On Your Mark, Get Set…

12th June 2012

This post is sponsored by Merrell.

This is me running with my friend Amy. Because, and I never thought I’d type this, running is a thing I’m starting to do. Despite my jock-ular appearance here, I’m doing this furtively. I don’t post my distances on the various social networks, I don’t know my personal best, I avert my eyes when someone passes on the park path.

Someday I’ll raise my chin in smug salute to my fellow marathoners. For now, I’m focused on getting my laces double tied and finding a sports bra that takes all the bounce out of my step.

Those of you who’ve been reading for a while might remember my historical disinterest in exercise. It went a little something like this:

Until the last six months or so, I’ve never understood people who like the gym. I mean I thought they were maybe a different species, in that I could never mate with one. When my weight, and later my health, made it necessary for me to get off the couch, I just… didn’t want to. It ran counter to my self image.

In the last year, I’ve been revisiting a lot of assumptions I’ve made about myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still attracted to myopic men with academic bodies, but lately, I’ve been more open to experiences that conflict with my self image. And athletically, my sense-of-self has always been “picked last at kickball.”

This year, I’d like to be done with that. I’d like to stop thinking of myself as weak, uncoordinated, fundamentally ill-equipped to move through space.

I used to believe athleticism was innate, but now I realize you’re not born sporty any more than you’re born a traveler. It’s an action — you put on your shoes, you get on the plane.

More than anything, I just want to be strong. I want to be able to move furniture by myself, to open the stupid jar. So once in a while I wake up, I put on my sneakers, and I move. And if you ask me to play kickball, I’ll consider it.

But dodgeball? Don’t push me.

53 thoughts on “On Your Mark, Get Set…

  1. Shelly

    I was definitely the “picked last at kickball” kid and athleticism doesn’t come easily to me….however because it’s something I have to work hard at, I find it incredibly rewarding. In high school I went from picked last at kickball to getting awards like “most dedicated” and “most improved.” And as an adult, I really enjoy feeling competent and able. I’m in good enough shape to go on a long hike or walk around downtown all day or sign up for a 5 to 10K race at the spur of the moment. I’m fit enough to have lots of fun without wearing myself out, to help a friend move furniture, or to carry all of my groceries up to my third floor apartment in one trip. And it feels wonderful even if I never win a race or impress anyone in yoga or at the gym. I try to wow people with my sense of humor and with my dedication. :) Good luck with your continuing journey to health!

  2. Lulu

    OMG. I recently decided to do exactly the same thing for exactly the same reasons: To feel strong, to move, to take care of myself. My goal for 2012: To run a 5k. To do something I would HAVE NEVER guessed I could even try to do. And it’s working! Before I wouldn’t have even run from the cops! I highly recommend the app: Couch to 5k too. My first 5k is Saturday so wish me luck! My only goal: To finish, hopefully with as little walking as humanly possible. I don’t care about times or anything, I just want to finish and not poop my pants or fall down in the meantime. Oof.


  3. Auntie

    What happened to the little girl? The adorable one with curly hair, all arms and legs? The one who sat on the pool steps while others swam, one who sat behind a book while others rode bikes or ran around the neighborhood? The meek little girl? She grew up. She is powerful. She is MIGHTY!! And I am so proud of her! Go Maggie!

  4. Amy

    I’ve been on a similar journey. Mine has been more about losing weight, but changing that perception of yourself is so incredibly valuable. I get it. Good for you!

  5. Sheryl

    I want to start running. I want to love running. I just need that last bit of motivation to get my butt into gear.

    It’s always so motivating though to hear of other couch-potatoes who have gotten their acts together and just started.

  6. poptart

    I’m proud of you! Running has saved my life time after time. You don’t have to be a marathoner, but if you want to try, go for it. Don’t avert your eyes from other runners. They are your allies out there. They will be there if you need help and I needed help and a runner was there. Keep up the good work!!

  7. a.

    Go, Maggie!
    Right this minute, I’m on a #1-spot-on-the-lifelist-crossing-off trip to Italy. I purposefully got a lot of exercise before the trip (though I’m still a long way from being a runner). It worked, though! I feel stronger than before.

    (Mainly I’m gauging this newfound strength by the increased amount of time it takes me to get blistered and hangry.)

  8. kate

    Good for you, Maggie!!

