When I was a kid in PE class, we ran circles around the hot school yard, and I was last, always, and sassy about it. I hated it so much—everything about it, but I especially hated how the very slim girls would lap me. I would mutter and huff and walk slowly on purpose; nobody even noticed, because I was the only one thinking so hard about my lack of speed and fitness.
I hate running. It is competitive and brash; it is loud and vain. It requires swagger and a playlist of loud songs and special shoes and weird bras that have confusing straps. When you run, you nod in a jerk-jock way at people you pass, like mean boys in the hall at high school. I can’t find my water bottle, ever, even though I keep buying them, and I hate jock jams. Are you supposed to bring the water bottle? Do you run with that?
Lately though, I’ve been running most days, realizing it’s been about fifteen years since I did anything body-oriented, and thinking I should probably take some responsibility. Our family had a serious health scare this year, and the importance of taking care of the body seemed to hit me square in the face. I have been very averse to fitness. I roll my eyes at work out moms. I cannot do this well if I don’t care for my body—I will have no eyes to roll. But when did it become okay to have working out as one’s only hobby? How did everything grow so out of balance that I can value the appearance of my body with valuing the function?
Our bodies are for dying, and they are dust. My aversion to exercise has been strong and self-righteous, but also, I’m quite sure I’m right. The culture sweeps me away, too, and I see everywhere women like me who fight hard against aging, who hide away the softening effects of motherhood like their dirtiest secret, like a great dishonor. Truly, I am ashamed to tell you how ashamed I have been of my amazing, baby-bearing body. We work to get our bodies back too soon after babies, our softness a secret shame.
I want to look at our bodies through the lens of truth, and I am averse to pretending that all we have is this one life, this one body, and that we need to pour everything in to preserving our passing-away physical forms. I don’t like the Jesus-plus-fitness books and shirts and studies. I cannot imagine Jesus attending these ridiculous things, in His “Get Fit With Me” tee. I’ve certainly spent a few Lenten seasons fasting for the scale. This is not a match that works well for me. I bristle when some man says his wife is ‘hot.’ We women will not remain ‘hot.’ Nobody wants their grandmother to be ‘hot.’ Make me wise, kind, and comfortable with my lack of hotness, Jesus. Make me okay with skipping lifts and tucks and Botox, Jesus. Make me okay with looking my own age, and help me to be kind to myself when this is too hard.
While I’m still plentifully judgmental about this, I do understand. It’s terrifying to see in myself a middle-aged woman, to go out and go mostly unnoticed. It’s frightening to be reminded that I may very well have a journey ahead of me that’s shorter than the one behind. I was never known for being a particular beauty, thank God. Had I been, this aging would be all the more difficult.
I want to pour life into my soul, which will last forever, and put my concern for my body in its rightful place, because I feel the disorder deep within myself, and because I, too, have drunk the poison. I want to be an antidote to the culture of body-obsession. I know that there will be a resurrection of all lost beauty, and I want to remember.
Since I cannot manage a proper middle on the pendulum, I am, rather, a bit lazy. I think of Chesterton and how some say he cannot be saintly, because he was obese, but I think perhaps, he is the perfect saint for our times.
Anyhow, I have been running. If I can, I’ll bet you can. Here is what helps me:
1. Music. Running sucks without it. Don’t even bother. Your playlist can have any dang song you want on it. Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon.” Lodi. “Shiny” from Moana. It doesn’t have to be a loud, bonky pop song you’ve never heard of. Do not look at other people’s Spotify playlists. Do it your way.
2. The dog. The dog really helps. Its presence says to me, “This is not for me, really. This is an act of loving service, for my dog. I’m so kind, and animal-loving.”
3. Run like an artist. If you see something beautiful, stop and look. This is for you. It is not for your butt muscles. It’s for your soul... muscles. Does a view inspire you? Stop. Rest. Look. We are running to feel our lungs fill fast with air, to feel a challenge, to feel sunshine on our shoulders, to smile at other runners, to make our hearts strong and big, to feel like we are floating, a little. Run for only ten minutes. It’s for you—do it however you want.
4. Go really slow. If you try to go to fast, you’ll feel miserable, like you’re bad at it. And you’ll itch in strange places. Slow. Start slow.
5. Use a training app. I like Start2Run. The woman has a lovely Aussie accent, and she says things like, “You’ve got it! This is going to work beautifully!” and I imagine she is plumper than me, but more disciplined and happier, and that we are out together with the dogs. It’s for fun.
For years, people told me some kind of gobbledygook about how, once you’ve run for a while, you’ll start to like it. I think this is true. I actually really feel great when I come home from a run, and this is the biggest motivator. I feel breathless and fit and clear-headed and for a few moments, like a really good example. I truly like it now—perhaps because it allows me an excusable break from my noisy homeschooling zoo. If I can like it though, I think anyone can. Try it, maybe, and see what happens.