Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Dark Side of Exercise

Everything hurts and I'm dying...
Oh look, a camera!
I watched a cute little video regarding the benefits of exercise, you can see it here:

Bright Side: How Sport Changes our Bodies

Cute right?

As I watched this video I felt all warm and fuzzy, like when I see my unicorn pooping rainbow sherbert. Then a shadow passed before my eyes. As in all things with reality, the bright side is just the flip of the dark side.

Over this past summer, I sat on the grass next to my sister-in-law, who had just finished a 10-mile run. I tried not to hate the fact that her morning run doubled the farthest distance I’ve ever done. It was probably cake for her too—she has earned enough marathon medals to pave a road. I tried to strike up a conversation. She said, “Sorry, if I’m quiet; I’m just trying not to vomit.”

When the dark side is hidden and I discover it on my own, I assume something is wrong with me—that I just don't possess the talent. In reality, my athletic sister is not over there riding the runner’s high in the fragrant grass overlooking the river, she’s trying to find a place to discreetly puke. Yep, the dark side is there for everyone else too. So to prepare you, who may be disheartened by past perceived failures, or who may be getting revved up to get started, here are some of the things I’ve learned about the dark side of regular exercise...

I learned…

...I’ll never be done until they spread my ashes.

I always started a fitness regimen to get in shape, like “shape” was a mountain I could climb, plant a flag in, then retire to my life of ease. So I would take-off on a new fitness regime with enthusiasm and vigor, make a lot of progress, then lose interest and quit. Dumb right? Airplanes burn the most energy during take-off, it’s dangerous and exhausting, and I was taking-off all the time, going too hard too fast then quitting once I was no longer seeing big gains. Now I know that I want to live in that awesome cruising altitude for the rest of my life. to start effectively.

What do you mean, I just put shoes on and run right?

Sure, go for it. Then when you feel like quitting, come back and read the rest of this paragraph.

Since I was going to do this for the rest of my life, I did some homework and found out that I needed to start slow, adding time and distance slowly, and extra workout days slowly. It’s not as exciting, but slow, incremental lifestyle changes stick better than sudden changes.

…that I needed to go the duration, not the distance.

I found a route that I could run/walk in about a half hour. I ran until I couldn’t catch my breath, walked briskly until I could, then ran again. Gradually, I was able to decrease my walking periods until they disappeared. By then, my route was no longer taking me a half hour, so I extended it and repeated the run/walk process until I could run the whole thing. This gave me more time out exercising, which improved my overall fitness, yet gave my ligaments and tendons time to become strong and flexible again before adding intensity. Only when I have an upcoming race do I shift my focus to distance.
Runners World: How to Start Running

...workouts have to become a priority.

But I don’t have the time.

Sure you do, but you’re using that time for other important things.

In the book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey states, “The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Like most people, I am a busy person and if it's not scheduled, it's not going to happen. I've had to make exercise a priority above this that and the other important thing. Since I've done that, I rarely miss a run day. I do get behind on laundry though...

...running requires proper training and technique.

I always thought myself an expert at running, after all, I’ve been doing it since I was two. Turns out there was so much I didn’t know. Minor tweaks to my form, stride, shoes, clothes, have made all the difference. Learn all you can about whatever fitness routine you choose, read articles, watch youTube videos, attend workshops at fitness stores, and talk to other people. Rarely is there a wrong or right, but there is certainly better or worse—and there is a lot to know about injury prevention, nutrition, and recovery.

Runner's World: Proper Running Form
I wasn't even breathing right. Runner's World: Breathing Tips

...running is not a fair weather activity.

Good running weather for me is cloudy, cool, and dry. Since this weather constitutes about 2% of my runs, I learned to tolerate all weather, hot, raining, freezing, even when I’m getting a cold or getting over one. If you give yourself a pass even once, you’ll do it all the time. Although, I do draw the line on 100 degree days—that’s just not nice.

...running is not enough.

Running works the same specific muscle groups, and I need to exercise all my muscle groups to be healthy and injury free. Mixing up my running routine with biking has helped by working my other leg muscles, and it keeps me from getting too bored. I also strength train my core, upper body, and glutes to keep my muscle development balanced. A strong core and upper body helps me maintain good posture, which helps me breathe better during longer runs; a bit of yoga helps me stay flexible.
Runner's World: Cross Training

...running is not a cheap sport.

When I started running, I was shocked and appalled at the expense of everything I couldn’t do without. (I resisted until it was either quit or cave and spend the money.)

Here’s a list of crap I can't live without while running:
  • Good shoes. There is a recommended schedule for buying replacements, but I only replace them when I can feel small pebbles through the soles. 
  • Running tights. I tried many kinds of shorts before admitting to myself that running tights are the most comfortable. I was horribly self-conscious at first, then I remembered I don’t give a rip.
  • Good bra. 
  • Well behaved underpants. 
  • Good socks. Yep, those too. Long runs mean blisters in crappy socks. 
  • Compression socks or calf sleeves. They muffle the cry of my calves as I run. 
  • iPod. Music pushes me forward and bonus: I don’t have to hear my panting.
  • Tank tops and shirts. Yep, I need “running” shirts because they don’t pull, rub, itch, ride up, blister, or otherwise make running more miserable.
  • GPS watch. My husband talked me into this one. Now I can’t do without it. It tracks my progress and tells me if I’m hitting my goals. It also keeps me honest. I know when I need to give myself a kick in the tights when my pace dips too much, or when I’m being stupid and taking off too fast at the starting line.
  • Races. Get ready to shell out cash and gas money for these. 

