I'm going to talk about running. Feel free to click away. I certainly would have, two months ago. Running, jogging, exercising or indeed, physical movement in general were all things that I had absolutely no interest in. The only way I was running anywhere was if there was a lion behind me and an ice cream truck in front of me. But cut to about six weeks later, and now I'm running three times a week, and wishing it could be more. I'm still terrible at it, mind you -- it's like watching a fat bird trying to escape the tyranny of its own legs -- but I'm goddamn doing it, and there's nobody more surprised by that fact than me. And all because I realized four stupidly simple things:
It's Not an All or Nothing Scenario
I'd always thought of exercise as an all or nothing affair. Either you do it, or you don't. If you can't run for an hour, you don't go running. There's no point to it. If you can't do 50 sit-ups, it's not going to do you any good to do 20, so don't bother. I know that idea is, to put it politely, so retarded that it gets special paychecks from the government three times a year, but there are a lot of people operating under the same assumption, even if they don't consciously realize it. And like all things -- from the decline of our economy to cheese being
so bad for you even though it's so good -- I blame the public education system. In this case, it was gym class or, as fat young me knew it, "that hour where everybody gets together in an auditorium to look at your pasty legs and judge you."
"STOP BOOING! OH GOD, I DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW THIS IS HELPING MY EDUCATION."
I couldn't do shit as a chubby kid, but that didn't matter to the merciless god of Physical Education: Everybody climbed the same rope, played the same dodgeball and ran the same mile. There was no tiered difficulty system. Either you can do it, or you can't. Sound familiar? It was a fucked, apathetic system: The kids with superior genetics and shoe-money were put right up there against the tubby kid with the cereal bowl-cut, and there was no handicap depending on how much you liked sandwiches and hated baseball. And don't say it wasn't a competition, because
everything is a competition to pubescent males. I hadn't run a minute in four years when my Junior High PE teacher first put us on the track and told us all to run. You might as well have asked me to throw away my sheet of Mega Man 4 passwords and deny me a ham sandwich; you were asking the inconceivable. Somewhere around the fifth time Jesse the Freak Gazelle boy lapped me while shouting puns about my man-tits (it was a 1/4 mile track, you son of a bitch, you're doing extra laps just because you still have insults cached?!), I learned that exercising was exclusively for the kids who could already do it comfortably.
"Can I call you oven mitts? Cause you got some hot man-tits there. Yeah, I actually turned around and came back to school for that one."
Then my wife decided to start running. She said that she knew it was going to take her a while to get in shape for it,
You can do that?!
My mind was blown. That balding asshole of a PE teacher never once mentioned "working up" to a damn thing. I sat at the bottom of that rope like a wrecking ball of tubby shame, I writhed on that pull-up bar like an unconvincing porn actress, and I walked that mile like a death row inmate. Not once did anybody say, "Hey, try just doing a little bit at first; you'll get there."Even once the awkward typhoon of puberty passed me by and I dropped all the weight, the damage was done: Exercise was forever cemented in my mind as "that weird thing pretty people do with their limbs sometimes."
The Clothes Actually Do Something
As somebody that, strictly speaking, does not do "body things," I've always felt it unseemly for a man to be seen in public in anything less than jeans and a T-shirt. I'm like a G.I. Joe action figure: You can add all the peripherals and accessories you want, but if you ever want less than the base uniform, you've got to find a belt sander and an emergency reserve of patience. I do not wear shorts, I do not wear tank tops and I most certainly do not wear "workout clothes." As such, I was absolutely floored when I finally bit the bullet and first donned some jogging pants, shoes, socks and a T-shirt. My first thought was: Holy shit, is this how human bodies are meant to move? Suddenly I realized that normal clothes are fucking
heavy, jeans are severely limiting and non-running-shoes are like clumsy foot prisons.
For years I'd been getting Harrison Bergeron'ed up in this bitch, and now, out of uniform, I was discovering whole new ranges of movement: Legs capable of extending beyond 15 degrees, feet that practically bounce off the pavement, and holy shit, have you ever felt running socks?
