Monday, April 13, 2015

Surprising Myself

There have been three times in life that I've really surprised myself.

The first was when I studied abroad in London for the first time, as a junior in college.  Two years prior, I scoffed at the idea, and even changed my initial major since a semester abroad was a requirement.  I was timid and risk averse and joined at the hip to my high school/college boyfriend, and living abroad was definitely not for me.  Then, after two years something made me change my mind.  I took the leap and spent a few months in London, and I haven't been the same person since. Not only did I return to live in London for two years, but travel became my passion, and it still is (even though I don't get out and about like I once did- that second trip to Vietnam will have to wait a decade or two).  The further out of my comfort zone I get, the better.  

The second was when I walked away from my law firm career.  I've written various blog posts about this, so I won't rehash what I've already said multiple times, but if someone would have told me during my law school days (or any other days, for that matter), that I would quit my job as an attorney to stay home with my kids - three BOYS no less, I would have laughed in their face.  I was as ambitious as one gets at one point in my life, and I had a stellar resume to prove it.  I was on a trajectory upward - getting off was not an option.  But yet, here I am - I got off and then some.  And I am embracing it, enjoying it, and not looking back.

And now, I'm experiencing another unexpected surprise in my life.  I'm embarrassed to admit what it is, because it's such a cliche.  

But I am absolutely loving exercising.  

Some background - prior to 2005, I had never exercised in my life, apart from PE in school and a stint on the junior high volleyball team (where I SUCKED).  I had always been nonathletic, uncoordinated, and awkward - sports and exercise were not my thing, and I was okay with that, particularly as I enjoyed the amazing gift of being naturally thin.  Why exercise?   

During my first year working at Skadden in New York, I did spend a brief amount of time consistently going to the gym.  I had the motivation of a wedding, but the gym also gave me a place to escape to - it was in our building, and I would often go there on days that I knew I would have to work late, as it would break up the day (and the monotony of document review).  I actually ran a 5k in June of 2006, and this was a huge accomplishment for me.  It was the longest distance I had ever run.  

My husband and I post 5k, June 2006 - the last time I ran.
Then I got married, went on my honeymoon, and I haven't exercised since.  That was about nine years ago.  

When I started going to the gym in January, it was because of a promise I made to myself.  After I was done having children, I would get back in shape.  I would lose all of my baby weight (unfortunately my gift for being naturally thin left me a few years ago).  I would tone up.  I would go to the gym three times a week, for at least six months, and then reassess. 

I knew that I would stick with it, at least for the short term, because I am goal oriented - once I start something, I tend to go all out, and finish it.  But what I didn't expect was to like it.  

Really like it.  

Dare I say, I love it!

Yes, I, Shannon, love exercising.  Hell hath frozen over, and pigs are flying.

All this time I thought it was a farce.  I would scoff at fitness oriented people.  They can't really be enjoying life, I would think.  Who wants to think about health all of the time!  Live a little!  All those endorphins?  A "natural high"?  Bullshit.  And what I hated most is when people said exercise made them "feel good."  What on earth feels good about panting and sweating and feeling like you're going to die?  And then barely being able to walk the day after?

I've kind of done a complete 180.  Now the closer I come to feeling like I'm going to die, the more I gasp for breath, and the more I sweat, the better.  And if I am not sore the next day, I didn't work hard enough.

I run.  I like to run!  I ran 4.25 miles the other day.  On the treadmill.  Just because.  And it felt great. I really mean it - I nearly collapsed from exhaustion at the end, but I felt amazing!  So amazing that I decided to run a 10k in June and (drum roll...) a half marathon in November (we'll see if that actually happens - but I am registered, so there's step 1).

Yes, I runs slow.  Don't judge. 
I go to classes.  Not the zumba, water aerobics light variety, I'm talking the WE WILL KILL YOU IN THE NEXT 60 MINUTES variety.  I do tabata, chiseled, 30-60-90, and other classes where the descriptions contain the words "sweat drenched," "whipped," "intense," "burn," and "push you to your limit."  The kind where you don't think you can go on if you do one more cardio circuit, but shame - pure shame - keeps you in the class.

I lift weights.  Not a lot of weight, mind you, but I'm lifting.  Free weights and machines and weird kettle balls.

I don't even know who I am these days.

I've given a lot of thought as to why I am embracing exercise, and why my attitude has shifted so drastically.  (There's no better time to ponder this than during a run - I've found it gives one ample time to think!).  And here's what I've come up with: 

Being pregnant, giving birth to, and nursing three babies really changed the way I looked at my body.  I had always felt weak in my own skin, and lacked confidence over what my body could do. All this fitness stuff was for other people - other people who are strong and in shape and physically capable.  

But motherhood changed that for me - all of a sudden my body wasn't weak at all - my body could do amazing, miraculous things.  These three boys of mine came from me!  I made them.  I gave birth to them (without drugs in one instance!).  I nourished them exclusively for the first six months of their lives.  And I survived the whole ordeal.  I did it and I am okay, and so are they.  More than okay, actually.  We're all doing pretty awesome.

How on earth did I do that? 

If my body can do that, what else can it do?  Can I be strong?  Can I be a runner?  Can I be in shape?

Yes, I can.  I always could have.  The question is whether I want to be.

And right now, the answer is yes.  Sure, part of it is because I want to look good in a bikini again (which, by the way, will probably never happen because 3 pregnancies = sagging stomach skin that no exercise can take away).  I want to lose a few pounds.  But mostly, it's because I feel strong.  And I feel good.  And I love that I am enjoying something I never thought I would.

The cynical part of me wonders how long this love of fitness will last.  And maybe it is fleeting - who knows?  But I've surprised myself before.

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