I’ve had a lifelong, hate-hate relationship with exercise. I feel exactly the same way about it as I did about breastfeeding: no matter how many scientific studies I read, my body didn’t get the memo it was supposed to feel good.
The first time I dipped into exercise was in high school. My best friend and I decided we would get up early in the morning and walk along a busy street to get some pre-school activity. This lasted one week as my shin splints sent me limping home with lungs full of car pollution. Instead, I joined my first gym, Lucille Roberts. What I remember most from this women-only, pink and purple, mirrored establishment was the step aerobics classes. Even the steps were neon pink. I enjoyed the loud music and it felt more like dancing than exercise, so I thrived. In fact, the leopard-pattered, leotard wearing bubbly instructor would ask me to take over at the front while she stepped out to fill her water bottle (and flirt with Tony, who carried a towel to wipe the sweat from the machines). I lost 30 pounds and by the first summer after college, I gained enough confidence to join the much cooler, Gold’s Gym – in Staten Island. This was Venice Beach meets the Jersey Shore. I kept up with this gym business, progressing to the NYSC, and closed down all gym accounts when my son was born in 2002.
I never got any pleasure fix from the gym. I went because I wanted to look good but the truth was the gym existed as another blinking item on the perpetual things to do list. Friends gushed over how much they craved the gym, they even used words like, “needed” in regards to the gym. They spoke of oxytocin, yet I never felt it. Not at the gym, or from breastfeeding. A year of feeding two kids and waiting for some sort of euphoria never happened. I must be broken or doing it wrong.
After a three-year exercise hiatus and a newfound single life, my new apartment brought me a block away from Central Park. Inspired by my sister, I took up a longtime hobby of rollerblading. This was my kind of exercise; I would do loops in one of the country’s greatest parks on gorgeous days and coast on the New York City exhilaration, but still, I don’t think I was feeling this adrenaline-inspired, addictive high.
I moved away from the park and got pregnant, not related. Walking and throwing up was great exercise and bonus for keeping your abs clenched with a growing uterus. It’s been almost six years since I gave birth and I’ve neither hit the gym nor rollerbladed in Central Park. Worst yet, we moved out of Manhattan to NJ, where we live a car-based, polluted, non-walking life. NYC foot travel was my only exercise and now I’ve eliminated it.
One of my good friends is a tremendous athlete; a marathon runner and triathlete. I’ve wanted to try running many times in my life. (Even though my go-to mantra whenever I see a runner is, “where are you going?”) When I lived in Forest Hills, right out of college, I tried doing the morning run up Queens Boulevard. This was back in the CD-player years and the whole time I tried to run, stopped every block by unsynchronized red lights, I was too preoccupied with the skipping music to develop a good running stride. Abandonment was guaranteed.
A new mom friend of mine told me about a technique she used to run a marathon; walk for two minutes, run for one. She made it seem so easy and inspired me to buy a “Your First Marathon” book from the used-book section ($1 commitment) and got running shoes from the specialized overpriced sneaker store. I made three solid attempts at the mommy marathon method, but the arch of those damn new fancy sneakers kept digging into my flat feet and I focused too much on the arch to get anywhere beyond the half-mile point.
I should clarify I am not a completely sedentary person. In fact, my default speed is what the people experience after a few lines of white powder up the nose. I’m on Go from the time I open my eyes, just not to the gym. Recently my knees have gotten “stuck” when I stay crouched too long. The other night, during intimate moments with my hubby, I had to reposition because my hip hurt. The next morning my man says to me, “Do you think you’ll need a hip replacement when we get older?” NO.
Revving up in my post-hip injury mode, I thought I’d try using the FREE GYM in my building (in which I’ve had access to and ignored for the last 4 years). I was particularly energized one morning and took to the treadmill like someone who actually has done this in the last decade. I found a comfortable stride quickly; I had my Gogol Bordello blasting and like an idiot, I thought to myself, “I think I can run!” I’m not sure where this inner voice came from.
I started jogging. I watching myself in the mirror, and must admit, I did get a little distracted. I studied my form, mentally complimenting myself on my great posture. My ponytail bounced along like I was a woman half my age. After half a mile, I developed a stitch in my side, shin splints in both legs, and my lungs tasted like blood. How could I give up only after half a mile? I would make it to the full mile. Only I wouldn’t. The room turned marshmallowy and I pulled the red string, making an emergency stop. Rookie mistake; I should have slowed down first. As I stepped off the treadmill, it was as if someone removed the floor from underneath me. I imagined this is what it feels like to walk on the moon. Is this why people like treadmills? Do they get the astronaut experience for free? An intense wave of motion sickness overcame me and I needed to throw up. I was walking like I just got spun around 8 times before having to pin the tail on the donkey. I got to the glass door and had to tell my brain to turn the knob. The elevator ride to the sixth floor took longer than usual and I kept repeating “do not throw up” over and over again until I made it to my apartment. I ran straight to the bathroom where I collapsed on my knees and threw up my running breakfast.