Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ten Laps

My body tells me no
But I won't quit, cause I want more
Cause I want more.
     - My Body by Young the Giant

It's fifteen degrees outside as I step into the cold. My feet bounce lightly off the pavement as I jog momentarily in place. My breath mists around me. The gym is a six minute walk away. The sweatshirt I'm wearing does almost nothing to keep the wind out. I pull my hood up and start moving.

With the wind, the temperature is below zero.

The gym doors open and the heating inside mercifully washes over me. My face is red and my nose is running, and when the wind blew my hood down I did nothing to fix it, not wanting to take my hands out of my pockets and expose them to the cold. I close my eyes and wait for the chill that runs through my body to pass. I can see the weight room, sparsely populated, through the back of the staircase in front of me. Not yet. I march up the stairs.

It's time to warm up.

Televisions line the cardio room to keep the people endlessly moving in place from getting bored. The Big Bang Theory is on. It's always on. It doesn't matter what gym you are in, what day you go, or what time you get there, if they have a TV, it will be showing The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon's friends are doing him a great disservice by not helping him seek treatment for his obvious social disorders. Everybody has an mp3 player. Nobody is watching. My iPod broke years ago. I listen to the top 40 hits being run methodically through the sound system.

Ten laps, yesterday, I remind myself. Ten laps. Each time around the blue turf that encircles the cardio room and the basketball court is a tenth of a mile. Yesterday I ran one mile. I was running four before the summer break, I growl in my own head. My gym sneakers are old and worn out. This isn't going to help extend their life. The sole slaps the surface, and I'm off.

My legs pump rhythmically in time with my arms. My breath is steady, my eyes set firmly ahead. With each lap around the treadmills and elliptical machines and stretch mats I glimpse at the others doing the same thing I am. I see who is taking it easy and who is pushing themselves, who is following an ingrained routine and who is pursuing a New Year's Resolution. I'm closing in on one year of working out.

I push through another lap.

My knee is better after taking a week off to let it settle. With every step it had felt like it was about to torque itself out of place. I don't think about it as I keep on moving forward. Ten laps yesterday.

Ahead of me is the CrossFit workout of the day. The names of a dozen workouts I never knew existed before run through my mind. Double under. Single arm snatch. Front squat. Toes-to-bar. Burpee. I have a schedule, normally - shoulder day, arm day, chest day, leg day, back day, rest, repeat. My days are filled with sets and reps. Now I alternate, back and forth, one month of muscle groups, one month of CrossFit, and back again. New veins have formed to carry blood to newly-formed muscle. My hands have grown thick calluses from the days I forget to wear gloves. I picture in my mind what I've always imagined I would look like at 100%. I catch a glimpse of myself in the window as I run past. It looks like I'm at 50.

Nine months ago I was at 0. I keep running.

I remember the years I spent looking in the mirror being unsatisfied with what I saw. I remember the years, very recently, where my weight crossed the threshold of 200. I remember struggling to fit into pants I'd owned for years. I remember how that made me feel. I remember how I felt when my weight dropped almost to 160, when I had to buy all new clothes, when I came back to campus after months away and everyone I ran into remarked on how much weight I'd lost and muscle I'd put on. I remember watching the scale tick steadily upwards, and realizing that it wasn't because I was putting on fat. I'm breathing hard. I've lapped a couple using the walking lane three times already. Ten laps yesterday.

My legs are starting to feel the strain. I ignore them.

I know down in the weight room, there are a going to be half a dozen guys bigger than me, stronger than me, who've been doing this a lot longer and a lot more seriously. Athletes, bodybuilders, or just people like me with more years behind them. They look better, they train harder, people stop and stare at them as they do their sets of deadlifts. They show up in pairs, or teams, and I am alone. I remind myself that I'm not competing against them. I'm not trying to be stronger than them. I'm just trying to be stronger than me.

I'm halfway to ten. I push myself forward.

