Sunday, September 08, 2013

Exercising in futility

“I’m going for a jog,” I said, then paused, letting those words hang in the air. 

“Wait, really?” my brain asked.  Then my eyes looked down at my feet and saw garish yellow shoes with built-in reflectors on them.

“I think he’s serious,” they reported.

I can understand why various body parts would be confused.  Between the ages of 18 and 34, I didn’t run a single mile.  At least not a consecutive mile.  If you added up all the times I ran across the room to keep one of my sons from falling down a flight of stairs, I might have logged more miles than, uh, you know, a famous long-distance runner.  For instance, several Kenyan people.  Also, the guy from Chariots of Fire.  Note to my young reader(s): If you want to get famous, long-distance running probably isn’t going to do the trick.  Keep posting Youtube videos of yourself riding shopping carts down ski jumps.  

Until last year, in answer to the question, “The last time you ran a mile, why did you do it?” I would have replied, “Because the gym teacher made me.  And so did the president.”

“It’s time for the President’s Physical Fitness Test,” Mr. Garber would say after blowing his whistle, smiling at our obvious distress.

We’d groan and rend our Umbro shorts at the beginning of the annual rite of passage, a battery of exercises designed to quantify our progress toward manhood.  It was like those National Geographic videos where the young tribal men jumped off a giant bamboo scaffold with vines tied to their ankles to demonstrate their courage, except I bet those guys didn’t have to try to touch their toes in front of the girls’ class.
By executive decree, though, we had no choice but to do all the exercises.

“Why does Bill Clinton care how many pull-ups I can do?” I’d wonder. 

When my turn at the pull-up bar came, I’d struggle and kick my way up to the bar a couple of times, then dangle for a while, wondering how long I’d have to hang there until my muscles got big enough to do another one.

I’d see Mr. Garber penciling a “2” on his clipboard beside my name as I dropped to the floor, ashamed that I’d failed my country.

Then I pictured the president’s chief of staff bursting into the Oval Office, waving Mr. Garber’s clipboard over his head.

“Sir, I’m afraid there’s a crisis.  We’re facing a severe shortage of adolescent upper-body strength in southeastern Pennsylvania.” 

But the pull-ups, though humiliating, were at least quick.  The mile run was the worst, oh, say, twenty-two minutes of the school year.  Or the worst seven minutes for the kids in decent shape, who then got to lounge at the finish line while the rest of us stumbled and wheezed across, hoping the girls across the field weren’t paying attention.   

So the president ruined me for running for a solid two decades, but the reality of approaching (okay, and possibly arriving at) middle age brought me back.

“I’m going for a jog” has always been one of those things that other people say, people who wear skintight pants in public and who know what gluten-free means.  But I’ve had to start saying it, too, because as you get older, you gain two pounds just by inhaling the steam off the pizza.     

A good thing about jogging when you’re in horrible shape is that, when it comes to setting personal bests, the competition is extremely weak.  For the first time in twenty years, though, I can jog a mile, sometimes even plural miles.  I kind of wish Mr. Garber would tell President Obama.  Presidents get pretty wrapped up in this stuff. 

You can blow past Mike Todd at

1 comment:

  1. The daughters and I have lots of discussions about gym class (ugh). As if Dodge ball (I hear they did away with it) and the pommel horse weren't enough, there was square dancing! Perfect for awkward teenagers, already self-conscious. I applaud your effort to get back in shape, but I think you must be already, with all the hiking and climbing. Have fun!