Monday, February 20, 2012

#388: Exercising Together

The Loneliness of the
Long-distance Runner
I am learning the beauty of exercising with somebody else. I like the solitude of running alone. It gives me a chance to meditate without the distraction of other runners who are usually pulling away from me into the distance. I like hitting the weight room where the most complicated conversation is usually a grunt of recognition of a request for a spot. Still, there is joy to be found in numbers.

The Club with the Worst
Initiation Ever
My first and most important attempt at working out with a group was with my LIVESTRONG at the YMCA class. I signed up because they offered me a free 12 week membership, but before long I realized the power and encouragement that comes from working out with people who celebrate and uplift one another. People kept telling us how inspiring we were. I don't think they realized how much we inspired one another.

The Striders were kind enough to
wait for Pennsy so he could be
in the picture
I kept reading about how finding a running club can help you, and I found John's Striders: a local group affiliated with Lexington's John's Run/Walk shop. I joke that I don't really run with the Striders, I run behind them. But even in the back of the pack, I find people who struggle and overcome. My first time out with them was on a 13 mile run among horse farms. Three of us trailed along together for most of the run. Both my companions from that day have now finished marathons, and I look forward to joining them. Other times, I only see my fellow Striders in the pre-dawn darkness before they leave me to trot along behind on my own. Just knowing they're there can draw me along through the end of a tough run. And of course, there's my friend Bob who runs with a nasty limp and a pacemaker keeping his wounded ticker going. You'll find us chatting in the morning mist while our speedier companions inspire us. Cardiac Bob and Cancer Bob: Someday, we'll make a buddy picture.

The YMCA has shown me a whole other world of exercise thorough the dozens of classes that go on there all day, every day. My membership gives me free access to most of them, and I have really come to enjoy dropping in on whatever class is going on when I have an hour free before or after work. I've taken spinning classes, which kill my quads in a way that running never has,)After a spin on the treadmill, I enjoy Yoga classes with a Buddha-like instructor who is equal parts forest nymph, giddy cheerleader, and Zen master. Pilates always challenges me, and I really like the fact that I can do a little more each time I get on the mat. TRX give you an awesome workout, and I use the term literally. I am in awe of Coach Carrie and my classmates as they fling themselves through movements that leave me panting on the floor in a puddle of my own sweat. And if you don't like Zumba, there is probably something seriously wrong with your soul.

 Solitude? Yeah, right
Then there's the pool. I've always found swimming to be the most solitary of sports. I splash along with my awkward strokes, goggles fogged, barely finishing each lap while some 80-year-old in the next lane does her Esther Williams impression for what seems like miles at a time. Then, Mrs P started taking swimming lessons.

Swimming lessons were a part of my childhood. Every summer, the kids in my hometown would gather at Dormont Pool where patient grown-ups taught us to put our faces underwater and blow bubbles. We gradually progressed, year by year, to the diving boards on the deep end. Mrs P never got that chance, Now, in our dotage, we are sharing the experience of her learning to swim. She meets with Mr. Ted on Saturday mornings, then we go to the Y together a couple times a week so she can practice. Yesterday, we shared a lane. I swam my labored laps while she practiced her drills. It won't be long before she's a stronger swimmer than I am. She loves the water. We've finally found an exercise we can enjoy doing together. Last week, we even took a water aerobics class. She laughed like a child, and I fell in love with her every time I saw her chlorine-soaked smile.(She has taken to devilishly pinching my bum under the water, which is also a plus.)

It doesn't have to be like this...
If you're reluctant to exercise with someone else because you're embarrassed about your body, or worried that you won't be able to keep up, or for some other reason, I encourage you to get over it. I remember the shame of high school gym class, but I have found that grown-ups are much more encouraging. Nobody's ever made me feel bad about myself because I can't fold my legs like a pretzel or cycle for an hour without collapsing across the handle bars. There is joy out there alone on the open road, but there is joy in the mirror lined walls of the exercise studio, too. The only way to keep exercising is to find something that's fun. And there is fun to be had in the company of other people who are fighting for their lives, just like you.


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