Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Another Boring Workout Post

About a year ago, I made a decision to change my life. It wasn't that I was unhappy with my body. Absolutely not. Other people might have been, but somehow, I was blessed with more self-confidence than maybe anybody, and also with a husband who was so dotingly and madly in love with every single inch of me that it never really occurred to me to loathe myself because I was fat. Sure, I had friends who were very thin who still complained about their weight, who poked at their slightly rounded abdomens after a meal and said, "OH MY GOD, I'M SUCH A FATASS", and sometimes I wanted to say, "If you think YOU are a fatass, what, pray tell, do you think of me?", but for the most part, I enjoyed the giant boobs my extra weight afforded me. I dressed myself in clothes I loved, and I worked every one of those pounds. I wasn't unhappy because I didn't conform to the magazine-idea of beauty. Because, frankly, even if I lost enough weight to be a waif, I still wouldn't be a magazine beauty.

I was unhappy because I got out of breath climbing the stairs. I was unhappy because I had two small kids, and chasing them across the playground hurt my back. I was unhappy because I couldn't comfortably tie my shoes. I was unhappy because so many people assumed that I didn't like the way I looked. I was unhappy because people believed I had married someone who "must be into big girls."

So I joined Weight Watchers. Again. I joined after the birth of my first kid, lost about sixty pounds, and felt amazing. Two months after kid number 2, I joined again, stuck with it for a few months, lost about 25 pounds, then quit because I was busy, broke, and unmotivated. But in March, I decided to suck it up and go back, because I knew that it worked. I was so anxious about returning (anxiety is a huge problem for me, and causes more problems that anyone without it would believe) that I made my best friend come with me. I don't know why I thought they would guilt me, or make fun of me, because for the most part, Weight Watchers leaders are awesome. And without exception, they've all been there. They know how hard it is to start over. At that first meeting, with my friend sitting beside me and holding my hand so I wouldn't run away, my leader talked about how important activity was. Of course it is. Everyone knows that.

Since I was committed to not breaking a sweat while tying my shoes, I drove to the park near my house to walk around the track. I walked twice around the half-mile loop, high-fived myself, and went home. I did this every day for a week. I went back to weigh in at my Weight Watchers meeting, and in that first week, I had lost eight pounds. This is a testament to how horrible my eating habits were before ONE WEEK of sensible eating and moderate exercise.

The next week, I added another two laps. Then, perversely, I wondered if I could run. After all, if walking helped me lose eight pounds, running would help even more, right? I had never run, ever, in my whole life, and I was kind of proud of it. I was one of those people who joked about it, who said, "I only run if someone is chasing me." I was a round and lovely glamour-puss, and running shoes are ugly and running makes your face turn red and makes you sweat. Gross. However, when you lose weight, the people in your Weight Watchers meeting clap for you and you get a sticker. I will do nearly anything for applause and a sticker.

I was wearing pink Converse All-Stars. I was listening to the original Broadway cast recording of "Pippin". I started at the highest point of the half-mile loop, and hurled myself along the downhill portion of the track. I ran 1/8th of a mile, then collapsed on the ground, shins screaming, breath heaving, heart pounding, and feeling like I had been stabbed through the side with a meat fork. "This is ridiculous," I said out loud. "Rivers belong where they can ramble. Eagles belong where they can fly." And I cried because I was only thirty years old, and I had never, ever, been able to run. And I thought I never would. The crying turned into anger, as it tends to do, and embarrassment, as the other park-runners skirted past me and reached for their pepper spray, just in case. The next day, I gritted my teeth and hurled myself down the hill again. Then the next day, I did it again. After a week, I felt a little bit less like dying.

