Saturday, April 7, 2012

On daddies and daughters and running

My dad and I have one of those awesome father-daughter relationships that, I suppose, could classify me as a "daddy's girl". Except without the creepy connotations. I don't mean that I think my dad's the most perfect man ever, or that he was overprotective of his little girl. He didn't meet Shane with a shotgun and a too-firm handshake, and I didn't deliberately seek out a man just like my dad. (Although I do see similarities, particularly in their sense of humor.) We just get along really, really well. I think it's because where I can be volatile, he's calmer and so we offset each other a little bit. People who see the two of us together say that we act just alike, including the same mannerisms. I take that as a compliment, although I actually see more of my mom in myself sometimes.
A couple of years ago, when I was calling home just to say hi, I got the kind of news from my dad that I had to sit down to hear. "I've been having some pains in my chest, so I went to the doctor. It turns out, I need heart surgery. Don't worry, though, it's nothing major. I'll be out of the hospital quickly. I need a stent put in my heart." For a second, I had chest pains from that. He didn't want us to worry, so he acted like it wasn't that big a deal. But no amount of "it's not major" when you're talking about heart surgery is going to make me feel better. It's my dad. It still blows me away that he wasn't even sixty when this happened. Am I being silly, or does that seem too young to anyone else to be having heart problems?
For a little background, my dad's mom died of a heart attack. His dad died of cancer when he was quite young, and of the two problems I was more worried about cancer. My dad having heart problems never really entered my head. Exercise and sports weren't particularly emphasized in our house, but everyone did things. We were always active. I couldn't imagine a summer without swimming, biking, climbing trees. In the great Alaskan tradition, my parents built their house when we lived in Fairbanks. My dad still bikes, my mom jogged until her arthritis got too bad and then switched to brisk walking. They eat well and their cholesterol and blood pressure are pretty normal for their ages. They did grow up in households with parents who smoked, but neither has smoked themselves. So you can understand why heart problems in my parents were never at the top of my radar.
My dad is doing just fine now, but his heart surgery, as much as anything else, is what keeps me motivated to exercise regularly. Studies are now showing that things like smoking can affect not only your DNA, but also the DNA of generations that come after you. It can make your children more prone to health and heart problems even if they never smoke. Crazy, right? But fighting in our corner, exercise can also change your DNA for the better. And it can be passed down to your kids. It's all very complicated and I don't know if there's a single person on earth who could properly do the math (grandmother who smoked + father who didn't + exercise = this much chance of heart problems) but I figure that anything I do right now helps me, and hopefully it will help my future children out too.
It helps to have a husband who grew up in a household where exercise was emphasized. Everyone had to play sports. His mom, who is in her mid-fifties, is the only woman of her age I can think of who can keep up with the Insanity workout videos. My friends and I (ranging from early to late twenties) had trouble going through them the first time around (although they've now become my default workout). But she started the program a few weeks ago and loves it. Shane's dad still plays softball and plays hockey in the winter. Shane and his brother, of course, did sports all through school. If I mentioned the concept of not working out to any of them, I think they'd all stare at me blankly and wonder what on earth I was talking about. Why would anyone not want to exercise?
So now I have both internal and external motivation for getting at least a little bit of exercise daily. What I'm having the most trouble with is getting over the idea of myself as someone who doesn't do certain things. "I'm not a runner" or "I hate running" have been thoughts that have stuck with me since childhood. And I really did used to hate running. But now? Well, there are days when I'm walking home and the birds are chirping, the snow is melting, and the sun is shining. It feels like a crime not to get out and run in weather like that. Why should I workout inside and waste the lovely weather? So I grab the dog and we go running. I'm a lot better at it now than when I was younger. For one thing, after working out regularly for several years now my lungs are much better. I don't think I'll ever be fast, though.
But I still can't wrap my head around the idea of me being a runner. The only time in my life when I think that term fit me was when I was around twenty. At that time, both of my older brothers (who I'm very close to), a cousin (who I'm also close to) and my best friend all moved out of the Seattle area in about a six month period. The only other friends I had were all at least a year older than me and liked to go clubbing and bar-hopping on weekends, which I was excluded from because of my age. I was adrift. I was living with my parents, going to community college to get a general associate's degree because I didn't know what I really wanted to do. I didn't know where I wanted to go. I knew that something had to change, but I didn't know what. I didn't realize it at the time, but running became my outlet. It became one of the few things I had to hang onto. And really, it helped me to figure out some things about myself. I didn't want to be where I was forever, so I started working to change that. When I ended up moving later on (to Bellingham, WA, to live with my best friend) I stopped running because I didn't need it anymore.
And now, for none of the same reasons as before, I find myself sort of needing running again. Every April here, the Fairbanks Symphony hosts a "Beat Beethoven" 5k. I've been thinking for weeks that it would be fun to run it. The only other time I've run a 5k was to help out a cousin. She ran with her older daughter (who was, I think, 9 at the time) and I ran with the younger one (7). It was easy to do because the 7-year-old ran at a pace I could deal with, and we stopped to walk a few times. I've never run a race all on my own, with just my own motivation before. But this would be fun, right? I can't explain why I held off so long on signing up, or why I tried to come up with so many reasons not to. "Ooh, $20? I don't know. That's a lot of money...." or "Yeah, but do I really want to give up my Saturday morning? I can't think of anything I'd be doing at that time, but what if something came up and I wanted to do that instead?" It was silly and I finally told myself to stop. I don't do anything but read on Saturday mornings. I can afford $20, especially since it's going to support the Symphony which I'm in. (Shane asked, "Why do you have to pay? You are the Symphony." I told him I thought the other members would quibble with that statement a bit.) To hold myself to the resolution of signing up, I told Shane that I wanted to do it. He turned on the computer right then and said, "There. You can sign up right now." No excuses. So now, I'm signed up to run. And I'm actually excited about it! Letting go of fears that I'm not "a runner", or that I was always the slow kid, and other negative thoughts, is actually wonderful. I have another friend who signed up. She's like me, a little nervous about signing up for a race with all kinds of hardcore runners. A little new to this and still, I think, not considering herself "a runner". I don't even know if we'll race side-by-side. But it's nice to know that she'll be there. And if either of us finishes within the allotted time (about half an hour) we'll celebrate.
I might not ever think of myself as "a runner". I like my workouts to be more varied than just sticking to one. When given the choice, I will probably choose a long bike ride over even a short run any day. But at least I'll know that I can do this. I can run races. I can be a runner, if only for a morning or a few days out of the week.
Today, my calves are burning. It was hard to walk this morning because of them. But it's making me feel good. My calves hurt because for the last two evenings, I've gotten out to run a little more than the 5k. I ache with progress. I'll take tonight to recover, but then I'll be back out tomorrow. Even if it's a short run, I'll be running.

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