Thinking While Running

My inner thighs were screaming no no no no no no yesterday. And my abs … well, it was one of those days when getting out of bed was challenging until I gave up on trying to sit up in bed and opted just to roll out. Pathetic.

I hiked all over the mall early Saturday, getting errands done, delaying going to the gym. What finally drove me to go was my fear that the new dress I bought Wednesday would no longer fit.

The dress I bought that is a size 10.

That’s not a size I’ve seen for quite some time. It was a shock when it fit.

I worried the rest of the week, after I bought it, that I’d gain a pound or two and it would no longer fit, even though rationally I know that it is unlikely that a pound of gain would change it, or that working out the day of the gala would make a difference. I can’t banish vanity entirely, it seems.

So, although my mind was coming up with all kinds of reasons I should skip the gym (maybe I tore my abs, maybe I’ve sprained a muscle), I went.

I took one look at the elliptical and couldn’t face it. I had promised myself I’d hop on and glide for 30 minutes while distracting myself with TV, but once I got out of the locker room, I hit the elevator button straight to the floor with the track.

[My trainer said her rule is no elevators, so I’m trying to take the stairs more often, but frankly, I don’t like starting my workout (by taking five flights of stairs) before I start my workout, so I’m not going to kill myself adhering to her rule.]

I’m at a crossroads moment, it seems. I’ve been hovering right at this 70-pounds-gone mark since the hitch in my giddy-up that was the detox fiasco, the first big interruption to my steady progress. I was feeling great about exercise until I missed about a week of it. I’m clearly adjusting slowly to the reintroduction of more carbs into my daily plan. I know I’ve developed a generous hand when measuring—1/4 c. of walnuts is looking suspiciously like 1/3 c. these days—and while I don’t want to become overly obsessed with serving sizes, I am at a point in my life when letting that cup runneth over on a regular basis actually will impact my ability to lose or maintain weight.

I need to focus on making some new behaviors habits. I need to be more mindful in my eating and exercising, so tuning out on the elliptical trainer seemed like a bad option. I need to tune in, not tune out. I hadn’t formed the thought consciously, but then read this on The Lovely Project this morning and realized I was in the same place:

Every yoga class I go to, even when I struggle, has meaning.  Yoga forces me to go inside, to focus only on myself and my body.  It makes me check in with how I’m feeling on a minute-to-minute basis, physically, mentally, and emotionally.  That’s been uncomfortable and sometimes a little upsetting, but more often it’s uplifting and beautiful and clean and for a good 90 minutes the world stops and it’s just me: moving, strong, weak, me.

Can you imagine doing that two, three times a week, sometimes more — having that kind of quality experience — and then hop on an elliptical?  And both things count as exercising?

OK, so it isn’t yoga for me, but running. And while both running and banging away on the elliptical are clearly things that get my blood moving faster through my heart, they are not equally exercise to me.

About four or five weeks into Couch to 5K, I stopped listening to music while I ran. The headphones bug me, and since I’ve spent a good portion of my life in bars, listening to bands, I worry about my hearing. It seems like a bad idea to pump more decibels straight into them if I don’t need to do it. The music was key to getting me started, and I can see there will be times when having it back will motivate me, but I’ve enjoyed silent running lately.

I wish I could say that I have great thoughts while I run my 30 to 35 minutes, but I don’t. I also wish, slave to multitasking that I am, that I could at least puzzle out some work matters while running in circles on a track suspended above a room full of people running, walking, and bouncing on machines. I’m generally winded enough after even my first lap that, if you were to run next to me, I could speak in short sentences, but couldn’t carry on a full conversation.

My thoughts come in those short bursts, too, as if I can’t think a complex thought because my energy is elsewhere.

Right now, the only moving meditation I am capable of while running is a meditation on how I’m going to keep running to make it the next five minutes.

I’m bargaining, telling myself that at least if I go ten laps, I can say I ran a mile. Then, getting to the 15-minute mark, telling myself 20 minutes is practically just one more lap. Counting down the last two laps, which I inevitably start to do with seven or eight left to go.

I think, when my thighs start burning, about how the oxygen exchange is bringing them fresh energy, and how, if I really concentrate, I can feel the muscles lengthening and stretching. When my knees start aching, I put a picture of that pain in a box and leave it on the window sill on the south side of the track, convincing myself it is just temporary until it becomes temporary.

And suddenly, while I’ve been busy bargaining with myself and imagining that my cells are happy little energy exchange machines, I’m at the goal.

I do manage to have some practical thoughts that aren’t about how my body will make it, but they’re not terribly deep.

Yesterday, I tried on a really expensive shirt. Well, expensive relative to what I normally pay. It was half-price, and for sale in a store that has always intimidated me because it seems designed exclusively for the ultra-thin/ultra-rich set. I put it on, and it fit well, but I chickened out.

On my way to the gym, I realized that I’ve been working really hard and if I want the damn shirt, I should buy the damn shirt. I need some things like it for work and for play (it can go both ways), and I have the money right now, so I should go get it. And, it is OK if a shirt costs more than $20 or $30.

I almost detoured from the gym, but struck a bargain with myself. If I could run the full 30 minutes and still get to the store before it closed, and if it were still there on the sale rack, I’d get it.

So, as I ran yesterday, I’d go from thinking about my lower back, or the sharp, shooting pain in my triceps, to wondering if the shirt would still be there. No solving the problems of the universe, just solving the problems of what to wear and how it would fit.

When I got to the 30-minute mark on the clock, I was about to peel out and drive like mad to the store, but I found myself doing two more laps. After fixating on the shirt, I was so excited about reaching the end that I didn’t want my run to end. And I still got the shirt with time to spare.

I’m up now, obviously, letting some fruit macerate for a pie I want to make for a friend whose husband is going through his third round of chemo. I’m going to hit the gym and see if I can focus for 30 minutes on keeping myself moving forward.

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