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.