...running hurts, even when you’re doing it right.

I have more daily pain as a fit person approaching middle age than ever before. It’s a low-grade annoying pain, but it’s always there. There are exhaustive articles written about how runners have a higher pain threshold than people who don’t run. It’s just the way of it. Runners are so conditioned to being in pain, that they actually tend to go too far and ignore pain that should be treated.
Running World: The Big 7 Body Breakdowns

...that sleep is really important.

The video mentions how exercise cures insomnia. I’ve been exhausted from exercise, and still found my mind whirling on anxious thoughts for hours. Also, exercise requires that I get my normal sleep plus some, and when I’ve been sleep deprived, running sometimes exacerbated the effects. In general, I sleep more soundly on run days, but wouldn’t make a claim that it cures insomnia.
Competitor: Sleep Better (And Longer) To Run Better takes so much time!

To get in a half-hour run, I spend a little over an hour: Ten minutes to get changed into my running clothes, hair tied, deodorant applied, iPod clipped, GPS watch strapped on and activated, pre-run tinkle, shoes, a few push-ups to get my blood going, a couple quick stretches, kissed for my kids, one last tinkle then I’m off. A half-hour later, I’m back and dripping with sweat. So it’s the process in reverse plus a shower and a hair dry. Also, I need extra sleep—more time! make diet a noun, not a verb.

The word diet usually conjures up ideas about calorie restriction. A diet is something I have, not something I do. My diet is something I will continually fine tune for the rest of my life, to get what I need and cut out what I don’t, but it is not something I start and can one day stop.  Since this is for the rest of my life, I include meals I love, like tacos.

...exercise and weight loss are two separate things.

I used to hate hearing, “Why do you run? You’re not fat.” People generally don’t recognize that lean people can be just as out-of-shape as overweight people. And, as much as I’d like to shed that last 10 pounds of mom-chub, exercising a lot makes me ravenous, and when I’m ramping up training, I have to be careful to stave off weight gain. It’s a real thing.

To people who want exercise to be part of a healthy weight loss plan, that’s awesome, but be careful not to go too far with calorie restriction. Your body might interpret a prolonged calorie deficit as a famine period, something that was common during our evolution, and will try to increase your chances of surviving it by shifting your metabolism into emergency-conservation-mode. It’s better to create a smallish calorie deficit and spread the weight loss over longer period. If it took a decade to become overweight, it might take a few years to return to a stable weight. If you’re not losing weight, keep exercising anyway, you’re infinitely better off fit than not, regardless of your BMI.
Very Well: Plus Size Exercise
Runner's World: Ultra Read this one, this lady is inspiring. can still be in a fitness upswing during middle age.

Every time I participate a race, whether it be an obstacle, triathlon, 5k whatever, there are always women older than me that completely smoke my time—showing me I can’t use my lack of youth as an excuse to suck. So I keep pushing myself, and I’m a better runner now at 39 than I have ever been—and I’m still improving.

...slows down the aging process?

While it may slow the overall aging process, as the video claims, I never look and feel so old as just after a hard run. The sun, cold, rain, wind, can all take a toll on your skin too. I'm going to leave this one on the shelf, I don't think I'm buying.

...someone is always faster than me.

I’m over it. This is my journey; I’m competing against myself, to please myself. I’ve been smoked by short-limbed, overweight, sixy-something women in nearly every race. I’ve been surpassed by people that started their fitness journey years after me. I temper myself from feeling good about passing others, so I don’t feel bad about being passed. Go you! And go me!

...runners are slightly obsessed with BMs.

With good reason. There are hundreds of articles on the topic.
Competitor: Why Do I Have To Poop When I Run?

So what’s the point? Running sucks right, I get it.

It does suck, but like the video shows, there are a lot of real benefits. These are the reasons I run:
  • It kills my bad mood. Running transforms me from uber-bitch to Maria von Trapp. 
  • It burns off my stress. That fight or flight energy needs to go somewhere, so I take it for a run.
  • I’m convinced it kills colds. If I feel a run-of-the-mill cold settling in, I make sure I fit in a run before it strikes and usually it goes away before settling in. 
  • I feel better about my appearance. I don’t look any different, but I perceive myself differently.
  • I get a sense of accomplishment. On days when I don’t feel like I’ve done anything more important than matching socks and sweeping up dog hair, a run feels like a grand achievement.
  • It gets me outside, even when I don’t feel like it.
  • I love being fit. I can go on a long hike or bike ride anytime anywhere, play sports on a whim, and I have energy to play with my kids. 
  • It makes me conscientious about my health. I’m more inclined to eat healthfully and pay attention to cues from my body that something is off.
  • My kids are watching me. 

Now that you’ve read all that, know that your experience with dark side and light side of exercise will be different. You may not even like to run, maybe your thing is a naked Tae-Bo in a forest clearing by moonlight. That’s great. Find it, do it, persevere.

If you get mired in the dark side—it's not just you. However, there are great pubs on the dark side. Pop into one some time and I’ll buy you a pint and we can discuss how much our runs today sucked, compare our ugly feet, and discuss our BM
schedules. But just one...we got stuff to do today.

For further inspiration:
The Oatmeal: The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons I Run Long Distances


  1. Someday when I grow up and get rich, I'm going to have this ^^ much discipline. Meanwhile, I'm going to have to hire a trainer with a cattle prod to get me off my ass... Unless there's an airplane and a parachute involved.

  2. Ha! Love it.
    Never grow up. It's a trap. :)