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My Big, D.U.M.B. Fitness Goal (and How I Started Working Out After Hating It for 15 Years)

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

I blacked out after climbing a small hill... can I climb Kilimanjaro?

A few weeks after we were married, my new husband and I went hiking.

It was a short hike in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, overlooking the Salt Lake valley.

We were near the top when I felt the need to impress my man.

So I challenged him to a race straight up the steep hillside instead of switch-backing the rest of the way.

I gave it a great effort -- and was not in great shape -- so by the time I reached the crest I was light-headed and nearly blacked out.

He caught me, lowered me to the ground, and probably regretted marrying me. :D

Not really (at least I don't think so), but I'm sure he wondered what he had 'gotten himself in to'.

You see, my husband is a fitness nut.

Since before the age of 16, he has been into exercise and weight-lifting and pushing his physical limits.

As a teenager, exercise was an outlet. He left home at the age of 16 and had some difficult experiences out on his own.

He also had a lot of anger, which he took it out in the weight room or on the football field, and by breaking bones (before he later learned to forgive and release it).

Exercise was (and still is) a very important part of his life. "It helps you to become a better person, do hard things, and develop grit."

So before he met me, he'd made a list of all the most important qualities he wanted in his wife.

I met all of them -- except one.

I didn't exercise.

He married me anyway, but now here we were, newlyweds, and I couldn't even do one little race up a hill without passing out.

Unfortunately, the next decade did not lead to my improved physical fitness.

Between birthing and breastfeeding, I always had (a seemingly legitimate) excuse to NOT exercise.

There were starts and stops. I'd exercise for a few weeks, then stop before it became a habit.

More often than not, the topic of exercise has been a sore point between us. He knows how positively it has affected his life. He wanted me to experience that.

But I resisted. My identity was -- "I'm not a physically active person. And I don't like to exercise (or sweat, something I picked up from high-school gym class)."

(If you understand the connection between identity and behavior, you understand why this was working so strongly against me.)

Besides, I could never 'meet up' to his exercise standards (so I thought or told myself).

I'm also skinny.

From the beginning of our married life, our diet has been based on whole foods and natural sweeteners (thanks to him being a 'health nut' and my dad being diagnosed with, and dying from, cancer after we met and married).

Our whole-food diet has kept me fairly thin, even after birthing six of seven babies (oldest is adopted, remember?)

Being thin can be a disadvantage when you aren't exercising but should be. You fool yourself into believing you don't need to lose weight, so you really don't need to exercise.

But being thin doesn't mean you're in shape.

It doesn't mean you can run and play with your kids or go hiking or climb a mountain. You still get winded when you climb the stairs, or light-headed when exerting yourself.

Sahara Desert Couples Trip
Leading our couples trip to Morocco -- with 6-week baby

Meanwhile, my husband never quit pushing his limits -- working out several times per week, going on backpacking trips, and trekking mountains.

Two years ago, he hiked to the Base Camp of Mount Everest with my 13-year-old son.

Part of the way -- ok, the last three days of the trek -- he carried my 13-year-old son on his shoulders (because he was sick with what they thought was the flu).

Carried him on his shoulders!! A 13-year-old boy!

When he reached the top of one long switchback (pictured below), someone turned to him and said, "You are a badass."

I'd have to agree.

Every time he came back from a trip, he'd tell me how amazing it was and how much he wished I was there.

That scared me, intimidated me. Could I EVER 'be there'? "There's no way I could trek that far or climb that high," I thought.

And it was true. The person I was, the fitness level I had, it would not be possible for me to do something like that.


Sometime after my seventh baby was born, my identity started to change. It began by thinking about what I would be like when I 'got old'.

On my current trajectory, I would be feeble and weak, unable to do the most basic things, like reach above my head or touch my toes. Sometimes my arms got tired just doing my hair in the morning.

That scared me.

But as I read books about longevity and the longest living people in the world, I realized that being more fit (even fit enough to live a long, healthy life) didn't mean I had to be a 'badass' like my husband.

It just meant I had to be a better me -- a stronger, more active me.

If you keep your mind and body busy, you'll be around for a long time. -- Walter, age 114

Committing to simple exercises and starting small was the turning point.

My new identity became: I will be healthy as I age.

So every day I committed to:

  • stretch (lift my arms above my head, try to touch my toes, etc.)

  • move (walk, run, hike, etc.)

I set my own 'exercise standards' (something I could have done all along, I just never realized it).

After a few months of moving and stretching, I started to feel more active. I wanted to move! I wanted to push my body more.

I started to feel stronger. I started to feel that getting into better shape was possible.

And in December 2017 I was able to hike the Inca Trail with my husband, during a couple's trip we led. It was challenging, I cried, and he carried my pack most of the way (and me part of the way), but I did it!


Fast forward to today (Oct. 2019). I'm still not a 'badass'.

I can't do any pushups on my toes (I'm still on my knees). I can't run faster than a 16-minute mile. I can't even do one pull-up. I still miss workouts and I'm getting used to sweating... sort of.

But my identity has changed.

I AM healthy AND fit. I workout. That's just what I do. (Even if it's only for 5 minutes, a technique I learned from this book for developing positive habits and new identities.)

Since this is who I AM, I've come to know I can set my sights higher... 19,341 feet to be exact.

The summit of Kilimanjaro.

I'm committing to climbing to its peak with my husband and teens next fall (2020).

This intimidates me. It's D.U.M.B. (Demanding, Unrealistic, Meaningful, Bold).

It will push my limits. But I know it's possible, IF I do the work.

I'm an active, fit person. All it takes is training and consistency to reach the fitness levels I need to climb to 19,341 feet.

Here is my training plan for Kilimanjaro:

Areas of Focus:

  • Cardio -- so I can breathe better at high altitudes and have more stamina)

  • Strength Training -- legs, core, and arms/shoulders (so I can carry my pack and put in the miles)

  • Endurance Training -- so my body will get used to hiking for hours, multiple days in a row

Plan of Action:

  • Cardio -- Work up to 1+ hour of cardio per day (currently at 20-30 min.)

  • Strength Training -- At least every other day, shoulder presses, push-ups, core exercises, leg exercises.

  • Practice hikes -- Two 5+ hour hikes before Kilimanjaro; at least one overnight hike (two days in a row of hiking).


The best part of better fitness? Creating a legacy of healthy living.

My oldest children are tougher than me. They work out hard with their dad

Yesterday my three-year-old hung out with me while I did arm exercises in our home gym. Then she got on the treadmill and said, "I 'anna work out wit you."

Later in the day, my five-year-old ran upstairs to show me her 'muscles'. She had been working out with dad and 'getting stronger'.

This is the legacy I want to leave -- one where healthy diet and working out are 'just what we do' -- or as we say at home, HDDT -- How Dennings Do Things.

Because DDHT -- Dennings Do Hard Things.

Want to join our family as we summit Kilimanjaro? Greg and I will have our four oldest teens trekking with us -- ages 13 to 18.

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