One of the beneficial side effects of the fitness challenge I gave myself a few weeks ago, to run 25 miles that week, was to normalize longer distance runs for me. Ever since that week I’ve been running much longer distances that I had previously attempted on a regular basis. Whereas my usual run prior to my fitness challenge week was 3 to 4 miles, now I’m regularly running 6 miles, and feel that a 5 mile run is a bit short. Monday I only had time for a quick run so I did a 4.3 mile run – one that would have previously been considered one of my longest running routes!
As I run I ponder. Today I was thinking about the recent fad for team/group exercise. I’ve NEVER been a big proponent of group exercise for me, in fact in many cases I’ve gone out of my way to avoid it. I know that a lot of people are super excited about getting a team together to do one of those charity bike rides, or a themed running event like Tough Mudder or a Zombie Run, yet I cannot manage to commit myself to such an undertaking no matter how much I like the people putting together the group. I look at the people involved and I think, “I would LOVE to hang out with her/him/them more! And I even like running! So what’s wrong with me that doing a group exercise event fills me with dread and loathing?”
I’m not entirely certain, but I have a couple of ideas. The first one is that as a “fat kid” growing up, engaging in group exercise (at school PE class, organized sports, etc) always had one inevitable result – I would be a big disappointment to my team and, likely, be the reason why we would lose whatever competition (they’re always a competition – a game or a race) we were participating in. It was always me, the out-of-shape fat girl, who caused the team to fail. I had enough of that humiliation early on in my life that just thinking about group exercise fills me with despair. I just know I’ll be the slowest, worst, most losing-est member of the team. Why would I want to volunteer for that? Whether or not it’s true now, the ingrained reflex remains. It’s hard to override lessons learned in the formative years.
The other part is that, in addition to the fear of sucking at whatever activity I’m participating in, exercising is my meditation time. I’m a solo runner, and I jealously guard that solo time because it’s when I can mull things over in my mind without distractions – no computer, no books, no other people, no phones. Just me and my thoughts (and my workout playlist, of course!). I don’t WANT to have to chit-chat, or smile, or whatever it is that people do when they’re exercising in groups. I want my alone time in my own head so I can make sense of my world, solve some nagging work issue, remember all the things I need to do, organize my weekend plans, fantasize about what I should have said that one time (but didn’t). The thought of giving up that time makes me sad and somewhat grumpy.
I know that the point of group exercise is partly motivation – it helps people to get out and do the exercise when they’ve made a commitment to others to show up for a practice or session. But for me…I don’t need motivation. I’ve got it already. Once I discovered it, I’ve never lost my deep-seated understanding that if I don’t exercise I will feel horrible in my body. I do it whether anybody is watching or not.