Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bodies and Breakthroughs

Something absolutely amazing happened last month.

It was another unseasonably warm, clear Saturday in Columbus, and I decided that I ought to go out and get some exercise. I had slept for ten hours and felt groggy and sluggish, but that was no excuse not to run – something I have been trying to re-incorporate into my routine. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I warmed up at home and didn’t feel particularly energized, but promised myself that I would run at least a mile without stopping – which, in this case, would be about four or five songs (I have to go by my approximate speed and the approximate length of songs because I don’t have a pedometer…and, yes, I know I’m slow). I walked down the sidewalk toward the bike trail near my apartment, speeding up to get my heart rate up and get ready to jog. I ran until I got to the trail, and continued to run until my five songs were up.

I can keep going, I thought. I continued to run, stopping to walk a few songs later just long enough to catch my breath and gulp some water, and then ran some more. I jogged all the way to the next trail entrance; I knew from seeing the cross street was a couple of miles from where I lived. I could either turn back the way I came, or complete the loop by taking the cross street up to the main road that would lead me back to my complex. I hiked up the hill, and then ran again once I got to the main road. I ran almost all the way up the main road back to my place, until I finally reached a hill and had to stop. I was really excited and impressed with myself; I had run well over half of that loop, when my original goal was to run only a mile. I got on Google Maps to approximate how far I’d gone (I really need to invest in a pedometer!), and…

…the loop was five miles. Five miles, and I ran over half of it.

This obviously wouldn’t be a big deal to a seasoned runner, or to a fit person in general. But I’ve never been much of a natural runner; I have short legs and do not come from a family of runners. I’m also back in the worst shape I’ve been since I started college (thank you, sedentary office job).

I have been trying to get back in to running and conditioning lately, after a period of about three-and-a-half years during which physical activity was…sporadic, at best. One of the sites where I work, and have been covering almost non-stop for several weeks, has a fitness center that they allow employees and contractors to use. Seeing as it’s the middle of the winter and I can’t afford a gym membership, I have no good excuse not to work out there. For about a month I’ve been hauling my ass there after work, logging a painful 20 minutes on the treadmill and sometimes doing some Pilates and strength training afterwards. I had a couple of decent workouts, but to tell the truth I spent most of them miserable and fatigued. I stuck it out because I knew it would get better, like it always does, but I was beginning to wonder when the day would come.

It seems that every time I go for a long stretch without exercising and get back into it, I have a tough time until I have a breakthrough workout that changes everything and gets me motivated. I had one freshman year of college, when I was at my heaviest; I had added Jazz I to my schedule for winter quarter in hopes of getting into better shape. After my second class, I decided to go to the gym. Dancing had felt like a warm-up, and I wanted more. So I did an hour on the elliptical, and after that began a regular routine. Over two years later, after another lapse, something similar happened. I was taking Jazz II at the time, and after biking back from class one day, decided that I could do more. I ran around the block a few times, and then practiced my turns in the alley behind my house. After that day, I spent the rest of the quarter and summer afterwards running, biking, and doing yoga regularly.

I had a similar breakthrough on that recent Saturday, minus the dance class. I went out to exercise with minimal expectations, and realized that I could do more. I couldn’t believe I’d actually run the better part of five miles, especially considering I typically never went that far, even at my fittest. It makes me wonder what I will be capable of once I get my fitness back.

And I will get my fitness back. The truth is, I have felt awful the last couple of years. I have been subsisting on a diet that is mostly crap –crappy packaged food, crappy frozen food, crappy restaurant food, crappy food that’s barely food – and exercising very little. I’ve been telling myself that it doesn’t matter as long as I’m not overeating (even though I often do), and that I get some exercise when I work in mailrooms (although I don’t do it enough to count for anything). Meanwhile, my weight has crept up, I can barely fit into my pants, and my stomach is upset all the time.

Four summers ago, I got into really good shape – or, at least, really good shape for me. I was running every day, biking everywhere, taking yoga classes, and feeling awesome. I tend to downplay now just how awesome it was, partly because it’s hard to admit how far I’ve devolved from that point. But I can’t deny how great it was to go to the beach with my family and not feel like a beached whale, or to go to functions and not constantly worry about how much my love handles were spilling over my pants. My back hurt less, my appetite was more controlled, and I slept better.

But at the end of the summer, after having been in between jobs for a few months, I was hired at the cafĂ© where I would work the next three years. I was on my feet during workdays, so I started skipping workouts because my legs were tired. Then fall quarter started, and I exchanged a light course load for a fully crammed senior year schedule. I could have made time to work out, but didn’t. I could have been more careful about what I was eating, but stopped paying attention. Before long, I had gained most of the weight back, and since then it’s only gotten worse.

After I went on that run, I decided that I needed to re-commit to my health. I had one last “anything goes” meal, and then went to the grocery store to stock my empty kitchen. I bought mostly vegetables, fruits, and grains, and decided to limit eating meals out and to only have soft drinks once in a while. Also, I decided to make exercising a priority.

That was about two weeks ago, and I’ve had a few hiccups since then. First, I hurt my foot running, so I took a break for a few days. Then, I got really sick Tuesday night and staying home Wednesday to rid myself of whatever strange thing that had found its way into my stomach. I also had soft drinks a couple of times this week. However, in spite of everything, I feel better, and have lost four pounds already. My goal is to lose 20 by the time I go to the beach in July, which would average about a pound a week.

This is not a fitness/weight-loss blog, and I have no intention of making it so. I hesitated to even bring this up because 1.) I think we need something to talk about in popular culture other than the shapes and sizes of women’s bodies, and also because 2.) I’ve struggled with my body image for almost as long as I can remember, and it’s a highly personal and complex issue that I don’t like to get into very often. However, it’s something that many of us will struggle with in our lives, and that I certainly struggle with in mine, so it does warrant a mention from time to time.

In the interim, I will update occasionally, and if I reach my goal on or before July, I will buy a new dress to wear to dinner while we’re on vacation. I also took a “before” photo, but will wait to post until there’s a much more flattering “after” photo to go with it.


  1. Awesome Kelly! I recently had a similar breakthrough about the way I eat and how little I exercise. Now I have someone to talk about it with from time to time. Congrats and good luck on the new lifestyle changes! :)


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