I woke up one morning a few months ago in a terrific mood. I got the kids ready for school and walked them over to the schoolyard. As I was headed home I ran into a neighbor. She’s a mom, too, and we sometimes talk on the way to and from school. She’s tall and quite beautiful and always elegantly dressed. And she’s thin. After catching up for a minute she looked at me and asked, “When are you due?”
I cannot explain to you how crushing that question was. I wasn’t pregnant.
I’m 5’2” and 154 pounds and I have a bit of a belly. The self-consciousness and shame that comes with this imperfection is enormous. It’s the background noise of my life.
I laughed off my neighbor’s comment. “Oh, no, I’m not pregnant. That’s just my body.” I was nearly in tears.
I’ve struggled with weight issues since I was 12. I’m not fat and I’ve never been fat, but I’m also not thin. I’ve gained and lost 30 pounds over and over again in the last 10 years. Weight Watchers is awesome. I get it. I know what it takes to be 30 lbs. lighter. But here’s the thing. I love to eat. I love to make food, read about food, shop for food, and eat good food. I can reign in those behaviors to a greater degree than I do now, but I don’t want to.
I’ve gone long periods in my life without exercising. I’m not a natural athlete. I’d rather sew than play tennis. I was the kid sitting in the outfield during gym class who got hit with ball because I was picking clover.
For a long time I would look at the other moms at school drop-off outfitted in their brand-name workout clothes and wonder why they would spend their precious alone hours exercising. I had better things to do.
It’s not that I hate exercise. I like Zumba. I was into step aerobics in college. Swimming is pretty fun. I know it makes me feel good. But I would fall out of practice.
What I’ve come to realize this past year is that exercise turns that background noise of deep self-consciousness about my body way down. And that was the kernel of motivation I needed to make exercise a part of my life for good.
Last July I started Couch-to-5K, a training plan that slowly eases you from doing no exercise to running 3.1 miles in two months. Each workout takes about 35 minutes. I got the app for my iPhone. I loaded up hours of great podcasts. I completed the training regimen and, on September 15, I ran a 5K. And then I kept going.
Today is my one-year anniversary of becoming a runner.
I like running because I can do it anywhere. I don’t waste any time driving to a gym, or money on a gym membership. I don’t need any special equipment or an instructor or trainer to help me. For me, running is like crafting. It’s humble.
Here are a few things that prevented me from exercising in the past, and how I got past them.
Problem: I like to take a shower first thing in the morning. I don’t want to wait until after I exercise to shower. I don’t want to show up at school unshowered. I’ll feel gross.
Solution: I take two showers: one first thing in the morning and another after I exercise. Sounds simple, but this was a serious stumbling block in the past.
Problem: I don’t like starting my morning wearing an old t-shirt and grubby sweatpants. Workout clothes always feel really tight. My sneakers are from 2004 but I’ve hardly worn them.
Solution: I spent some money on cute workout clothes. I went to a sporting goods store. I bought a size large so I have some room to move. I bought awesome Nikes. I even got some little socks. I wear this stuff and I look pretty good.
Problem: I have a baby at home. I can’t leave the house. I don’t have any free time. I can hardly get my work done as it is.
Solution: I hired a babysitter. I already had a babysitter because I work in the mornings from 9-12. Now, I go running from 9:00-10:00 and then shower. Turns out I can still get my work done. If you’ve scheduled a meeting with me this year you know I don’t schedule anything until after 10:15. I’m busy until then.
Problem: I look stupid running. I run so slowly that all the other runners pass me.
Solution: So what. I'm over it.
Problem: I live in New England where it’s freezing for long months of the winter. And it snows a lot. I hate being cold.
Solution: I allow myself to experience nature during my run. I go out in every weather. This year I ran during blizzards and rainstorms. I ran when it was brutally hot and when it was 4 degrees. Before I started running I often felt like I didn’t spend enough time outside. Not anymore.
When I look at my body now I acknowledge that it works pretty darn well. I’ll be 38 next month. I’m healthy. I’ve given birth three times. I run 12 miles a week. I feel good. Running allowed me to turn the background noise of self-consciousness about my body down to a much lower volume. It’s not gone, but it doesn’t drown out the good things any more. Running allowed me to embrace the body that I have and to be proud of it.