fitness

A Workout Does Not Change the World (on its own)

I got an “exciting” email from Trail Runner magazine yesterday, announcing with “joy” that its family of companies, Pocket Outdoor Media (POM) had added five “amazing” companies to its portfolio, including Outside magazine and TV.* 

In addition to all the expected superlatives, the email concluded like this:

In closing, let me thank you for being a fan and supporter of our brands. We believe that a hike, a run, a ride, or a yoga practice can change a life and change the world. Today, we are one giant step closer to achieving our mission, and we invite you to join us on the journey ahead. 

            Yours truly,

            Robin Thurston

            CEO of Outside

I enjoy David Roche’s writing in Trail Runner. This letter, on the other hand, from his new boss, not so much. I get animated when I read things like this and immediately send notes to Sam (who coordinates things here at Fit Is A Feminist Issue) and ask when the next open slot is on the blog.

Because … really?? –A hike, a run, a ride or a yoga practice can change a life and change the world? Okay, I know that the sentence is softened by the use of the word “can” instead of “will”. But let’s be honest, they are selling the idea that “a”, which could mean only one, workout can change a life and the world. Aaargh.

Then, when someone discovers that not only is their whole life not changed by one single workout, but, in all likelihood, they will need to keep moving to continue enjoying the benefits, the person wonders: What’s wrong with me, I haven’t solved everything in my life in one shot?

Well … because … there’s no one-and-done. Life is above all about living. Living is about change, flux, dedication and perseverance. That’s what makes it interesting. And hopefully fun. The only way a single workout changes our life is if it sets us on a new path. But that path requires our ongoing attention, patience and, yes, love. The path is the change and that’s still the work of a lifetime.

Magnetic sign board that reads: A smile can change someone’s day (which is true!)
Neonbrand on Unsplash

Oh, and lest we forget, yesterday’s email promise was not just that we’d solve things in our own life, but also in the whole wide world. Gosh, it feels so good to know we’re only one hike (or bike or run or …) away from changing the world. No. I’m sorry. I have to stomp that hope out right here. It’s simply not true.

We need to change the world. No doubt about that. Our planet is pleading with us to be gentle. The wealth gap yawns ever wider. Racial and gender equity are goals, not current realities. So, yes please, let’s bear those calls to action in mind in everything we do, including our workouts.

But let’s not confuse the workout with the work. Our workout is not a free pass to feel like we’ve already done enough. Oh gosh, thanks so much for going for that run Mina, the homeless situation just solved itself as a result. Our choice to be physically active gives us the strength, endurance, resilience, and such like, so that we can show up in the world as resourced as possible and pitch in with the work that needs to be done.

There’s another insidious bit of nonsense in the sentence (which Nicole, another blogger here, pointed out). Implied in the idea that our hike, bike, run or yoga class can change us and the world is the notion that we are kind and compassionate people who want to make positive change. Is there a logical correlation between working out and being good? At a stretch there’s an argument to be made that being physically active contributes to our mental health (true!) and, therefore, we are better human beings.

That’s a generalization with gaping holes in the knees and thighs of its jeans. Yes, I do think that how we do anything is how we do everything-ish. That “ish” is an important caveat. It’s more that how we do anything demonstrates the potential for how we might do everything—the zeal and commitment with which we may approach other things, if we so choose. It’s not possible to do everything with the same level of enthusiasm and kindness. But, our choice to be active (however that looks for us), may resource us with a larger reserve of enthusiasm and kindness.

The marketing email I got was only repeating the hackneyed inspiration we are fed all over the place these days. We know better. We know how much work it takes to stay active. Then, how much more courage we need to share our gifts. Oh, and to be clear, we are more than allowed to just go for a hike, bike, run, yoga, whatever, just for the sheer pleasure, and not to change anything.  

But when we are in the sharing mood, let’s use our more bountiful resources wisely and joyfully to change our life and the world!

*In case you’re interested, the new media conglomerate (which will be called Outside) includes these magazines: Gaia GPS, athleteReg, Peloton, SKI, Yoga Journal, Backpacker, Trail Runner, Climbing, Clean Eating, Women’s Running, VeloNews; plus Warren Miller Entertainment, Roll Massif, FinisherPix, and more.

running

Where did all my running buddies go?

Finishing up some last business on my next Run Like A Girlbook for the publisher, I got to the task of writing acknowledgements. Figuring they would be somewhat similar to those I wrote for the first RLAG book, I had a look back. Surprise. There was a lovely list of friends I ran and cycled and cross-country skied and went to yoga with. Not one of them is a regular workout partner anymore. In fact, in the 8 years since that book came out, my life has apparently changed so radically, that my only frequent workout partner anymore is my life partner (and when he’s not with me, I bring podcasts for company). 

Absorbing the full scope of the changes in my life, didn’t feel good. I wasn’t feeling lonely when I started the task, but that outdated list landed on my heart with a thud. Did I do something wrong? Did everyone stop liking me? 

Yes, I could go through the list and find reasonable explanations for each of the losses—children, moving, long-term injuries, marriage break ups and new travel schedules. Also, after a rough patch in my own relationship, I re-evaluated my own tendency to jump out of bed super-early and have been reveling these last years in the pleasures of sleeping a bit more and waking up together. Sometimes we really geek out and I read poetry aloud before we get out of bed. 

I haven’t “broken up” with any of the friends on that old list; most remain close. I even get to run with them here and there, which is always a ginormous treat. But mostly, when I see them now it’s purely social and sweat-free.

It’s not the same. There’s something different and, yes, extra-special about a friend on the road. Especially now, when so much of life is interrupted and mediated by our devices, the time together during a workout feels intimate and unguarded. Running and jubilating. Running and crying. Running and raging. Running and analyzing. Running and solving. Running and chatting. I have had the great good fortune to run in all these ways. These are the treasures of running (or cycling or cross-country skiing or any workout that allows time to talk on the go) with a friend. 

While struggling to write my new acknowledgments, I’ve begun the uncomfortable task of pulling together marketing, which involves positioning not just my book, but me. Hello, irony. The marketing people I’m working with (who are great) have come up with the idea of pitching me (as manifest in the book) as “your running buddy.” Once I get past the strange sensation of viewing myself from the outside, I know it’s a fine idea, even as it also strikes a melancholy chord.     

I miss my buddies. I feel so lucky to have had many precious companions over the years. If there’s anything to be gleaned from this moment of fresh understanding, it’s that life is going to change. Again.  And again. I’m enjoying the current pattern of my workout life and the time with my partner. I look forward to new configurations, too. 

With this post, I send out my love to all my workout buddies over the years! I invite all of you reading this to send out some of your own love to past and present mates in the comments section.