Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Secret Life of Exercisers

Today, we were running outside--we'd run downtown, done squats and lunges at the lake and run across Broad until it started curving around. We'd gotten to the part where we were sprinting--fast, fast, faster--and I was breathing in and out, heavy. It was right in the middle of one of those moments when you ask yourself if you are going to make it. You worry you will keel over or run completely out of breath or just give in and slow it down to a walk.

Then, out of nowhere, a guy on a bike yelled out something encouraging. What it was is not important--"Keep going!" or "Looks good!"--something of that sort. It immediately re-invigorated and re-focused me. Keep going--almost there. And then I was. A complete stranger, yelling out to someone he didn't know, kept me going.


I always found exercising intimidating. I was not ( not?) particularly good at it. I jog more slowly than some people walk, and I sprint at others' jogs. My triceps suck, and any exercise undertaken to make them suck less left me floundering on a machine. I wasn't comfortable with turning the resistance knob on the spin bikes. I always worried that people were thinking about how dumb I looked, how miserably I was operating the machines and my own body. This was before I knew The Secret, that people who are exercising around you are the most cheery and supportive group of people I know.


Recently, I ran my first 5K. Slow, but steady--through mud puddles and a drizzly cold rain. It took me nearly 45 minutes of steady jogging, but I felt a burst of energy at the finish line, having seen my Janet near the end. I sprinted to the finish, determined to beat the clock to 45. And the man at the line started yelling for me. "Come on, 114!" he shouted. "Looking good! Come on! You're almost there!" And then I was.


I'm not an optimistic person. Most of the time, I am sardonic and sarcastic. I get it honestly--most of the scientists I know are similarly afflicted. Most of the people I know who are mentally ill, also. It's not to say that I am not happy--but I am suspicious of both promises and intentions, having fallen several times on the wrong side of both. I am neither convinced that the cup is half-full or half-empty--I'm just expected it to tip over. On me. While I'm wearing a white shirt.
But I feel like that part of me gets temporarily switched off at the gym. I don't know why--maybe I just have to use all of my energy to believe that I can sustain this change. Maybe it's that I've finally realized that this is working--I'm getting smaller and stronger. Against what I'd considered all odds, I have muscles and endurance and (gasp!) I'm even starting to enjoy myself.
I've tapped into this secret life of people who support each other wholly, no matter what stage of the game they're in. People they don't know, people they don't have anything in common with--except, of course, that they've all found this secret place. But unlike most secrets, they are all too happy to share it with anyone who's willing to seek it out. They stand at the gates, handing out maps and yelling encouragements.


I was in the weight room, which Teresa calls the "Man Pit." Being there by myself is still intimidating, even after I've been shown how to use the machines and know that what I'm doing is right.

I was lunging across the room with ten-pound round weights in each time. Exhaling and counting on each leg. And a woman who was headed for the door stopped me and said, "You look so strong!"

I thanked her. It really meant so much to me. I feel strong. But that much stronger when I'm shown the unmitigated support of so many people, many whom I've never met and will likely never see again.


Blogger VKT said...

I need to get motivated to exercise. I keep thinking about it but I can't seem to get started. I used to jog like you do until I broke my hip falling down stairs to keep a student from falling.

February 28, 2010 at 8:46 PM  

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