I was asked by Sam to contribute my thoughts on rediscovering running at 43 years old. I’m 5’2 and 180 lbs. (Five foot two and eyes of blue, as the old song goes…)
The short part of my story goes something like this: It’s hard. It’s hard to be at the heaviest I’ve ever been, and try to move my body against its own weight after two years of an extremely sedentary job. However, competing only against myself, I have a few simple rules; 1) If it hurts, it’s time to stop and walk 2) If it’s a bit easier each consecutive time, then I deserve to be proud of myself.
Contrast this to the prevailing idea of fitness in the 80’s- the period in which I flailed through adolescence trying to re-create myself as an attractive, heterosexual girl from the chubby, often teased tomboy which existed in the 70’s. Jane Fonda was big. And it wasn’t a “fitness class” or “boot camp” or “personal training session”, it was Aerobics. Aerobics with flimsy, leather shoes called the “Reebok Princess” pounding on hardwood/concrete gym floors. It was a time of “no pain, no gain”, spandex and headbands. To me then, fitness equalled thin. The kind of thin that means your inner thighs don’t touch each other and cellulite is non-existent.
I wanted to be Bess Motta of the “20 minute workout” kind of gorgeous. I needed the attention of every male gym buff at the YMCA to validate my existence. I had to find a boyfriend and look perfect in the eyes of Much Music and Friday Night Videos in order to feel worthy.
So, not only did I run 4-5 times a week in my adolescence and early twenties, I taught aerobics classes from the tender age of 14 to about the time I was twenty, lifted weights, and ate next to nothing. A bowl of cereal weighing 3/4 oz according to my sister’s weight watchers scale and the recommended portion according to her book, with 1/2 cup of skim milk in the morning. Diet Coke or Tab at lunch, and half a head of lettuce with vinegar, salt and no oil at dinner. Occasionally, 1 cup of pasta, and 2 oz of meat. Three servings of fruit. That’s all I ate for several years.
Of-course, after a couple years of starving myself, I started to eat more, and correspondingly, began to exceed my perceived ideal weight of more than 100 lbs. When I ate more than I thought appropriate or actually felt that my stomach was full, I’d take the odd laxative to purge it all out. Fortunately, it never went beyond that.
But the disordered thinking about my body, food and exercise were all present. And now I find myself at the opposite end of the spectrum. I am much more accepting of me, my body and “imperfection” as deigned by popular media. That’s a good thing! I’ve grown up, thank the goddess. However as Janeen Roth says in her book “Women, Food and God”: “It’s not about the weight, but it’s not NOT about the weight.” There are more compelling reasons for getting fit at my age, and number one on my list is having the energy and strength to do the things that I love already, or am interested in trying. I want to build a gorgeous garden, hike through field and stream, go to work and feel inspired. I want less anxiety, better sleep and lower blood pressure.
In short, I want a life in which I have choice. By the grace of the universe and my own self-determination, I’ll have that.
Today, I ran for 5 two minute segments on the treadmill as part of a varied intensity 30 minute walk/run. I have little to no knee/back pain, and have added at least ten minutes of strengthening on most run days. It’s working.
I’ve also discovered that headbands, serve a practical purpose!
I’m a slightly neurotic, battle-scarred 43 year old woman who wonders why can’t we all just get along? A generally pessimistic queer who wouldn’t hurt a fly, but still manages to wring a few drops of joy out of this wet blanket we call life. Possessing little humour, I enjoy a good Victorian novel and my dog.