Day by day, rep by rep, lap by lap. Always get stronger. Never weaker. That was my mantra for months. I felt weaker than I ever had, and I told myself there was only one way I was coming out of it. Better than ever. Every day, go further. Lift more. Work harder. If there's weakness, burn through it. If there's pain, deal with it. If I felt hurt, rest, recover, come back stronger. Always stronger. I didn't see results after a week. I didn't see them after a month. I still don't really know if I see them now. So I work harder. I never give up.

The muscles in my legs are telling me to slow down. I choose not to.

Every day, I make a decision. A decision not to sit in my dorm room on my computer. A decision to change into my gym clothes and walk out the door. Just having the clothes on, making the first decision, spurs me forward. I'm already changed, might as well go, I think. It's cold. I just went yesterday. The workout today looks hard. It'll be crowded. It's late. I've got homework. I have to get up early. I'm tired. I can always go tomorrow. I'll get bored. But I've already changed. Too late to turn back now. So I go, and I go, and I go, until I don't even think about the excuses. Until it's such a regular part of my routine that the gym is now an excuse to take myself away from other things. I made that decision. I made the decision to not have an extra dessert, or to drink a soda, or to have another slice of pizza. I made a decision to not quit.

I'm at seven. I decide to keep going.

There's no goal in mind - there's no endgame. There's no result I'm after that I can get frustrated and quit over because I don't see it right away. There's only this body, and how it looks, and how I want it to look, and the knowledge that this is how it gets there. If I work out as hard as I can today and it doesn't work, then I guess I just need to come back and do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. If I mess up one day, if I can't go, if I'm away for some reason and my schedule gets thrown out of whack, the gym doesn't care. The gym will still be there when I get back. If I find I can't lift as much as I could, can't go as far as I used to, then it's time to work myself back to where I was. There is no overall goal. Every day is the goal. Every day is another block in the foundation, and before you know it, the house is halfway built.

Eight. My chest is heavy, my legs hurt. But I ran ten yesterday. Never weaker. I ran ten yesterday.

I think back to my first run. A friend of mine challenged me to run six miles. Forget how long it takes, don't worry if you have to stop and walk for part of it. Just get it done. Six miles. I could barely run one. So I sucked it up, and I did it. All of it. It wasn't fast, it wasn't pretty, but I didn't stop until I did it. Now that I knew I could do it, I knew I could do it again. With every pump of my legs, every ragged breath, every desperate gasp at the water fountain, I got stronger. I left my weaknesses behind.

Nine laps in and I'm still going strong.

You don't set a goal with some artificial deadline.

You don't compete with anybody else.

You just make the decision to do it.

And then you do it.

And you keep doing it, every day, until there's no such thing as not doing it.

You just get stronger.

I hit ten laps. I ran ten laps yesterday.

So today I do eleven.

I forgot my gloves again. I'm going to be burning calluses into my hands. My arms are going to feel like lead after the dumbbell lifts. I've never even done a toes-to-bar and have no idea if I can. There are sit-ups in today's workout. I hate sit-ups.

When the blood is roaring in your ears, when your body feels too heavy to move, when you're staring at the bar perched over you and have no idea how you intend to move that much weight, when you just can't squeeze out one more pull-up, one more sit-up, one more curl, one more push, one more press, one more lap,

That's exactly when you do it.

When you see the weight lift off the bench, when you get your chin over the bar, when you go back in the locker room, strip your shirt off, look in the mirror and think "yeah, this is good," that's what gets you back the next day. And if you can't do those things, then you work until you can.

I go downstairs and do my workout. My body is exhausted and exhilarated at once. It's still fifteen degrees. Walk back in the cold. Drink a protein shake. Get some sleep.

I'm in the best shape of my life.

Tomorrow I'll do twelve.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Best Version of Myself

I am a hopeless romantic. Not a very good one, I've decided lately, but hopeless nonetheless. And as such, I absolutely love chick flicks of all shapes and sizes. Even the movies that I know are going to be completely terrible will fill me with a deeply abiding satisfaction, because the boy has gotten the girl, the girl has gotten the boy, and True Love has reigned supreme. On any given trip to Netflix, you'd better believe I'm stopping by the Romance section first.

