January. That seemingly innocuous first month, when we’re meant to feel freshly motivated for all things — especially exercise. Well I don’t know about you, but to me this January has felt more like a black hole of fitness, one in which I fear I’ve irretrievably lost my athletic self.
Like most people, I packed on a bit of holiday pudge in December. I hoped that by the end of January I’d be back in some semblance of shape. Not so. Granted, this is the first month in 12 that I haven’t done any sort of race, after knocking out my Baker’s Dozen, race-a-month project in 2013, so I suppose I earned a big break. Still, I’m finding it tougher than ever to find my fitness mojo anew.
I’ve had a few small victories, however. For example, mid-month I moved apartments — from one third floor walk-up to another. The muscles-by-the-hour movers that I hired to help alternated between ire at me and amazement at my enthusiasm. I ran circles around them, up and down and up and down, over and over again, lugging along whatever I could haul on my own. “You’re so full of energy!” the guys remarked, amid belabored breaths. My aim had simply been to streamline the moving process, but by the end of the weekend — and after ascending at least 5,000 stairs, arms laden with loot — I felt a certain satisfying firmness in my glutes.
And on Monday morning, I felt as if my entire body had been bludgeoned, which was far worse than I’ve felt following my toughest triathlons. But I gained a valuable perspective. Even an out of shape triathlete has a leg up, fitness-wise, on a lot of people.
Last week I finally made my way back to masters swimming — a workout I normally try to attend with regularity. But I’d been absent from the group for the better part of two months, so I prepared to suck up big gulps of humility along with the pool water. On day 1, I swam a mile without major discomfort or drowning. That seemed enough of an accomplishment, so I excused myself early. The second pool session, I stuck it out for a full 3,000 meters before my arms fell off.
The fact is, transitioning from lazy and soft to lean and strong sort of hurts. But it’s not that too-much-too-fast pain that I’m talking about (and that is best avoided). It’s that just-pushing-the-envelope pain, which is really more of a dull roar of soreness, when you know you’ve made some movement forward. It’s the same thing Meredith Kessler described in a recent column in which she shared tips for getting out of the post-holiday slump. (Yes, I had an ulterior motive for seeking her advice — I needed it myself!) She stressed the importance of “GCBU” (Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable). You have to push past the comfort zone at times because progress is otherwise impossible. As Kessler says, “It is in those raw, gentle, subtle moments of discomfort where the magic happens, where progress is made and where we become better athletes.”
I have a ways to go until I actually feel fit, but I know I’m headed in the right direction. I know it because of the handful of nights I’ve laid in bed, just about to doze off to sleep, and felt a twinge in my stair-busting booty or a welcome soreness in my shoulders. I know it because at those moments I’ve thought to myself: I got uncomfortable today.
And I liked it.