When it comes to exercise, I've always been a kind of middle of the roader. When I was very young, I played "at" tennis, I swam, and I rode horses. As I became older, Jazzercise was the way of the world. I joined the club. Then came step aerobics. I bought my membership badge for that craze too. Being a middle of the roader, meant that I wasn't big into five to seven days a week of a hard pant and sweat routine. I was more of a "this is supposed to be good for me and help me keep my weight down kind of gal."
I was more inclined to pop a tape into the VCR two or three days a week for 45 minutes at a clip and call it exercise. I'll even admit to owning a few Jane Fonda tapes, and..gasp...even a few Richard Simmons videos donned my storage shelf. But one day, while watching Richard and his gal pals and "sweatin' to the oldies" along with them, I noticed something. Richard was proud to display his overweight friends working out. He was proud to show the American public that overweight women could work out and lose weight. There was only one problem with this scenario: I was looking more and more like the women in the video, but my weight was going up, not down.
I'd been trim all my life. I had two kids and proudly fit right back into my size eights after the birth of each one. Somehow, 20 years of life, and stress, sickness, and eating, found its way onto my five foot two inch frame. Although it certainly didn't happen overnight, it felt like I just blinked and there were a hundred extra pounds to be found inside my clothes.
I went to work. It took me over two years. I'm not quite finished, but I've lost 85 pounds so far. I did it the middle of the road way -- the way I've always known. I began to eat more healthfully. I began to work out a bit more strenuously and a bit more frequently, and it's worked. I never really felt the need to leave my comfort zone of classic middle of the road warrior.
I never felt the need until now. After 20 years of recurrent cancers, I found myself with yet two more cancer surgeries last July. I was done letting it define my stamina, at least with letting it define it 100 percent of the time. As it so happens, one of my kids, the one that was switched at birth in the hospital before we brought her home, is a marathon runner. She has a very successful blog about health and fitness. She does her long runs, yoga, P90X, and limits eating those bad white foods and red meats. Although she has a successful professional career, for a fun hobby, she's studying to become a personal trainer. In other words, she ain't no middle of the roader.
One day, a few weeks ago, I took notice of an e-mail I received advertising a 5K Rocky Balboa run to occur starting at the Philadelphia Museum steps made famous by the Rocky movies. Being fairly new to the Philly scene, I thought this might be something fun I could do with my non-middle of the road daughter. A 5K, I thought, well that's only three miles. I knew I could easily walk three miles on any given day just sightseeing around Manhattan. This, I thought, I could do.
So my expert daughter told me I needed to train for the race which is to occur on November 15th. She suggested I download an app to my iPhone called "Couch to 5K (C25K)." My thinking was that I'm certainly no couch potato, this should be easy. I christened the app "Cancer to 5K" instead.
Thus I began my relationship with my new friend "C2." She had three workouts ready for me each week. The first week, she had me walk for five minutes for a warm up. Easy peezy. Then I had to run for one minute and walk for 90 seconds alternately for a total of 20 minutes, and finally a five-minute cool down walk. I learned a fascinating thing on that first one minute run: running is not easy. Running at the age of 54 felt nearly impossible. By the second one minute run, I wondered what I'd gotten myself into. I thought that perhaps C2 was right, I have been a couch potato all my life. The workout repeated itself on days two and three for a complete week one workout.
Week two was comprised of moving the one minute runs up to three minute runs. I'm ashamed to admit it, but halfway through the first three-minute run, I found myself pulling my phone out to take a look at it. I was sure that somehow, I'd hit the pause button, and C2 didn't know I'd already completed three minutes of running. Can you imagine my dismay when she clearly displayed that I had two minutes more to go? And that was for only the first of the three-minute intervals. I persevered and made it through all three of these three-minute interval workouts to complete week two.
Week three and four were similar. C2 had me increase running times and decrease walking times for each of the three work out days. At this point there are a few things that I've learned. One, is that there is a definite reason I never see a smile on the face of a person running. Two, is that it is clearly harder to run up hill than down, and three, C2 is not my best friend, but she is trying to have my best interests at heart by training me for the big day.
But this week, week five of training, C2 became a double crosser! It all started out innocently enough. Day one of week five consisted of the usual five-minute walking warmup followed by intervals of five-minute runs and three-minute walks. Admittedly, the five-minute runs felt like 20-minute runs, but I do have to work my way up in run time if I'm going to get to the finish line on November 15th. So when day two of week five training came up this week, I was mentally prepared. I knew I had to do my 5/3 intervals to complete the workout. So when C2 announced that my five-minute warmup was complete and it was time to run, I was prepared. I paced myself. Wow did that five minutes feel like an incredibly long time. Again, I persevered. She sounded the alarm that it was again time to walk. Thank God! I walked my three minutes until she dinged again signaling to me that it was time to run. But at the end of the run, she announced that it was already cool down time. What? I was confused. Weren't we supposed to do a run five/walk three, three times? How could I be done? I was baffled. I had to wait until I got home and could put my glasses on to see the screen. Low and behold, for the first time in five weeks, C2 had switched things up. I no longer had the same work out all three days of each week. I didn't have the same 5/3 routine I'd had on day one of week five. Noooooo! C2 had me run two eight-minute intervals. I KNEW THOSE MINUTES FELT LONGER THAN FIVE!
That C2. What a double crosser.
Today, was day three of week five training. I'm a bit wiser now. I took a peek at what C2 had in store for me today before I took my glasses off for my run. Would you believe she made me run 20 minutes straight? The horror of it all!
As I prepare for week six of training, I find that I've learned even more. I've learned that I'm going to finish what I started. I'm going to run this 5K. I've learned that I've been a middle of the roader my whole life for a good reason. And I've learned that not only do I know why you never see people smiling while running, not only is it still harder to run uphill than down, and not only is C2 definitely NOT my best friend, but C2 was a free download. I've learned ya get what ya pay for!
This essay first published in BoomerCafe.