Tuesday, March 1, 2011

2013 Resolutions: Running Out of Excuses

    (1/1/13) You can always find excuses not to go jogging. At the moment, my cat is dying. My herniated discs are inflamed. I have lots of housecleaning and kitchen work to do. I have a writing deadline looming. The temperature outside is in the single digits, and air quality is poor. I just had surgery, for pete's sake! It would be stupid to exercise.
    Anyway, who cares? Pretty much everyone else is still in bed. When they do get up, they'll be cramming themselves with sausage, pancakes with syrup, and fried eggs. Sure, it's nice to be healthy and slender, but is it worth the effort? Why pressure yourself? Why not just be a regular person, and purge yourself of those wild and crazy jogging fantasies?
    Now is a good time to kick the excuses out of your head, and hit the road. You may soon regard it as the most profound resolution you ever made.

    As a percent of the population, very few people seriously resolve to take up jogging, and among those who do, most give up after a few weeks at most. For me, it was like trying to give up smoking: I tried to do it several times, but I couldn't sustain my commitment.
    It felt worse to try and fail, over and over again, than it would have if I'd never tried at all. I wasted so many hours standing at the door, imagining going out there and forcing myself to leap into action. I felt sick with ambivalence and even a sort of fear, which I likened to stage fright.
    (I hated being "on display," but I have found that the only people who pay any attention to you are those who wish they were doing it, too. Runners inspire others to run. I think runners should be given "neighborhood beautification awards." Don't you feel that those who are jogging add a special element of joy and charm to their surroundings? I have to exclude myself from this categorization. If my shadow is telling the truth, I look like a  pathetic, awkward cartoon character, skittering along the avenue. But I don't care. At least I'm doing it!)
Beautifying the neighborhood.
     Jogging has become as essential to me as food and sleep. I have been loving it for almost 35 years.
    Maybe my experience in bridging these two states -- paralyzed with dread vs. heaven -- will be helpful to you. As I mentioned in my 2012 New Year's post about running (http://kronstantinople.blogspot.com/2012/01/jogging-jubilation-dont-give-up-your.html), I would have found it much easier physically and psychologically to begin with a daily brisk-walking regimen. Walking -- and make it a nice, challenging stride -- is not nearly as intimidating, and it feels good from the start.
    For me, jogging was intimidating, and it felt bad from the start.  Even when I actually got myself out the door, the jogging made me feel sick and exhausted. I felt so lousy afterward that I wondered if the cardiovascular exercise might be causing my body to rid itself of toxins, creating a temporary sense of unwellness. Probably not. But I didn't have a joyful launch into a new way of life.
    I think I must have made every mistake possible.
   Within the first 18 months or so, I developed "runner's knee," shin splints, tendinitis in my knees and ankles, stress fractures in my shin and foot, persistent Achilles inflammation, and chronic hip pain.  Before every run, I had to wrap one joint or another in a supportive elastic bandage, and when I got back, I had to ice at least one part of my body. I got blisters on my heels, corns between my toes. 
Wasn't it supposed to make me feel better?
    I kept going anyway, because I felt that I needed it in order, literally, to save my life.
    But I could have averted a lot of pain and disappointment if I'd started out slowly and prepared my body for running. A walking regimen would have strengthened the muscles in my lower body, which would have protected me from injuries. As I gained in fitness and physical confidence, I could gradually have incorporated running into my workout. 
    Skipping is a great workout, and it's such a blast that you can't stop smiling. If someone thinks you're a lunatic and calls the police, enjoy the process of being handcuffed, "taken in," and interrogated. It's totally sexy!
    When I developed runner's knee, a very painful condition, within weeks after I'd embarked on my running career, a podiatrist instructed me how to strengthen my quadriceps (thigh) muscles. 
The quadriceps are a beautiful contraption.
     The quads protect and stabilize your knees. I have been doing the exercise below regularly, and have never had a knee injury caused by running since. I started out doing 20 pounds and worked up to 100 pounds. I cut back to 80 pounds when it seemed I'd gone a bit too far. My muscles handled it fine, but it stressed the joints too much.
     This can easily be done without equipment. You can sit in a regular chair and raise each leg, squeezing the thigh muscle as it straightens. You can also do it lying down, lifting each leg and holding the contraction for a few seconds. When you're ready, add weights to your ankle, which you can buy in any sporting goods department. I started out by putting a canvas bag filled with rocks over my foot and sitting on a balcony, doing raises with each leg separately. Pretty primitive, but it was the early '80s! This exercise not only prevented future injuries; it also gave me immediate relief for my condition
     I thought my podiatrist was a genius for knowing just what to recommend, until the Internet came along and provided me with directions for taking care of pretty much any condition, including rotator-cuff tears and tennis elbow. This capacity to manage your own body is exhilarating. It imbues you with such a sense of self reliance! 
   Yoga poses that "open up the hip" (also learned from the Internet) made a dramatic difference in my pain. Stretching properly is beautiful: It helps you achieve and maintain flexibility, and it is an amazing mood elevator, at least for me.
This hurts, in a good way.
      My vision of being a jogger had a macho element to it. I wanted to run hard. I wanted to be fast and strong. I wanted to come stomping and blazing down the street like a big, wild animal on the verge of roaring, "Get out of my way!" even though nobody was there. I hoped to get an emotional release through the pounding physicality of flat-out, bust-a-gut running.
    I learned the hard way that I am a small-boned woman who perhaps would look more appropriate in a tutu than gym gear. I will never be a teenage jock, no matter how many decades I try. I don't want to accept such labels as "fragile" or "delicate," but I did have to work around my physical limitations, even as I decreased those limitations to some extent by exercising religiously.
I want to be a wild animal -- not a pink-satiny girly girl!
   As I stressed in my previous post, the impact of music on keeping one motivated and making it pleasurable can't be overestimated. Rock on!
    I might be seen as kind of an old crone by all of you young ladies, but to me, I'm still the "Dancing Queen," and the songs you love are flooding my brain and propelling me ahead. Thank you for your service in helping to formulate the culture in which this music is created. Now get out there and use it!
     (An Oct. 23, 2013, article documents how music increases workout intensity, decreases oxygen utilization and enhances enjoyment. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/how-music-can-boost-our-workouts/?pagewanted=print.)

    Weight training gives you a beautiful body and protects you from cognitive decline (http://kronstantinople.blogspot.com/2012/05/muscle-your-way-into-lifelong-brain.html). It relieves stress. It gives you energy, rather than sapping you of it.

    I had to have knee surgery after (as usual) plunging too quickly and intensely into a new regimen: squats. My operation was comical and surreal (http://kronstantinople.blogspot.com/2013/01/happy-2013-to-me-dr-dreamy-does-bedroom.html).