I went running today.
If that doesn’t surprise you, then clearly we don’t know each other well. I will walk, hike, or sprint till I collapse with a smile on my face, but the idea of going for a jog sounds about as appealing to me as a visit to the dentist. Things start bouncing and chafing and sweating and it’s just a very unpleasant experience for all participants (me) and observers (the public). So on the rare (i.e. once or twice a year) occasion that I experience an actual desire to run and the thought doesn’t make me break out in hives, I go with it.
And that’s exactly what I did this morning.
Normally I go on a run and I’m like, “Whooo! Look at me! I’m going to run and it’s gonna ‘click’ this time and I’ll fall in love with running and totally start training for races and get really sexy runner legs.” I envision it looking like this:
That lasts until I’m about halfway around the block, at which point I’m thinking, “What the hell am I doing this for? I hate this. I think I developed asthma in the last half mile. Why is Pandora playing a Miley Cyrus song? How am I already sweating?? I knew I should have worn an extra sports bra. This is gross and miserable and I don’t know why anyone does this for fun. I’m going to be fat foreverrrrr! [Insert many, many obscenities here…]” And it sure as hell ain’t pretty.
But this time around, I didn’t hate it that much. I maybe even kind of enjoyed it just a tiny bit. No, it wasn’t pretty- things still jiggled and chafed and got way too sweaty. My headphone cords started entangling me a few times and my shorts were riding up and I looked about twice my age and frumpalicious in my Nike athletic tank from 1998, and let’s not even talk about my hair. But along the way I found myself running up hills in my neighborhood like it was nothing, when running up those hills last time left me feeling like I was going to heave up half a lung. I found myself taking the long way home just because, since the whole feeling of running-and-not-wanting-to-die was so new and intriguing that I wanted to see how long it could last. I found myself wondering at the absence of extreme pain and fatigue in my legs as I hustled up those last hills, remembering the way I previously would have to coax myself to continue on without stopping.
I found myself thinking, “That wasn’t so bad…and hell, I might just do it again sometime.”
Yall, that never happens.
Especially not after taking a solid five months off from running.
Yep. Five months of no running (save for three miserable miles on the treadmill about halfway through) made me a significantly stronger runner. Not only did I take time off from running, but I completely shifted my focus from cardio to strength. I cut way back on the total time I spent doing cardio, and when I did do some, I made it freaking count. We’re talking a switch from 60 minutes, six days a week (at least), to 20 minutes, three days a week. On top of that, I was really focusing on strength training, and made it a point to really lift heavy (of course, that’s a relative term…) the past couple months. And, perhaps most importantly, I started taking rest days.* In other words, I stopped trying to punish my body and started trying to strengthen it. You know, the whole “Stimulate, don’t annihilate” thing. And the “Muscles grow during rest, not training” idea.
Wouldn’t you know, it kind of really worked.
I’m stronger, I’m faster, and I don’t get mistaken for Shamu as often these days.
I mean, I won’t be running regularly anytime soon, because it’s still hot as heck (and besides, commitment scares me) and I never said I fell in love with running. But it was kind of cool to see how far I’d come and how I could sort of enjoy the whole jiggling, sweating, chafing ordeal. And it was really cool to see that I could get stronger/faster/fitter/badass-er/better-at-not-getting-out-of-breath without doing something that I hate (run regularly), and instead doing something that I love (lifting heavy).
Maybe you like running. Maybe you like Crossfit. Maybe you like Doritos. And that’s cool- you do you. Just remember that sometimes, when something makes you mother-lovin’ miserable (ahem, running), it’s because you’re doing it wrong. Or you’re doing it too much. Or you’re not cross-training/foam-rolling/recovering properly. Or that’s just not your jam, and you need to drop that sucker like you’re Taylor Swift and it’s your latest boyfriend.
I think the moral of the story is that exercise should make you feel like a BAMF.** Working out is necessary, and sure, it may be hard (that’s kind of the point), but life is too short to spend hours each week doing something you dread…especially if doing that doesn’t really do much for you. Figure out what gets you red in the face and leaves you hurtin’ and still makes you smile at the end and want to do it all over again the next day.
And then do it.
And you just might be better off because of it.
Oh, and if you’re one of those people who is a regular runner….well, I’ll pray for you.
*Please note that “rest” days are not the same as “sit on your behind, watch How I Met Your Mother reruns, and don’t get off the couch for 16 hours” days. But those are good, too.
**Translation: “badass mofo.” (Or “burly armed mutant friend,” if that’s more your thaaang.)