Why I stopped treating my body like a dumpster and learned to love working out

(You can all thank NGS for this loooong-winded diatribe.)

After we got back from our trip to Turks & Caicos, Jason decided he wanted to get serious about working out. I agreed. For the past two years, my body has been feeling more and more decrepit: I had burning hip pain, I felt parts of my body moving when I walked that I hadn’t felt previously, and I didn’t care at all for the direction I seemed to be heading, health-wise.

After visiting (and almost immediately discounting) CrossFit, we decided to try a local fitness studio I had heard about at a Workplace health fair. After one free session, we were both hooked and signed up for memberships immediately. I was initially cheesed at myself for having to pay for exercise when I should be doing it at home for free. But then I realized that I was not, in fact, exercising at home and that this was the only way to commit to exercise, so I immediately got over it. I just keep telling myself that it’s an investment in my future health that will hopefully reduce my future medical costs.

I don’t want to list the studio by name because there’s only a few locations and I don’t want the people there to find this blog. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t care at all if they found this entry; it just makes me feel weird when people I know in real life read my blog (family members excluded). I know this seems dumb, and some of you who follow me on Facebook already probably know what I’m talking about, so I’ll throw you a bone and give you a few hints.

There’s 3 parts to the studio name:

Part one is a color and also a type of juice you may have with breakfast.

Part two is another word for a scientific idea. You may see it in such phrases as “________ of relativity” or “string ________.”

Part three rhymes with “witness.”

So, I work out at ColorIdea Witness, more or less.

The main reason I love ColorIdea Witness so very, very much is that it’s circuit training. This is key for me. I hate being bored by a workout. But here, I’ve been going 2-3 times a week for 6 months, and it’s never been the same workout twice. I absolutely love that. The nerdy part of me loves coming in and seeing the workout on the board; it’s like a miniature Christmas morning 2-3 times a week. (Re-reading that, it just occurred to me that maybe I need to get a life.)

Training consists of three circuits: one on the treadmill, one on the rowing machines and one on the floor. During your hour-long workout, you can wear a heart-rate monitor on a strap that posts your heart rate and calorie burn on TV monitors. As unnerving as that may seem (everyone can see everyone else’s progress), I really like seeing my numbers since it helps me know that I can push myself harder. (I also compete with myself to try to beat my previous numbers. And, if you are next to me on the treadmills, I’m trying to beat your speed/distance. You may not realize this, but it’s happening. Don’t worry, I don’t gloat.) There are three stages your heart rate can be in (without giving away Google-able terminology, think of a stoplight, with the yellow replaced with the first word of the studio name) and you’re aiming to stay in that middle stage as much as possible.

Classes are limited to 24 people, with half starting on the treadmills, and half starting on the rowers or floor. That means it’s basically you, the trainer and maybe 11 other people (usually less). So you get plenty of one-on-one trainer time to help correct your form, get tips, etc. Sometimes, if you’re lucky like Jason, the trainer will hand you heavier weights. Or, sometimes, if your heart rate is below where the trainer thinks it should be, they’ll tell you to increase your speed on the treadmill. Instead of being irritating, this only serves the purpose of telling me I am capable of doing more, something I wouldn’t ever push myself to do at home.

I typically start on the treadmills because I loathe cardio and want to get it over with as soon as possible. The treadmill circuit usually lasts for about 25-27 minutes. (This is where I was extremely glad that Jason and I were typically running 3.1 miles a few times a week on our own.) We switch between three speeds: slow & sustainable, pushing it and running as fast as you can (they call it something different, but again, I don’t want anyone to Google the terminology and find this entry). There may also be incline work. You spend anywhere from 30 seconds to 4 minutes in a given stage, with a minute of walking after the tough intervals. For the sprinter in me, this is perfect. Even when I’m dying, I know I’ll be able to walk in a few minutes. And, you can go at your own pace. There’s people who walk the whole time and people who practically sprint the whole time. (I am firmly in the jogging category.) Like the floor circuit, you never know what you’re going to get: one day it may be a lot of sprints, other days you’ll focus on longer paces at a slower speed and other days involve spending a lot of time running at an incline (my least favorite, because my legs are instantly dead for anything to come afterwards).

The floor work is my favorite. I cannot believe how much I love lifting weights. I love, love, LOVE it. The circuit usually starts with some rowing, then switches to the floor, which might involve using weights, straps, medicine balls, Bosu balls or just body-weight exercises like squats, lunges, pushups, etc. Sometimes we even use those little scooters from gym class. Remember those? The ones with four wheels that you’d sit on and race around the gym floor while the P.E. instructor comforted that one kid who always ran over his own fingers? Well here, you use them to do ab rollouts or put your feet on them and do push-ups, so now they represent some serious core work.

Another bonus that doesn’t seem like a bonus but makes you feel like a total badass: I sweat a TON when I work out here. Like, I can seriously wring sweat out of my ponytail when I’m done. Sometimes I see people getting done with their workout and they’ve barely broken a sweat and I think, “How is that possible?”

