?That was the first time in my life that I had that experience, and a light went off in my brain.

Game-Changer Moment #2

When race day came for the Spartan Sprint in Malibu last November, we arrived at the course at 5:30am. ?Hitting the ground running (burpee-ing, actually; we probably did 500 burpees that morning), we set off on the Hurricane Heat of the race, which was an extracurricular, freezing-ass cold, 3 hour endurance event. ?Then, we did our regular race at 10:30am. ?After 2 races, I was ready to do it again. ?I had prepared properly, and I started to realize how critical the running was to proper preparation.

Game-Changer Moment #3

Prior to the Spartan Sprint, some of us from Arena Fitness met at Fryman Canyon for a trail run. ?Anyone who has run Fryman Canyon knows that the first hill, up until the concrete path ends, is ROUGH. ?I made it up the first hill without stopping, but had to stop twice on the way up to the crest of the run. ?The second time I did Fryman I had to stop 3 times on the way to the crest, so I was depressed and thinking that I was regressing. ?But I stuck to it, started running inclines on the treadmill, and on the next two times I not only didn’t stop at all on the entire run, but I improved my time dramatically.

Game-Changer Moment #4

Will Garcia and I decided to do the Spartan Super in Temecula last month. ?It’s a 9 mile course in the hills. ?We trained our butts off, ran several times a week, and when race day came we DESTROYED the trail running portion of the event. ?That’s when I fully realized how much of a game-changer running is. ?I would never had been able to do an event like the Super without a lot of preparatory running.

What these moments illustrated to me was just how much of an impact running and calisthenics can have on your overall conditioning and athletic performance. ?I have avoided it my whole life because it’s not fun, I hate it. ?By not sticking to it I never gained the valuable perspective of an improved overall game. ?Now I have. ?I may not love running now, but I value it so much that I’ve made it an integral part of my training.

If you have the ability and capacity to run, try it. ?It will do wonders for you. ?Don’t try to tackle even a 5k out of the gate, just run for 5 minutes three times a day for a few weeks, then slowly increase from there. ?You’ll be amazed at the upside.

Will and me, Spartan Super, January 2012

I’m not the same guy I was last year. ?I am in the best shape of my adult life. ?I’m already registered for two more obstacle course races and have pledged to revisit the Spartan Super to improve my performance of this year. ?The running itself is not yet enjoyable and/or addictive to me, but the results are. ?Case in point: Two weeks ago I started training and running in a weighted vest.

Running: It’s a game-changer.

Jonathan Aluzas is the owner of Arena Fitness, a personal training, semi-private training and group exercise studio in Encino, California.