I don’t run.
Let me elaborate. I don’t mean this as a sports activity as much as a core belief that I have held for probably 40 years.
I don’t run in the rain – I figure that you run into just as much rain as falls on you if you don’t run. This was apparently proved false in an experiment where researchers ran in suits that absorbed the rainwater hitting the suits then weighed both – but I don’t believe it.
I also don’t run in emergencies – the best you’ll get out of me is a ‘fast walk’.I consider myself lucky that no emergencies have befallen me in the past 40 years where a good fast walk didn’t suffice.
I hated gym in school and devoted much time to avoiding it at all costs. I would ‘forget my gym shorts’, which was grounds for non-participation and supposedly a means to motivate the boys to wear them.
They hadn’t seen the likes of me, apparently, and this worked out well in getting me out of participating, though it drove my gym teacher – a decent guy who just couldn’t understand that a boy might consider gym to be the last thing on earth he’d want to participate in – half insane, though there were ongoing hassles with parent-teacher conferences and an ongoing ‘cold-war’ of sorts with my long-suffering, at-wit’s-end gym teacher.
I had wizened up by high school and in a conspiracy with my friendly doctor, had gotten a note excusing me from gym for the entire 4 years.
I have, on occasion, cycled and played with weights here and there in those 40 years. I also got a stair stepper that messed up my knees for a while and now the infernal machine slowly rusts in an attic. I have also walked a lot – mostly out of necessity – I have to get to the fridge somehow – and they don’t carry me into work from my car – and have also walked as a form of exercise on occasion – usually leisurely strolls though on occasion on a treadmill at a fast walk pace – but no running.
Yesterday, I ran for the first time in 40 years.
It wasn’t far – only a little more than a quarter mile, but it was technically ‘running’ – not fast walking, but actual running.
Why this occurred was because I had tried to come up with a lie for my diet. Let me explain.
Last fall, in one of the many versions of the book I want to write that haunts my every day, I wrote this:
Hell is other people – avoiding smiling saboteurs
If I were to go to a party and turn down some food, which would get me off the hook easier: ‘I’m on a diet’ or ‘I’m training for a marathon’?
I’ll bet you the marathon – although in reality it is a pointless, bone-crunching endeavor imbued with some nobility of spirit – would resonate better than saying ‘I’m on a diet.’
Why is that? Perhaps running 26-miles is to more people a realistic goal because we can watch marathons on the news and see masses of people actually doing it, whereas dieting almost always fails, and almost everyone is on a diet – it just isn’t that ‘special’.
Actually, it gives me the idea to test this out the next time I encounter a food pusher. I will tell them that ‘I can’t have any – sorry – I am in training.’ If they pursue this I might let it go like this:
“What are you training for?”
“Well, that depends. My goal is to get to a weight where I won’t do unnecessary damage to my knees while conditioning myself for a run. I don’t know how long that will take but this explains why my regimen is so strict.”
What kind of jerk would insist you eat a piece of pie after that explanation?
At the moment I write this it is a complete and utter lie, of course, but I can always turn it into the truth should I feel so inclined.
So the entire notion of ‘running’ when I wrote this last fall was as a cover story. A lie. I was going to tell people I was going to run a marathon with no intention of ever doing so!
It was an interesting approach that I thought might get me through the holidays that I never put into practice – probably because I made little attempt to follow a low carb diet during the holiday season and ate what I wanted.
I am also anti-exercise. I have long been a collector of stories over the years of people who harmed themselves through exercise. James Fixx – the guy who started the running fad in America – dropped dead of a heart attack while running. A friend of mine, very physically active, needed a hip replacement in his 50s. Another fellow I know began exercising in his 50s and was enjoying it – then he started getting clumsy, dropping pens and bumping into things. It turns out he had injured his spinal cord in some freakish way, required surgery, went through 6 months of therapy to learn to walk again, and now – 2 years later – still walks with a cane.
I also think that exercise as a means of losing weight is absurd. Our basal metabolic rate – the calories burned in lying still in bed all day – is how the vast majority of calories are burned unless you are an intense athlete. An hour on a treadmill once burned 220 calories – that’s a single Atkins bar.