I mentioned to a friend that I had sort-of "started running". "AWESOME," she said (this friend speaks in all caps) "LET'S DO THE DISNEY PRINCESS HALF-MARATHON NEXT YEAR! IT'S IN DISNEY WORLD AND WE GET TO WEAR COSTUMES AND IT WILL BE SO MUCH FUN!" A half-marathon is 13.1 miles. MILES. I nearly died running an eighth of a mile. This seemed completely impossible. However, as much as I love stickers and applause, this venture promised an opportunity to dress like a princess AND get a medal. Jewelry, y'all, is a powerful motivator.

So I started "running". I "ran" at least four times a week. I ran in the early mornings, I ran at dusk, I ran in the rain. I wasn't running far, or fast, or with any level of skill, but for short, 1/8th-mile bursts of spirit, I was, in fact, running. Then somehow, the 1/8th of a mile turned into 1/4th of a mile at a time. A lot of my friends at the time were using the "Couch to 5K" app. I wasn't. I was using the "run as far and for as long as you can without dying, then stop, and when you can breathe again, run some more" method. Say what you will, but this low-tech training worked for me. Then, on Mother's Day, something happened. Something snapped. There was an event, a moment in my life where I was treated so rudely that my face flushed and my hands shook. Before I started "running", this would have sent me into an anxiety/depression spiral. However, this time, all I wanted was to get home, put on my shoes (which were actual athletic-type, ugly shoes by this point), and go for a run. While I was running, on Mother's Day, I was fueled by rage and indignation and suddenly, before I even thought about it, I realized that I had run around the track, without stopping, twice. That was a mile. I had run an entire mile without stopping.

Elementary schoolers do this kind of thing every day. People run a mile without even thinking about it, every day. There are senior citizens who spryly run a mile in their velour track suits, then play a round of canasta. But I had never run a mile. Ever. In fact, full disclosure, in elementary school, I'm pretty sure I lied about how many times I had run around the track when we were doing the Presidential Physical Fitness Test.

I kept attending Weight Watchers meetings, I kept religiously tracking my points, and I kept losing weight. People started noticing that I was losing weight, and I was surprised at how much I resented it when they told me "how much better" I looked. You would be amazed at how many people actually commented that they "bet my husband was really glad I was looking so good." Um. What? I know not everyone knows my husband, but the girl he fell in love with was a lapful of woman, and he adored me. When I was hugely pregnant with his children and weighed well over 200 pounds (because, yes, I did, and I'm not one bit embarrassed to admit it), he called me a goddess. He's one of those rare humans who actually does see beauty as beauty, and doesn't pretend that "skinny" means the same as "pretty", because it doesn't. When I complained about my stretch marks or my C-section scars, he thanked me for carrying our children and told me I had never been more beautiful. I told someone that once, and they laughed and said, "Oh, he's good," implying that this was all complete bullshit. But I know my husband. I know his heart, and I know that he means every word. It's an unfortunate thing that that kind of love and sincerity and devotion is so rare that people doubt that it could be true. It doesn't matter. He knows it. I know it.

I kept going to Weight Watchers meetings, I kept running, I kept getting stronger. Somewhere along the way, I stopped caring what my body looked like, and started appreciating what it was capable of doing. My calves aren't going to fit into skinny jeans, and my thighs will never look like a baby giraffe's, but these legs can carry me  up an East Tennessee "hill", and I'm pretty sure if they needed to, they could kick some serious ass.

And I kept running. I ran when I was tired. I ran when I got blisters. I ran when my family was napping. I ran through shin splints, sore muscles, and aching legs. I ran through depression and anxiety. I ran when my heart was breaking. I ran when it rained, when it was so hot and humid that I fainted (I don't recommend that, by the way), I ran in snow, in sleet, in actual hail, and in wind that nearly knocked me down. I ran even though a guy yelled "fatass" at me from passing cars and threw an empty Mountain Dew can at me. I ran pushing my daughter in a jogging stroller, I stole early morning hours before my children woke up to run as the sun came up. I ran off my insecurity of not being a real runner. I ran off my self-consciousness of how ridiculous I think I look when I'm running. I ran through the "I hate running" part of running and came out the other side, which was as surreal as though I had woken up one day and decided to start weaving sandals for myself out of hemp I grew in the side lawn.

