Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Race to Fitness

Being in a regional centre and away from the hustle and bustle of the big smoke, one of the luxuries that I have found myself with is that of more time.

There is a saying about the 'country mile' which is an expression given to how a mile in the country feels longer than a mile in the city. Let's just say I have been blessed with 24 'country hours' to spend each day.

One could do many things with 24 country hours - one could study fervently (hah!), brush up on absent cooking skills (now, let's see - how did I manage to burn that water again?), catch up on one's newfound hobbies (see previous post) or reacquaint oneself with that lifelong love-hate relationship with the sadomasochistic habit - exercise.

I will reiterate this - I am not the sporty type. Unless Scrabble or Monopoly has been recently inducted into a physical sport, I am not inclined to fitness. As a friend loved to say, the only exercise I ever got was when I 'jogged my memory, leaped to conclusions, jumped for joy or pushed my luck'.

If there is one thing I will do sporadically though, is I will jog. I blame this on my college years in Singapore when not only did you have to excel in your studies, you had to pass a fitness test as well - the NAPFA (National Physical Fitness Award) test as they call it, which still sends a shiver down my love handles when I think about it.

Anyway, to this day, when I feel up to it, I will bring myself for a jog. 'When I feel up to it' being a liberal expression meaning anything from oh, once a week to about once a month. The body always goes into a certain kind of shock when I start running - it's like 'Oh, where are we going? Are we going for a nice stroll along the river, huh? Wait, you're moving too fast, wait! Wait!!'.

Word travels quickly from my brain to my legs warning them of forthcoming punishment and the legs and the rest of my body soon organises its Unions and then go on strike. A strike looks like this - profuse sweating, your thighs burning up in protest, your heart pumping in your ears, your ankles threatening to give way at any moment, your chest wall sending out the occasional pain signals to trick you into thinking you're having a heart attack. All this is done to remind you who the real Boss around here is.

I have decided to take up jogging again here in Ballarat, and one of my favourite places here is the Steve Moneghetti track around Lake Wendouree here. It is a 6 km run around the scenic lake, and I was determined to finish the 6 kms in my six months here in Ballarat.
"'Bye, lady!"

I actually surprised myself and managed it in my second week here. Granted, there were cute old grannies in their four-wheelie frames waving and winking at me as they strolled past, and little girls in their pink helmets yelling out 'Excuse me, lady!' as they sped by in their pink tasseled tricycles, but you know, I finished the 6 kms. Of course I needed to be brought by ambulance to the Emergency Department for IV rehydration and electrolyte replacement after the run, but hey, I finished the 6 kilometres.

Okay, so none of the above happened, but it sure felt like it did.

Having completed the run around the lake, I had it in my head that I was now up for a marathon. Well, here's what Google taught me - that running actually puts three times the stress of normal everyday activities on your body, in particular your knees.

I am reminded of this line from the Baz Luhrmann's 'Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen' song - Be kind to your knees, you'll miss them when they're gone. I am trying to be kind to my knees. I love my knees, though they have taken a lot of courting again to convince them since my ski accident of 2003. 

Since completing the run around the lake, I was confident that I could repeat the feat on weekly basis, at least once, but strangely enough that has not been the case. I experience what every runner calls "the wall" at 3 kilometres, and then I either be kind to myself and walk the rest of the way, or punish myself, and push through to the end, although my body would hate me for it.

I don't think it is healthy to always push through because there is always a great temptation to equate exercise then with unpleasantness and oh, you know, self-torture. Believe it or not, we are all ultimately Pavlovian creatures and if that association keeps happening, then there is a great chance that we will end up forsaking exercise once more and returning to that pleasurable Mistress which is television, and chocolate cake. (Mmmm... chocolate cake... *drool*)

Well, I finally timed myself today, having been happy just to complete the 6 kms at any rate for this past month. It took me exactly 30 minutes to complete 6 kilometres. Multiply that by the length of an actual marathon (42 kilometres) and it would take me three hours and thirty minutes to complete a marathon, under the presumptions that i) I am able to maintain running at a constant rate over the 42 kilometres and ii) I don't die first (which is a distinct possibility).

The world record for a marathon is 2 hours and 3 minutes and 38 seconds. This guy from Kenya could have finished the race, bought a Coke and popcorn and sat through Run Fatboy Run while waiting for me to cross the finish line.

Okay, enough with this demon that is Comparison. My pledge these six months is not to overdo it to the point of injuring myself, and to quit when I'm not enjoying it. I will run because I want to, and I will stop when my body tells me to. 
I will be kind to myself, because as the rest of the Baz Luhrmann's spoken song puts it

Don't waste your time on jealousy,
Sometimes you're ahead,
Sometimes you're behind.
The race is long, and in the end, it is only with yourself

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