Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Only Fitness Goal

pretending that i am ready to go
2006, about to run the Pikes Peak Marathon, like a lunatic.

I've been a runner for a long time. I spent years telling people why other modes of exercise were superior, but then I tried it, and I liked it. I'm not sure exactly what sold me on it, but there's something to be said for those rare runs during which everything seems to go right, and I feel as if I am sailing down the sidewalk instead of trudging away, waiting for the endorphin payoff at the end. Running was something that I hoped I'd always come back to, but that I feared I'd lost for awhile. After running the Pikes Peak Marathon, three times no less, it was hard for me to admit that I was at a point in my life during which I couldn't manage to run at all. But once I admitted it and allowed it, I was able to find my way back.

My return to running has looked different than I thought it would. I struggled for the first three years that E was part of our family. I couldn't seem to find the time and the will at the same time. Those years were busy years. I wanted so badly to be a runner, but really I was on a break with running. No matter how hard I tried work it into my schedule, it became the square peg in the round hole, something that just didn't fit. I finally had to admit defeat. I wasn't running anymore. My shoes were ridiculously worn out, and I finally threw them away, without plans to replace them.

I felt horrible about it, like a failure. I never said that out loud. I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that I had other work to do, and that the conditions that made it impossible for me to stick to a running schedule would pass, and that was true, but it was hard to believe it. The voices that said that I could fit it in if it were important enough, the ones that urge women to compare themselves to others, who do make the time, even though they seem just as busy as me (or worse, busier than me), were pretty loud sometimes. I'd love to say that I silenced those voices, but I never quite managed it. What I did instead was made my way back to running in my own time, on my own terms, without pressure. It took me at least a year from the time I threw away my running shoes until I ordered new ones and made a plan with J to carve out just a little time to run.

Now I run three times weekly. I give J charge of the kids at the end of his work day, and my family goes home ahead of me while I run. My goal is not to go fast or go far, but to go. Sometimes I don't run much of the distance. One time, I ran about five blocks before realizing I was famished and ducking into a Pret to grab a sandwich. Other times I've stopped just a bit early to enjoy the view as I walked the remainder of the route I'd planned for myself. Just this week, I decided that the rainy weather required that I consume a hot chocolate on my way to the Tube station. On my three running days, I put on my running gear, and I at least get started running. If I don't finish the route, there is no shame. That has been key for me. No shame for not doing as much as I hoped, no shame for the three years my fitness level was at an all time low, no shame for any of it.

I believe that exercise holds myriad benefits. For me, the biggest benefits are the endorphins and the little bit of time carved out for me to do something for myself in the middle of the busy flow of my week. But I also think that the pressure to exercise, or to exercise at a certain level or in a certain way, can negate the benefits. It can leave us always feeling like we are less than ideal. I have no interest in feeling that I am not living up to expectations, whether they are mine or anyone else's. That's not productive for me. 

My one and only fitness goal is that my fitness routine would make my life better, not worse. That's it. If it stresses me out, or makes me feel like I am not doing it right, or like I should have a body that looks different, then I am not meeting my goal. Meeting my goal means that I feel strong and confident, that I finish each run feeling capable and happy and at peace. Meeting my goal means that I appreciate the time I have been given to do this. Right now, I am meeting that goal, and that feels pretty wonderful.

Someday I hope to meet that goal in a different way. I have thoughts of running five or six times a week, of going for long runs that take me all over the city. I know that my life right now won't support that kind of running schedule, and I feel good about recognizing and embracing that. I have made a choice to live the kind of life that doesn't allow for a lot of running, and I am happy with that choice. 

My children will not be little forever, and they will not always prefer my company to that of their friends. They will get older and be able to stay on their own while I run. They will grow up and leave home, and I will miss the things that I gave up running to be able to do. I know that. And so I will enjoy this time, in which I am running, but mostly doing other things. Because those other things are fleeting, and running will wait for me. It did once, and it will again.


  1. Oh, Mary! I love the goals you set for yourself and your family. Good luck!!

  2. Mary, do you have any tips for shutting down the internal voices that say you aren't doing enough? For not feeling guilty, like you should have done more or tried harder? I ask this in regard to exercise, but also in regard to your other posts about allowing time for you and your family to be lazy. I try to do these things but I always have that voice telling me I should have done more.

    1. In a word, practice. I will likely write a full post about this. I've thought a lot about what kind of person I want to be and what kind of life I want to have with my family, in addition to what I want to be able to offer others in our wider community. Recognizing limits and getting enough rest figure into this in a big way. I have even changed the words I use. For example, you said "be lazy" above, and I wouldn't say that about our restful days. It's not laziness to get enough rest to be able to function well, to take the opportunity to recharge so we can get through the more challenging times with grace. Our culture teaches this in many ways, that if we are not constantly busy, we are being lazy, but it's not true. Laziness is when we ignore true responsibilities and ignore the needs of our fellow humans in favor of pleasure. While I take pleasure in the slow mornings and other moments, these contribute to the overall goal of having more to give to my responsibilities. I think that we get confused about what our true responsibilities are. It is not my responsibility to make sure my house is perfectly clean, that my body adheres to my culture's standards of beauty, that I appear to be a hard worker. My responsibility is to care for myself and others, in my case my family in particular. So if resting and exercising less than I used to means that I am better able to care for myself, my family, and others, then I am meeting my responsibilities. There's no laziness in that. :)

    2. Great advice. Interesting take on what "true responsibilities" are. I really need to evaluate what those are for me. Thank you!


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