The other day, while sitting in my office trying to take deep breaths and clear my head between back-to-back therapy sessions, my phone vibrated with a text message. It was a marketing blast from a local gym I used to belong to in a former life.
Hey Jen! How are you doing with your fitness goals since we last saw you? If we can help, give us a call!
I let out a guffaw. “Fitness goals”…ha!
The Jen they “last saw” four or five long years ago, bears such little resemblance to the person I am today that I doubt anyone at the gym — or any of my old haunts from the pre-2019 era — would even recognize me. And I’m not just talking about the physical effects of aging and a sedentary lifestyle.
Jen circa 2023 needs professional help, for sure, but it ain’t so I can improve my clean-and-jerk numbers or learn butterfly pull-ups.
I enjoy running immensely — I mean, who wouldn’t, with this (👀⬆️) beautiful, soft, flat nature trail at their disposal? — but I am by no means a runner. Come to the Delaware Canal towpath on any Sunday morning if you want to witness the clear contrast between regular, middle-aged schmoes like me and the real deal.
I mean, besides the obvious difference in speed and overall physique, I’ve got music from a carefully curated playlist blaring in my ear buds. I will slow down or even stop, if I need to adjust said music. Serious runners don’t mess with those types of pedestrian creature comforts. They motor through the miles in steely silence.
Sitting in the car in the parking lot of Washington Crossing Park, basking in the glorious — dare I say, addictive? — post-run euphoria, I finished saving the above collage to my camera roll and looked up to see the first drop of rain plop onto the windshield. Another kind of rush ran through my body: that pleased-with-yourself feeling you get when a gamble pays off.
Can you see the smug satisfaction in that selfie? I promise it’s there. 🧐
Not that running in the rain is terrible, but if you’ve visited the Delaware Canal lately when it’s thawed out and muddy as 🤬, you understand my desire to get up early and beat Sunday’s warm, wet weather forecast.
I had no trouble putting my custom Nikes on the path before 7AM. Amid my recent struggles with mental and physical health, running has been my go-to mood booster, and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do to celebrate 32 months of continuous sobriety.
I’ve started to get a “Twilight Zone”-esque vibe from this blog, where every time I write about being happy about something, it immediately goes all to 💩.
It’s like the classic episode — aren’t they all classic episodes? — where the husband-wife grifter team finds that old instant camera, and when they take a picture in the moment, it shows them what’s going to happen in the future. And most of what the camera foretells, with the (temporary) exception of predicting winners at the horse track, ain’t good.
No sooner did I start gushing about my newfound love of running, to the point that I was impulse-blogging from the running trail in a state of exercise-induced euphoria, that my hamstring decided to snap. Just one week after the aforementioned blog outburst, I drove all the way over to Yardley on a beautiful Sunday morning, gulping my usual turbo-charged pre-workout drink as I mentally prepped for a 6-miler, and when I got to the canal path and my feet went to push off toward Washington Crossing…
Two weeks later, that hamstring still strenuously objects every time I move. 😩
Fat, wet flakes started falling as I neared the causeway at Tyler State Park, smacking me in the forehead and occasionally the eyeball, and my face broke into a self-satisfied smile. This was my plan: To be out in nature when the storm started, and before every other human within miles crawled out of bed.
My mom is somewhere cringing, picturing this scene — “Do you always go walking alone?” she once asked me with alarm — but the truth is I much prefer the park when it’s deserted, and even sometimes when it’s dark. To take in a sunrise, witness a change in weather, or just stare at an early morning sky, is such an intensely personal experience for me that I think something would be amiss if anyone else was there.
I guess you could say that it’s when I am isolated that I feel most free.
I’ve been a loner all my life, and at 42, with an annoying habit of getting up at 2AM, I’ve pretty much given up hope of ever fitting in with society. I was always one of those “morning people” that seemed to perplex all the normies. These days, I feel like I’m at my best in the wee hours, when I write or do yoga while excitedly awaiting the dawn.
(Flash forward 12 hours, when some of y’all are just eating lunch):
Sitting in one of my very first recovery meetings last summer, I heard people talk about all the mysterious injuries they would wake up with after a night of heavy drinking — unexplained bumps and bruises, dried blood caked here or there, broken digits and the like — and I thought to myself, “Not me! I never hurt myself while drunk!”
Many months later, WHAM! The memory burst into my brain, like a 160-pound human body from a higher row, suddenly toppling on the backs of unsuspecting concertgoers, then slamming into the hard stone amphitheater stairs at their feet.
In case you hadn’t guessed, the uninvited crowd surfer in that scenario was me, six summers ago, “celebrating” my wedding anniversary at the Interpol show at Penn’s Landing after pounding sakis at my hubby’s and my favorite sushi restaurant, then guzzling who-knows-how-many $12 hard ciders from vendors at the venue.
I’ve attached a “BEFORE” photo from that night. Didn’t think you’d keep reading if I chose the “AFTER.”
My shins ended up looking like ground meat after my unfortunate booze-fueled tumbling act, and the (untreated) trauma to my lower extremities was so severe I basically crawled through our subsequent Hawaiian vacation — where, as I’ve recounted in previous posts, I went on to take several more spills while soused. I couldn’t walk normally for like a month. I nearly had to pull out of a half marathon that November.
But no, I never got injured in the throes of alcoholism! 🙄
The wind always blows straight into your face on the far side of the track at Honesdale High School, and what I can best describe as unwelcome resistance on a warm day becomes, in the winter, a good reason to stay in bed.
When I pulled up to the snow-swept track on the morning after Christmas, the car’s built-in thermostat read 14 degrees.
I had driven up there reluctantly, and groggily, leaving my husband cozy and warm under the covers in the guest room of his parents’ house. It was nearly 8 AM, and the sun was up, making this an unusually late start for me; however, without my usual high-octane pre-workout drink (I forgot to pack it) and a belly that still felt full of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, apple pie and “moose tracks” ice cream (I took the holiday off from my gluten-free diet), it had taken quite a bit of self-coaxing — maybe more like self-flagellation — to get up, get bundled up, and get my ass out the door.
My preferred form of exercise these days is running, and although conditions never seem 100% ideal, and sometimes seem downright hostile, I’ve managed to make a habit of it.
“It” amounts to around 20-30 minutes of movement, three or four times a week, and if you asked me how far I go on a typical day, I could only venture a rough guess. It’s not quite enough to consider myself “a runner,” or to make a significant dent in my level of fitness, or even to burn off all the calories I’ve consumed over the course of this celebratory (read: incredibly lazy) month.
But “it” is something. And once I clear that initial motivational hurdle and start moving, it’s something I always enjoy. Fresh air is life-affirming, even when it’s so cold it numbs your face, and any time spent out in nature feels like sweet freedom, when you’ve spent the bulk of your year cooped up in the same eight-room townhouse.
Themed workouts are a big thing in the CrossFit world, and these workouts tend to be community events. So when the holidays rolled around, back when my husband and I belonged to local gyms, both communities offered opportunities to run around for an hour or two in reindeer antlers, socks splattered with Santas, etc., and shove your face full of food and booze…not necessarily in that order.
Hubby’s place was pretty laid back about it — they called it “Festivus” and strung lights on a PVC pipe, then stuck it in a stack of weight plates to represent Frank Costanza’s pole (see above pic) — and we showed up with gym bags filled with Mad Elf (see below pic), ready to sweat through a “12 Days of Christmas” circuit, but really prepared to party.
Some of us took the party portion of the day a bit more seriously than others. I mean, I’m not gonna lie: Working out and drinking were my top two hobbies for most of my adult life, so Festivus was always one of my favorite days of the year.