Read any running book, and the first thing they tell you is that building an aerobic base is your first step towards becoming (or re-becoming) an awesomely fit running machine. By running slowly and consistently, you build up capillaries and mitochondria in your muscles, which means better blood flow, oxygen delivery, and energy production, or some shit like that.
Look, I’m typing this while simultaneously singing a lullaby in German to a nap-resistant baby, so don’t quote me, but I’m fairly sure that’s basically accurate.
So, five weeks into Project Awesome Fitness, “capillaries and mitochondria” has pretty much become my daily mantra. One capillary at a time, I tell myself, while plodding on frozen legs across a lumpy tundra of snow, ice and frozen dogshit. And: those fucking capillaries better be goddamn multiplying in there. And possibly also: ok, mitochondria, get your shit together, let’s generate some adenosine triphosphate already. (ooh, SCIENCEY! Thank you, high school freshman year biology circa 1990.)
Well, I don’t know if swearing is the best way to motivate capillaries, but I can say that I achieved my goal of running for 30 minutes by the end of January. Some days I didn’t think I was ever going to manage it, like, EVER AGAIN, but now, at 11-something-per-mile pace, I can in fact plod along for 40 minutes without stopping. I started with 1 minute on, 1 off; moved on to 2 min on/1 off, then 3, then 5, and eventually I got so bored with the walk breaks that I was like “fuck it” and just ran for 20 minutes straight. Nothing broke, so the next week I moved on up to 30 minutes, and finally, on January 31st, I accidentally ran for 40 minutes in a Schlosspark in the middle of nowhere, near the Polish border:
Some of those runs were pretty painful, mentally and physically. Some of my running friends only started running as adults – often after years of being overweight and inactive – and for the first time I could almost understand what they must have gone through at the beginning of their running lives. Sometimes it felt so discouraging, with unprecedented levels of negative self-talk. Sitting on the sofa is just so much easier. The only reason I didn’t is because I know how much better I feel when I’m in shape. If you don’t know that and have to take it on faith and overcome a lifetime of different habits (and self-image, and external messages…) – well, you have to be pretty strong, at times, to continue.
Another first-time recognition: strength training, especially the core, is so important. OK, duh, right? Everyone knows that, but this is the first time I’ve actually, physically FELT the difference between totally weak and unstable, and slightly-stronger-and-more-stable. Unfortunately my abs are still at odds with one another, but signs of a tentative reconciliation are there; the diastasis (gap between the abdominal muscles) was over 2cm right after the birth, but is now about 1 cm.
With the running and the strength training, I’ve lost a little weight (though am still 3-4 lbs away from my pre-baby weight) and can now technically wear my skinny jeans again, with only moderate muffin top. More importantly, I feel so much better emotionally. Or another way of saying it might be that on the days when I don’t or can’t work out, my anxiety levels are significantly higher.
Next time: Why weighing the same as you did pre-baby does not even remotely mean you have the same body as you did pre-baby, so you might as well just forget that shit ever even existed. Featuring hair loss, cellulite, and bellybutton wrinkles. Stay tuned.