Now one of my favorite of all chick flicks is You've Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks as Joe Fox and Meg Ryan as Kathleen Kelly in a retelling of the Jimmy Stewart movie, The Shop Around the Corner, which is a retelling of the Miklos Laszlo play, Parfumerie. The story has nabbed hearts for over 70 years, and you would be hard-pressed to convince me that You've Got Mail is not one of the greatest movies to ever grace the face of this wonderful planet. I could probably watch it every time it pops up on TBS and never get tired of it. Upon finishing it, I am always convinced that it is my calling to move to New York City and become a quirky bookstore owner.

So anyways, unaware that they have been corresponding anonymously with each other via email, falling in love one message at a time, Joe and Kathleen are introduced to each other at a party about a third of the way through the movie. It is hate at first sight. (To be fair, Joe is pretty heinous.) Later, he writes to Kathleen about his behavior, asking her,

"Do you ever feel you've become the worst version of yourself? That a Pandora's box of all the secret, hateful parts - your arrogance, your spite, your condescension - has sprung open?"

Well, Joe, funny you should ask that. Because I know exactly what you mean.

The last year has not been the easiest for me. I'm doing that thing where I'm growing up and becoming an adult more than ever before, and it has proven a bit of a challenge. I've made some good choices and I've made some bad ones, and the earth has kept turning regardless, as she is wont to do. But through it all, I think I've lost sight of who and what I want to be in this world. 

I like to think, when I look at myself as a whole, that I'm a pretty positive person. I try to be upbeat and optimistic. I try to be friendly to everyone, to exude love and acceptance. I'm outgoing (you know, except for when I'm painfully shy) and goofy and fun-loving. Someone you can rely on for help and support. Someone who is a good friend. A lot of what I want for my life is to live as Christ would have me live. Be good, do good, and love others.

I mean, wasn't that the whole point of this blog in the first place? When we were really in our prime, we were a bunch of twenty-somethings searching for what it means to be a Gentleman in this world. 

But lately, I'm finding that I'm not really living up to that ideal anymore. I'm not completely sure when it happened. I think it was probably a gradual shift, or maybe a number of shifts, in my attitude and reactions that started to become habits in my behavior. I find myself being sullen and irritable more than ever before. I'm judgmental. I let things bother me when they shouldn't. I'll snap at people and pick fights when before I could just let things go. I let myself get awfully cranky sometimes, especially when I'm tired. I'm less appreciative of my great job and the wonderful opportunities God has given me than I should be. I've become listless and apathetic toward my goals and ambitions. And sometimes I'm just sad. Just so sad that the funk seems endless.

And I've hurt people whom I love dearly.

I look at the grand total of my interactions over the past year, and while I doubt anyone would be handing me the Wicked Witch of the West Award 2012, I do wonder if I'm on the road to being the worst version of myself. In the last month or so, I've really taken a hard look at me, and I've realized that behavior that I'm not proud of, behavior that doesn't make me happy, has become much more the norm than the exception to the rule.

And why? What reason do I have to be unhappy? To bring anything but good into the lives of others?

I'll tell you: I don't.

I'm blessed with a pretty great life, and if it isn't only getting better all the time, I have no one to blame but myself. And I think I've played enough of the blame game this year to last a lifetime. 

So it's time for me to make a change - an active one this time. To seek out in myself what I need in my life to make it a force for good.

Now we here at These Gentlemen have written about New Year's Resolutions before. Making them, keeping them, forgetting about them. The whole gamut. But I have purposefully decided not to think about this as a resolution. As something I'm going to strive for in the new year. Resolutions are breakable. Resolutions are often doomed to fail.*

*That website is just something I googled and cannot vouch for AT ALL, but it wouldn't surprise me if the numbers are at least close to being correct. Also, sorry it's such a DOWNER. Geez... 

So instead I'm just going to make it my goal to live as the best version of myself, one day at a time, throughout 2013. And then next year, I'll be better than that. And so on, until bettering myself is the norm and the habit. But it all starts today, and I'm pretty excited to see who today can turn out to be.

With love to all our readers, and best wishes for the New Year,
ali d.