I don’t remember how old my mom was when she started having back problems. I guess it started when I was a teenager, but I’m fuzzy on the details.
I remember when I was in college and she called to tell me that she’d been diagnosed with scoliosis. She said she was afraid she might end up in a wheelchair, and she cried. I vividly remember standing in the bedroom of my apartment in Memphis, and feeling completely helpless, because my mom was 200 miles away, and all I wanted was to give her a hug.
Fast-forward nearly 20 years. My mom isn’t in a wheelchair, but her scoliosis has progressed, and she’s in pretty much constant pain. She uses a back brace, her back is hunched, and she has to wear a patch that gives her a low, steady dose of constant narcotic painkillers. She sees an acupuncturist regularly, which seems to help give her some occasional relief. But it’s a pretty awful way to live.
I think I’ve mentioned here plenty of times that I was very overweight when I was young. When I was in high school, I used to go for walks at night after dinner, for exercise. (That’s the thing about Mississippi – most of the year, it’s so hot that it’s only bearable to go outside after it gets dark.) I’d usually walk 2 or 3 miles a night.
A lot of times when I went for walks, one of my parents would go with me. If it was my mom who came along, she’d complain a lot of the way that she didn’t want to go, even though she knew she needed to. She hated to exercise. (My dad never complained. He’s a golfer, walking a couple miles is nothing when you’re used to walking 18 holes.) Sometimes I’d egg my mom on to keep going, sometimes she’d take a shortcut back home rather than finish the whole route.
That’s not an indictment of my mom’s character. Plenty of people don’t enjoy exercising. I don’t think that it makes you a good or bad person one way or the other. She didn’t like to exercise, so she didn’t do it much. That’s all.
I don’t know if any of my mom’s health issues would’ve been helped if she had exercised more. Maybe if she’d had stronger core muscles, it would’ve helped to support her spine, and she wouldn’t be in as much pain now. I honestly don’t know.
My mom and I have a lot in common. If you look at pictures of her when she was younger, we look a lot alike.
For the past year and a half or so, I’ve been pretty obsessive about exercise. I workout 5 days a week on average. I mostly run, although I’ll occasionally do a Jillian Michaels DVD (like the 30 Day Shred or one of those) just to mix it up and make sure I get some strength training, too.
It’s occurred to me that part of the reason exercise has become so important to me is because I’m afraid of ending up like my mom. I don’t know if I’m prone to the same health problems that she has, but I know that I absolutely do not want to end up in constant pain like she is. I don’t want to live like that.
When I started running, my goal was to be able to run a 5K (3.1 miles). I hit that goal a couple of months ago. Now I’ve shifted it, and my goal is to be able to run 5 miles before Christmas. I don’t know where I came up with that number or why it feels significant. I guess it’s because until recently, it’s not something I ever thought I’d be able to do, and now it feels attainable.
A lot of my runner friends have encouraged me to do a race of some kind. Lord knows there’s plenty of options out there: 5Ks, 10Ks, full marathons, half marathons, whatever. I understand that a lot of people use them as a timeline for achieving a specific goal, and others just think races are fun. But I don’t want to do a race. I never run with other people. I don’t even run with Chris – although that’s mainly because he runs so much faster than me, he’d leave me in the dust in the first five minutes. Hell, I don’t even like passing people on the sidewalk of my street. So the idea of running with hundreds of other people makes me nervous. The thing I like about running is being able to zone out in my own head. The only person I’m competing with out there is myself.
(For what it’s worth, running also helps tremendously with my anxiety. I’ve had days where I wake up feeling shaky and panicky for no reason other than some stupid hormonal shift. If I’m running, I feel like it’s ok that my heart feels like it’s going to pound out of my chest and that I’m gasping for breath, because oh yeah, I’m running. It burns off that whole “fight or flight” thing, and by the time I get home, I’m calmer and the panicky feeling has passed. For that alone, I cannot recommend it enough.)
I don’t know what the end goal is with all this exercising that I’m doing. I don’t have any specific weight loss goal, because I’m pretty much ok with where I am now. (Although I wouldn’t mind toning up some places. I’m looking at you, upper arm flab.) I guess when I hit that “I can run 5 miles” goal, I’ll shift it out more and figure out what’s next.
The thing is, as I find myself barreling down on my 40th birthday (which, ok, that’s still a year and a half from now), and that whole “middle age” notion creeps in, my health is becoming more and more important. I feel like I need to make myself as strong as possible now, so I’ll be prepared for whatever physical challenges my body may face in the future.
So if you ever happened to wonder why I run? That’s why.