I Can’t Run For Long. Am I In Shape?

13 Feb

When I used to focus my exercise solely on running–after competitive running in high school, that is–I thought that I wasn’t in “good” shape unless I could run three miles under thirty minutes without breaking a sweat. And by that benchmark, well, I was actually never in shape again after 21 years old, which was quite discouraging. I remember when I lived with my parents in Long Island, and my commute to work in Manhattan was an hour and half, I was waking up at 5:45 in an effort to keep my runs constant. If I missed a day, I had to get a run in the next day or else, well, I suppose I was afraid I’d turn into jelly. Or, that all the work I’d put in years prior on the road would dissipate in a matter of hours. So there I was, almost every morning, getting my three in. If my miles were in, I was strong.

about to go for a run, circa 2009, in Brooklyn

About to go for a run, Brooklyn, 2009. Why do my legs looks so unattractive?


Now, after a year (holy smokes, almost exactly a year!) of focusing on high intensity interval training, my idea of being in “good” shape has completely changed. The only straight running I do is 6-10 minutes on the treadmill to warm up. And most times, I never go faster than a speed of 6. If you told me two years ago that this would be me, I wouldn’t have believed you. The only thing I knew was running. I even used to run twice a day because I craved it so much! Not breaking 6 on the treadmill to me then might as well have not counted at all.

Well, this past Friday I went on my first run in a long time.

I was away for the weekend in Fredericksberg, Texas with Dave, and he wanted to hit the pavement. He asked me if I would go with him, and my answer was a shaky yes. I talked myself into it in my head. Why not? I thought. It’s been long enough without it, and maybe it’ll be nice. Plus this is our romantic weekend away, and it wouldn’t be too romantic if I left him to run by himself while I did push ups in the room. After the internal pep talk, I said to him a little more confidently, “Okay, I’m just scared because it’s been a very long time. Can we go slow?” He obliged, and off we went. It was raining and a little chilly, but that was good because it made me feel like I was superwoman. My first thirty steps felt fantastic. My body knew what to do–all was not lost! I’m back baby! I thought. We headed out of the bed and breakfast entrance, and made a right turn. Bam. Huge uphill. I honestly didn’t even realize it until we were midway up and my lungs and legs were burning. “Well jeez!” I yelled (more like huffed), “What a way to get back into it!”, to which Dave replied “You got this! You’re doing great!” It felt weird to be encouraged up that hill, but I needed it. And we were only two minutes in.  To my left were rams, fenced up in someone’s backyard (this is Hilly Country Texas, people). They looked at me with their heads cocked to the side. #epicfail?

sheep in fredericksberg texas

When we reached the top of the hill, we ran to the end of the block and stopped to stretch at a telephone pole. I stared at the rusty nails in the wood that once held local garage sale and lost dog posters as I stretched my hamstrings. “Wow, I’m really out of shape,” I heard myself say…but am I really? A year ago I couldn’t do one freakin’ push up without dropping to my knees, and now I can. A year ago I was struggling to push my suitcase into the overhead bin on an airplane, and now I have no problem (well, depending on how many pairs of shoes I pack, heh). I realized, being in shape is all relative. For my current goals and physical capability, I’m cool with not being able to hit three miles out of the park on a run. You can’t have everything at once (unless you’re training for a triathalon I suppose, then you might need to). In fact, it’s completely okay to not be good at something. Even if I used to be great at it.

Federicksberg, Texas

So while it felt really strange to round out our run on Friday after a four block loop and be completely winded, I wasn’t not bothered. I was just in a different kind of “shape”. And that’s fine with me.

How do you define being in “good shape”?

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4 Responses to “I Can’t Run For Long. Am I In Shape?”

  1. Mike February 13, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    I *am* you from years past. My “in shape” measuring stick is based solely on my running ability. But like you said, it’s all relative. I run. A lot. So it wouldn’t help me to test my fitness by tackling an obstacle course or Crossfit workout. Instead, I look for improvement in my specific fitness arena to validate my fitness level. And yes, I also feel like the last 6 years of running will evaporate if I miss even two days in a row.

    • melruns February 13, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

      oh heyyyy past Mel! Whatsup? How’s it goin? :)
      We are our own worst critics, don’t you think? But perhaps also our own best motivators, to that end.

  2. Jessie February 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    I’ve been struggling with this too lately… I did a 5 mile hike yesterday, that I remember huffing and puffing at just last summer, and while it was still grueling, it wasn’t nearly as torturous as I remember. So in that respect, I know I’m in better shape than I was last summer. However, if I go by the fact that I’m still wearing all the same [sized] exercise clothes, well then it’s harder to convince myself I’m actually in really good shape.

    • melruns February 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

      In all my time working to be “in shape” it’s super rare that I’ve ever felt content. I feel like we should try to be more satisfied with doing the best we can, know what I mean?

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