About once a year, usually when the weather turns nice, I think to myself, “Self, you’re getting fat again.” It’s true. Winter is the time for words like “cozy” and “sweater” and “Jack Daniels” and “cheddar.” When once I would have eased into summer in the lush and rainy days of spring, I’m pretty sure that nowadays “Spring” is just a concept we all have to forget ever existed, much like “Pluto,” or “thriving middle class America.” Which leaves me here, on this beautiful summer day, holding my stomach in my hands trying to make it talk like a puppet. This is when I come to grips with the fact that my workout plan for the last month or so has boiled down to 1) thinking about doing a situp and 2) making a sandwich instead.
In all fairness: I almost joined a gym awhile back. It’s four blocks from my house, and features the following amenities: an apathetic front desk staff, a bevy of meatheads grunting and squatting in the heavy-lifting section of the gym, mercifully ignoring everyone else, and an indoor pool the size of my kitchen table in which one lone octogenarian wearing a daisy-print bathing cap bobs slowly on a pool noodle over the course of several hours. YES, I thought, this is my kind of place.
Then they asked to start charging my credit card the $45 monthly rate, and I politely excused myself to cry and question my life choices, because ain’t no way I can afford that right now.
At this point in my seasonal downward cycle, I inevitably turn towards one of my least favorite pursuits of all time: running. Why? It’s cheap. It’s … scenic, I suppose. It seems like something other people seem to enjoy, the sadistic creeps. It’s like, the one thing I remember from gym class. I mean, I hated it then, too, but I don’t really remember how to do anything else.*
ACHIEVE THAT PERFECT BEACH BODY IN JUST TWO WEEKS!!!!
DAY ONE: Think about starting to run again. Make a sandwich instead.
DAY TWO: No, I really should think about running again. Maybe just walking. Are we out of turkey? Damn.
DAY THREE: Ok, ok, ok. Ok. Wait. Where the hell are my sneakers?
DAY FOUR: Buy sneakers. Buy three sports bras, in various sizes, all various forms of “this is much too small and hopefully will work this time.” These are meant to be worn simultaneously.**
DAY FIVE: I should really work up to this. Let’s go on a long walk.
DAY SIX: Okay, not bad! Not bad at all. Let’s go on a longer walk.
DAY SEVEN: You know, I’m doing okay at this! Just look at all the things and people and birds and trees and crackheads and broken glass I’m seeing on these long walks! Nature! FREEDOM! I LOVE THIS!
DAY EIGHT: I think it’s time to kick this up a notch. Let’s graduate to a slow walk-run.
- Change into your running gear. Do some warmup stretches. Get your favorite playlist cranked on your Ipod shuffle. Make sure to choose the most humid day of the season.
- Step out the door. Begin sweating immediately.
- Walk six blocks at a brisk pace. Jam out to some Beyonce. Smile at strangers.
- Get to a major intersection. Jog across the intersection. Feel awesome. Keep jogging. Pay attention to the good feelings of strain in your muscles, how powerful you feel, how healthy and alive.
- Jog for about three minutes. Resume walking at a brisk pace. Allow your heart rate to return to normal. Decide that you can keep going further than you had anticipated today and take the turn away from your house! Onwards! Yes! We! Can!
- Begin to notice muscle strain somewhat more. Begin to notice breathing is slightly more labored. Try to capture earlier feelings of strength and beauty. Visualize self as kickass lady warrior. Like Lucy Liu, except with boobs and, you know, not Asian. Yeah. I’m totally as kickass as Lucy Liu. Allow this fantasy to push yourself further than is probably a good idea.
- Allow yourself to stop at a red light and catch your breath. Realize your body is screaming at you. Decide that this is a good time to shift back towards that slow, measured, walking pace. Oh God. Isn’t that that guy I used to date?
- Fuck jogging. Run. Run like you’ve never run before. Breeze past the guy. You are a vision of strength and endurance. I am Lucy Liu I am Lucy Liu I am Lucy Liu and you don’t even know what you’re missing. You weren’t ready for this jelly! All the single ladies! All the single ladies!
- Totally not him. Like, not even close. Oh god, everything hurts. I can’t feel my face anymore.
- Slowly walk back home. Your iPod is mocking you now, its upbeat dance tracks the exact opposite of how you now feel. Eff you, Beyonce. Still. You did it! You do actually feel sort of awesome, like you’ve achieved something remarkable. You ache climbing up the stairs that night, but still: you are strong and brave. Fight on the good fight, kickass lady warrior.
DAY NINE: Wake up to the chorus of your muscles resoundingly telling you to go straight to hell. Take some Tylenol. Feel a little better. Wear your new black heels to an opening night; love the way that your muscles communicate their displeasure straight up through your calves and hips. Feel the burn, baby. Drive home barefoot and limp home through a bleak and rainy South Philly night.
DAY TEN: Good morning! This is the worst you have felt in a very long time! Give your feet a soak in a tub of Epsom salts to soothe the ache. Start your day with a calming cup of morning coffee, and smile as you raise your favorite mug towards your mouth, your feet swimming in several cups of relaxing, lavender-scented bath salts. Immediately feel sharp tingle in mouth. Realize that you have touched wet Epsom-salty hands to the rim of your mug, and that you are having a massive allergic reaction.
DAY ELEVEN: Sleep with elevated feet and ice packs over sore calves. Take Benadryl to calm allergic reaction; buy over-the-counter canker sore medication to combat literal holes burned into side of mouth by lavender-scented soothing Epsom salts.
DAY TWELVE: Think about doing a situp. Make a sandwich instead. Remember that you never, ever, ever manage to make it to the beach as much as you think you will, and there is a very good reason you own swimsuits with built-in spanx.
DAY THIRTEEN: Actually, maybe that wasn’t so bad. Maybe I could try it again at some point. Not today, obviously. Today would be a terrible day to start over.
DAY FOURTEEN: Let’s start off with a slow walk this time. We’ll work our way up to running. Nice and slow. Where the hell are my sneakers?
*This is not entirely accurate. It’s the one thing I remember how to do that doesn’t involve other people and/or rules. Other things I’ve attempted in the “cheap” and “I can do this alone” category, with questionable success rates: YouTube Zumba Videos. WiiFit Yoga Workouts. Jogging in place while watching How I Met Your Mother on Netflix. I’ve felt like a giant turd every time, plus I really hate it when my roommates come home unexpectedly and witness any of this nonsense.
** Other people have grand plans for what they will do if they win the lottery: charities, vacations, racecars. Top of my list: I am going to buy that $125 Oprah-endorsed sports bra that has to ship from motherfucking ENGLAND, and I’m gonna buy it in like three colors. Just. You. Wait. (Because, truthbomb: Girls with ample boobies really hate running. We also really hate: running down stairs quickly, trampolines, vigorous sexual activity on top without a bra).