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In 2005, at the age of 35, I decided it was time to do something about my body. I wasn’t particularly happy with it, and it wasn’t particularly happy with me. At five foot ten inches, I weighed 263 pounds. I’d been a chubby teen, then got into great shape in my twenties, but after ten years of managing restaurants, going back to school, then grad school, I’d managed to pack on an extra 90 pounds. I was tired of feeling fat all the time, tried of being out of breath from cutting my toenails, tired of having to replace pants because the friction of my thighs rubbed the fabric to shreds, tired of trying to make myself feel better with plus-sized clothing and more food. I was tired of being tired all the time. I did not want to enter my 40’s overweight and unhealthy.

After a couple months of angry journaling and a lot of internal arguments, I finally decided that I had to do something other than being pissed about being fat, so I walked into a Weight Watchers meeting on June 8th, 2005 and started making changes. One of the most important ones was relearning how to see myself and what I thought I was capable of. I’d been a gym rat in the 90’s (and I have the thong leotards to prove it!), so I knew I enjoyed working out, but there is a big difference between a workout when you are in shape, and one when you are not in shape. So I started making exercise a habit again by doing the cheapest and easiest thing possible: walking.

Over a period of months I went from walking 15 minutes, to walking 45 minutes, and—miraculously one day I found I just couldn’t walk fast enough—I started running.

Now here’s the thing: I had never had the experience of running for pleasure before, and it astounded me. I had never understood the draw—it’s just one foot in front of the other, right?  And wasn’t it hard? My early experiences with running had mainly to do with fitness tests conducted by overzealous gym teachers, and being the allergy-ridden and asthmatic kid I was, running was torturous, leaving me feeling sick and unable to breathe. And there was the added bonus of feeling like the fat kid. Those tests always become an unspoken lecture—here are the fit kids and here are the fat kids—but if those tests were supposed to help me want to get into better shape, they didn’t. I never felt a draw to want to run anywhere, except away from running. I was pretty damn sure the only way I’d ever choose to run was when the flesh-eating zombies came.

But in the early 2000’s I had several friends run the Chicago Marathon. The first time, supporting a girlfriend, I was embarrassed at how exhausted I was after taking the train to two stops along the route to cheer her on. Meeting at Buckingham fountain, she was flushed, wrapped in a Mylar blanket, and I was ready to go sit down at the Lithuanian place we’d planned to eat at.  Surely we’d catch a cab back to her car, right? “It’s just a couple miles walk,” she said, “it will help me stretch out.” I swallowed hard and nodded, thinking how pathetic I was. She ran 26.2 miles and wants to walk to the car; I climbed a few flights of stairs from the train and I just want to go eat kugelis.

I went to cheer on other friends and it was hard not to notice that there was no one type of running body: there were people of all ages and sizes, and there were thousands of them. And it was exciting and amazing to think of all these bodies and what they could do. Surely my own body was also capable of such a feat? And all of the sudden the idea of putting one foot in front of the other over and over seemed like something much larger and admirable—something more like hope, like tenaciousness, like commitment.

And after several months of walking briskly, of building up my cardiovascular system, I realized that walking at my fastest pace just wasn’t doing it for me: I wanted to go faster. And I ran. I didn’t get more than a block before I had to stop, but it felt good. And I did it again the next day. Slowly, I began building up my stamina. I started researching running. It was great for weight loss and there were books to help you increase your pace and prepare you for a marathon.

Suddenly, that very thing—continuing to put one foot in front of the other, over and over again, seemed miraculous, and my body was loving it. The mental clarity, the endorphin rush, and the pounds were continuing to come off. It was fall of 2005, and I wanted to try running a marathon. My friends had done it, and 2006 would be my year to do the Chicago Marathon. I got books on running, and looked at starting to time myself and count miles. And I pretty much ignored the pains in my left shin that intensified after a run. Shin splints, probably, I thought.