    I ran my first marathon at the age of 44; went from total couch potato to marathon in 8 months. It’s so empowering to feel strong.

  9. Leah

    Another vote for Title IX bras. I think I have the Athena, and it is awesome. It is a uniboob thing (that doesn’t bug me). What I love is that it has adjustable straps and a back hook with three hooks, so I can always adjust it to be super sturdy.

    I just signed up for a 5k on our upcoming trip to Hawaii. I haven’t run in months, but I did 1.5 miles yesterday. I’m tots in the same boat as you — grew up a reader and always picked last for the team. The last few years have been a process of realizing that, hey, I sort of can be athletic.

    Let us know when you start lap swimming. That’s my favorite.

  10. Colleen

    You hated dodgeball, too? I always just assumed that I was being a weenie, but it now seems there might be legions of us walking the earth. Good to know I’m not alone.

  11. sara

    Love the 2d picture. You’re flying!!

    I am about to conquer a huge athletic fear myself – putting on a swimsuit and getting in a pool. And swimming. In front of people.

    If I can do that, I can do anything.

  12. Jen

    I second everything Megan says. Moving Comfort sports bras are THE BEST. And seriously comfortable; I didn’t know that was possible.

  13. Charlotte

    Maggie, you should check out Kelly Starrett’s CrossFit gym: http://sanfranciscocrossfit.com. CrossFit is All. About. functional fitness–being able to balance, lift heavy things, run fast, jump high. It is where the dodgeball-haters/last-picked-players go to become bada$$es. All the workouts can be scaled to any fitness level and the whole mindset is about becoming a better version of yourself.

  14. jenG

    **Fist bump**

    I don’t talk about running much, either…until it starts to drastically change my body shape and I have to say, “Um, thanks. I mean, I don’t know if I’ve lost weight. I just…you know, I run because it makes me feel better and stuff.” Nothing sexy about only training for Living Well, I guess.

    Doubling up on Champion compression/max performance bras works for me at the moment, but I have…ahem…better-endowed friends who swear by Enell. YMMV (so to speak).

  15. Zoot

    Argh. This post made me cry because you totally described me pre-running. Last at kickball. TOTALLY. I played basketball in Junior High because there were only 12 people in my class and we were all required to play. I scored twice. Both times for the OTHER TEAM.

    I call myself a runner now but I was 3rd-from-last during my last marathon and that’s okay. I keep saying, “I’m in it for the miles.” So, when you said, “I used to believe athleticism was innate, but now I realize you’re not born sporty any more than you’re born a traveler. It’s an action — you put on your shoes, you get on the plane.” That spoke to me. Thank you.

  16. Kara

    I will throw in yet another vote for the Title 9 sports bras. they are OMGSOAWESOME! The best and most comfortable sports bras that I have ever used hands down. (And I am one of those athletic and sporty people who spend too much time in the gym, so I have spent a long time and lots of energy in finding the perfect sports bras.)

  17. Sierra

    I love to work out for the ability to de-stress. Nothing big…just a few work out videos (which I have been doing for 10 years and am still oddly embarrassed about these for some reason) a week. I didn’t expect to love weights as much as I do. Nothing fancy just 5 – 12 lb dumbbells. But let me tell you, this week alone no less than 6 women have gasped how how strong I am compared to how I look. Its empowering. And not to shabby on the self esteem as I feel like I can do anything! Enjoy!

  18. Marie

    Go you!

    I was never a runner, or even remotely athletic, in school. I started running earlier this year with some coworkers and we ended up running our very first ever 5k (ok, so it was more like mostly running with a bit of walking) on Memorial Day. And it’s kind of addicting; it makes me feel fierce, and I’m sometimes in awe of what my body can do. At least until I saw photos of me running and realized I feel fierce but still look like the chunky kid that gets picked last for everything lol.

  19. Ashley

    Yep, Moving Comfort. I’m not usually well-endowed, but I’m nursing right now. I figure if this bra can handle my current business on my runs, it can handle anyone’s …

  20. Amber

    “More than anything, I just want to be strong. I want to be able to move furniture by myself, to open the stupid jar. ”

    This. Once I started thinking about exercise in this way it changed everything for me.

    I love this post, Maggie.

