Wednesday, November 12, 2003

One Year Off from Exercise 

Outta shape, outta my mind – what was I thinking?

I used to be a bit of a gym rat. I took step classes and high-low aerobic classes, participated in all-day charity workout events, did the weight machine circuit, and even tried racquetball, spinning, and kickboxing. In fact, at one point in my gym-nauseum, I had totally convinced myself that it was just easier to go to the gym every single day. I was in decent shape.

But then I started walking to support breast cancer causes and I quit the gym. Just went cold turkey one cold February day. I had committed to doing the Avon 3-day, 60-mile walk for breast cancer, and as such, I needed lots of time to practice walking – way more time than I’d figured on, actually. So, beginning with pink-cheeked February 3-mile jaunts to sweat-infused August 16-mile marches, I walked.

It was fun, despite July and August’s insistence on nothing but heat and humidity. I met some pleasant people, saw lots of early-morning critters, battered my cellulite into submission, and had excellent muscle tone. I raised just over $7300 for the event (over 10 million combined with my fellow walkers), camped in 33-degree temperatures, showered in trucks and peed in way too many porta-potties. It was a great experience, so I promptly signed up to do it again, thereby successfully avoiding the gym for yet another year of walking.

Training for the second event was a bear. Been there, done that. Yawn. There’s only so much getting up at 5:30 a.m. on the weekends and walking for 4-7 hours a body (or a spouse) can take. My walking buddies had changed, and when you spend that much time walking with people, you’d better like them. A lot. It was more difficult to raise money because I had to hit up the same people I did the previous year. So, all along I was just not that “into it.” But I did it anyhow, always keeping in ming the charitable reason behind all the energy being expended.

Then, disaster struck the very first day of the walk: 3000+ walkers spent from 5:30 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon in the steady, chilly, NY October rain. We overtaxed the county’s emergency services to such a degree that the remaining two days of the walk had to be cancelled for our own safety.

While hundreds of walkers surrounding me in the food tent were hugging and crying over the cancellation, I was experiencing a totally different set of emotions.

I was never so relieved in my life.

Yes, I was disappointed. But relief was my overriding emotion. I don’t think I have ever felt more miserable in my life than that day. Even my underwear was soaked and wet. I was shivering from the cold despite the two space blankets I had wrapped around me. The campgrounds were a muddy, mucky mess. I lessened my disappointment by reminding myself that the point of the walk was to raise money to support breast cancer causes, and we’d accomplished that (over 7 million dollars worth that year). But the truth was that I never before wanted to be home in my own bed so badly in all of my life.

It was such a bad experience that year that I decided not to sign up for the next year. I also put off returning to the gym, or doing any other activity that could possibly be even remotely recognized as exercise for an entire year.

I don’t recommend it.

I have recently returned to step classes, and wow…am I out of shape. My get-up-and-go has all but left the building. It’s a struggle not only to keep up with the choreography but also just to catch my breath! Where I used to take great pleasure in “taking it up a notch” by kicking higher and adding bounces, I now have to settle for pride in simply making it through the class. Even the abdominal portion of the class has become abject terror for me. I never knew my face could get that red.

But I have confidence that it will get easier with time. I will get stronger. Breathing and bouncing will become effortless (OK, maybe that's stretching it a bit). I will soon be able to cha-cha, do a 6-step mambo, and a full reverse with the best of them. And hopefully, I will no longer avert my eyes in embarrassment from my instructor during abs work.
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