The people are really cool, too. I love all of the trainers, the desk staff learned my name after like, two days, and the other people working out are all so nice and complimentary. Everyone encourages new people and assures them it gets easier, and at every class, someone is complimenting either Jason or I on either our weight loss or our slowly-developing-muscles physique. We all joke about needing to atone about overindulgences or commiserate over particularly challenging workouts, and it’s like a little family since people tend to work out at the same time/days of the week. It’s nice. I also like the fact that for that hour, there’s nothing to focus on but myself: no deadlines, no distractions, no phones. Just the thumping music and the shouting instructions from the trainer.

Our location has four trainers. There is one who’s our favorite, so we try to schedule as many classes with her as possible. For some reason, I burn more calories in her class than any other. In an hour workout, I’ll burn anywhere from 480-570 calories. Jason usually burns closer to 800-900.

Since I started, I’ve lost about 12 pounds. That might not sound like much, until I tell you this: I didn’t lose much weight at first, but lost major inches off my hips, which was huge since I was pretty pear-shaped. In the last few months, I not only upped the number of times I worked out from 2-3 to 3-4, but also got serious about my diet. I cut waaaaaay back on the Mountain Dews and my portions are much less. So in the last 2 months, I’ve lost about 6 pounds. I have another fitness assessment this weekend, so I’m eager to hear how many more inches off my waist and hips I’ve lost. Right now, I’m about 7 pounds from my ultimate goal weight and I have nicely defined arm muscles so I’m happy. All the changes I’m making are so subtle and sustainable, it feels like I’m not sacrificing anything at all. I’m still eating the same foods, just less of them. I’m still drinking Mountain Dews, just less. So simple.

Plus, I’m much stronger. We had to lift our ultra-heavy snowblower into the back of Jason’s vehicle to take it in for a tune-up, and normally it is a huge struggle because I can barely lift my end and Jason has to do the bulk of it and we argue and it’s never pretty. This year, we lifted it with no issue whatsoever. None. It was like lifting a paper bag. Jason was all, “You got it?” and I snapped back, “Yeah, of course,” like why wouldn’t I? AM STRONG LIKE OX NOW.

So this is the perfect place for both Jason and I. When it’s a workout day, I’m excited. Like, EXCITED, excited. Like one of those insane fitness people you try to avoid because they suck. Only I don’t talk about calories or eating tofu or any of that jazz because I love cheese and food too much. But I will talk your ear off about exercising. Because I love it so much now. Sometimes after a particularly grueling workout, I’ll think, “I want to work out again. Right now.” And considering that I would use any excuse to get out of working out, that is a thought I’d never ever thought I’d have.

Streetrunner

Our treadmill is still broken and awaiting a new control panel/sensor/capacitor (I assume this is the part that likes to mess with me mentally by randomly slowing down so that 2-3 seconds go by without the distance changing), so we decided to run outside. Here’s how that worked out:

Shoes: Oh hey, our mesh exterior lets in ALL the cold air!

Face: Um, why are we running into the wind? You know it’s only 30 degrees out, right? And you saw how that giant American flag at the fire station was completely horizontal, yes?

Hands: We’re covered with gloves and yet we’re still freezing!

Lungs: Uh…you remembered to take your inhaler first, right?

Brain: CRAP.

Lungs: It’s cool. We’ll just repay you later with a 5-minute coughing fit. Nothing we love better than cold air crackling in our asthma-infected tissues!

Legs: No me gusta.

Shoes: HA! We became untied already — 3 minutes in. New record!

Eyes: How is Jason so far ahead of us so soon???

Jerkwad’s driveway/sidewalk: Hey, hope you enjoyed dodging the Ice Path of Death since I am apparently the only homeowner in the city who has not shoveled.

Stopwatch: Wow. You ran this mile in 10:21 despite running into the wind, stopping to tie your shoe and feeling as though you’re running in quicksand in a stop-motion film run at half speed.

Brain: How is that possible?

iPod: I like to think it’s because of you having Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding out for a hero” on your playlist…like all badasses do.

Legs: I know we’re numb from the cold and all, but we really need to walk right now.

Lungs: Hey, just saying — because I’m sure you’ve noticed — but we’re not really “breathing” right now. All the air you’re inhaling is immediately getting exhaled – it’s not even reaching us!

Nose: You know what’s great? Exertion and cold air! Now you’re not the only one running! HA HA!

Jerkwad’s driveway/sidewalk: Ooh, I bet that jerking motion you made as you started to slip on the ice pulled a back muscle!

iPod: Because you’re so cold, I decided to shuffle to Rob Zombie’s “Numb.” Clever, huh? You’re welcome!

Lungs: It’s amazing how well we do using only 8 percent of our capacity.

Legs: We’re feeling awesome right now! For real, we’re not messing with you — for once.

Entire body: Yeah, this isn’t that bad, especially since you haven’t run in ages. We might be able to do that 7K next weekend without dying. No promises, though!

Stopwatch: You ran 2 miles in 22:08. Believe me, I am as surprised about this as you are.

Conclusion: I run faster when I’m cold and miserable.

