The Necessary Hell of Exercise

I played rugby in college and was the captain of the team my senior year, but my time as a rugger was cut short when I tore my ACL and had to have reconstructive knee surgery.

If I stopped here and didn’t say anything else, you might be left with an image of me as an athlete — and I wouldn’t mind being thought of that way — but my tragic flaw is that I am painfully honest, especially when it’s at my own expense.

The truth is that I am not, nor have I ever been, athletic.

I played one season of T-ball in kindergarten, and a highlight reel would consist of that time I stood too close to the batter and took a bat to the head and the occasion in which I slid into first base on my face. I did play volleyball in seventh grade, but only because my mom made me — and I quit two weeks later because I took a ball to the mouth. And I hated the smell of the sweaty kneepads.

On the way home, I slipped on the ice, fell and broke my kneecap. Even walking is a challenge for me.

Rugby at my college was a club sport, which meant that we had no budget, no training facility and no coach. As for being captain of the team, I can assure you that I was not chosen because I was an inspiration on the field. I was chosen because I was fun off the field. I was a solid anchor in chugging contests, and I wrote a song called the “Hairdo Rap” that was much beloved and performed by the team at every opportunity.

You may not need more evidence that I am not athletic, but I need to get it all out.

I didn’t tear my ACL during an awesome rugby play, nope. I did it by jogging off the field after practice and falling into a hole because I wasn’t looking where I was going. Six weeks later, I got off crutches and I went out with a friend to celebrate. On the way home, I slipped on the ice, fell and broke my kneecap. Even walking is a challenge for me.

Since breaking my kneecap in 1990, I have done very little exercise. I’ve dabbled with biking on occasion, but I fell off my bike and into a storm drain and couldn’t get my foot out of the clip pedals. And another time, I lost control and ended up in a ditch. Though I haven’t been blessed with raw physical athleticism or even basic coordination, I was blessed with a decent metabolism and general good health so I never felt I really had to exercise.

But then I hit middle age.

Suddenly, my body was shifting in strange ways and I could no longer drop five pounds by skipping dessert once a week. My weight was basically holding steady, but my clothes felt tighter and my body just didn’t feel quite right. I generally eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, so there wasn’t some obvious change to be made there. I realized in horror that the only thing left to do was exercise.

So, this past July, I started walking and running using the Couch to 5K app, forcing myself to go every other day. I walked at a decent pace, but I ran only slightly faster than I walked and my internal monologue every minute of exercise every day was, “I hate this. I can’t do this. I hate this. I can’t do this.”

It’s been four months now, and I continue to run every other day. But if you’re looking for some sort of insightful revelation that you can put on a poster, you have come to the wrong place. I’m no more graceful that before and I breathe heavily and I sweat and my face gets red and it’s awful.

The only difference is that now my internal monologue is, “I hate this. Keep moving. I hate this. Keep moving.” I keep waiting for that runner’s high you hear so much about, but I haven’t felt it and the only thing that keeps me going is the fear of losing my progress.. I don’t like to run, but I like to be able to say that I ran. I suppose that’s a victory of some sort. And victory is for athletes, right?

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What do you think?

8 Responses

  1. Alexandra Rosas

    Anything, anything, to stay alive, Vikki.

    Yes, the shift, it’s undeniable. 3 days without exercise means jeans that feel like sausage casings.

  2. Heather Petri

    YAY YOU! I don’t really like running either, but I too love to say I ran! HA. You ARE an athlete! Even if you don’t feel like it all the time. Or any of the time. It’s taken me almost two years of going to my gym to start to feel more like an athlete, than someone pretending to be one. 🙂

  3. Rita Arens
    Rita Arens

    I started running two years ago and have now done three half marathons and am shifting back to shorter races because I keep hurting myself. I was never an athlete as a kid other than dance/cheerleading stunts. I didn’t notice runner’s high until I had been running for about an hour, which kind of sucks but I think you have to go for a good long while before it comes. But exercise is awesome for fighting every bad thing in life, so go, you!

    • Vikki Reich

      I will never be a long distance runner. I’ve accepted that. My goal is to run three miles. Small and manageable goal.

  4. Kate Davis

    It is so funny. I tore both eh ACL & MCL playing rugby when I was 19. I have recently started back at the gym. Mostly walking as quickly as I can muster. I have dropped some weight but have a ways to go. Years of desk jockeying have taken their toll. Normally I just come back after the early morning walk and feel like I have climbed Everest. But I think I will pick up your mantra, it might make the early morning more manageable.


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