Deciding to Get Fit
By Cori Christmann
The other day on one of my runs I saw a fellow runner who made me really want to stop and say, Way to go, you’ve got this! I was afraid she would think I was a weirdo so never did, but for the rest of my run that morning I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Her red face, laboured breathing, and slow pace told me she had probably just started running and it reminded me of what I felt like when I started on my journey to get fit.
I started riding at age five. My mom was a trainer so school horses and ponies were my babysitters. I eventually went on to train horses and coach students as part of the family equestrian business (a hunter/jumper barn) and was lucky enough to have a few horses to do the grand prix on. Needless to say, life was good but very busy, so I never once went to the gym or took a workout class; instead, exercise consisted of riding (at times 10 horses a day), cleaning stalls, grooming, sweeping, hauling feed and tack trunks, and trekking out to the paddock to catch horses. So when I decided to take a break from riding and finally go to university, the so-called “freshman 15 lbs” hit me hard, especially since I was in my mid-20s and not 18 like my peers! I gained weight and basically had no idea how to work out or eat right because I’d never had to think about it before. So when I started on my journey to get fit, I did the one thing that I thought I knew was a given: Move more! Which to me meant: Start running.
I remember my first run so vividly, it was fall of 2012. I did a three-mile loop near my house and truthfully it was more walking than running as I’d run for a bit then walk, then run and walk, etc. This was my routine until I built up the endurance in my lungs and legs. Each time I ran I’d work on making the running stretches longer and the walk stretches shorter by looking at a telephone pole or street sign and saying to myself, “Keep running till there, then you can walk”. After I worked up to running the whole loop I started venturing further down the road until my runs were five-milers, then six-milers, and now three years later I’ve done two half marathons, a 10K and a 6K mud run, but even more importantly, I’m still running at least twice a week and five miles is now my minimum.
So when I saw that fellow runner huffing and puffing and yet sticking to it, I saw myself. I remember how hard those short walk-runs were and I actually got a little choked up because I’d been there. I was the 20 lbs overweight “runner” struggling with each footfall to keep going, fighting those thoughts to walk, to quit, and I wanted to tell her, “You got this! Don’t quit! It will get better… I was less fit than you, I could barely do three miles and now I’ve done two half marathons, something I never in a million years thought I could do, let alone would WANT to do.”
Learning how to run and how to exercise was hard (early on I started working out with a trainer two days a week, too), and at first I thought… well, if I run I’ll lose weight… right? Obviously I needed some structure and a friend told me about a fitness tracker app that she liked, MyFitnessPal, so I started tracking my food and exercise with it and that’s when I realized… “Hey….! If I exercise more I can eat a little more! Woo hoo!! I know, I know, that’s not the point of these apps but for me it was the carrot. Run more, workout more, and you have more credits to eat. By the same token, it helped me realize how much exercise I had to do to cancel out that cheese or cookie, which taught me how to resist those high calorie snacks and find ones that were healthier.
In the end, exercising and watching what I ate became easy and my new normal instead of a totally foreign concept. It became a lifestyle instead of just a quick fix. Looking back, I basically retrained myself just like I’d retrain a horse to balance itself and stop leaning on my hand, or train myself to do something new like ride without stirrups (which, if you’ve done this, is really hard at first.) You usually start out barely being able to post the trot once around the ring without stirrups, but eventually you’re cantering and jumping and it’s easy. I think back now on all my years of riding and wish I’d worked out then, it would have given me that edge physically but more importantly, it would have given me a mental edge. I’d have had more confidence knowing what my body was capable of.