Goal met

Last week I ran three miles without stopping. (Somehow I feel the need to clarify that these miles were consecutive.) To say I was impressed with myself would be a grievous understatement, and in fact, once I decided to run the whole distance without stopping, my main motivation was pretty much just to do it so that I could say I did.

My previous longest run without stopping was two miles, which somehow became embedded in my brain as That Distance I Reach So I Can Walk. (True story: as a sprinter in high school, I secretly bummed car rides from friends whenever I was supposed to be out on a long-distance run.) For months, I’d run two miles and automatically walk without even really checking to see if I needed to. After recently completing a mile one night at a decent pace and realizing I wasn’t even breathing hard, I decided it might be time to up the ante.

Whenever I run, I have to engage in this crazy conversation with myself that is full of negotiations (if I run X at Y, I can do Z; X being an arbitrary distance at Y speed, and Z being a completely counterproductive reward such as drinking a liter of Mountain Dew or never exercising again). So once I decided to run the whole distance, I laid out my bargain: If I run the whole three miles, I can do it at a (much) slower speed than I usually run (which admittedly, is not Olympic-caliber to begin with).

As usual, the first four minutes of my run involved an impersonation of a dehydrated camel loping on three legs. At the beginning of my runs, I cannot run in a straight line to save my life. (This is troublesome because if I take one wrong step, the treadmill will propel me directly into a wall.) But, on the plus side, I was so preoccupied with hating everything that the time went faster: I fiddled with my iPod cord, I got irritated at my shoelace whapping against my ankle, I peeled my bangs out of my eyes for the eight thousandth time, and I worried about Shorty looking like he was about to leap onto the treadmill (this happened once, and was about as hilarious and awkward as you might imagine).

After the first mile, everything settled down. I wasn’t tired and time seemed to be floating by, so like an overconfident idiot, I increased my speed. That lasted about 37 seconds. At mile two, my face felt like it could legitimately start nearby paper products on fire and I was sweating from places I didn’t even know could produce sweat (my elbows?). And, this is undocumented, but I swear that the treadmill timer started counting slower.

At mile 2.5, determined to gut it out, I focused on my iPod. Instead of running to my usual exercise playlist, I had hit shuffle, and of course every song blaring in my ears was instrumental or classical or the slowest song ever to be composed, OH MY GOD. So I wasted a lot of time jabbing the fast-forward button while issuing loud sounds of annoyance. But I did it: three whole miles. Without stopping.

Now I never have to exercise again.

Don’t tread(mill) on me

It’s been nearly 2 1/2 weeks since we’ve gotten our treadmill and endured an epic battle getting the 200-lb. thing out of the truck, avoiding the front of the ice-covered steps in favor of going up the side of them (Me: “I can’t do this because I can’t lift my leg high enough because the box is in the way and too heavy to lift higher.” Jason: “Just do it!” Me: “It. Is. Impossible, Dammit!”) and down 13 steps while Jason had the weight of the box to lean against his chest while I was hunched forward trying to keep the box from slipping down the stairs and crushing him (Me: “We should switch places. I can’t hold onto it like this. There’s no handles.” Jason: “No. Just lift it.” Me: “What if we just opened the box upstairs and brought the parts downstairs?” [Ed. note: I still do not understand why this fantastic idea was not greeted with enthusiasm] Jason: “No. Just do it!” Me: “There. Is. NOTHING. To. Hold. Onto!!!” Repeat for 30 minutes).

But we finally got it downstairs and assembled, and we’ve been using it ever since and recording our progress on a spreadsheet. We’re both eager to run and excited about getting fit, and I’ve been peppering Jason with questions about his approach to running: What music do you listen to? What do you think about? Do you try to run for a certain time or distance? How can you run for so long without stopping? Are you a robot? Etc., etc.

I don’t think I’ll ever have the runner mentality where I’ll be running and all of a sudden, whoops, 15 miles just flew by without my noticing, you know? The whole time I am running, I am keenly aware that I am running. My legs, arms and lungs are all quite aware, thank you, and my hair capitalizes on the opportunity to find the best way to plaster itself into my eyeballs.

The first time I ran, I looked at the display the whole time and stopped at a pre-determined time, not because my body actually felt tired. So since then, I’ve been zoning out, trying not to think about anything at all, and especially not thinking about how much time has elapsed, or how I’ll make a deal that I can walk once I reach a mile, or how I can slow down once a song is over. I’m focusing on my body instead. How my legs sometimes burn, how my breathing feels (I can definitely tell when I don’t use my inhaler since I have a 5-minute coughing fit afterwards), how my speed increases if Andrew W.K. or Rob Zombie are part of my playlist.

I’m no longer noticing how Shorty sometimes comes over and almost touches his nose to the moving belt; how Sunny looks prepared to leap onto the treadmill display, fall onto the moving belt and get shot into the wall, leaving behind a cartoon, cat-shaped hole; or how my disembodied, bouncing head must look through the basement window to the neighbors.

All I’m thinking about is how awesome it’s going to feel when I’m done and can record my latest progress. And how each time I get better and better.