People often equate middle age with cresting the apex of a mountain. Hence the expression, “over the hill.” But I think they’ve got it exactly backwards.
The first half of your life rolls right along, aided by gravity.
There’s hard stuff, sure: learning to walk while tripping over your own feet and smacking into walls and coffee tables and fireplace tools; middle school, which would be more aptly named The Socio-Psychological Gauntlet of Terror; and navigating the swirling eddy of relationships, marriages, children, mortgages, and/or careers.
But in general, things skip along fairly seamlessly. In most cases the body works pretty well. The memory is a shiny new file cabinet with smoothly gliding drawers and a zippy-quick, snappily-organized classification and retrieval system. You sleep through the night; your digestive and gastrointestinal tracts accept, process, and eliminate pretty much anything you feed them; and the only physicians seen on a regular basis are the dentist and possibly an optometrist.
The physical aspect of the second half of life, however, often resembles Sisyphus pushing a boulder up Mt. Everest more than it does said boulder rolling back down it.
Things just don’t work as well anymore. CRS (Can’t Remember Sh—Stuff) Syndrome sets it, you may not eat a single bite of anything with impunity, and you start putting all your specialists on speed dial.
I realized I had traversed the trough of my life-valley midpoint one day, and was now shouldering my rock uphill, when I received a phone call from my husband while on my morning constitutional.
Day Zero Minus One
“Honey,” he said. “I locked myself out of the house without my car keys and I’m late for a meeting.”
Only a quarter mile from home, I took off at a dead run to deliver my husband from his plight. One hundred yards later I slowed to a jog. Another fifty yards and I switched to a power-walk. Half-way home I doubled over, heaving and gasping, a stitch in my side that felt like Jason Voorhees carved out my liver with a machete.
I was on the varsity track team! I thought. (Thirty years ago.)
Something akin to raw oysters oozed up out of my lungs and I spat them onto the sidewalk.
I could kid myself no longer: I’d grown soft, slack, and paunchily decrepit.
If the zombie apocalypse occurred, I’d be one of the first meat-sacks taken down.
Day 1: Run 1 Minute, Walk 2 Minutes; Repeat 10x
The Couch to 5K program I found promised to get me running five kilometers in eight weeks’ time.
*Check with your doctor before undertaking any fitness regimen, especially if you have any health issues or are over forty years old.
Hey, they say forty-five is the new thirty. I’m good.
Run 1 minute, walk 2 minutes, repeat 10 times.
Easy-peasy lemon squeeze-y!
Day 2: Rest Day
Oh yeah. I did half an hour on the road yesterday. So today I hit Dunkin Donuts as a reward. (Note to self: three Boston Creams in a row is a bad idea. Bad. Note to reader: Boston Creams are tastier going down than coming up.)
Day 3: Run 2 Minutes, Walk 1 Minute; Repeat 10x
I realize today that skinny jeans and Birkenstocks are unsuitable for this program.
At the shoe store I discover walking shoes, hiking shoes, cross-trainers, racing shoes, motion control shoes, shoes with cushioned stability, biomechanically neutral shoes, and lightweight trainers.
I find a pair of gray and pink Filas on the clearance rack for ten dollars. I have no idea what they’re designed for, but they’re cute and they fit.
Day 4: Rest Day
Three blueberry muffins with cream cheese and a large hazelnut coffee are only a marginally more nutritious breakfast than the Boston Creams were.
Day 5: Run 3 Minutes, Walk 1 Minute; Repeat 7x; Walk 2 Minutes
Three minutes? This is psychotic!
I start counting my steps, because numbers got me through childbirth: “When I get to fifty this contraction will be OVER!”
120 running (lurching) steps take me one minute. That’s about 3600 steps to complete the required running for the day.
I can do this. Right?
Day 10: Walk 30 Minutes
I am walking maniac. I can walk forever.
With a magazine in one hand and a Frappuccino in the other, I own the trails. Till I wander off and smack into a tree. The newly streamlined Martha Stewart Living provides little cushion for my nose. I curse the dwindling production of print media.
