I got the idea when the Israeli Army was shooting at me. Ok, they weren’t just shooting at me, they were shooting at me, two Swedes, and a Palestinian.
I need to get better at running.
The thought slid through my mind, as I ducked low on the rise of hill, the soldiers crouched below us at a check point, their guns cracking the sky. Scuttling back to a waiting taxi, which was already pulling a quick thee point turn, I thought it again –
I REALLY, need to get better at running.
Later that night back in a small apartment in the cinderblock refuge camp on the outskirts of the ancient stone city of Nablus, I compared notes with a friend of mine.
“They shot at us. At us! It was terrifying. And all I could think about was getting better at running,” I said.
My friend, who had just returned from a three day outing to a nearby refugee camp said, “Yeah I know. We walked around a checkpoint, over a bunch of very steep hills. I was dying. But the Swede with me, he was just cruising. Up and down. In flip flops. All day.”
We sat there on a thin mattress on the floor, backs to the wall, drinking sweet mint tea from glasses, a cigarette smoldering in between my fingers.
“We need to get in shape,” I said to the silent nod of my friend as we stared off at nothing in particular.
That was 9 years ago. And today when I woke up the first thing I thought about was my workout later today. I thought through the weights I will load on the bar, the cold of the bar on my back as I set back into a deep squat, and my hamstrings pulling and tightening as I push out of the hole. I thought about what music to listen to, and I thought about my goal – some weight I want to be able to squat with on my back that, for me, represents fitness. A fitness I want.
When I got back from Palestine I was depressed. Severely depressed. I felt more helpless and powerless than I had in years. The things I witnessed and my inability to interfere to stop tragedy, it was hard. And in that depression, that thought of needing to be able to run better so I could survive when shot at, when chased, when dealing with dangerous physical situations, it floated to the top.
So I started running. It was simple I pulled on some old sneakers, and shorts, and a t-shirt and I hit the rode. That first day I ran a slow three miles. And the next day I pulled my sneakers on again, and ran again. I had no plan. All I knew was that if I ran, I would get better at running.
I did get better at running AND my depression lifted. I know a lot of you are thinking it was just the feel good hormones released into your blood when you actually move and work out. Sure there was that. But there was also the control. I could go for a run whenever I wanted, and I could run fast, or slow. I could run whatever route I wanted. And if I did this everyday I could predict what would happen, I would improve.
Having control over what happens next and setting those expectations for myself have really helped me. That is why working out is a refuge for me, the thing I think about when I wake up, the thing I enjoy doing with friends, the activity in my life, around most other activities are planned. That is why I write about it here.
When those bullets whizzed by my head in Palestine, all my animal-self could do was run, and all my modern-self could do was comment on needing to be a better runner so I could survive. I didn’t know then how important running, then weightlifting, then CrossFit, then weightlifting, then rock climbing, would be for my own survival. But it is, and I accept it, and hopefully I am shot at I wont be commenting on the being faster, I just will be.
Why do you work out?