Why do we even have other socks?! Why aren't we, as a people, collectively rising up to cast off our other, inferior foot coverings, and stoning the rotten bastards who've been foisting these subpar stockings on us for untold decades? The first time I put on running clothes, huge swathes of the world finally began to make sense. For instance, if you had asked me two months ago for a perfect uniform, suitable for all occasions, I would've said "jeans and a T-shirt." Ask me that same question today -- what's a uniform that's good for everything, whether it's dancing to shitty techno music, walking your trophy mistress' Maltese or stabbing a Ukrainian in an alleyway -- and I will tell you without hesitation: "Track pants, running shoes and a T-shirt." And that's why every Russian looks like that.
Runners Aren't All Lying Scumbags
I know! I assumed they were full of shit too: All that bull about "runner's highs" and "euphoria" and "exercise actually giving you
more energy." Every time a runner offhandedly mentioned "going out for a quick one, just to wake up for the workday," I would smile and nod politely, then -- also very politely -- go fetch my car and hit them with it. Turns out I owe some folks some apology reanimations. If anybody knows a good Pet Sematary, hit a brother up, yeah?Yes, I was wrong: That "runner's high" stuff actually is a thing. And man, it better be, because the first few minutes of a run are fucking awful. At first, the wife and I only did one minute runs followed by three minute recovery periods (again, we were really,
really out of shape: both former smokers, current beer drinkers and semi-pro Gravy Roulette players). But one minute heats? A minute is nothing ... until you have to scream your useless body into lumbering about for the full extent of it, when it hasn't done that in possibly ever. Then one measly minute can stretch into eternity. Toward the tail end of those first few runs, you'll get pretty tired, your patience will frazzle and you'll start to get really annoyed at that crazy hobo behind you who keeps threatening to "stab time right in the chrono-dick," only to realize that manic screeching has been coming from you the whole time.
"Forty seconds? You lying Timex whoreson! It's been like four hours!"
But if you make it through the first couple of minutes, everything starts to turn around: Time and scenery both fly by, and the chirp of the stopwatch transforms from the howling torment of an antagonistic harpy into an adorable squeak that you could kind of ignore, actually, if you want to keep going for a bit. Runner's high sounds like total bullshit, I know, but you'll flip from raging torment to contented affection within a span of minutes, for no discernible reason. If that still doesn't make sense, here's an analogy that helped me understand it: It's like when the Whiskey Fury first takes you. Yes, you're going to howl and scream obscenities so loudly that your throat will bleed, and you're probably going to hurt some people you love, but if you ride it out long enough, the Percocet Cuddles will kick in and the rest of Christmas dinner will go swimmingly.
It's True: Bodies Actually Are Capable of Improvement
It's weird to talk about this. It's not a secret or a source of shame or anything; it's just something I don't bring up often. But I have a medical condition: It's all a little fuzzy and still in the diagnosis stage even now, years after that first doctor's appointment, but the long and short of it is that I have (and probably have had for most of my life) hypothyroidism. It's not fatal or debilitating or anything but, amongst other things, it makes gaining weight a little easier, and losing it damn near impossible. It also makes exercising harder and a hell of a lot less productive. This running stint is not the first time I've tried getting in shape. Before the diagnosis, I kept thinking that I was just lazy or impatient. I would get it in my head to fix that every few months, and vow to start a new regimen, but I would never see any results. No muscles would build. Twenty push-ups would remain exactly as difficult as the first time, even if I did it every day for months. But now the drugs are starting to kick in, and I finally, finally get it. I know what you Exercise People see in this. But I'm going to phrase it in the most awkward, nerdy and embarrassing way that I can think of, so as to make you feel as bad about yourselves as possible:You're leveling up your bodies.
"Excelsior!" -- You, enjoying exercising.
Holy shit, I understand that now. As an RPG geek from way back in the day, I know that nothing in life is more intrinsically satisfying than leveling. But that's always a feeling I've had to get from video or board games exclusively, because this stupid body of mine apparently needed drugs to work this whole time.**
Side note: I told you that was a legitimate excuse, officer.And now that my body (kind of) does (almost sort of) work (a little bit), I actually do get to see the improvement in return for the work. It's pathetic, small-scale, incremental improvement, but it is improvement. And that's something I can deal with, because I've played these games before: You start out puny and insignificant, crawling around the dumps and sewers, just looking for rats to slay. But if you keep at it, concentrating on finding the fun where you can, and beat enough of those low-level monsters, someday you'll find yourself cleaving Liches in twain with ease. And you'll look back at the ratter days, covered in the blood and ichors of those foolish enough to oppose you now, and you will laugh. And don't worry: Any day now, I'll be in good enough shape to beat myself up for that analogy.