When I was at a clothing store a couple weeks ago, buying a pair of pants, the young cashier looked up and asked me if I was a runner. I was momentarily shocked, “how did you know”, was my natural response, assuming no one would guess I was a runner unless I told them. She pointed to the tattoo of running shoes in a heart on my arm and I smiled. Oh, right, now it makes sense.
I have been running for 16 years. I have run 2 full marathons and several half marathons. During my 30s I went to spinning class, on average, 4-5 times a week. Often double headers, and sometimes a run, followed by spin class. Then I learned kettlebell and yoga and became a devotee of a lovely local studio for a few years. For the past few years I have been going to a women’s studio for strength and conditioning workouts. And yet, I still feel like an imposter, on occasion, when it comes to fitness (don’t get me started on my career).
There are times I feel quite satisfied by my dedication to fitness. Somewhere in between learning how to run more than a few blocks, and completing my first half marathon, I acknowledged that I am, in fact, a “runner”. It is a great source of confidence, “even if a bit of a slow one”.
Running and other forms of exercise have helped me manage my mental health (I am a moody Cancerian by nature). It gave me something to have goals about, and distract me from some of the life goals I wasn’t reaching in my 30s. I am certain, it is because of my regular exercise, I have managed to stay “insulin tolerant” at 47, despite a strong family history of type two diabetes, and a penchant for eating bags of sour kids when my hormones are not my friends. I had high blood pressure at age 18, but not ever since I started exercising. I have managed to stay fit, much to the chagrin of the part of my brain that has been socialized (incorrectly) to believe only certain bodies can call themselves fit.
And yet, even when I would be finishing 3 hours of high intensity spinning, with energy still left to burn, there was still a part of me that figured that many of the “natural athletes” in the room secretly knew I didn’t belong.
There’s still the 12 year old girl who, for lack of knowing better, and likely not realizing she was self-treating early stages of anxiety, would stop halfway through the dreaded laps in gym class, to light a cigarette, and take as long as possible to walk back to the baseball field, to hopefully find a spot on the bench.
I have made friends through fitness, relished the endorphins pulsing through my body after a killer HIIT class, and yet, I still feel embarrassed when I can’t do certain moves and that I will be found out for not belonging there. Sometimes that can manifest itself as anxiety in class. Making sure I do what I am there to do, sweat like crazy, even if my brain is suffering a confidence battle, at the same time there are logistical challenges due to a packed class, or a tight hip, or peremenopausal nerves clenching my soul.
Ultimately, I know I cannot function properly without exercising regularly and I am diligent in fitting my needs into my calendar. One day, I may turn off that imposter voice in my head, once and for all.
Philosopher, feminist, parent, and cyclist! Co-founder of Fit Is a Feminist Issue, co-author of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (launching in April 2018, published by Greystone Books.
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