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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Crawling Back to Fitness

It's quite ironic that even as Michael J. Nelson is eating his way into bacon glory this month, I am climbing back on the fitness wagon.

Climbing is perhaps the wrong word. A more accurate description would be, "being lifted by a rather large crane, kicking and screaming all the way." Come to think of it, the kicking is probably an exaggeration as well, as my legs don't move so well anymore.

So, a completely accurate description of my retun to the fitness road would be, "I am gradually being hauled onto the fitness wagon by a extraordinary long and sturdy conveyor belt, twitching and whingeing all the way, inbetwixt bouts of near-comatose sleep."

I'm probably not in as bad shape as all that, but after two days of two-and-a-half mile runs (the half-mile being the warm-up), I'm quickly realising just how much the years have thrashed out of my body.

The worst part about beginning any exercise program, especially running, is the first two weeks. That's the period when your body is gradually adjusting to the cheerful new torture you're inflicting upon it. You body handles this adjustment in a highly sophisticated way: by sadistically torturing you right back.

It's incredibly efficient, if you're body's utimate goal is to develop an overall porridge-like consistency. However, if your aims are abs of steel, machine-like cardiovascular-capacity, and rippling musculature, then the effect is similar to a European Union seminar on democracy-building.

Moreso, the body stupidly fails to register that the brain that tortured it by thinking up the need to get up for an early morning run is the same brain that will send back agonised squeals of misery when the overtaxed thigh and calf muscles tie up during a sit down. It's rather like trying to convince your brain to stop beating yourself over the head by shoving red-hot pokers into your legs. After awhile, your brain says, "what's the point," and beats your cranium twice as hard.

I used to be a cross-country runner, or "harrier1", in school, before university. I wasn't particularly fast but was good enough to be in the side and score for the team. Of course, in cross-country, all you have to do is finish in the top five for your team to score, so that meant staying ahead of two of the seven blokes in your own side. With the proper application of back-kicks and bony runner's elbows, this was a piece of cake.

Still, running seemed easy back then, mainly because at seventeen your body recovers almost as fast as Wolverine's does in the X-Men. Frequently, on days where our school had a meet, I would arrive home from the trip, have a quick sit down, and then hop on my bike for 5-10 miles just for a lark. This was usually after a massive meal at a restaurant on the journey back, most often a buffet or fast-food establishment well known for its infinite variety of cholesterol-themed dishes.

This week has been sort of a trip back through time to those halcyon days, only in extreme slow motion, and with live electrodes strapped all over my body. In fact, I definitively recalled the film Chariots of Fire during the experience. The film came out right before the beginning of my school running experience and was a constant source of motivation . The scenes of slow-motion running were exactly the sort of inspiring vision a young athlete could take to heart. This time however, my primary impression was the realisation that the actors running in slow-motion onscreen were going about twice as fast as I was.

It was of little help that I trained a bit with the Wii Fit in Janaury, mostly doing the jogging in place. A word of advice for those of you doing that exercise, who are starting to convince yourself that you could step out onto the track fly round it like a middle-aged Hicham El Guerrouj: A mile on the Wii Fit translates to about a quarter-mile on the track. Also, the Wii Fit doesn't account for wind resistance. The one similarity between the two expereinces is that a good, stiff wind can have you jogging in place again.

It's all different muscles too. Jogging in place seemed to be good enough cardio work; however, the moment I stepped out onto the track a completely different group of muscles than I had been using with the Wii Fit cropped up, as if to say, "Remember us?" It was rather like running into a group of old school bullies, who, instead of being impressed with your advanced degree, professional job, and nice salary, spent their time reminding you how easy it was to dump you headfirst into the cafeteria wastebins.2

So, I stepped onto the track Saturday morning and began to jog at a nice, easy pace. For a moment, I wanted to burst out in a Forrest Gump voice, shouting, "I was run-ning!" However, I quickly realised that I couldn't actually speak. My lungs and voicebox were too caught up in the desperate business of gathering oxygen to bother with communication, much less the sort that didn't involve the words, "Please... summon... an... ambulance."

Mind you, this was only the warm up jog. The actual two mile hike was far worse. The stretching between the two was nice though, in that I got to sit down for a moment.

So, memory lane on the track3 isn't all it's cracked up to be. However, after only a couple of days back in the running groove, I can safely say that I do remember exactly what the best and worst things about exercise are.

The best thing is finishing an early-morning workout, knowing that you're done for the day and that you've accomplished something that will build your body up towards health and divine service, strengthen your inner well-being, and improve your overall life experience.

The worst thing, of course, is the exercise.

1 Instead of being sleek and fast like the plane of the same name, most of us were scrawny and highly-excitable.
2 This actually never happened to me. None of the bullies were fellow harriers, so I could outrun them all.
3 The inside, shortest lane, of course.

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