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.