(from Shape Magazine)
I am no athlete. I am that person in your aerobics class so out of step that people form a crop circle around her flailing limbs. In learning how to play tennis, I bloodied my own nose by hitting myself in the face with the racket. So, when frugal became the new cool in our family, I cheered when I had to drop my gym membership. No more toxic plastic smells, hooray! No more pinched straining faces breathing down my neck!
On the other hand, no more buttoning my jeans, either. As winter melted into spring, it became apparent that I would eventually have to shed my winter coat and expose my thighs to the world. What could I do for exercise that wouldn’t cost money?
Running was the obvious solution. I already owned virgin running shoes, simply because they had my favorite color green and were on sale last year. I could borrow sweatpants and a sweatshirt from my husband.
I began to imagine running. Or rather, to fantasize about the results: I would grow muscled and lean and long of breath! I would have a bikini body by summer! To prepare, I started watching other runners from my kitchen window while buttering my breakfast toast: a petite Asian woman who pranced like a gazelle in snazzy neon tops and leggings, a loping marathoner with a florescent safety vest, a pony-tailed blond with a hot pink jogging stroller.
It should have been good motivation, seeing these athletes zipping by my own front yard. Yet days went by and I didn’t lace up my sneakers. I had excuses aplenty: It was too cold. It was raining. It was windy. I was too fat. It was Tuesday. God, I hate Tuesdays. Plus, when would I go? How could I shoehorn running time around my job, my kids, the house, the husband, the dogs?
To get motivated, I laid out my clothes in the bathroom the way I used to do as a child: socks tucked into sneakers and placed at the ends of my sweatpants, with the sweatshirt on top of that, like a second skin waiting for me to slip it on. Every morning, I got up and looked at my clothes. Every morning, I didn’t put them on.
Finally, my clothes began mocking me: Never mind your bathing suit! Pretty soon you won’t fit into your husband’s sweat pants! I realized that the only way for me to ever go running was to do it first thing in the morning, before I came to full consciousness and weaseled out of it. I set my alarm for half an hour earlier, got up, put on my running clothes, and went out into the chill air.
I would like to say that I ran to the tune of Chariots of Fire, but I did not. I limped along like an asthmatic Darth Vader, shoulders hunched, head bowed, knees screaming. After five minutes I turned around and walked home.
Two days later I tried again. (I’d read somewhere that you should only run every other day, a factoid I clung to like the oxygen tank I longed for.) I had made it from my house to the first streetlight on the first morning; I decided I would push only as far as the second streetlight and be satisfied. I made it without walking (mostly because a car passed and I hoped the driver would see me shambling along, gasping, and conclude that I was at the tail end of a 10K before breakfast.)
From that day on, I ran the streetlights, adding one more every morning, and discovered three tricks to keep going: 1) don’t run in the dark if you’re prone to peeking in people’s windows, because the sidewalk will rise up to meet you; 2) forget eye makeup – mascara hurts your eyes when you sweat; and 3) never wash your running clothes during the week, because having to dig them out of the clean laundry provides another perfect excuse to turn over and go to sleep.
By week 4, the other neighborhood runners were getting used to me, and we all waved as we passed each other. I could run sixteen streetlights without stopping, out and back. They were 100 feet apart, so that meant that I was running 3200 feet! (This achievement dimmed somewhat when I used Google calculator to convert this to a paltry .6060606 miles.) Somehow, though, the streetlights kept me going. Finally, as I reached the the 20th streetlight, I discovered a tiny street in the neighborhood I’d always overlooked. It was a connector that would allow me to run an actual loop! The loop was 1.34 miles, a daunting distance. But, if I kept going streetlight by streetlight, I was convinced I could do it. Now I had a real goal.
And then, somewhere between week 7 and week 8, a funny thing happened: I forgot about the last streetlights. I just ran the loop because I didn’t want to turn around. It was something akin to that thing that happens to mountain climbers who push themselves to the summit of Everest, only without the Sherpas and prayer flags. I had to walk once the first time around the loop, but the second time I didn’t walk at all.
This morning I ran the loop plus one streetlight past my house. As I was finishing, the marathoner approached me in his easy loping stride. I was wearing my usual paint-stained sweatpants and an orange peaked hat that makes me look like a rooster.
“Looking good!” the marathoner called as he passed, and guess what? I believed him.