Thursday, November 7, 2013

Run Like No One's Watching (because they're not)

Here’s the most important thing I’ve learned since becoming a runner:

No one is watching.

I know it’s hard to believe because let’s face it: you look pretty stupid when you run. Your spandex are unforgivingly gripping every inch of fat you’re trying to banish by, you know, running. That tan of yours is sporadic and is hardly being helped by the red splotchiness you seem to be building with every stride. Don’t get me started on your bird’s nest of a hair puff, messily tucked under a neon-colored hat (because sportswear manufacturers apparently only serve that key demographic of Living In the ‘80s). 

Also, you run funny.

Sorry for the reality check, but now here’s the good news: no one cares. Sure, running in the morning means you don’t have time to tweeze last night’s unibrow sprouts. Running after work risks the knowledge that your weekday mascara is set to drip own your cheeks (which in case I haven’t mentioned, are quite splotchy).

Also, you run funny. 

You knew that, right? Your arms flail like inflatable lawn ornaments or crunch up like stiff stale bread. Your feet seem awfully confused about which direction to point their toes. Heck, even Matthew McConaughey looks like a demented impression of a Tyrannosaurus Rex rightfully going extinct. 

Trotting up hills? Ha! That’s just too easy to mock.

Except no one does.

If you’re a runner and you’re out running, you’re not people watching. You might glance at the person across the street as he or she passes or eye the jogger’s butt in front of you because it’s more interesting than the same old park view.

That’s the extent of watching and being watched. Sure, you might occasionally trudge past a cluster of bored teenagers with nothing better to do than whistle or laugh, but if a ninth grader’s taunt still hurts you, just remember that in 20 years, that same kid will be nursing his own blisters after attempting to shed the inevitable beer belly.

But no one will watch him.

The others out walking their dogs and having a picnic? They’re not judging. If they stop their conversation to watch you float by, they’re not thinking “what a stupid neon hat.” They’re telling themselves that THEY should be out here in stretch pats and an iPod armband, running off yesterday’s brunch like the person that just passed by.

That’s you.

But wait! You cry, because surely, you plead, the gym is different. Some women PUT ON MAKEUP before using the treadmill. Some men seem to split their workout between lifting weights and picking up dates.

Well yes, they’re looking. Ladies, if you want to be seen, then you can. Wear the kind of tight pants that advertise your toned rear as “juicy” or “pink” or whatever adjective you feel fits. Trade the neon hat in for more hairspray. If you want to be seen, you can make it so.

But man, that’s a lot of work. The men who shout to tell the room how much they lifted are busy guys, you see. There’s a mirror showing their own reflection and for the proud, that’s a hard image to compete with. You with your sweatpants and sweat-drenched hair are FAR less appealing a sight.

On the flip side, I don’t know a single female who’s ever said “there was this guy on the treadmill and he looked so STUPID.” Or “there was this guy at the gym and I looked at him.” See, we work out to improve ourselves, whether the end goal is to drop out of a plus size class or to beat your PR at the next half marathon. Some of us do it socially, chatting as we power walk. Some make friends from the routine, finding a pal in the other stupid-looking, neon hat-wearing sweat-soaked gym member that also likes the elliptical near the wall at 6PM every other day. But I promise you, running is yours.

No one can take away all the work your body put into a jog just because they might look better doing it. More importantly, no one is trying. The public watches baseball, football, David Letterman and The Voice. They don’t CARE about you doing the most basic exercise man is capable of. If they did, we’d have reality shows and sold-out cross country meets.

Do YOU watch reality shows about cross country meets?
There are plenty of reasons not to exercise, but worrying about what others might think should never be one. If I go out to eat and find a stem of broccoli stuck between my front teeth, I expect a stare. If I exit a restroom and forget to zip up, I expect a comment. But if I leave my home to run, to improve my body and maximize my health, there’s not a single rolled eye or snarky comment that deserves my attention. No runner will ever laugh at you, and any civilian without running shoes doesn’t have the calf muscles to support their judgment. You might look funny, but trust me: no one is laughing.  

Well, unless you're Matthew McConaughey. Because you know, this:

is pretty damn amusing

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Emily's Story, Or How I Learned To Stop Making Excuses & Love (or sort of like) the Act of Running

See I'm not sure if you know this, but there are two kinds of fat people: there's fat people that were born to be fat, and there's fat people that were once thin but became fat... so when you look at 'em you can sorta see that thin person inside. 
-Bender, The Breakfast Club

For 30 years and counting, I have never believed that there was or ever will be a thin person inside me. I was, in the words of the late John Hughes, simply 'born to be fat,' or at the very least, chubby, husky, or mildly to somewhat overweight. Standing just under 5'2 I managed to fly fairly low (not a short joke) under the radar in comparison to my peers. I was rarely the biggest girl in my class, mostly because it was easier to notice someone of my girth in a taller size.

The excuse I always relied on remains a truth: I am an active person. As a child, I played soccer and softball. In college, I walked 30 blocks a day to get to class. Yet even then, I rarely qualified as being of average weight. A brief career in dogwalking saw me whittle down to a Size 8 before a more sedentary office lifestyle shimmied my size back up to a tight 12. All the while, I eschewed so many of the standard fat bringers--soda, potato chips, fast food. Sure I ate real cheese and drank robust beer, but compared to so many slimmer people I knew, I was living on a supermodel diet.

