I am nearly friends with exercise. (Nearly... not quite.)
The peak of my physical fitness came at age 11, when, in Year 6, I managed to break the Junior High Girls Record for the 400 metres race in our school athletics competition. I was fit, I was lean, and I was the fastest. At least, I was the fastest until three other girls also broke the same record on the same day, and I didn't get my name on the green and gold Records board for perpetuity.
Ball sports were never my thing. I was average at everything except swimming, but we had no pool at our school, and no way to get to any swimmable body of water except on camps. I would have loved to do aerobics or gym or dance, but there was no gym and our school didn't dance - or move to music - on principle. (I was never quite sure what the principle was, but it was firmly upheld by everyone I ever asked about it. Except for the cheerleading squad. They could do 'routines' to music. So I made sure I joined the cheerleading squad as soon as I was old enough.)
At one point I decided running would have to be my area of interest. I joined a cross country running group in Grade 9 which was led by our History teacher who was lithe, light and limber. Clearly, he lived to run. It wasn't that much fun being a teenage girl running on Pakistani streets though. It was hard enough to avoid leery gazes when you weren't lumbering, sweaty and trying to keep up with the nimble-footed boys in front. It was virtually evil when you were.
Things looked up when we left our adopted country and came back to Australia via England. On our first morning in a western country, I woke up cheerful.
"No one is going to bother me if I go running here, all by myself," I chortled. I put on my joggers, left the house, ran a while and then came back to our host's house.
And promptly threw up.
The memory of that vomit and the evil, sick feeling that persisted for hours afterwards, stayed with me for years. It made me terrified to push myself, scared to work to a sweat and persisting with the belief that 'I cant really do sport well, like other people can.'
Ten years ago, I lost 12 kilos using the CSIRO diet program. "I have to do it with diet," I told my husband, "because we both know I'm just not going to exercise." It was true. I wasn't going to do it. The words: "I don't run" had been firmly declared by me on many, many occasions.
I don't think he really understood me, though, because a few years after I (of course) put all the weight back on (because, STRESS, right?), he kindly bought me a lovely Christmas present, which was.... tan, tan, taraaaah.... a workout 'game' for our Xbox Kinect thingy.
Ha ha ha. It was the first time we had ever argued about a present.
"You haven't even used it," he complained to me, months later.
I looked at him blankly. "Did you ever think I would?"
A year and three months ago, I decided that I needed to be stronger. It was part of my quest to become free of chronic pain (which is a whole other story in itself. Essentially, I follow Dr John Sarno's theories about repressed emotional pain manifesting as chronic pain in the body. It's called Tension Myositis Syndrome and you can find out about it here. And yes, I have been pain free for a year now.)
So I began to run. The first few runs felt like death - for every metre of the extensive 200 metres I ran. The next day I ran 220m, and the day after that, 240. "Ears and elbows," I said to myself. "Ears and elbows." They were the only parts of my body that didn't hurt.
It slowly got easier, but not much. And a few months after that, the lovely Kate, a friend in our village, decided to get concerned about my physical fitness, inviting me to work out with her and another girl. She's been an athlete her whole life, and she knows about exercise, excuses and how to keep going even when you think you can't.
Also, she knows how to get people like me to do the work. (It's mostly by saying, constantly, "You can go faster than that. Use your actual muscles. Do three more. Do five more. Keep going. Cecily, just do it. Run.")
Now I do exercise three times a week. Now, I push myself. Now, I work *nearly* to vomiting point (nearly) every time.
One morning, a few months ago, when my feet were burning with yoga balances and everything seemed really hard and impossible, I just had to say it out loud.
"I feel really, really angry with you, Kate. Like I really, really hate you right now."
Poor thing. She seemed a bit taken aback so I had to apologise about five times so that she knew I didn't really mean it; not in my conscious brain anyway. And I had to go home and think about why I was so angry and why I didn't want to work through pain and persist and all the rest of it. But I figured it out. And then I could come back the next week in a different frame of mind.
Since then, my mindset has changed so that I am nearly, almost friends with exercise. I appreciate it. I feel the benefits of it. I enjoy the after-exercise feeling. I don't quite love it enough yet that I would go and do it by myself - and keep pushing to the end. I'm still dependent on the pull of the group and working together with others to really motivate me to get out of bed at 6am.
But maybe that will come.
Last week, for almost the very first time, as I thought about the upcoming workout that day, I thought, "Oh, that'll be good." And I almost fell over. Positive thoughts. About exercise. From me. Who ever would have thought it?