Sunday, June 10, 2012

And did I mention pop tarts??

So my mom's comment under my 6-mile-run post got me thinking -- about working out, and people's perceptions of exercise, and why I do what I do. The short, easy answer, of course, is that I love chocolate... and cupcakes... and cookies. And I weigh about 35 pounds less now than I did 12 years ago (all pictures of me from oh, let's say, 1998 to 2000 should be destroyed)... and my blood pressure is really low... and my cholesterol is good (the last time I had it checked, the nurse said, "You work out, don't you?" before I'd even heard what the numbers were). And nothing is as good a mood-lifter for me than exercise. Basically, all the usual reasons for working out...

But here's the long story. And seriously, this will probably be a long story, so grab a cup of coffee or tea or Caribou hot chocolate (that's another reason to work out -- Caribou hot chocolate... that stuff is crack in a cup), and get comfy:

I think I was a reasonably active kid -- ran around outside a lot, rode my bike, roller skated in the summer, ice skated in the winter... and I LOVED swimming. If it was warm and there was a pool nearby, I would be in it as long as I possibly could be. And when you're a kid, gym class at school pretty much consists of running around aimlessly -- nothing too structured or serious...

As I got older, I started to spend more time reading and writing and drawing pictures, and less time running around outside. Although I still have many memories of climbing the tree in front of our house when I was twelve... and hiking through the "canyon" (probably some kind of drainage ditch) behind our neighborhood... and playing badminton with Eric in the driveway of our house in New Jersey. Gym class, however, started to get a lot more serious. Gone were the days of running around aimlessly... instead, we were introduced to team sports and timed drills.

And here's what I discovered: I was HORRIBLE at team sports. I was horrendous at volleyball -- any time I attempted to hit the ball, it would fly off in the opposite direction I had intended; I was confused by basketball -- I spent the entire game attempting to hide behind everyone else on my team so no one would pass the ball to me... I wouldn't have had any idea what to do with it if I had it; I was terrified of softball -- IF I managed to hit the ball, it would always be an easy fly out... and when the opposing team was batting, I made sure to take my place in right field to be statistically assured of the least amount of play. You name it, I was bad at it. (The only sport I was even marginally good at was soccer -- but, this being America, we only played it for about a week before returning to softball or volleyball... so much volleyball... why was there so much volleyball???)

Consequently, I became THAT kid -- the one who was always, ALWAYS chosen last when teams were formed. Nobody wanted the girl who couldn't even aim a volleyball in the general direction of the net. I was well aware of the fact that I wasn't exactly an athlete... but nothing drives the point home like standing all alone on the sidelines while two teams of your peers stare at you with a combination of pity, derision and ridicule written on their smug faces (I assume they were smug... I actually can't remember). Fortunately, gym class wasn't ALL team sports -- sometimes we'd head outside to the track. I didn't mind WALKING around the track... I could've walked around the track all day. But RUNNING was a different story -- the timed mile was the worst. No matter what I did, I could never finish that mile in less than 12 minutes. My classmates would be done in 7, 8, 9 minutes, and then it would just be me and the fat kids... or the kids with asthma who weren't allowed to run. "How do they go so fast??" I would wonder...

Eventually, I just accepted it -- I would NEVER be able to do any of those "active" things that other people did. There was a voice in the back of my mind that made it very clear -- "you're not an athlete... you're not a runner... and you never will be. Don't even bother... stick to what you're good at." And I was very good at being a nerdy wallflower who read books and watched scientific shows on the Discovery Channel just for the fun of it. And don't get me wrong -- I'm quite proud of my nerdy side... but I've always been a bit jealous of the people who lace up their sneakers with seemingly effortless nonchalance... the ones who buy workout gear at sporting goods stores and actually USE it...

And then, of course, life happened -- I moved to Texas, got married, got a job, got two jobs... and those annoying numbers on the scale started almost imperceptibly climbing upward. Before I knew it, my clothes were shrinking for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Okay, so maybe there WAS a reason. The point is, for the first time in my life, I decided I would TRY to add some "activity" to my days. Nothing too strenuous of course -- after all, that voice was still there, telling me that I wasn't the kind of person who could do anything truly "athletic." I decided I would be better off with some harmless aerobics videos, and maybe just plain old walking.

