I hate running (a novel about my fitness journey)

I know, I know, that’s quite an inflammatory statement, given how many people enjoy running, but it’s true. I hate it. I could be in the most beautiful place on earth, and I would still hate it. I could buy the best running shoes that money can buy, and I would still hate it. I could make it my one and only fitness goal, force myself to do it every day, and I’m pretty sure that I would still hate it. That “zone” that so many runners speak of? Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever found it. Every once in awhile, I say to myself, “I am a fit person. I should not despise this activity that so many people benefit from. I should be able to do this.” I clip on my adorable hot pink iPod Shuffle, lace up my shoes, and head out onto the 3 mile loop that I have found. I am ready. I start out, ponytail swinging with every movement, thinking, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” A few minutes later, my quads start burning. A little while later, my left knee shouts out, “Hey, remember me?!” Soon I feel like I am trudging through mud. I am so bored with the repetitive motion that I feel every breath, every jolt of impact on my joints, every twitch of my muscles. And then I remember…I hate running. Lesson learned: I do not have to like it just because other people do.

Let’s backtrack about 20 years to the fitness challenge that was required of all grade school kids. That awful, horrible, agonizing, traumatic, #!%)!*&#$*& fitness challenge. I’m still traumatized by it as an almost-30-year-old. That 1-mile run around the track haunts me in my dreams (okay, maybe I’m a little melodramatic). I will never forget the feeling of being the only kid who couldn’t do it. It didn’t seem to matter that I passed the other tests with flying colors, because I would finish the running test so far behind everyone else, ending in tears and wanting to vomit. Feeling ashamed. I felt the same way about team sports. I don’t know why it was such a sensitive thing for me, but I would avoid them at all costs, and there were often tears involved. I got so upset during a day camp soccer game one day that my mom had to come pick me up. I would try to weasel my way out of gym class and get credit for activities that I didn’t actually do. I had a deeply ingrained sense that I deserved to feel ashamed.

After college, I finally started taking better care of myself. I joined the Y and attended my first group fitness class. I was nervous to the point where I remember my hands shaking. What if I can’t do it? What if people are mean to me? What if I get in someone’s way? What if I don’t know what equipment to use? What if I make a fool of myself??????? (a.k.a, the worst thing ever). Well, it turns out that I’m pretty good at choreographed exercise. I loved the class. When we moved to new places and joined new gyms, I went through the same initial anxiety of trying a class for the first time, but I felt more confident that I could do it. Soon I was doing several different classes a week. Step aerobics, kickboxing, bootcamp, spinning, Zumba, strength classes…I LOVE group fitness, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Lesson learned: I might make a fool of myself, or I might discovered something that I love. It’s worth finding out.

However, I started to get bored. The instructor’s weren’t changing things up enough, and I was pushing myself so hard to get a good workout that I was getting injured. My husband had been biking to work in Boston for a little while, but I was terrified of riding in traffic. It was a far cry from the sidewalks and bike paths of my childhood. In 2010, I made it my long term goal to work up the courage to eventually ride into the city. Well, it turned out to not be so long term. That summer, I did it. I faced my fears. I pushed through the anxiety that had previously paralyzed me, and I did it. I started riding my bike to work, and on my fourth attempt, I fell. One of my biggest fears was realized. I was on a bumpy side street in Cambridge, and at the last minute, I saw that there was a giant hole on the far side of a street grate. I panicked and braked too hard, and went flying (or so I thought). I was shocked, shaken, and hurt. My elbow was seriously bruised, and I couldn’t fully straighten my arm without having shooting pains. I was back on my bike within a week. I learned two weeks later that I had fractured my elbow. Whoops! Lesson learned: Many things. I have a high pain tolerance. I am more mentally resilient than I ever thought. I am capable of accomplishing new things by facing my fears. And also, I like biking in the city. I like going fast when I can. I like passing people. As much as I complain about it, I like navigating through traffic. I like spending the beginning and end of my work day in the open air, moving my body. I also like that it takes me half as long to bike to work as it does to take public transportation.

I biked until the end of November, 2010, when I decided it was too cold. By February, I was fed up with doing hours of cardio each week and counting WW points, and seeing no changes on the scale. I had been hearing about the New Rules of Lifting for Women program for months, but was too intimidated to try it. I finally decided that I needed to change things up, and I was able to recruit a friend to do it with me. That definitely helped with the intimidation factor, especially because the program required that we venture into “that” part of the weight room and use the equipment that “those” big, muscly men use. We met twice a week for our workouts from March until November. We were so diligent, even through the summer, when we would have preferred to be outside. We both saw great results, but more importantly, it was SO empowering. I learned my way around the weight room enough that I felt comfortable going by myself, and I loved challenging myself with each workout. I couldn’t believe the things that I was accomplishing. With the help of the New Rules of Lifting for Women program, I realized that strength is important for lifelong health, and I intend to continue lifting whenever possible. I am continuing to educate myself about fitness and nutrition, and I am now on my third weight lifting program. About 6 weeks ago, I did a pre-test for my current program, and I was able to dead lift 175lbs and squat 165lbs. Before I started lifting weights, I never would have imagined that I would be capable of such things. I am now doing workout programs that resemble how athletes train. It’s crazy. Lessons learned: I am physically and mentally stronger than I ever thought. I am much more motivated when I have structure to follow. If I want to see progress, I need to always challenge myself and try new things. I AM FIT.

Last week, I bought myself some adorable bright pink sneakers. I put them on with my gym clothes and my husband said to me, “You look sporty.” What?! Me? I, the girl who couldn’t do the 1-mile running test is capable of looking sporty? I am finally starting to view myself as a fit, healthy person. Sometimes I even feel athletic. Whoa. I guess the point of all of this is to say that we all need to carve our own paths. I am not unfit or unhealthy because I choose biking and lifting and kickboxing over running. It’s hard to go against the grain when advice is being thrown at you from all directions about how to be healthy, but it’s important to find what works for YOU. Exercise does not need to be punishing. If you can find activities that you can enjoy without thinking only about your next weigh in, or how your pants are fitting, you are on the right path for long term success.

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