About 3 years ago, I realized that I was getting fat. Not chubby, which I've always (and probably, WILL always have) accepted, but fat, out of shape, and simply not healthy. I still walked about a mile twice a day to get to work and drank water or seltzer in place of juice or coke, but the fact that I hadn't upped my exercise or pushed myself was finally, in my late 20s, making itself noticed. I wasn't comfortable being physical and was horrified to see how clothes were (or were not) fitting. Topping the scale near 178 lbs (remember: 5'2) was the limit, and upon making a bet with a friend, I embarked upon the first REAL decision to get healthy.

It's odd to realize that despite a lifetime of being overweight, I never ACTUALLY went on a diet. The idea of drinking a Slim Fast or pre-ordering Jenny Craig food sounded (and still does) far too restrictive. In 2010, I finally put some rules on myself: stop buying ice cream, serve every meal with a vegetable, and start a workout routine. 

At first, I delighted in the beauty of a 30 minute exercise video. Burning calories in the time it takes to watch an episode of Seinfeld was almost too good to be true.

Eventually, it was.

I didn't realize this until I started the alternative: jogging. After losing about 10 pounds, I joined the newly opened Planet Fitness franchise that sprouted up in my neighborhood. Because my affliction of deathly clumsiness renders any weight machine terrifying, I stuck to the good old fashioned treadmill, where I could time my workout with that very same episode of Seinfeld. It was around that time that my boyfriend Branan suggested we run a 5K fundraiser together, which then gave me plenty of motivation to abandon the cruel taunts of Jillian Michaels on my TV screen and embrace the sweaty realness smells at my gym.

Despite being athletic, I have never, ever never, really never and did I MENTION ever, been a runner. Physical fitness tests in PE class were worse than a route canal. Soccer warmups that involved laps around the field were torture. My softball coach once chased me around the bases with a bat in the hopes that it would motivate me to pick up speed during practice (guess what: it didn't). I  blew the candles out on my 10th  birthday cake with the wish that I would, like so many lucky kids who sat to the side during gym class, contract a case of asthma that would render jogging impossible.

You can probably gather that I did not enjoy the act of running.

So why, you might wonder, am I here cowriting a blog about it? Like a lot of later-in-life runners, it simply took more L-I-V-I-N for me to appreciate what it means to run. It means a sense of self-discipline, a work ethic, and a sort of promise you make between your mind and body to start looking out for each other. It means taking control.

I am still chubby. Because I consider cheese a food group, I doubt that will ever change. In training for my first half marathon, I crammed in 4-5 days a week of jogging, more exercise than I ever had before, and I still managed to lose nothing more than a single pound. I can chalk some of this up to slow metabolism (because SERIOUSLY: how is it otherwise possible to not lose any weight training for a HALF MARATHON?) but ultimately, I don't care (much). I can sprint a block to catch a bus on my way to work. I can walk up a hilly street without pausing a conversation to catch my breath. If for whatever reason I find myself shipwrecked on a barren island with nothing around me but other starving survivors, I have confidence that I will indeed not be the first one eaten, not because I wouldn't yield a fair share of meat, but simply because I now possess the endurance to run away and keep a steady distance between myself and a band of hungry islanders.

It was back in January of 2013 that my pal and blogging bride Betsy asked me to run a half marathon. At that time, I had never gone more than 5 miles. The idea of more than doubling that seemed insane and impossible, but strangely, not unpleasant. I'm shocked at myself for finding it in me to wake up at 5:30 AM and sleep-jog through New York. I'm bewildered by the fact that at a certain point, it started to feel great.

I am not a fast runner. By the end of my first half-marathon, I didn't get a surge of sprinting to carry me over the finish line. But I finished. I finished something that seemed way out of my reach less than one year earlier, and I was able to do it with the support of my friends, partner, family, and most of all, myself. I don't wake up every morning and say "Heck yeah! I'm gonna RUN!", but I do find it in me a few days a week to roll out and trot down the streets, waking up with the sun and occasional cotton-tailed bunny or Manhattan-sized rat crossing my path. I don't always love running, but I adore the way it makes me feel, the nod of approval you get and give from the joggers you pass by, the way water suddenly tastes like a gift from the gods when you come upon that marble fountain. Most importantly, knowing that I can and will put in a few miles every week takes away so much of the guilt I used to have when it comes to eating or drinking. I'll never sacrifice my nachos, but the fact that I KNOW I'm going to burn through them with a few laps means I'll never have to feel bad about it.

In the end, maybe that's what it's all about. Because no man, no woman, no anything should EVER feel wrong enjoying something like this:

That's right. If nothing else, I do it for the nachos. The cheesy, crunchy, angelic bites of calories and bliss called nachos. For me, that's enough.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

On Our Way

Tighten the straps on your sports bra. Lace up those sneakers. Shove a few energy chews/double stuffed Oreos in your mouth and queue up your favorite playlist. 

We're coming.

Slowly but surely, Betsy and Emily will be updating this site with some hard-earned wisdom learned on their grossly blistered feet. Expect some recipes of the delicious (via Betsy) or easy (via Emily) sort. Maybe some anecdotes. Probably some nachos. Most certainly, the continued trauma of how to handle bodily functions on a long run.

Any runner who denies this as their chief concern is a liar.

We're not experts. We're not Olympians. And we're certainly not that fast.

Really, we're just two pals who have slowly discovered over the years that when approached right, running is kind of fun. The more we talk about it together or team up for races and practice runs, the more it takes on a bigger, extremely positive part of our lives. This blog is our attempt to both keep that energy up and to share it with anyone else out there that might need some virtual support. 

Or maybe, we're just looking for advice on how not to stop for prolonged bathroom breaks at mile 9.

Regardless, we're here! We're registered for our next half marathon and our muscles are somewhat stretched. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments as we get this blog rolling and hope you stick around for the madness sure to ensue. 

Happy running!