Not one person who has known me throughout the entirety of my life would describe me as an athlete. Naturally slim until my early 40’s, some assumed there was some level of sweat equity. They were wrong. I never liked participating in sports. The mishaps from sporadic attempts put a bunch of nails in that coffin. Working out inspired a level of misery I saw no need to willingly endure.
I mentioned I was naturally slim until my early 40’s. Now 49 and a full year into pandemic choices, naturally slim is but a memory. In early January, I put on a pair of jeans for the first time in a while. It reminded me of going to a late season football game in Spartan Stadium. Late season games are cold, so I always wear long johns underneath my jeans. The result is a unique tight feeling. Experiencing that sensation in the absence of said long johns was a wakeup call. If I’m being honest, the jeans weren’t the only issue. My mood, energy level, mobility and mental health were all suffering. It was time to make some changes.
Enter my arch enemy, the treadmill. My husband invested in a very nice True treadmill before we were married. True and I have cohabitated for nearly 17 years. True and I, at best, have been casual acquaintances. A few years ago when I was lamenting about needing to get more fit, my husband asked me what might help me strengthen my relationship with True. I suggested we bring it up from the basement and put it in our master bedroom. I imagined myself rolling out of bed and hopping on the treadmill. Notice the word imagined.
Moving True was no easy task. For being all about workouts, True was on the heavy side. After a bit of swearing and the help of a strong neighbor, True made it upstairs where it mostly sat around and doubled as a clothing hanger. Until January. Until I was standing in jeans, sans thermal underwear, with my mind drawing the sad conclusion True and I were going to have to become pandemic buddies.
Initially, True and I made a few attempts at togetherness that ended poorly. I hated everything about the experience. My eyes kept noticing things around the space that needed attention — laundry, dusting, straightening a picture, touching up paint, redecorating my house, putting our house on the market and buying a new one all together (preferably without a treadmill). My mind wasn’t cooperating either. It would roll through all of the tasks that remained for they day, leaving me anxious to get on with my to-do list.
One night, while sitting on my bed in the dark working through exaggerated self-loathing and quarantine irritation, I looked over at True and wondered what it would feel like if I tried to run out my frustrations with myself and with the pandemic. Leaving the lights off, I slid on my sneakers and summoned True for service. I ran for a full mile without any visual or mental distractions. I was — wait for it — enjoying the moment. I only stopped because I started to get that “I’m going to puke” sensation those of us who are out-of-shape tend to experience when we shock our systems.
The next night, I tried it again. Same process. Nearing the time when I would ordinarily be settling in with a book to prepare for bed, I slid on my sneaks, flipped off the light and brought True to life. I ran another mile. Though I still felt like I could puke at the end, it wasn’t as pronounced.
For the next month, I kept at it adding to the distance and incline. I started to look forward to my 9 o’clock workout. In early February, I tacked some weights and calisthenics on to the end of the process. Another addition was sweat. Prim and proper Lisa was dripping with it. I remember the first time I raised the hem of my t-shirt to wipe off my forehead. It made me want to drink Gatorade like in the commercials. I had arrived.
The interesting thing about discovering I am a nocturnal athlete was that it was accidental. I intentionally avoided nighttime workouts because I’d heard and read they were less than ideal. As a person who struggles with sleep, the warnings about not exercising too close to bedtime were heeded. Had I not set aside rules and logic in a moment of frustration, I would still believe I’m not athletic instead of understanding I simply hadn’t found the right conditions to be successful in this space.
How many of us do this? We convince ourselves we aren’t good at something simply because we’ve limited ourselves to repeatedly trying things the same way or by using a model that has been successful for others.
My workouts have revealed another self-limiting attitude I’ve carried around. In the past, I felt like I had to keep progressing with my fitness. One mile would need to grow to 1.5, 2, 2.5, etc. Regression wasn’t allowed. As a result, I’d get myself to a level that wasn’t sustainable and then I’d quit because the misery of it all would win.
A few weeks ago I had a set-back. It was a Friday night. Uncharacteristically, I wasn’t looking forward to 9 o’clock with True. Though I’d been running 2 miles nightly at an incline with ease, I wasn’t sure I even had a mile in me. That familiar nagging feeling of dread hit me when I laced up my shoes. Smelling my kids cooking microwave popcorn, I made a beeline to the kitchen instead of the treadmill. When I returned to my bedroom, I had a bag of salty goodness. True sat in the corner and silently brooded.
After a bit, the guilt overwhelmed me. I decided to compromise. With my popcorn bag in hand, I stepped onto True and began a slow walk. I stepped and munched for a mile and skipped the post-treadmill exercises. When my Saturday workout time rolled around, something crazy happened. I ran 3 MILES. I could have kept going, but didn’t want to gas my legs. It was the first time I have ever experienced the miracle of progression from what seemed like regression. My body was better able to move forward because I let it regroup. I talk about regrouping in career consults often and never thought about applying it to my own circumstances.
At the moment, True and I are consistently knocking out 3 miles nightly in some fashion. With the weather improving, I’ve added in some outdoor walks. My jeans are loose, my mind is clearer, my energy is up, I’m sleeping more deeply and, y’all, I’ve got honest to goodness muscles popping up under what remains of my pandemic padding.