Given all of the above, it seems odd but I began to consider my lie in a new light. Why DON’T I run a marathon? The answer is that it requires far more conditioning that I have time for given my long work hours and chores at home.
Phew! Dodged THAT bullet – but the thought assumed a different form. What might be a more realistic goal?
For someone like me, the gateway drug into running is the ‘5K’. 3.2 miles. I began researching this. There are plenty of running sites that talk about ‘couch to 5k’. This was a realistic goal – though still a distant one. I even told other people this goal to cement a level of commitment.
I experimented with myself by getting on the treadmill and seeing if I could fast-walk 3.2 miles. It took me nearly an hour but I was able to do it without dropping dead.
OK – I had the duration down. The next question is – after a 40-year ban on running if I could actually do it.
But before I continue with my story I think a question still remains: why am I doing this again?
I think it lies in new research about brain health and the notion of what is called a ‘keystone habit’.
First, I am not happy with the current state of events. My diet has been derailed by what I think can be described as ‘ego depletion’ – mostly have to do with work.
‘Ego depletion’ is a psychobabble term that describes our ability to exert the energy to form a new habit or break an old habit is finite. There’s only so much juice in the battery from day-to-day and that energy runs down as we battle our personal demons as well as the demons that haunt our work days.
I have had a tendency in my work career to somehow stumble into situations where I end up becoming critical to the success of some big project. This doesn’t occur because of some ambition as much as because I like to actually build things that work. I usually try to keep a low profile but sometimes find myself in situations where I don’t see the right questions being asked and – to avoid what I perceive as doom, I open my mouth – and people listen to me.
This time I seem to have stumbled into a situation where I’ve become a key person in a project that has to do with an undertaking where mistakes could be very costly. The dollar figures involved could be far more money than I will ever see in my lifetime – or perhaps many lifetimes.
Without going into detail other than to say that my field is computers and technology, what I’m working on can be described like a sort of brain transplant – the only difference is that any doctor doing a brain transplant would be given as much time as needed to do the task – we have a deadline.
Things are going well so far but I’m the type that sweats every little detail – and it is taking its toll. The diet was the first thing to go. After a good start for the new year I was tormented by the desire for a cigarette and wine.
I gave in. Ego depletion.
I have to be honest: I felt so much better – but this was not a workable solution. Both of these substances have wonderful mood-regulating powers but the downsides of weight gain and the potential for cancer, stroke, emphysema and heart attack don’t jibe well with my desire to be able to maintain my health until both my kids are grown.
Back to exercise.
Exercise is not a great way to lose weight – but it IS a wonderful means of mood regulation. Recent research has also shown that it can contribute to neurogenensis – the growth of new brain cells. It was once thought that we couldn’t generate new brain cells after our teens but current research seems to indicate that you can – and aerobic exercise is a means to do so.
I don’t consider myself afraid of death. When I had my emergency appendectomy in the fall, right before they put me under I briefly considered the fact that any surgery might mean death. Perhaps it was the dilaudid that they had dosed me up with prior, but I considered the fact that I could die on that table – and was OK with it. Of all the ways to die, going to sleep and never waking up ranks pretty high on the list of good ways to go.
I AM afraid of dementia and decrepitude. My Dad has advanced Alzheimer’s and my Mom died after an prolonged and miserable decline in her health from emphysema.
I have passed my half-century mark feeling my age and wanting to stave off the inevitable along with the ability to remember my pants when I leave the house – and being able to leave the house without the need for an oxygen tank, wheelchair or walker.
As much as I find the thought distasteful, I do believe that moderate exercise might help here.
I also see it as a ‘keystone habit’.
A keystone habit is yet another psychobabble term for a single habit that has a ripple effect on other habits and can have a transformative effect on a number of things.
One example of this is running. I took my first run after finishing my second (and hopefully last) pack of cigarettes the night before. Smoking and running are incompatible because the smoking makes me winded just walking up a flight of stairs – there’s no way I can continue to smoke and run. Running might also help me stick to my diet. Pretty hard to get fit while eating crap and drinking wine – at least at my age, so the act of running can have the ripple effect of helping me stick to my diet as well as stop the smoking – with the additional side effect which is the point of this blog: losing weight and keeping it off.