After a few years of regular workouts, I started to get more confident in my abilities. I tried some new things, like kickboxing and weight training -- I finally realized, years afterward, that high school was OVER... there was no one to laugh at me, no one was choosing teams, it didn't matter if I looked like an idiot when I attempted a roundhouse kick -- the only team was ME. It was just me against me. And I got really good at walking. I mean, I could WALK for miles, no problem. I walked my first treadmill into oblivion (it was a pretty cheap model), and the second didn't last too long, either. Eventually, Rick thought it would be best to invest in a treadmill with a lifetime warranty so we weren't constantly buying new models.

And yet I STILL heard that stupid voice in my head -- "you're not a runner... you just can't do it... you've never been good at it, so why even bother trying??" But I started to wonder -- what if that voice was WRONG? I mean, everywhere I look, I see people running, jogging, tackling 5K races -- what's so different about all of them than me? What if, this whole time, my legs (and my lungs) have been perfectly capable of carrying me farther and faster, and I've just been defeating MYSELF before I've even attempted to prove myself wrong??

So I started adding short bursts of jogging into my usual walking routines. It was slow going for a while... extremely slow going... in fact, for a couple years, I was still convinced that I really WASN'T someone who could run. Maybe I just didn't have the genetic predisposition. And then one day about a year ago, I was reading through some healthy living blogs and stumbled upon one written by a runner... a REAL runner... a "runs marathons every month" kinda runner. And she happened to be answering questions from readers. One of the questions asked for tips about running farther and faster. And the blogger's answer was so simple: "If you want to run farther, you just have to RUN FARTHER... and if you want to run faster, you just have to RUN FASTER." And all of a sudden, something clicked -- I hadn't been stuck on walking for years because I COULDN'T run... I was stuck on walking because I DIDN'T run. If I wanted to run more, I had to, very simply, RUN MORE.

That one simple idea was quite motivating. And once I started actually DOING what I'd thought for so long I was UNABLE to do, I was even MORE motivated -- once I started adding a minute of running here and a quarter mile there, I realized it all added up. It started to become doable... it started to seem less and less like that voice I'd heard for so long was correct. Maybe it was totally, completely wrong. Could I finally achieve that sub-12-minute mile that had eluded me for so long in high school? (If I couldn't even run a mile in less than 12 minutes when I was 15, could I do it NOW, when I'm... uh... a lot more than 15?? And how awesome would it be if my older-than-15-year-old self kicked the butt of my 15-year-old past?)

And I'll tell you -- it IS pretty awesome when you're way-older-than-15 but manage to accomplish something you were never able to do when you were 15. Once I hit that 12-minute mile, I had to see if I could do 11... and then if I could manage 10. I did 6 miles in an hour... can I do 6.5?? I no longer see a 9-minute-mile as an impossibility -- I no longer look at all the people I see out for their daily jogs and think, "I could never do that..." I no longer walk into a Sports Authority and feel like I don't belong -- because I know that the shoes or shorts I buy will be well-worn.

The best part is that the negative voice that had been such a part of my life for so long has been silenced. I'm not the most confident person in general -- there are other voices that tell me about things I can't do or things I'm no good at (just ask Rick about all the voices in my head... :)), but if I was able to accomplish this one "impossible" thing -- who knows? -- maybe there are other things I can do, as well.

And seriously -- I really, really do love cupcakes...


LL Cool Joe said...

As interesting as this post was, I don't think you ever have to explain or justify what you do in life, or what you are passionate about. My partner is a fitness/sports freak.

I lift weights because I want to look like LL Cool J. I never will, but that's what motivates me.

G. B. Miller said...

Very interesting post.

For me personally, I enjoy bike riding. I'm not hardcore about it like some of the bicyclists I've seen in my town, but I do it with consistancy. Mostly I do it because with the type of genetic malady I have, I try to keep those muscles from atrophying the best that I possibly can.