Getting in shape hurts.
Day 15: Run 5 Minutes, Walk 1 Minute; Repeat 5x
Today, I discover where the phrase “get the lead out” must have come from. My buttocks bounce, but not in a Beyoncé or J Lo kind of way. More like someone pinned two plastic bags filled with buckshot to the seat of my pants.
Day 20: Run 6 Minutes, Walk 1 Minute; Repeat 4x; Walk 2 Minutes
I encounter another runner on the sidewalk this morning. She’s about 5’10”, and maybe almost a hundred pounds soaking wet. With her long blonde hair pulled up in a ponytail and cute pink headband, which matches her pink spandex tank and pink spandex running pants, she looks like Jessica Simpson’s tighter-bodied stunt double.
Because I do not belong out here with the fit and fabulous, and I’m sure she would laugh her pink bobbysocks off if she saw me, I turn a corner and run the other way, loathing my cheese-ish thighs and the blue sweat pants I borrowed from my husband to contain them.
Day 25: Walk 30 Minutes
Limp, more like it.
I time myself with the precision of a special forces black ops military strike, hitting “start” on my watch’s timer the moment my foot steps out the door, and “stop” on 30:00:00 as I collapse onto the couch.
Day 31: Run 13 Minutes, Walk 1 Minute; Repeat 2x; Walk 2 Minutes
I keep waiting for that runners’ high they talk about, where the pain evaporates and euphoria carries you on angel wings, like Hermes hurtling effortlessly through the Grecian clouds.
Runners are either a pack of bald-faced liars, or they’re smoking crack. It just hurts. Every stinking step.
Day 35: Rest Day
My pants buttoned today, without the aid of a rubber-band extender.
Day 40: Run 18 Minutes, Walk 1 Minute, Run 11 Minutes
I remember today that jogging is an ungodly and un-scriptural activity (“The wicked flee, though no one pursues” [Proverbs 28:1]) and consider abandoning this program on biblical grounds.
However, I also note that I have not spent any time with my new friend, perimenopausal insomnia, during the last 30 days.
Day 47: Run 24 Minutes, Walk 1 Minute, Run 5 Minutes
Dressing this morning, I found something strange about my Victoria’s Secrets—okay, my Fruit-of-the-Looms. They were… baggy. I buy a smaller size. Happy Dance!
Nearing the end of the seventh week, the end is in sight.
Day 50: Run 27 Minutes, Walk 1 Minute, Run 2 Minutes
Every time I hit the pavement my body tries to tell me I can’t do it. That this running stuff is cruel and unusual punishment and I need to stop before something snaps, collapses, or falls off. But if I press through that, and tell my legs and heart and lungs to suck it up and move, they stop arguing. They fall in and put out.
It felt good today. I think I… liked it.
OMG. Who am I?
Day 51: Run 28 Minutes, Walk 2 Minutes
I pass another runner on the sidewalk today. A heavyset man, in shorts and an oversized T-shirt. Beads of sweat form on his brow and soak into the neck of his shirt. He hasn’t got much of a stride, but he’s working it.
You go, friend! You can do it! We’ve all got to start somewhere, and I’m proud of you.
I’d like to high-five him, but that would just be weird. Right?
Day 55: Walk 30 Minutes
I don’t really want to walk, because it kind of feels like wasted time. But I do it, because the schedule says to.
I’m so close!
My skin looks really good. Must be all the water I’m sucking down after my runs.
Day 56: Run 30 Minutes
I run 30 minutes.
I did it.
I really did it.
From Now On
I learned something during the eight weeks of my Couch to 5K program: I don’t like exercise.
Actually, I knew that already. This experience just confirmed it. I’d much rather be writing, or painting, or knitting.
But as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do,” so I’m going to keep running. Because it’s good for me. Because it makes me stronger. Because I can snarf more brownies with fewer consequences to my middle-aged hips.
But the biggest reason is because it will remind me, every time I hit the pavement, that I did something I didn’t think I could do. That even uphill battles are winnable.
That I’m not giving in or giving up.
Not even close.
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