Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Dreaded "R" Word- VAL

Hello, folks! How's everyone doing? I'm awake dark and early (4:15 AM) thanks to my circadian rhythm being completely out of whack! I returned home from my travels in Thailand yesterday and my body's telling me that it is 4:15 PM... Getting back on track is going to be FUN! The immediate effect is that I am wide-awake and counting down the minutes until I can head over to my gym for my first run in about a MONTH! I'm psyched- I've missed it terribly. 

Some of you may "get" what I'm saying and others think, perhaps, I should lie back down because I'm talking crazy. It's true- "running" tends to separate people into two categories: those who love it and those who loathe it. My next guest blogger, Val, is a runner. She's also a mom of four children, med student (almost med school graduate!), writer, wife, in the Army, and my cousin. She's incredibly busy and, interestingly enough, has evolved into a runner as she has become busier over the years. I find that to be no coincidence as I believe running, once you've established a routine, is one of the best practices you can do to relieve stress from everyday life and feel good about yourself. 
                                     LaFemmeFITalle readers, please enjoy Val's candid account on "the dreaded "R" word".......
This conversation took place between me and my husband a week ago after I had just walked in the door after a run at the park.

Husband:  How was your run?
Me:  Miserable as usual.  Thanks for asking.
Husband:  Welcome.
Me:  I’ve noticed you keep asking.  Do you expect that one of these days I’m going to suddenly like running?
Husband:  Well, I read that a lot of people hate it in the beginning but then grow to love it.
Me:  I’ve been running for four years now.  This isn’t the beginning.

It’s true.  I hate to run.  I force myself to run two miles every other day for various reasons, foremost of which is my desire to be fit and healthy, but I find the running itself to be miserable, on the whole.  On running days I dread it and will sometimes find a way to get the run over with early so that I don’t have it hanging over me all day long.  The aversion to running is so strong that I used to have mini anxiety attacks as I approached the track (or treadmill), so that my heart rate would be 100+ before I even started.

My husband doesn’t understand this at all.  He uses the word ‘enjoy’ with the word ‘running’ together in sentences quite often.  He actually likes the feeling of running.  He ran a 10K marathon the other day and wants to run another one soon.

It’s too late to change activities at this point.  I’ve become accustomed to running, to the particular sensations associated with it, to the particular track where I run—I even use the same songs every time and know where I should be on the track as each song ends.  To mix it up, to suggest an exercise bike, or pilates or something else at this point would be a further torture, as the adoption of these types of activities don’t come to easily to me.  Just to get me to switch from running on cement to running on a treadmill was a challenge of unexpected proportions undertaken by my best friend three years ago.  (I started out using the clip, until he said, “The only people in the gym I’ve ever seen wearing the clip are seventy-year-olds.” At which point I removed it.)

I appreciate the effects my efforts of course.  After a long break from running I started back a few months ago, and already my J. Crew pantsuit falls over my middle so much more smoothly—without any change on the bathroom scale.  Gotta love that part.  And I love shopping for running gear—my new pink Nike Therma-fit pullover is just gorgeous.  

And, likewise, I have great admiration for and appreciation of the human body itself.  The way it works, the ceaseless ten ounce pump pushing around the ten pints of blood, muscles of all shapes and sizes layered just so, the many nerves, some thick as stalk of asparagus, others not visible without a microscope, but each coursing on its path to supply something somewhere with sensation or movement.  Indeed I know a bit about this—gross anatomy my first year of medical school made sure of that. 

It’s just that most of the things I love to do don’t require arms or legs—or, for that matter, a torso.  I like to read, and write, and study, and think about things.  I like to memorize lines of poetry that strike my fancy and watch televised political debates.  I like to sip coffee and discuss things with other people like me.  Most of my life is lived inside my head.  I’ve never understood the pleasure people take in physical exertion, the sweat and searing lungs, the gasping and flailing about—it’s not for me.

And when it comes to the running, it’s not just those types of things--the burning lungs and aching chest and hip joint pain--that I hate.  I don’t like the way, when I run on cold nights, that my fourth toe on either foot turns completely white.  I don’t like how, when my elbows are bent at my sides in normal running position, the upper part of my arm sticks to the lower part once I’m sweating.  I don’t like how the shapes of my ears reject most earphones.  I don’t like how, if I’m trying to run while depressed (or while on my period) my legs feel like jello and my whole body feels weaker.  

It doesn’t help that low muscle tone seems to run in my family.  It’s not just that no one plays sports, is athletic, or even exercises, which is true.  But in addition to all of those things, there really does seem to be a genetic component to this tendency to be sedentary.  My mother refused to hold up her head until after she was seven months old, prompting my grandmother to have her examined by the pediatrician.  The pediatrician, after a quick exam, pronounced my seven-month-old mother ‘lazy’.  As for me, I didn’t walk until I was almost a year-and-a-half old, was late learning to ride a bike, and as a kid I struggled learn how to snap, whistle, or anything else requiring coordination.  Of course, my one attempt at team sports—JV soccer in high school—was a disaster.  

But, I’m going to keep running, I’ve decided.  For the obvious health and fitness benefits, of course, but also because, when I lecture patients about being active, I like being able to say that, despite my ultra-busy schedule and natural aversion to physical exertion, I manage to run two miles at least three days a week.  It feels good to not being a hypocrite.

For another thing, life goes by fast.  Working with sick people makes you think about this more than the average person.  One day I will wake up a wrinkled old bag, with bones like powder, crumbling joints, unreliable organs, etc.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, that day is coming for all of us, if we are fortunate to live into our eighties, nineties and beyond—it’s coming no matter how well we take care of ourselves today.  At some point the light will begin to flicker.  The mileage will add up.  

Knowing that day is coming, knowing that one day my body will be a prison, I don’t want to have regrets about not using my body back when I had the opportunity.  Running, as miserable as it is for me, does make me feel alive in a way that reading a book doesn’t.

I was running yesterday, and sometime just after the first mile, I began mentally attacking a problem with the book I’m working on.   A half mile passed before the sensation of sweaty elbow crevasse brought me back to reality.  I was surprised to find myself on the opposite side of the track already, with no memory of the last five minutes of suffering.  I found this to be an interesting, and promising, development.  

When my husband asked how my run was, I assured him it was miserable.  But then I revised my answer:  “Well, for a few minutes back there, it was okay.”  He raised his eyebrows and smiled.  

Yes, I suppose there’s hope for all of us.

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