I have been sedentary all of my life. My idea of a good time as a little girl was to sit on the front porch pouring over a stack of National Geographic magazines, or perhaps cutting paper dolls out of the Sears catalog. My only regular physical activity was walking in circles around a tree in our front yard – something I did while making up stories in my head. I wore a groove around that tree, and I suppose that walking counts for something, as exercise goes. Mostly, though, I take it as evidence that I was a quirky little thing; the sort of child who rocked back and forth , and thumped my head against car seats just for the sensation, and chewed my hair – and walked in a tiny circle around a tree for hours on end. I was a weird one.
I was also terribly clumsy, and self conscious about it. Khoury League softball, which I tried in second grade, was childhood hell. Every P.E. class seemed like medieval torture. I never learned to do a cartwheel, got my nose broken by an errant softball, was the slowest runner in every race, the weakest rope climber, the most rhythm-less square dancer. P.E. often ended in tears, and at least once a near concussion when, compelled to try the vault in high school, I smashed my head against the metal base. I remember dizzily trying to get up off the floor while the girl assigned to spot me stood over me and said – lazily, it seemed to me – “I couldn’t catch you.”
In college I tried to take the least physically intimidating P.E. classes. Gun Safety turned out to be an excellent choice, Archery less so. I didn’t have the strength to pull the bow back the way I should, and mostly just succeeded in bruising my arm. Aerobics was somewhat manageable. Fitness was a total drag, despite my being skinny enough to have just 11% body fat. We were required to run a mile to pass the class and I remember surviving it only by quoting poetry the entire time, the words synching up with my stride. “She walks in beau-ty, like the night/Of cloud-less climes and star-ry skies…”
Basically, I’ve had a complicated relationship with my body. I’ve never enjoyed it, really, aside from the usual ways in which most of us enjoy our bodies – eating and physical intimacy. And while I’ve never been terribly overweight I’ve seen myself as not fit, not graceful, not at ease with myself. “I live inside my head,” I sometimes say – and honestly, it has often felt like I’m a brain carried around inside this awkward, ungainly, increasingly worn vehicle.
Only twice before have I found activities that defied my image of myself. In high school I went on two ski trips and found, bizarrely, that I both loved skiing and took to it easily. Unfortunately, I never skied again. More recently, perhaps 7 or 8 years ago, I took a yoga class at the Y and enjoyed it. The more I did it, the stronger I felt. I even started to think of myself as the sort of person who goes to the Y and does yoga, which is different than the sort of person who never does anything besides read books, watch TV, and occasionally fall down the stairs. But then I slipped out of the habit, and the fees started to bother me, and somehow…..I quit.
When I passed my 49th birthday a few months back I started thinking how wonderful it would be to reach 50 in good shape – and yet the very idea seemed impossible. It was like wishing that I’d wake to find myself 6 inches taller, or with perfect vision. Being physically fit seemed completely outside of my control. I mean, if I hadn’t changed from my usual sedentary self in 49 years, what were the odds I would change after that?
And then Mr. Right asked me if I wanted to try C25K with him. Initially I said yes just because I wanted to encourage Mr. Right. I worry about his health sometimes and I thought his running was a great idea, so off we went. I ran for the first 45 second interval and thought, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” I was more out of shape than I’d realized. Even the modest Day 1 of the program was more than I could manage. So I did Day 1 again, and again. I think it was the third time that I was able to do all of the run/walk intervals as directed.
It’s been two months now, and as God is my witness, I look forward to getting up early in the morning and running. I am sometimes shocked by what I’m able to do, and I feel ridiculously proud of myself for having stuck with it. But the best thing is how I feel when I’m running. I’m an excellent fretter, you know, but I can’t fret when I’m running. I can’t even really think through the day ahead. All I’m aware of is the music I’m listening to, and my own body: the feeling of air going in and out of my lungs, my feet hitting the road, my arms in motion, the breeze in my face. It’s fantastic. I feel alive. I feel like this vehicle is a gift. This body can do things! It can get stronger and faster and leaner!
I’m running my first 5k in September, and I can’t wait for the childish glee I’m going to feel when I cross the finish line. But even without a race I’ve won a victory. I don’t feel like a clumsy lump anymore. I don’t see myself inevitably becoming weaker and achier and more sedentary with each passing year. Maybe this is silly, maybe it seems premature, but I see myself as a runner. And I’m going to keep on running.
Running. Shudder. So it does get better, then? That’s great that you’re doing it. It probably helps you get out of your head a little bit.
It really does help me get out of my head – and that is a welcome change. 🙂
I always lived in my head, too, but some wonder at how the body works has always stuck with me. Still, I am in desperate need of exercise. If only my knees will cooperate, I will try running and see how things go.
Thank you! And good luck to you, too.
I turned 50 this year and didnt start cycling until last year 😀 Im in better shape now than in my 20’s and I know you will be too!! xoxox
Congrats on catching the run bug! I started 5 years ago at age 45. I’m in better shape now at 50 than when I was 30. In 3 weeks I’m running my first Marathon! Keep going! Keep at it! Even when the runs suck (and yes, some of them will suck mightily), keep after it! There is no feeling quite like just finishing a run.
Thank you, Hugh!