Usually in the days surrounding Christmas, between helping to cook, wrap, clean, decorate, and entertain my hordes of cousins, I have little to no time to devote to personal activities such as exercise. (Stir the Christmas sauce, Cinderelly! Do the laundry, Cinderelly!) My family is Italian. We would never miss an excuse to get all the relatives together, and having company does not leave time for much else.
But this year I had the delightful excuse of a workout program to follow. ("Grandma, I'm gonna do a 5K! No, it's not like a marathon.") This meant I did not feel a bit guilty disappearing for a half hour as everyone watched Christmas Vacation, and then later reappearing in need of a shower, the same way Uncle Eddie appears at the Griswolds with Clark's gift-wrapped boss.
Two days before Christmas I awoke to a green smoothie (kale, spinach, tofu, banana and chia seeds) made by my ever-busy, wonderful mother; a perk of being home for the holidays. It fueled my need to exercise before the holiday eating began, but I also grabbed a cup of coffee. I have an addiction, all right? I’ve been trying to wean myself off of it, but before this workout (week three, day one) it felt necessary. I had stayed up late the night before catching up with my high school friends at a local bar. Apparently I kept telling everyone I couldn't have another beer because I had to run in the morning. I guess it's been on my mind a lot! I never thought I'd be THAT girl, but I don't hate it.
It was a surprising 65 degrees Fahrenheit on Long Island that day, so I was more than happy to head outside and embrace the unusually warm weather. This time, the duration of the running portions of the workout reached 2.5 minutes, with an equivalent walk following before the next segment of running. Running for a full 2.5 minutes was harder than I thought it would be, as lame as that may sound. But I don't care how boring my beginner routine sounds to marathoners, everyone starts somewhere. And my stomach is getting flatter already, I swear!
I decided to do day two’s workout on Christmas Eve so I wouldn’t have to run on Christmas. The workout was unchanged from the previous day, but just as hard. I took a new, more sentimental route this time, speeding up past ex-crush's houses, slowing down to peer at the lawn where I took prom pictures, and grinning at the spot where I pushed a boy who insulted my little sister years ago. I allowed myself a self-motivating exclamation as I padded by my old bus stop, where I had learned all the foul words I was never allowed to say at home.
Going home as a mid-twenty-something is such a weird phenomenon. Your old room simultaneously feels familiar and unusual, and you start to forget where your parents keep things in the kitchen. But running down the streets of my childhood was comforting; something that Brooklyn can never make me feel. It felt like the very road beneath my feet supported me on my quest, and wanted to see me succeed! Or maybe that feeling was thanks to my new sneakers. I’ve traded in my old Nikes for purple “Reebok One Cushions,” and they feel great so far.
On Boxing Day, tired and still overstuffed from Christmas dinner and the leftovers, I embarked on week three day three. My sister Lissie, who is now a junior in college, came along with me for the workout. It was 35 degrees Fahrenheit, with snow slowly drifting down from the trees onto our pink cheeks. The workout went like this: 5-minute warm-up; 2-minutes running; 2-minutes walking; 2 repetitions of 3-minutes of running; 3-minutes of walking; and then another 2-minutes of running followed by a cool down. My lungs quickly ached with the cold.
My sister has been running far longer than I have, so on a few of my walking sets she ran ahead and looped back to me. She said the walking in the program was forcing her to think and that she preferred to just run unconsciously and not think about it. I laughed, noting how different we are; I am always thinking, and my thinking often inhibits my workouts immensely, which is why this program works so well for me. The coaching keeps me distracted from the pain of the workout. If I try to just run non-stop like she does, the constancy bores me and I lose motivation.
I found myself running faster to keep up with her, though I still felt slow next to her graceful form, and did not feel as good as usual afterwards. I shared this with my best friend (a former competitive swimmer like me) and she scolded me with a loving reminder: "Never let anyone make you feel slow!" she told me. "Your speed has nothing to do with how fit you are. Lissie's legs are at least four inches longer than yours and her lungs are more adjusted to sprinting in the cold." I guess she's right, though it’s always hard with a sport like running not to compare yourself to others. But the couch to 5K app called me a Rising Star today, and that's the feedback I'm going to take to heart!