Now back to hurting myself – or NOT hurting myself. You don’t just start running after 4 decades of a couch-butt love affair without risk, so the trick is doing this without doing this stupid.
I have a friend who runs who I’ve asked for recommendations and advice. I also announced my intention to run a 5K in work. Last week, in the midst of diet-derailing inactivity, smoking and imbibing my boss asked me: “How’s the training for the 5K going?”
I thanked him later for guilting me.
I resolved the next morning to run. Of course I couldn’t find my sneakers – and the whole notion of going out in the cold and running seemed way less interesting now that I had to actually do it. I had downloaded a running app for my phone and eventually found my old sneakers – but now I had to do it.
I ran a quarter-mile but had to stop twice to catch my breath. It was pathetic, but you have to start somewhere. I once heard someone say: everybody who is the best at something had to start at it being the worst at it – and I was pretty bad.
Now: I had proven that I could do 5k (walking on a treadmill) and I proved that I could still ‘run’ (a quarter mile with 2 pauses and a total run time of 5 minutes – I just had to put the two together.
I had used an ancient pair of sneakers – my current pair still MIA. I told myself that I would wait until I had done the two tests before I bought honest-to-goodness running shoes.
Feet are important – and not wanting to hurt myself a priority I thought it best that I don’t mess around with whatever shoes I had lying around but instead went to an actual running store where all the people run and that’s all they sell – not to some giant sporting good store where some kid would sell me whatever so he could go and help the next sucker.
I went to the local running fanatic store and told them the unvarnished truth: I haven’t run in 40 years and I want to start running and not hurt myself so I wanted to get good shoes. These folks WERE fanatics – eager to help and obviously deep in a world I knew nothing about. They measured my feet then had me try on a pair of shoes that fit me, then had me run on a treadmill that took a video of my feet as I ran so that they could see whether my feet turned inward or outward as I ran – you apparently need special shoes for each of these conditions. They also looked at my arches and recommended a firmer support. Lots of new words to not in my vocabulary as well as the names of muscles I am unfamiliar with. I have a lot to learn about this strange world.
The attention I got was extensive to the point of being obsessive. I tried on at least 8 shoes, ran on the treadmill in most of them, and even ran with one shoe on one foot with another shoe type on the other foot for a side-by-side comparison. Nearly an hour later I walked out with a pair.
I had settled on shoes that were somewhat muted in appearance compared to most of the others, but I would have bought the most ridiculous-looking ones I tried on if they had felt good. The ones I got. When you enter a specialized world like this the brand names are unheard of by outsiders. The shoe I got is the Mizumo Wave Inspire 10. They were phenomenally light and the most comfortable of the 8 I tried. I walked in them during the day to see if they continued to be comfortable – they were.
My wife was interested in this sudden change. “Why are you doing this?” She asked.
I explained some of what I wrote above.
“How far did you run this morning?”
“A quarter mile.”
She got a big laugh out of that.
“Well…you’ve got to start somewhere.” I said.
“Are you going to run tomorrow?”
“Well, I don’t want to hurt myself so I was going to run every other day.”
“You only ran for 5 minutes!”
She had a point.
I was really tired and went to bed early. She was in bed studying.
“You’re going to bed now?”
“Yeah – probably tired from the running.”
That made us both laugh.
The next morning I put on my new shoes and ran again. I still had to stop twice to catch my breath. I ran a little faster and a little farther. The shoes were much better to run in than the ones I ran in the day before – a big difference.
When I got home my wife asked me: “how far did you run today?”
“Well, I went a third of a mile and ran faster so total time was around 4 minutes.”
Apparently this endeavor is going to provide no small amount of pleasure to my wife as she laughed again.
A bit later she made the comment: “Your hair looks good today.”
I replied: “Actually, it’s probably the glow I have from exercising.”
This got a BIG laugh. “The five-minute miracle!” She said.
It appears that I will endure this sort of humiliation for a while – even more if I don’t continue.
At least I can still make my wife laugh.