When we moved away from South Carolina a few months later, I started running not on a track, but on little country backroads. My grandad lived next door, and when I first moved here, I stopped by to visit with him after my runs. He was an adventurous guy, to say the least, a man who had hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail twice after retirement. He was proud of me for running. He thought it was wonderful that I was sticking with the plan to run the half-marathon. We sat at the table and talked about it over breakfast. The next night, he went to sleep and never woke up.

The roads I run here are beautiful. They cross rivers and streams and mountains. I run past cows and horses and wildflowers. And after I lost my grandad, I started loving it even more. No one ever appreciated the world the way he did. All those miles he traveled on foot made him part of it, part of the dirt and the sky and the mountains. It's three miles from my house to the church where he is buried. The first time I visited his grave after his funeral, it was, appropriately, on foot. I didn't even really realize that that was where I was headed, because it was further than I had run before, but I started running and before I knew it, I was sitting there on the ground, next to the freshly covered grave that was covered in wilting flower arrangements. I found myself saying prayers of thanks for this man who showed me how to take risks and go on adventures, who showed me how to appreciate and respect the earth, for the strong legs I inherited from him, and for that talk we got to have, where he told me he thought I was going to be able to do it.

About a month ago, final preparations for the trip to the Disney Princess Half-Marathon were underway. Hotel arrangements were being made, budgeting was going on, and like every other mom of two kids, I started feeling wary of spending so much money on something so selfish. I mean, the registration fee was already paid, but there was the matter of everything else: hotel, food, gas, new shoes, and so on. Anxiety crept in, doubt crept in, and one night I had a dream about my grandad. I dreamed that he was really still alive and that his death had been a dream. (A dweam within a dweam, so to speak). I was talking to him and told him that I had had a dream that he had died and that only I could see his ghost and that everybody thought I was crazy. He laughed and said, "Don't listen to them. You just keep right on moving." The next day, I received a check in the mail as one of my grandfather's beneficiaries. If that isn't a big thumbs-up from beyond, I'm not really sure what is.

Two days ago, a year later and forty pounds lighter, I ran the Disney Princess Half-Marathon. I ran it in two hours, fifty-one minutes. That is about twenty minutes slower than the 13.1 miles I ran on an empty course a few days before the race, but considering how crowded it was (around 24,000 princesses), I'm not unhappy with my time.


Who am I kidding?

I'm elated. I'm over the freaking moon. This was the fourth best day in my life, after the birth of each of my children and the day I decided to spend my life with Steve Schultz. In less than a year, I went from thinking I could never run a mile, ever, no matter what, to justifying why it took me twenty minutes longer than it should have to run thirteen point freaking one miles. I ran it. And because it was in Disney World, there were photographers everywhere. Looking back at these images, there is a smile on my face in every single one. I don't think I ever stopped smiling the whole race. I have never felt so strong, so powerful, so capable of anything.

The day before the race, a woman I admire a whole lot sent me a message telling me that her first half-marathon was a profoundly spiritual experience. She was so right. I felt like she did, that in that last mile, my grandfather and my dad were right there beside me. I could feel their pride, not because I'm the fastest runner (because I'm not) but because I could have given up at any point in the past year, and I didn't. When I crossed the finish line, there were tears pouring down my cheeks. I was giddy, I was beyond happy, and not because it was over. I was happy because I knew that I could have kept running.

If it really matters to this story, which I suppose it does if you want closure, I have met my target weight, and along with it, I received a star on my Weight Watchers keychain, a round of applause, and a job offer. The number, while within the BMI guidelines, is on the higher side for my height. I'm cool with that. The number is far from what people would want if their goal is to be "skinny", and that's fine, because being "skinny" is not my goal. My goal was to become healthy and strong and powerful. My goal was to prove to myself that I'm capable of anything.

 And I did it. I did it. I did it.

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