In which I tell you how it felt to run medium-distance sprints as a tween.
I have never enjoyed exercise.
I remember being in junior high school on the track team. Sucked at sprinting, sucked at distance, so they put me on the 200 meter. It was miserable. I could not figure out what in the holy hell made people like running. Compared to not-running, it made me feel like shit. Unpleasant sensations everywhere, and no, don’t even talk to me about the runner’s high experience I never had, and no, I never felt noticeably better after running (beyond gratitude that it was over).
Same for absolutely every exercise in my entire life, ever. In fact, now that I’m fat and seriously pushing 50, it feels, well, just like it always felt, only now I look even more ridiculous than I feel. Catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror doing squats? Please.
While I’m exercising, I’m aware of stress on the body, on the heart, on the tissues. I’m aware of fatigue, overheating, sweating, and a general feeling of this-sucks-let’s-stop-immediately. It isn’t nice. It doesn’t feel good. It’s something you do to get away from danger, not a fucking hobby.
I’ve done 90-minute yoga classes, but only on occasion, and more out of a sense of “oh, I should go, it’s good for me” [read: “I think this activity suits my personality”] than “oh, it feels so great, I want to go.” It doesn’t feel great. It’s hard work, and afterward you’re tired. Whoopee. The only benefit of yoga over any other form of exercise is that the environmental trappings imply that you’re deeper than the typical jock, without, of course, actually meaning any such thing. Otherwise, yoga’s just exercise with a bit of a lie-down at the end during which the white lady with the killer bod she has encased in half your week’s salary’s worth of trendy yoga clothes tells you your feelings are fine, thereby validating your rampant consumerism and cultural appropriation.
I think the best shape I’ve ever been in was probably in Walla Walla, because I didn’t have a car and I walked and biked everywhere. It’s a small town, so it’s not like I ever walked or biked very far, but I did it every day for years. I think it was the right amount of activity for me, in retrospect.
The entire rest of my life I’ve been, to varying degrees, more sedentary than that. Plus with the smoking and drinking and random schedule and diet I’ve always had.
Today I went for a walk to help with my anxiety. It’s fucking hot and humid, and the sun is shining like a particularly aggressive stage spot. I walked down 28th to Soo Line, through the garden to the Greenway, up the Greenway to the very next exit, up the ramp to street level, and home again. Barely half a mile, but hey, it’s 85F and humid, what the fuck do you want from me.
While walking up the ramp, I was aware, as I always am when doing physical activity for its own sake, that it sucked. My quads were fine and signaling stamina, as were my calves, but my fucking skin itched and most of me felt bad. My heart was doing its job but I still felt that hunger your various parts feel when they need just a bit more oxygen. My eyes felt weird; I don’t know how to describe it but they just do, always have, when I’m exerting myself, as if I can’t see properly even though my vision doesn’t actually change. I assume it has something to do with blood pressure in those little eye capillaries. My hands puffed up and turned red, which is a thing they do now that I’m both fat and old, so I held them up like I was prepped for surgery. I had the sense that I could, if I had to, walk up that incline for a very long time; hours and hours, if I had water. But all I could think was, “This sucks. Let’s stop immediately.”
I didn’t find it pleasant.
That ramp is super steep. I’m not sure how many vertical feet, but it goes from street level down to train track level in, like, 1/10th of a block. (I can only ride all the way up it if I get a serious head start and stand on my pedals.) It’s easier at night, of course, when you’re not being roasted from both the black pavement you’re walking on and the furnace of the yellow dwarf star behind you. But no matter the time of day it’s always humid… until it’s so dry your nose bleeds, of course, but I’ve never been on that ramp in blizzard season.
Anyway, I get to the top of the ramp and turn the corner and am heading homeward parallel to the Greenway down below, and I’m thinking, “I really have to feel REALLY SHIT ALL THE TIME FOR A LONG TIME before the shit that is exercise is less shit than the shit that is not.” Which is a convoluted way of saying I have to feel awful, truly awful, in a sustained way, over a long time, to make exercise feel good in comparison.
Which is to say that it sucked, but slightly less than horrible hangovers or even more horrible panic.
I blog about this because I realized I’d been thinking an untrue thing; that, oh, I feel so bad when I exert myself because I’m so unhealthy, which is entirely my fault due to poor choices and personality flaws like laziness and selfishness and sloth and blah blah blah. But the truth is, I have always felt bad while exerting myself. Always. Since I was a little kid. I remember finishing up track practice after school and feeling like it was the most bizarre, awful activity there was, and that I would rather do anything but fucking run around pointlessly for a couple of hours feeling terrible and gross. Everybody droning on and on about personal bests and runner’s highs and I’m just thinking WHY CAN’T WE READ A FUCKING BOOK? THIS FUCKING SUCKS.
I remember going to track meets, but I couldn’t tell you if I finished the season or not. I probably did; it seems like I’d remember the infamy of dropping out. But I never went out for track — or indeed any other sport — ever again, and I actually invested a lot of time and energy in discovering ways to get out of P.E. because exercise felt so shitty compared to any other activity.
It’s acceptable if you’re doing it in service of something else — it’s easy to dance for a couple of hours, for example, or to walk while you’re looking at autumn leaves in the woods, or realize you’ve been on a 5-mile ride across the countryside with your friends — but to just do it for the sensation? Eh.
I know the results are important. I’m making the effort. But no, Mush, you were never really fit, ever, and you aren’t some fucking disaster of a human being who’s let herself go downhill. You just happen to find yourself in a life that doesn’t have any physical activity built-in, and you’re not good at forcing it on yourself because it’s shit.
Good on you for walking for 90 minutes this week. Maybe do 90 minutes again next week. Maybe walk after work a bit, when the sun’s down. Maybe get 90 minutes a week habituated, and then go up to 120. Maybe walk all winter; it’s not like you hate the cold anymore (although snow and ice are certainly issues to walkers; maybe get some cleats and a stick).
But the whole self-bashing weirdness needs to go, because it’s weird. You’re okay. You’re making an effort. Quit with the weird-ass self-talk, because exercise sucks and you’ve never liked it the weather here’s crap anyway; not everything is your fault, dear. Just make the effort, okay? Okay.