Running while fat
A few years ago, right after Thanksgiving, I felt really fat. I mean, I always knew I was fat – I had been as long as I can remember, but Thanksgiving had made things worse. My button-down shirts had stopped buttoning-down so easily. So I decided I wanted to change that.
I hated going to the gym. If you are fat it is not the place to go to get less fat, because everyone there is already not fat and will silently judge you, or in some cases, judge you out loud. It’s a place to maintain, not to improve.
I also hated running, but I decided it was a more solitary thing to do than toiling away at the gym, so I would try it out. I said to myself, if I could run a mile, I would sign up for a 10K. Fantastic logic.
So on a cold late-November day, in old tennis shoes and sweatpants, I trudged half a mile in one direction, and headed for home. My lungs were burning, I was getting dizzy and my left calf had turned to stone. I made it home, sucking wind and in lots of pain, but I was in one piece.
I signed up for the British 10K in London, which was in July. I decided that if I was going to do this, I probably needed to actually go to the gym as well. And eat better. And drink less beer. And I also decided at the same time that I wanted to learn how to code. I guess I thought if I was going to change one thing about my life, I might as well change a bunch of things.
Mondays and Wednesdays I woke up at 5am, went to the gym for an hour and a half, had a full work day, then went to code school for 3 hours. I ran on Fridays and Sundays and was sore every other day. Those were long days.
I don’t know what kept me motivated to get up early and punish myself at the gym or out running – I’m usually a pretty lazy person. I definitely missed a few sessions, but not that many. I kept running. There was a brief period where I lost a bunch of weight, which coincided with also stopping drinking beer altogether for a month, but for the most part, I didn’t feel like things were changing. I couldn’t keep up the no-beer thing forever. So I kept running.
Due to some mitigating circumstances, I couldn’t run the London race, but I signed up for one in the States. And I finished it. It didn’t end with quite the pomp and circumstance that the London 10K ends, but it still felt great. I went out after for the best celebratory meal I could think of.
After nearly a year of running, I’d lost about 30 pounds and could run for an hour without keeling over. Best of all, according to a doctor with a tape measure, I’d gone from clinically “obese” to just “overweight.”
Every minute of training had been horrible. My body fought against me as hard as it could all the time. It tried to tell me that I wasn’t meant to be out in the rain bungling around at a snail’s pace. It told me I wasn’t going to change things. I would always be like this.
In some ways, I proved my body wrong. I finished the race, after all. But when I got to Northwestern and experienced what real cold actually was, I basically stopped all physical activity that wasn’t walking to class, typing, or raising a beer to my face. My body won out over my mind.
I tried running a few times over the winter, but the cold air hurt too much to breathe and so I gave up entirely.
Once the weather got better I decided to join a gym again, but running still seemed too much of hurdle to clear. I had put so much energy into getting out there and abusing my big body that had no interest in being out there and I didn’t want to go through that again.
But then one night over Mexican food, my friends convinced me that I could run a half marathon. After three margaritas and with about 11 weeks to train, I signed up for the Chicago Rock’n’Roll* Half Marathon from my cellphone at the table.
Training for that half marathon made training for the 10K look like an afternoon playing Boggle. I’d put on a lot of what I’d lost the year before, and I’d never run in the hottest part of an American summer before. I ran about three times a week and went to the gym when I could. It was a two-shower-a-day summer.
That day felt super awesome. I ran for 13.1 miles and didn’t stop. Later in the day I went to the final day of the Pitchfork Music Festival, had one beer, and fell asleep on the grass at Union Park.
I ran a few more times after the half marathon, but again I tapered off. Since graduating, I’ve not really been active again. I’m literally drinking a beer and eating some Goldfish as I type this.
The last two years have made me realize that I am inconsistent and that I need to work at that. But they’ve also made me realize that there really is only one person to blame when it comes to the way your life is.
I started running again last week and it’s terrible again. My leg is doing that weird dead thing again and breathing is hard. My body is mad at me. Going up stairs hurts now. But instead of not being able to run a mile like when I started two years ago, now I’m annoyed that I can’t run 4 miles in under 40 minutes. Things could be worse.
I realize there will always be peaks and troughs. I also realize that it will be on me to minimize those troughs and extend the peaks. Running while fat is not fun, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to run while less fat, but it will be hard, seeing as food and beer are delicious.
I’ve gone from hating running to finding it a necessary evil to it being an old friend I never got on with that well. I’m hoping as we reconnect this time, we might actually make a lasting friendship.
*Quick sidenote here. I’d like to point out here that this was nearly false advertising. We had to pay more than the average half marathon for the privilege of having really average funk-fusion bands playing every other mile. Like most other runners, I was wearing headphones, so it was really just annoying. We also got to see Cold War Kids at the end of the race. That would’ve been awesome in 2007. The shirts were also really ugly.