About six weeks after my 40th birthday, we had a freak April storm that dropped 18 inches of wet, heavy snow. My car had broken down, so I trudged the mile and a half to my daughter’s elementary school where I was working with the children to publish a school newspaper.
I rode the school bus home. The next morning, I hurt all over and could barely roll out of bed. As I dressed, I caught a glimpse of something in the mirror.
Whoa! That pale, bloated, ungainly, creature was me!
I call what happened next my “good-animal moment.” Seeing, really seeing my physical self for the first time, a line from Ralph Waldo Emerson popped into my mind:
First, be a good animal.
In a flash of awareness, I realized I hadn’t honored my animal self, the essential foundation of the mind and spirit I’d been cultivating.
A bit later I came across another line from the great runner-cardiologist-philosopher George Sheehan that explained my situation to a T: “Everyone is an athlete. But some of us are training, and some of us are not.” I started training.
I started walking a mile every day, then two, then three. I didn’t trust the slug within, so for the next four months, I slept every night in shorts, Tshirt—even my shoes—and headed out the door before I got busy with anything else. In late May, I taught myself to run a mile, one telephone pole at a time. I remember the day I arrived at the stern No Passing sign half a mile from my house and ran right by.
I began resistance training with weights at the gym where my daughter took gymnastics lessons. By the end of that first year I’d lost 70 pounds, gained a set of shapely muscles, and found a running partner who became my best friend. Every Saturday for 16 years, we slipped out while our families were still asleep and ran together for a couple of hours.
The following spring, I bought a cheap 12-speed bicycle and a helmet, and vowed to work up to riding at least 50 miles a week. I joined a running group. I sewed myself a bathing suit from a remnant of hot-pink spandex and trained myself to swim for an hour at a steady speed in the pond behind my house. That June I entered my first triathlon. Over the next decade and a half, I would enter 60 more. What a blast!
As I got fitter, I had more energy for daily tasks. I didn’t get colds. I needed less sleep. My intuition sharpened. I felt smarter and more alive. I found I could split wood for six hours straight. Shoveling compost and snow felt easier. My bicycle turned into real transportation; my commuting miles often added up to more than 100 a week.
When darkness or weather prevented my getting out, I ran stairs, jumped rope on the porch, or turned on the radio and danced around the house. I bought a used bike trainer and pedaled away indoors during the winter, reading books and magazines perched on the bike’s aerobars.
A few years back, pains in my knees brought me to the orthopedic office, where Dr. Fox diagnosed osteoarthritis. No more knee cartilage. No more running. No more triathlons.
I still bike, walk, swim, garden, and split wood. I took up serious snowshoeing and water running (either with or without a buoyancy belt). It’s much tougher without the motivation of training partners and summer competitions.
But long before the triathlons, in my chubby days, when running a whole mile had seemed a major life achievement, a guy came up to me at the local corner store, a little smirk on his face.
“Seen ya out there runnin’ every day. Whatcha trainin’ for, anyway?”
I replied in a flash, “That’s easy. For life.”
Read Margaret's "frugal fitness tips" from her last post.
Please share your tips, stories, and comments below!
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.