  21. Alex

    Who doesn’t hate dodgeball? Seriously, what a crappy game. I grew up in a small town where all the other kids played sports in school, and my athletic revelation was that you don’t have to like team sports to be fit. Mountain biking, ice skating, and riding horses are all so much fun I don’t notice I’m working out. I run so I can be a more awesome cyclist, and I swim so I can pretend I’m a mermaid.

  22. JoAnna

    Good for you, Maggie! I’m cheering for you several states away, even if you are just going for a jog in the neighborhood. I love those photos of you airborne, by the way!

  23. norm

    “I’m still attracted to myopic men with academic bodies”

    Be still my (married) heart! ;)
    /myopic, check; academic, check; body, check

    My thing is bike. The commute does wonders for my sanity (when motorists aren’t trying to kill me, but that is another story). Go, go, go!

  24. Karen

    I’ve been running for 45 years… it’s one of my great joys. You, my dear, look to have very nice form!!!! In one of the pictures, you look as though you are flying~~~~

    Perhaps I’ll see you as I’m running in SF (I recently spotted Chef Hubert Keller running along Crissy Field)

  25. Joyce

    Dodgeball played with Koosh balls (or, as in my grade school, fuzzy pompons)! All the thrill of the kill, none of the bruises and broken small bones…

    And I wish you joy in your strength and movement.

  26. Tim

    Being active isn’t about being an athlete– it’s about being functional and a whole person. Your body becomes good at whatever you ask it to do. Sit on the couch and your body gets good at sitting. Push it to move and it gets good at moving– really good.

    Good for you. Keep at it.

  27. Jennifluff

    YES! Good for you! I am a fitness instructor (I got to check that off my life list!!!) and I get to help people of all ages get out there and realize that they are strong and can be fit if they just give it a genuine shot. 90% of it is all in your head, all you have to do is squash the doubt and the rest is easy. And safety in numbers…its so so helpful to have someone with you on this journey to keep you honest.

    Personally, I am stronger now in my thirties than I EVER was at any point in my twenties, and the difference I think is just confidence. And a higher tolerance for pain ; )

    Anyway, I just want to thank you for this post. If you inspire at least one of your readers to “get off the couch” you have done a great deed!

  28. Lisa

    I started running at 38 cause I didn’t want to be old and fat :-)
    Now, at 43, I’m training multiple times a day for triathlons!

    Highly recommend http://www.boulderfields.com for bras. Kim is a well endowed woman who got sick of the slim pickins for athletic women. She has personal experience with all her products, and is happy to work with you remotely to pick the best one for you.

  29. Christian

    I dig that you even make running look fun – like flying in picture #2! Love this concept of challenging our own ideas about who we think we are. One of my secret reasons I work out is I love being able to bring like 5 grocery bags in the house at once. It’s the domestic equivalent of the maxed-out squat thrust.

  30. Laura in Milwaukee

    So thrilled for and proud of you, Maggie! Not that you asked for advice (but hey, isn’t unsolicited advice the purpose of the Interwebz???)… In case anyone is looking for more running help, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Couch to 5k podcasts as well as the Chi Running book. I got injured (badly) while training for a marathon two years ago. Took a LOT of bravery to start to run again and Chi Running has helped me to see running as a practice (like yoga) and not a competitive, “must. add. more. mileage.” or weight-loss-focus for me.

    Also. As a girl with DDDs: Title Nine. My running bra from them is completely bounceless (did I mention: DDDs). My boobs are up to my ears, but they ain’t going nowhere.

    Lots of love!

  31. Sarah E

    Rock on! I grew up with a fitness professional for a mom, but she gave me good sense. Being fit isn’t about being a top athlete. It’s about being able to enjoy your life and function in your space- all the things you listed at the end of your post. Way to go!

  32. molly

    You should definitely check out Cross Fit. I know it seems faddish but I’ve never felt stronger or like more of a badass before. It’s awesome.

  33. AnthroK8

    1) Me too for all the reasons you list.

    2) I also found running got easier when I started weight training. I have better strength and endurance. Who would have thought being holistic about this fitness business would be a thing.

    3) Turns out I am capable of running, but weights are aahhhhhmmmaaaaazing. I’ve got guns, under my lovely academic padding. Bang bang, yo.

    4) Life goal: be capable of throwing a knock out punch. (Not actually throw said punch.) Next up: boxing lessons.

