4 Things You Only Learn from Exercise if You're in Bad Shape


I decided to start running recently. Well, I decided back in mid-December or so -- I just didn't get around to actually doing it until much more recently. Whatever. New year, same me. Besides, my decision to start running was not in any way a New Year's resolution thing, because I'm a "give up lent for lent" type of gal, though I hate myself a little bit for phrasing it that way.

No, my reasoning for running is way stupider -- I just want to see how terrible I am at it. The last time I tried to start running, I made it two blocks before delicate smoker's lungs and the memory of a ninth-grade gym class C- forced me to sit on a curb and hyperventilate while wishing I could use Uber to summon an ambulance.

But, as they say, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again like a year later with the explicit goal of confirming you're still awful at it. Here's what I learned ...

Preparation Is Mandatory

4 Things You Only Learn from Exercise if You're in Bad Shape
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On the day I actually started running, I'd had no intention of doing it when I went to sleep the previous night. It's just that I woke up two hours before my alarm and figured, "Hey, I've been talking about doing this for about two weeks so, fuck, maybe I should get on it."

It felt like a good decision at the time, but I've since come to think that a mixture of grogginess, sleep deprivation, and still being a little last-night-drunk might have been clouding my judgment a bit. I had picked up a bunch of extra shifts at work that week, so my sleep schedule was mostly just a clip of people laughing at me while I took shots of sugar-free Red Bull right through my eyes like old people on CNN think the youths are into these days.

So there's that. There was also the slight problem that it's January on the East Coast, so it's 23 degrees and there's ice on the ground and what the fuck do I wear for that? I mean, besides my high school gym sneakers that I dug out of a box in my mom's basement specifically for this column.

4 Things You Only Learn from Exercise if You're in Bad Shape

Good enough!

A quick Google search was like, "Wear waterproof clothing," which I snorted at, because I don't even own a windbreaker, much less fucking track pants. I put on sweatpants and, because I think I'm just fucking hilarious, a sweatshirt that says "2 lazy 4 life" and has a dude eating cheese puffs on it.


I wore the same thing to work later.

It should go without saying that, no matter how this adventure turned out for me, it's probably in your best interest to be slightly more prepared if you decide to start running. Consult your "there's no bad weather, only bad clothing" uncle for advice, because I swear to fuck, everyone has one. Maybe mosey on over to one of those sports-based stores the smokers never shop at. Or just run in your sweatpants. Honestly, who cares?

The First Few Days Are the Worst

4 Things You Only Learn from Exercise if You're in Bad Shape
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Part of me knew that this entire idea was stupid, and I'm sure I'll get plenty of commenters scoffing at my unpreparedness, but, luckily, I am a part-time spokesperson for the phrase "What were you thinking?!" so I decided everything was totally chill and embarked on my first run in over a year anyway.

I made it six blocks and then walked home.

4 Things You Only Learn from Exercise if You're in Bad Shape
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OK, maybe walked is being generous.

On the second day, my roommate asked if she could come, because, really, if I can do it, probably anyone who can move on their own volition can do it too.

As we were getting ready in the kitchen, her assuring me that I am in better shape and me assuring her the opposite, she jokingly asked if I wanted to take a shot beforehand. We laughed.

We took shots.

We ran for 10 minutes and walked home to make margaritas.

Despite running a sum total that was less than the amount of time it takes to watch a sitcom episode, my body still freaked the fuck out after those first two days, because any movement beyond sullenly commuting to and from my shitty day jobs is enough to send it directly into shock. My body was stiff, my lungs and my legs were Real Housewives wine-induced fighting about who got to complain more.


Not Beverly Hills-style, either. Atlanta.

It sucked. Suuuuucked.

Day 3 wasn't a whole lot better. It had snowed recently, and because I live in D.C., where people are still super fucking caveman about snow and forgo putting salt down to just sit in their cars and angrily scream, "Snow!?!?!" at traffic, I slipped and fell on black ice about .2 seconds into my run.

On the fourth day, I sat down on a curb and cried.

It got easier after the first week, though. I mean, I still sucked (and continue to suck) but in a more cheerful, less "I work at Hot Topic" way.

Also, I learned something surprising ...