By January of 2006, while visiting my Dad in New Mexico and running up and down some mountain trails, I knew something was seriously wrong with my left leg, and I knew I’d have to get it looked at. At this point, I was down 50 pounds, but had another 40 to go. The diagnosis was a tibial stress fracture. I had optimistically registered for the Chicago Marathon not two days before my doctor’s appointment, and my Ortho guy said it was possible, but I’d have to lay off anything involving pounding for at least 8 weeks. In February, in Chicago, being halfway to your goal weight and being told you can’t do any running when it’s your primary activity is practically a death sentence. I had taken a year to create new habits, new workout routines, and I was terrified of not being able to continue my weight loss. I was depressed, but determined. I swam. I joined the Park District pool near my house and went swimming three or four days a week, weaving between the chatting Polish octogenarians who liked to use the pool like a bar, sans booze. And I dealt with being cold and wet and going outside in 30 below temps and smelling like chlorine and I counted out the 8 weeks and then some, just to be sure, before I started the walk to run program my doctor gave me. And finally, as spring was breaking, I was out starting to run again. Just one minute, then walk four, then finally up to two minutes…and about a week into my recovery I felt the leg go again.

And I swam again, and used the stationary bike, and waited another two months. And in October I watched the Marathon on TV. And I started training again in fall. And the leg refractured and it was apparent there might be multiple fractures by now, and my doc started talking about MRI’s and the “dreaded black line” of a serious stress fracture that he thought might show up, the kind that require surgery and pins, and are generally reserved for serious athletes. It was December and I stopped running. By January I felt I needed to switch tactics and started researching exercises that strengthen bones, and the first thing Google brought up was Pilates.

I don’t know if I’d had much knowledge about Pilates at that point, but that it was something some of the Hollywood types did. Something that involved graceful movements and perhaps leotards. I never considered myself to be graceful, but I wanted my leg healed, and I needed to find another way of working out besides bone-jarring cardio. There was a studio near me that offered a first class free, so in January of 2007, I went over to Frog Temple and fell in love with Pilates in one hour. I started taking private lessons along with attending mat classes for two Pilates workouts a week.

Six weeks in, friends started telling me I looked taller (and I’m already five foot ten) and commenting on my posture. My pants started fitting differently. My low belly looked flatter. I was now running on an elliptical at the gym and found I didn’t need to hold on to anything; I was “running” from my core, arms and legs felt loose and fluid. And I started to remember that I’d broken my left foot as a kid, and began to notice that I had less flexibility in that foot. A lightbulb went off: I’d been running flat footed on the left side, and likely that combined with excess body weight, probably contributed to my stress fracture.  Then May came and it was week 15 of the teaching term and someone asked me if I had any Advil and I realized my “stash” of pills—which I normally started taking around week 6 due to the neck and back pain of carrying so many books and papers—was empty, because I hadn’t ever filled it that semester. I hadn’t had a tension headache since the fall, when before they’d been once or twice a week.

Suddenly, I noticed that I was able to hook a shoulder bag on my right side. Before when I tried to switch sides, my bag always slipped off, like my shoulder on that side sloped down differently (it had).  I started noticing how I favored my right side while sleeping and began retraining myself to get comfortable on my left side. I now sleep comfortably on both sides, and also my back and belly. And there were stupid little moments of happiness finding balance on one leg while taking off pants, or on the train playing at not holding on to the germ-laden poles, or starting to wipe out on an icy patch and finding I could recover before hitting the ground.

In May of that year, only a few months into taking Pilates I knew this was something I wanted to teach to others. I’d never been more aware of my body before, and this newfound awareness was exciting and empowering, and I wanted to help others achieve a connection with their bodies the way I was. I felt Pilates was informing all my physical activities—both the conscious ones, like running, biking, and other cardio work—and perhaps more importantly, the unconscious activities my body went through daily that often led to chronic pain and lack of energy.  I spoke with the owner of Frog Temple, Randi Whitman, about taking the following year’s certification course. “Is that crazy? I know I haven’t been practicing that long, but I know I want to teach this.” Randi looked at me seriously and said, “Yes. And no. That’s how a lot of people feel about Pilates.” She felt it was early in the development of my Pilates experience to know if I was ready for a program, but as the training didn’t start until January of 2008, I had about a year to get to the level needed to begin training. And that’s exactly what I did.

In October of 2007 I hit my goal weight, and in January of 2008 I started a yearlong training program to become a Pilates instructor. I gave up running per doctor’s orders after I tore my meniscus (same left leg), but fell in love with biking and haven’t looked back. I still love to watch the Chicago Marathon, but now I’m content to bike around the route and cheer on the runners. I may not run anymore, but I can do many other things to keep fit and healthy. And besides, if the zombie apocalypse ever does come, and the zombies run, there is no way a zombie is going to catch me on a bicycle.