[Warning: contains lots of fitness and weight-related things]
For any of you who might follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed the daily exchanges with Elizabeth Bear, Fran Wilde and Sarah Goslee (and also occasionally Kyle Cassidy) about exercise-related things, and you might have wondered what that’s about.
Well, it started back at Worldcon last year, when I was kind of a wreck after breaking things off with a boy I really liked. Among the many things I was lamenting at the time, was that I’d lost my fitness acountabilibuddy. Now, I should mention that it was only a vague plan at the time with him to do that, and I hadn’t really started anything up. But because they’re awesome and I love them to tiny little pieces, Fran, Bear and I agreed to be acountabilibuddies on Twitter. Soon after, Sarah joined the party, and we’ve been tweeting progress ever since.
So the other day when The Oatmeal posted a six part comic about why he runs, I tweeted it to my accountabilibuddies.
Kyle had a completely different set of experiences that motivate him.
And I saw a lot of myself in the comic – but at different stages in my life. The Blerch used to have a deathgrip on me. Now: not so much.
I’ve had a fraught relationship with physical activity my entire life: partly because I was a fat kid, and partly because I have asthma. Despite this, I’ve always been vaguely athletic. As kids, my brother and I would go biking, or run around and play tag or play two-bounce piggy at the playground pretty much all summer long. I played softball from when I was about 11 until I graduated from high school. I was on the crew team until I ripped the muscles in my lower back (and acquired a sports injury that plagues me to this day – it hurts right now, actually.)
Despite all this, I wasn’t a jock. I wasn’t picked on either. I wasn’t really anything. I was that weird girl obsessed with the X-Files and Smashing Pumpkins, who endlessly scribbled bad poetry in a notebook when she wasn’t playing guitar. I had my close friends, but I was largely ignored by everyone else. And I hated myself. I hated myself a whole fucking lot.
So I ate. We always had junk food and pop around the house, and I didn’t have any self-control and I was always uncomfortable in my skin. At 16, I was at my largest at over 190lbs. I couldn’t run a block without reaching for my inhaler. I remember standing in the bathroom, gripping the rolls of fat around my belly and crying, resolving that I would start DOING something about it so maybe I could stop hating myself. I stopped drinking pop and lost 30lbs. By the time I started college, I was holding steady between 150 and 155. I still hated myself, but not nearly as much.
When I got to college, I was in charge of my diet for the first time in my life, and I had access to a really good gym. So I started swimming. I took Aikido. And aerobics classes. And I went to the gym and used weight machines. I even tried to start jogging. I’d even occasionally try changing my diet, but I was never successful. I was a slave to my cravings, which made me hate myself more. So I would overcompensate with exercise.
Even so, I stayed stubbornly between 150 and 155.
One day, a friend of mine I worked with in the Forensic Science department told me she wanted to do the AIDS marathon training program, but only if she had someone to do it with. To me, running was this mysterious thing that thin people did. Before college, I’d never been able to run for more than 30 seconds without succumbing to an asthma attack. But thanks to over-doing it, my aerobic fitness had improved enough that I was able to fumble my way through the three-mile pace setting run at the beginning of the training program and hop on board.
I agreed to do it partly because I wanted to see if I could. But I’ll admit that most of the reason was because I assumed that if I was training for a marathon, I’d finally get down to a normal weight.
So I ran a marathon. I ran another one. I wrecked my knees and hurt my hip and strained and re-strained my back. I ate like a monster unleashed. I would run 20 miles, then go with my roommates to IHOP and eat EVERYTHING, then walk back and sit in an ice bath. I didn’t lose a pound.
But running. My god, running. After that first marathon, but before hurting my knees, I loved it for what it was: blankness. I would strap on my minidisc player and just disappear from the world. And with the marathon training, I knew I could actually run FOREVER if I wanted to. And it gave me permission to eat a mountain of junk food. If I wasn’t going to be able to lose weight, at I at least going to enjoy myself. But I kept hurting myself and running became painful.
So I gave it up. I took up cycling. I met a boy with a bike. He and I rode together, going on 30, 40, 50, 60 mile bike rides on the weekends through the wilds of DC. I rode my bike ten miles a day to and from campus. Biking gave me a similar sense of peace as running, but I had to pay too much attention to my surroundings to disappear completely.
I moved to San Diego for grad school. I didn’t have to be the same person I had been before. I would bike everywhere. I joined the triathlon team. I started playing Ultimate with my friend Kendra. I joined a club softball team. I went to the gym. I walked all over campus. But I also started smoking in earnest. And then everything started falling apart. I hurt my right knee really badly and had to stop playing Ultimate. I stopped riding my bike. Financial stress became crippling. Depression set in. I stopped eating. I lost 10 lbs in my second year because, mathematically-speaking, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day was cheaper than buying food. Eventually I pulled out of my emotional tailspin and went right back up to hover between 150 and 155.
I got trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship. Grad school got worse.
I started doing yoga on the recommendation of some friends. I fell in love with it for a lot of the same reasons I loved running (the mindlessness, the competition only against myself), but it was too expensive for me to do regularly, and I didn’t have the motivation to do it on my own, so I gave that up too.
Things got so bad, I finally worked up the courage to drop out of grad school, and find a real job. Instead of walking around campus all day, I drove 45 minutes to sit in a cubicle, then drove 45 minutes home to sit on the couch. I started gaining weight, but it was okay. I had made a choice to change my life so maybe I could finally stop hating myself. I wrote more. I got into VP. I met my kin. I finally got out of that emotionally abusive relationship.
And I hit 165. It was no longer a thing I could wave off. I felt familiar crushing self-hatred pressing down on me, but I found I didn’t care as much. I’d changed. I had things under control, financially. I had a solid group of friends. The gamble I took to drop out of school was paying off. I liked who I was becoming. I decided that I wanted to do this because I wanted to feel healthier – to feel like I had when I was running, not because I was in training for a marathon (I’m never doing that again), but just because I could.
I got a FitBit. I bought myself a year-long unlimited membership to a fantastic yoga studio. I paid attention to what I was eating, and found I wasn’t succumbing to cravings like I used to. I quit smoking regularly (I still partake more than I would like). I started getting stronger.
And I started running again.
I used the Couch-2-5k program so that I wouldn’t get discouraged by injuries or asthma attacks. It sucked at first. It hurt, and I was gasping for breath. But I felt myself getting better. 9 months after starting, running had become easier. Joyful, even. I actually look forward now to getting home and pulling on my shoes because it’s a celebration of my hard work rather than a way to turn off the self-loathing.
I hit my goal weight of 139 a few months back. And even with injury setbacks, illnesses and traveling, I’m still running. Still going to yoga.
I ran 3 hard miles last night, despite not having run for three weeks (due to busy-ness, a trip to NY, straining my back again and acquiring the lung plague that’s going around). I was wheezing and tired for most of it, and when I got home and started stretching I had to be super-careful of my lower back. But I feel better today because of it.
I used to run because I felt I had to exercise. Now I run because I can.