My year without exercise 

In a slip-and-slide accident last year, I bruised my ribs pretty badly. I thought they were broken but the X-rays said otherwise. If you had seen my kids’ overly cautious attempts at slip-and-sliding, you too would have run full tilt and belly flopped on the cement-like surface.

My ribs hurt for two months and also served as a convenient excuse to avoid all physical activity. It also seemed like a good idea to eat more sweets and drink more beer. I did this for a year.

I did not get fat. When you have a body like Joey Ramone’s — but Joey in his 40s when he took to wearing XXL t-shirts — you don’t really gain weight; the weight just sort of moves. In Joey’s case, and mine, it moves to the gut, resulting in the kind of skinny/fat paradox that women and men find universally attractive.

joey-ramone-large-t-shirt

My little science experiment came to a halt soon after we stayed in an Airbnb with a full-length mirror in the master suite. There was very clearly something wrong with that mirror.

Years ago I read something in one of Haruki Murakami essays on running: “As long as you have a pair of running shoes and a good road you can run to your heart’s content.” It stuck with me, but I never did anything about it because I hated running. Running was stupid.  “WHAT IS CHASING YOU???” I would chuckle to myself when runners passed by. “IS THERE A BEAR?”

This spring I took my Cub Scout on an overnight trip to NASA, and Chris Cabana, son of astronaut Bob Cabana, said something else that stuck with me: Every day, through normal physical activity, you crack your bones. Tiny spiderweb-like fractures form and then heal overnight when you sleep. In space, this doesn’t happen. In space, if you don’t exercise constantly, your bones forget how to heal.

“That’s me!” I thought. “I’m like an astronaut who never exercises!”

These pearls of wisdom, from a Japanese novelist and a NASA elementary ed specialist (combined with the grim reaper’s hot breath on a full-length mirror) finally spurred action.

Sarah introduced me to a neighborhood walk she likes to take. I went with her a couple of times and then made a habit of going on my own. Then I expanded the walk into a bigger loop. Then I started…running.

Or… “wrunning,” as I call it: a mix of walking and running. You see (warning: sad excuse) our neighborhood is very hilly.

At first it was painful. It still is painful. I feel like a rusty hinge. My knees hate the downhill; my calves hate the uphill. My lungs hate every goddamn moment.

And yet… when you start with zero muscle mass, it doesn’t take long to see incremental improvements. And I love measuring shit. In a few weeks I’ve shaved four minutes off my total time: from pathetic to merely embarrassing. I can run longer stretches, even up some of the hills. My goal is to run the whole thing, although I still haven’t figured out how to run down a steep hill without windmilling out of control.

I see more deer than people on my run. There is other wildlife, too. In fact, if anyone happens to ask why I am running, I plan to shriek “THERE IS A PACK OF COYOTES CHASING ME! RUN!”

Because running is stupid.

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