    5) Exercise. So good for depression.

    I love the goal of being strong. And I would never have said that about myself at 25.

  34. Rebecca

    Maggie, I have struggled with running. For a brief time during the year I got married (11 glorious months), I was A Runner. I copied down the Runner’s World Walk to 20-minutes of solid running in about 6-8 week plan and made nice with my treadmill. In April, I ventured outside and didn’t look back. By October I completed a 5K – slowly, but running the entire time. Then I let life get in the way and I’ve been struggling to find my way back. It makes me sad and frustrated that it’s so hard to get back to something that I enjoyed so much. It was good for my head, my heart, and my love handles. (Well, bad for the love handles in that they melted away.) I’ve signed up for two 5Ks at the end of this month and I’m hoping it will be the start of a renewed relationship with running. Wishing you the best. It’s worth it!

    Also, I found that embracing slowness opened up distance for me. I can run forever if I just relax into a pace that feels good, and the distance is what makes running enjoyable for me. Running 5 miles in an hour (very likely doable for you since you have long legs that cover more ground in a stride than my corgi-esque gams) is enough time to get into and then out of my head, while not taking over my schedule for they day.

  35. sugarleg

    good on ya Mighty Maggie, strength is where it’s at. the secret is that when you are feeling glum, your newly honed physical power comes in for a rescue. RUN!

  36. Kelly

    I love that you are running with Amy. She is the person who got me running and inspired me to do a sprint triathlon. I am eternally grateful to her for that, because I never knew I had it in me, but she did. Good luck, and you’ll be truly amazed when you actually start to love it, cause you really might :)

  37. JFS

    Gold star to you, Maggie. Trying new things is hard enough without making that new thing *running*.

    Something to consider, based solely on the photos you included here: read a bit about running strides and consider modifying yours so that you’re not a heel-striker. I did this a year ago, after being a begrudging jogger all my life, and it has made running SO much more enjoyable (and injury-free!)

  38. Deirdre

    “In the last year, I’ve been revisiting a lot of assumptions I’ve made about myself.”

    Right on. Because that’s all they are, right, is assumptions? I’ve been having a lot of the same thoughts lately. Just because I haven’t done something well (or at all) in the past doesn’t mean I can’t do it now. I’m 37 and I too just started running. Slowly. And not that 37 is a terribly vast age but it does occur to me that *now* is the time to discover my athleticism. It won’t be any easy to start 10 years from now and I’d rather my small children grow up remembering their mom was someone who did things, not a couch potato.

    You rock, Maggie!

  39. Erin

    I favored music and drama over sports growing up, so it was a big surprise to everyone when I started taking karate at 25. Each belt was another small challenge to try one more thing I didn’t think I could do. Five years later, I have my black belt and I know I’m an athlete after all.

  40. atsuko

    Totally agree with a previous commenter, don’t avert your eyes from other runners, they’re seriously some of the nicest, most encouraging people out there. True, some may be shy or whatever, but mostly there’s a feeling like you’re in this together.

    btw, I moved to the Bay Area from Chicago several years ago and honest to God, one of my first thoughts when we decided to move was “OMG, maybe I’ll see Mighty Girl!”

    Keep on truckin’!

  41. Rachael

    Thanks so much for writing this. I came to your website because of your excellent tips for packing light. Your insightful writing about life is what keeps me reading. I see an adult kickball league in your future.

  42. Amanda

    Wrote this line in my journal: “I used to believe athleticism was innate, but now I realize you’re not born sporty any more than you’re born a traveler. It’s an action — you put on your shoes, you get on the plane.”

    I’ve always wanted to be a runner. I’ve always wanted to travel. Well, I’m not going to run a marathon any time soon, but I can jog for 30 minutes straight. And I’m leaving in August to teach in China for a year. I’m scared and my self-talk consists of, “You’ve never even been on a plane? What are you doing moving to China?!” but I’m going.

    I wrote this line in my journal to remind myself I just have to get on the plane. l: “I used to believe athleticism was innate, but now I realize you’re not born sporty any more than you’re born a traveler. It’s an action — you put on your shoes, you get on the plane.”

  43. Karen

    Go for it. Try some strength training, while you’re at it. A personal trainer is worth the investment so you don’t hurt yourself while you figure it out!

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