Exercise. I love doing it. But I’ve never made it a habit. My transformative six months in a fitness boot camp class ended earlier this year when I took a break to rest a sore shoulder, and I’ve been bumbling along ever since. A lot of dog walking, greater awareness of my eating habits, but nothing approaching the focus and purpose I felt during class. Much of my fitness gain from those months is gone, as is the feeling of invincibility and bad-assedness that coursed through me during that time.
Strangely, it doesn’t bother me (much). The firmness of my abs has never been a motivator, so it took me a while to even notice my jeans were tighter. Yes, I’m shaking my head at having worked incredibly hard for six months and then letting it slide. But I’ve also discovered that my “sliding” was less laziness and more experimentation. It’s as if my mind needed experiential proof about the connection between regular exercise and my mental and physical state.
Boot camp was such an aberration that I was able to mentally categorize it as “something I did,” not a new habit. As if “boot camp me” was somehow separate from “normal me.” “Normal me” doesn’t exercise regularly or pay much attention to what she eats, so when “boot camp me” took a break, I returned to my default-self definition.
Stay with me, because there’s good news. Boot camp may not have immediately transformed me into a five-day-per-week exerciser, but it did demonstrate that I’m in charge of self-definition. The stories I told myself about what I’m capable of, what I enjoy, what I’m good at…they’re stories. I proved that to myself by doing things in boot camp I never thought possible. I proved to myself those stories can be rewritten simply by saying “yes” to something new.
That something new is running.
Boot camp did a lot for my physical confidence, but the time spent running during those months now feels unreal, as if I didn’t actually run for an hour each week (that was our Wednesday workout). But I did. I ran up and down hills and stairways, I jogged, I sprinted, I stopped and dropped to do pushups. I did things “normal me” didn’t do.
My mind may struggle to believe that I actually did it, but my body remembers. Don’t get me wrong…I’ve lost much of my endurance, so I’m winded pretty quickly after picking up the pace. It’s hard. It’s intimidating. It’s often the last thing I feel like doing. But it’s no longer impossible. The mental roadblock is, if not gone, at least jumpable.
Call me Pollyanna (you wouldn’t be the first), but my post-boot camp experiment in inactivity has been a success: I now have proof that I’m happier and more capable when I regularly exercise. It wasn’t enough for me to read that elementary fact in a magazine or someone else’s blog post. I needed to feel it in my own cells. Not unlike a teenager who needs to “learn things the hard way.”
I’ll periodically share my progress and lack thereof. I know myself well enough to accept that I’m not a linear progress kind of gal, so you won’t be hearing about triathlons or personal records. Then again, who knows? Those are just stories I tell myself.
If you’re at all interested in running — if you’re even THINKING about CONSIDERING running — you must read Run Like A Mother by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea. I got this book from the library and was immediately inspired by these two mothers’ stories of running: why, how and when they do it. Lots of heart, humor, and real advice, and no reason to fear. These are kindred spirits in the best kind of way…I know this because I discovered Sarah lives mere blocks from me and we met the other day for lunch (two Portlanders introduced by a cool chick in Atlanta).
Dimity and Sarah have come out with a follow-up book: Train Like a Mother. I’m using it as my running roadmap. I’ll share more about my gear and “running stuff” in a future post, but in the meantime, visit Another Mother Runner for more inspiration from Sarah and Dimity.