4 Things You Only Learn from Exercise if You're in Bad Shape

Taking Care of Yourself Can Wait Until You're Older

4 Things You Only Learn from Exercise if You're in Bad Shape
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Look, I am young and stupid, and I don't actually believe in my own mortality yet. I bought 12 cans of Chef Boyardee the other day because it was $9. I consume less than 1,200 calories most days and at least half of that intake each month is rail vodka and fast food. If I'm not talking, working, or hanging out with my younger siblings, I'm smoking menthols because I want my cancer to be minty fucking fresh. Someone I work with thought that I wore some random watermelon pussy-sweat perfume for like three weeks before she figured out that it was the sugar-free Monster energy drink I'm constantly downing.


Plus side: when I go in for the inevitable MRI, I won't need to drink the dye.

So, actually, the title of this entry should be something more along the lines of "If you're young enough, smoking/drinking/generally treating your body like a public transit trashcan doesn't really matter."

For all my shit about being stupidly out of shape, I work two jobs and I walk everywhere, so my fitness level could actually be so much worse.

4 Things You Only Learn from Exercise if You're in Bad Shape
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Thanks, poverty!

Despite being sure that my lungs were simultaneously on fire and trying to kill me the first few days of running, eventually, after a short while, I could run for long enough that my body just sort of huffed at me and cleared my chest out. I literally felt my throat clear and my airways stop grumpily seizing up. The human body is fucking wild, guys.

Can someone who actually treats their body well run more than I can? Absolutely. Does the fact that I'm young play a huge factor in the way I can treat my body like shit and, eventually, it'll get over it? Hell yes. But I really didn't think that was possible. I can do maybe three push-ups, and I am more likely to take a few shots daily than remember to take my medication daily, but it doesn't matter, really. Maybe it'd matter if I was trying to run a triathlon or some shit, but I'm just trying to loop around my neighborhood without sounding like I'm dying. At least I can sort of do that!

Trying Really Is the Most Important Thing

4 Things You Only Learn from Exercise if You're in Bad Shape
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I've tried to start exercising regularly before and fucking hated it, so I was fully expecting to run for a week and then be all "Beach Week 2011 Nothing Happened and You Can't Prove Otherwise" about it. I thought this would be a thing to cackle at over some boxed sangria with people who know what an impractical and precariously balanced carb/caffeine/chemical Jenga game my body is.

Well, fucking joke's on me.

As much as it pains me to write this (in a really stupidly stubborn way), I've actually continued to run for 20 to 30 minutes a day, often augmented by some random workout videos I find on YouTube.

Kim K. butt, here I come!

The difference this time around, as far as I can tell, is that I didn't set a mile or time minimum for myself because I was just doing it for this column, so what's the point? I just told myself I had to run every day, whether it was for 20 minutes or to the 7-Eleven two blocks away so I could buy cigarettes.

Like many people who have weird anxiety/perfectionist issues, I tend to decide that if I'm not going to do something well, it's better just to never do it ever at all ever. You might recognize this as a fucking stupid way of thinking.

4 Things You Only Learn from Exercise if You're in Bad Shape
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"We only went 50 feet. Maybe this whole thing really is for the birds."

Every time I'd tried to start working out before, I'd get really upset that I was so bad at it, or I'd feel guilty and frustrated if I couldn't make whatever random goal I'd set for myself. So I stopped running because it made me feel shitty.

Not setting myself up for failure or having any goal other than "I don't know, just go run until you don't feel like it anymore" made a huge difference. Running for only five minutes didn't matter. The fact that my breathing sounded like the noises I imagine emanate from old people when they have sex was just funny. I was suddenly doing this for fun.

4 Things You Only Learn from Exercise if You're in Bad Shape
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"So are we."

You know those crotchety grandparent-types who are like, "In my day, you only got a trophy for winning and the youths these days are getting trophies for existing?" Maybe I'm just bitter because I never got a trophy, but fuck those people. Trying counts. For running and for anything else you want to do, despite kind of sucking at it.

The important part is to leave the house and just fucking go. Fuck it if you make it two blocks, fuck it if you walk half the time, fuck it if you sound like a dying bird the whole time. Fuck it. You're out there, so good for fucking you.

For more from Alice, check out 5 Things You Learn From Camping (If You Hate the Outdoors) and 5 Creepy Dating Site Messages Every Woman Has Received.

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