The Flight of Stairs

As much as I’d like to think that I was athletic as a child, I wasn’t.  I was pretty geeky.  Sure, I’d go outside and play tag in the dirt with the other kids or ride my bike up and down the block, but I never really got into team sports.  When you’re a kid, sports mean teams.  There aren’t many individual sports designed for children.  Even individual activities like the martial arts or gymnastics usually involve some classroom setting.  I was never really into the whole “team” thing… Despite my Myers-Briggs ENFJ classification, I still think of myself as an introvert cleverly disguised as an extrovert. 🙂

As I got older, I became more sedentary.  It happens.  And it especially happens when you are are an overachieving school/workaholic.  Once, my brother’s girlfriend made a side remark to me as I she walked past my den on her way out of house.  I was sitting in my pajamas yet again surrounded by stacks of notebooks and textbooks.  She said, “You know, I don’t ever think I’ve seen you in regular clothes!  How tall are you?  You’re always on that couch…”

Thankfully, my brother stopped dating her after awhile.

But she had an excellent point — my butt was always on that couch.  Every night.  And it wasn’t as if I went to the gym before sitting down to study.  Studying was usually an all-evening-into-the-night affair.  I am fortunate in that I’ve never really had a weight problem, but I completely missed the fact that most of my muscle tone had dwindled away by the age of 30.

One day, I was leaving the hospital during my training years and walking back to my car in the parking structure nearby.  I usually parked on the third floor.  I realized that day that I was winded by the time I walked up the first flight of stairs.  I actually had to pause for moment to catch my breath.  And I wasn’t post-call.  I hadn’t been running around the hospital or awake all night prior to this.  This was the New Me.

I was 32 years old, and a flight of stairs had just kicked my ass.

Right then and there, I vowed to join a gym.  I had never been to a gym before.  My father had tried to convey his crazed passion for bicycling to my brother and myself since we were little, but it never stuck in my case.  I asked a friend who I knew belonged to a fancy gym how to go about joining.  I figured that if I could afford it, paying the money for a nice gym would be a good incentive to go once in awhile.  My friend reassured me that all I had to do was to walk in the door.

Thirteen years later, I still belong to that same gym.

I originally tried to work out on the machines by myself.  Of course, I had no idea what I was doing, how to balance my workouts or how to eat properly.  I did, however, know how to make the treadmill go.  So I would stop by the gym a few times a week to walk for twenty minutes.  I continued to dabble in a few of the machines, but I never really got the hang of them.

At the end of my first [very] long residency, I decided to take a bold step in controlling my life once again — I signed up for a personal trainer.  Fortunately, he was a newbie trainer, so he was cheerful and supportive and not the least bit disparaging.  I have always found that I respond best to positive feedback.  Negative feedback usually just incites my oppositional defiant disorder personality trait.  Nobody ends up happy when that happens, and nothing constructive gets accomplished.  So Trainer Mike found ways to motivate me into getting healthy.  He taught me about different types of workouts, including putting me on a walking plan.  I had little printouts with times and goal heart rates on them to follow.  And I had three of them to do every week.  Trainer Mike would check up on me during our workouts to make sure I stayed on track.  And I did!  In fact, things went so well that when I got near the end of the program, I started to think I could do more…

That was around Thanksgiving.  It just so happened that my gym was sponsoring a holiday 5K run/walk in early December.  I somehow got it in my head that I could walk a whole 3.1 miles after doing that treadmill program, so I signed up.  As nobody in my family had ever done anything like this before, I got some very strange looks from them when I announced my intentions.  I got even more skeptical looks when a blizzard decided to roll in that morning.  I bundled myself up and headed out to the gym by myself.

I had never seen a race before.  I had no idea what to expect.  But there were other people there who were excited to be there.  They were excited to be standing at the start line with snow blowing around and snowdrifts around our feet.  They were pumped!  And when the starting horn went off, everyone around me jumped up in unison and took off down the road.

And I — the girl who had never run more than a couple of blocks in her life — I, too, took off like a bullet from a gun after them.

What a race!  The snow was improving, but it was still falling.  I was completely overdressed in all kinds of sweat-trapping layers of fabric.  The cold burned my lungs. The route took us along some busy roads that seemed dangerously close to traffic.  People were wearing costumes… And passing me, of course.  I remember distinctly getting passed by three girls wearing a toy train costume that consisted of decorated boxes harnessed together with yarn.  Yes, I was smoked by a toy train.  And I thought for awhile that I was going to die.  I was running.  And I was running too fast for what I could do.  The Mile 2 marker seemed like one of Dante’s Circles Of Hell.  But then I crossed the finish line for the first time… And I was hooked.

I was a runner.


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