For those of you who know me personally, you know that I'm really not much of an athlete.
Growing up, my athleticism consisted of chasing boys, cheerleading and marching band. That's about it. I was forced to run the mile in gym class every year starting in maybe 5th or 6th grade, and it was hell for me. I swear, my lung capacity is like a quarter that of normal human beings', because I could never regulate my breathing and was panting and wheezing the entire way. At the end of that long, long mile, I would be doubled over, red-faced and trying not to vomit. Several of my friends who ran track or cross country would talk about how you just need to "push through" that and then you experience the "runner's high," at which point your breathing regulates and you get a burst of energy. Um, yeah - I had no idea what they were talking about, having never experienced that. Ever.
After college, when one of my super fit super friends was going through cancer treatment, she - in all her bald and proud glory - would drag my healthy butt down to the lakefront with her and force me to run*, rollerblade and bike alongside her. I whined (only a little) but since she was going through cancer treatment, I kept it to a minimum, shut my mouth and just allowed her to torture me with vigorous exercise as much and as often as she wished. Oddly enough, I was in the best shape of my life then. Go figure...
* By "run," I mean shuffle a few steps, stop, bend over trying to catch my breath and then repeat. It can't really be called running, in other words.
Last year I started working out again because my super girlfriends and I all decided to do the Danskin Women's Triathlon in July. Two of them had done it before but the other four of us had not. The two who were old hats at it swore that while it was definitely challenging, any of us could've done it the following day if we'd had to. This led me to believe that I didn't really have to prepare much for it if it was that easy. I should mention that the triathlon consisted of a 1/2-mile swim across a man-made - and very deep - lake (a half mile, people), a 12-mile bike ride, and a 3-mile run. I warned the girls up front that I would NOT be running -- I'd walk the 3-mile run portion, thank you very much. Otherwise, how hard could it be?
I worked out at my gym a few times a week in the months leading up to the triathlon, but really didn't push myself too hard. And if I missed a workout... oh, well. Needless to say, when the triathlon finally rolled around, I was not NEARLY as prepared as I should've been. To top it off, the weather on the day of the triathlon was sunny, humid, windy and 96-degrees. In retrospect, seriously, what the hell was I thinking?!?
My worst fear was drowning during the swim portion of the fun, which would've been okay since the swim was the first leg of the event and would've saved me from the rest! Alas, I did have a minor panic attack less than 5 minutes into the swim and needed a "swim angel" to bring me a noodle to use until I could catch my breath and calm down enough to continue. I swam with that stupid noodle for about half of the distance, and then chucked it up onto a platform because I refused to walk out of the water carrying that thing. It took me nearly 40 minutes to complete the swim. My friends all did it in less than 25 minutes.
The bike ride was next, and we only had a few moments to transition from the swim to the bike ride. I was in such a rush to get going that I took a small sip of water, ate a granola bar and hopped on my bike. I then proceeded to ride into the strong wind up several small hills. My girlfriends, by the way, had told us newbies that the bike course was flat. Liars.
I made it nine miles before feeling light-headed. I was confused by this, but then looking back on it, since I was having trouble reaching my water bottle on my woman's bike frame, I only stopped once in those first nine miles to take a drink. Clearly, I should've stopped a few more times. I was dehydrated.
I managed to get to a group of volunteers along the route before I stumbled off my bike and lay down in the grass in front of them, mere moments from passing out. Thank God one of the volunteers was an off-duty fireman, because he hosed me down with water, made me drink a full bottle of water and made me keep talking to him so I wouldn't lose consciousness. It was the most bizarre feeling for me because I could hear him and the others talking to me and about me, but when I thought I was answering them, I was mumbling. It was not a very safe situation, and I was mortified once I came around a bit and realized how foolish I looked and how dumb it was of me not to have drunk more water along the way. I ended up losing about 20 minutes due to that mistake because I had to sit there and drink a ton of water and the fireman wouldn't let me keep going until he was sure I was okay.
I considered giving up then. I had my cell phone in my bike pack and could've called Super Man at any moment to come pick me up. I was thisclose to doing it, too. But then I thought about how I'd have to look him, Super Boy and Super Girl in the eye if I gave up, and what kind of impact it would have on the kids to see me quit just because "it was hard." For myself, I thought about how I'd feel looking myself in the eye in the morning if I gave up, especially since the worst of it was already behind me. All I had left, after all, was three more miles of biking and then the three mile walk. So I bucked up, got back on my bike, drank like a camel and finished the bike ride. All in all, it took me about an hour and twenty minutes.
The "run" was easy, because I walked it! And I had three bottles of water in my arms for the walk because we had zero shade and it was hotter than the surface of the flippin' sun. And I sweat, my friends. I sweat a LOT. I finished the walk in about 50 minutes.
All in, it took me 3 hours and 50 seconds to complete the triathlon. I was the last of my friends to cross the finish line, but I didn't care. I bawled like a baby crossing that line and getting my medal, and while I was completely exhausted, I was so proud of myself for not giving up. After all, I am a self-proclaimed NON athlete, and there I was finishing a triathlon, something that many of my pretty fit friends wouldn't even attempt!
It was great. But then I sort of gave up on working out regularly. Oh, I still went here and there, maybe took a yoga class or Pilates, but didn't really do anything too strenuous.
Skip ahead to the beginning of this year. I vowed to myself that I was going to take better care of myself, including eating better and working out regularly. While most of my New Year's resolutions each year end up in the trash within three weeks, I actually have kept this one. I am eating healthier and I've been working out three days a week. And not easy-peasy workouts either; I've been pushing myself hard.
I still haven't attempted running, but I can go at least 30 minutes on the elliptical and another 15-30 minutes walking at a 15-minute mile pace on the treadmill if I have time. Today, I had time.
I worked out at a harder pace than usual on the elliptical for a half-hour, and then got on the treadmill and figured I'd just go until I felt tired. Well, I felt tired within the first five minutes. But - for once - I did push through it. I didn't reduce my pace, didn't take a break, I just kept going even though my calf muscles were screaming and I wanted to do nothing but lay down somewhere quiet and go to sleep.
Lo and behold, after a few minutes, I suddenly felt FAB-U-LOUS! My breathing was perfectly fine, my muscles stopped aching, and I actually felt like I could walk at that pace forever. But since I had to pick-up Super Boy from school at 11:05, I only walked for 45 minutes.
But who cares? For once in my life, I experienced that "runner's high," even though I wasn't actually running. The point is, it gave me HOPE that perhaps I can work my way up to running, and not barf up a lung doing it. I've always had dreams of myself running and feeling such a great sense of peace and relief (seriously, I dream about that at night sometimes, which I've always found ironic because I just couldn't get the whole running thing), and maybe, just maybe, those dreams can become a reality sooner rather than later.
Here's to better health in 2008. And to finally, after 34 years, experiencing a "runner's high!"