We started going to the gym together before we even started dating. We were work buddies, and the company offered a discount on memberships to the gym next door. One day, I was so tired from working overtime in heels that I could barely stand up straight. I was sitting on the lawn and he somehow talked me into working out anyway. I felt so much better after the workout, one I never would have done on my own. That's when we became accountibilibuddies. The official name for it is "accountability partner" but we like our version better.
There's a popular delusion that self-care is selfish. If you get enough sleep, you're lazy, because you have to work around the clock until you're completely burned out if you want to be taken seriously. If you stay home when you're sick, you're lazy and you're letting the team down - far better to come in and make sure the rest of the office has a chance to become martyrs of contagion, too. If you eat right, you're an insufferable bore and nag. If you work out and keep your body fit, you're a narcissist and your very physical presence is fat-shaming. Nowhere in this picture is there anything about self-care as a necessary component of caring for others.
I work out with my husband because he needs the moral support. When he works out, he enjoys life more. It helps with some chronic shoulder issues that he has. But it's hard for him to get out the door at the end of the day. He'll work twelve hours without thinking twice. Being his accountabilibuddy is a service that I can do for him, a nice favor. I'm his wife. I can't help him professionally, but I can do this. He might reschedule if he had an appointment with a trainer, but when he's meeting me, he shows up. None of this has anything to do with me and my needs, other than that I get an extra half hour with him.
When I was twelve, my mom was midway through earning her two college degrees. She had a mandatory P.E. class, and part of the grade was to develop a personal fitness plan. Mom picked walking. First, she drove a one-mile route. Then we walked it together, and she timed it. We would walk together a few times a week, trying to beat the clock. We worked up to a mile and a half. We would talk and laugh and walk as fast as we could. I never saw it as a workout. To me, it was just mommy-daughter time. I loved it. We kept going for a while after the class ended, but winter came, and that was the end of that. I wish I'd spoken up more and asked if we could start again in the spring. Those are days we'll never get back, and now I live a thousand miles away.
A number of my friends have become runners and adventure racers after I started. Several of them asked me for informal coaching. I haven't run a single step of their mileage, but I'm still so proud of their progress that I sometimes cry. There's a knowing look in their eyes in those race photos. I DID THIS. It's a transformation that affects far more than just the physical. If I can run this far, what else can I do? That feeling of accomplishment and pride is one I wish I could bottle and pass around to anyone who wanted a taste. I write about my passage into endurance sports, not for attention, which I get from many honking cars, but in hope that it will ignite curiosity in others. I'm going on a fact-finding mission, drawing maps and writing notes about the terrain for anyone who comes after. Every mile I run, I think about a familiar yet skeptical face, pondering, "Can this really be done or are you faking it?"
When I ran my first 5k, an old school friend volunteered to run it with me. I probably wouldn't have started working out at all, except that we had gotten together and I saw that since last time, she had lost a hundred pounds, while I'd gained at least thirty. Oh man. She helped me find a race that wasn't already sold out, met me, let me sleep on her couch, drove me to the site, and helped me sign in and get my bib. If it weren't for her, I would never have gone to so much bother or spent that $38. We set out at what was a really fast pace for me. I couldn't keep up, and she dropped me after the first mile. I was really beating myself up for not training hard enough, when I reached the finish line and saw that I had cut more than ten minutes off my fastest time! I was so surprised I thought there must be a mistake. It was her support, plus my feeling of competitiveness, that drove me to run faster than I ever had before. That broke the ice, and I signed up for several more races after that on my own. My friend wasn't in that race for herself. She could already run farther and faster than that level. She took me under her wing and made sure I felt like I knew what I was doing. The next time we ran a race together it was nearly twice the distance.
Working out is a metaphor. I mean, yes, it's physical, and it can be grueling. The sweat, the skinned knees, the bruises, the blisters, the heat rash, the sunburns, the laundry so scary you could use it to rob a bank. Really, though, it's just one way among many to demonstrate things to yourself, and to others. Persistence. Dedication. Grit. Devotion. Uncountable millions of dollars have been raised for various charities through all these foot races, and that's something, too. One of the many things that exercise can do is to show a friend: this is how far I will go for you. I will show up for you. You can count on me. I'll be by your side. I'm there when you need me. I'd do more if I could, but for today, I'll show it by doing this.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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