Talking to my roommate and others on the topic of getting in shape I think a lot of people at the beginning have false incentives. The main one would be that if you’re in shape your life will magically change for the better, you’ll be suave, get numerous digits, and excel in all aspects of life. Starting a program is very exciting and a mind can wonder, but on this go round I’m going to be more practical and concentrate on consistency. By consistency I mean being in the gym three times a week and on my days off skateboard like a madman. And do this for years.
During the years 1999 to early 2002 or so, I was in good shape from running. I, for a year or so weighed 150, aside from a few people asking if I was sick from a gaunt face, I believe I looked good. I looked real good, but the false incentives, particularly with dating, my life did not change at all. I was disappointed with that, but now I realize that looks and appeal have very little to do with each other. Success with women takes confidence and the willingness to put something into a relationship, something to give or share with another person. Back then and today I’m too self absorbed in my own ambitions to have any substantial relationships. For me to think about dating I have to work on my confidence by accomplishing a few things like getting out of debt, quit smoking cigarettes, and have more stability. Going into a work out goal plan, dating and certain aspects of my life should not be thought of, but separated into other plans.
On the positive note from being in really good shape for a couple of years I noticed some solid improvements. In general my energy level was greatly improved. I remember a few years’ prior taking naps and just being lethargic. I could stay up all day; I started reading more, wrote regularly, and worked full time at a bookstore. My bookstore days was fully part of my personal development, part of my life that I’ll remember forever, and having renewed energy from being in shape may have helped me grow in that time of my life. In addition around that time I made the decision to go to grad school for library school, some people in my life supported this, and others very close to me were firmly against this career. This is a stretch but I think getting in shape and developing some confidence made me more independent in all the decisions I made. Lastly, a big positive of that time period of 1999-2002 and running so much my skateboarding skills improved greatly. It was toward the end of the Rossford ramp days, and I think I could switch ollie 3 or 4 stacked boards and do a bunch of flip tricks.
In winter of 2002 I had a big blow to my exercise routine. I was training for the Toledo marathon which is in April. That means doing the long runs in the winter. In a blizzard I ran the most I ever ran which was sixteen miles. When I got back to the house my mom told me an insurance company called to set up an interview. I called back and the guy couldn’t believe I ran in those conditions, and set up the interview. That night I met with some of my bookstore friends and drank quite a bit and chained smoked like a champ. In the next days I had the worst chest cold of my life. On a preplanned trip I visited my sister in NYC with intentions of running the Brooklyn half marathon. I remember at a dinner in little Italy I literarily could not speak, I was in no condition to run the half marathon. A family friend ran it, so we checked it out. Also at that time someone told me I had to choose between cigarettes and running. I guess I made the wrong choice. Somehow not being able to run the marathon that year crushed my consistency with exercise completely. I continued to skate but I think a short time later on a late night session at Chenga in Cleveland I broke my foot, and had to wear a Velcro boot cast. I might be mixing up the years and injuries, but around 2002 I stopped skating too. I was done and the life of lethargy came back with a vengeance. I have not been in shape since then.
Over the following years after that defeat I’ve made several attempts to get it back. Probably the most pathetic was at Kent State, where I went to grad school, I remember drinking 3 or 4 beers in the early afternoon and then trying to go for a four mile jog. My tendencies tend to go toward the extremes of all or nothing, so I’ve had plenty of exercise spurts but all lasting a short time frame. At Kent State I developed intellectually and socially, but as far as fitness I kind of took a step back. I can’t say I blame myself, for undergrad I was a commuter student and for other reasons my English major experience was extremely educational but not similar to other peoples’ coming of age scenarios. But I got the moving away from home experience with a vengeance at grad school. We had a group of us including my current roommate that would do the library science coursework well, but have plenty of time to discuss literature, writing, music, and live off of chicken wings and beer. I would not change that time of my life for anything but I do remember wanting to be active and in shape. Stow, a suburb near Kent, had a small cement skate park, and in the later part of summer that I moved to Kent I went there a couple of times basically not being able to skate at all.
New York has been great, it’s been five years. As I take on sobriety I’ll have memories that rival the nights out described in On the Road, but exercise has been sporadic. For the first few years here I ran some, maybe five times a month, so inconsistent that it was meaningless. I few years ago I joined a gym and started skating again. I learned of the NYC skate parks, got it back a little bit. The gym was inconsistent, but I felt active through skating. In May 2008 at the LES skate park I injured my knee, a slight tare in my ACL, doing just a frontside shuv-it on a pyramid ramp, and that is not a difficult trick. I just did an unnatural split. That was a big blow, because it hurt to walk even. Probably from May 2008 to April 2009 a kind of depression set in for me, I felt like something was taken away. I was lethargic and drank a lot more. In fall of 2008 or so I started back at the gym, but would go for a month, get a cold or have some other excuse, and stop. I think because of this negative experience I plan to always be active, be consistent, and therefore my mood and disposition will simply be better.
The first part of making this step work is to plan a practical workout program not concentrating on intensity but to be consistent with it. I have a simple plan to average 3 days a week at the gym. If because of my schedule 3 days lapse between workouts I need to make myself go as soon as possible. I’ve noticed if once 4 days lapse from a workout routine that can easily stretch to weeks and then months. I went to physical therapy briefly after my injury last year, and there every session I’d start on the stationary bike. I’ve planned my simple routine kind of around that. On each gym session I will do 30 minutes on the stationary bike and then do the leg exercises they taught me. After that I do light lifting of two upper body muscle groups. My roommate has been very helpful in giving me pointers in this. For this lifting I’ll simply do 3 sets of 10 and not try to push it. After that I’ll do hard cardio on the elliptical starting at 12 minutes and working up to 20. Once I get to twenty minutes I’ll concentrate on going faster instead of making it a longer duration. I’ve been doing this for almost two months and have seen some results from it. To repeat its 30 minutes light cardio, light lifting, and then work up to 20 minutes hard cardio. Afterwards I stretch awkwardly. This may not be the best workout, but it’s simple enough that I can get into a routine with it 3 times a week. I’m going to make every effort to keep at this, and maybe in winter I can try out intervals, muscle confusion, and all that fancy stuff. Maybe in spring or next summer I can try to run on the treadmill but the impact of that worries me even though running is the best way to get lean.
The second part of being active is to skateboard consistently, at least once a week, and have realistic expectations with this. In 1993 I could do a ton of flip tricks and ollie 8 to 10 stairs to boot, but those days are probably over. But since I’m in better shape now I think I may already be better than I was before my injury last year after less than two months of doing it regularly. I think I can get good but more on the small scale of skating with flip tricks on flat, small mini ramps and parks with mellow or no transitions on the obstacles. I notice that I have a lot of fears, basically with ledges, pyramids of course, rails, and any type of drop. I need to have an acute awareness of not trying tricks that I’m uncomfortable with. I plan to skate through this winter but that will have to be less frequent and this ‘season’ is almost over with only a couple of months until November. So the plan is not to bust out sick tricks right away but work on the basics and spend a good portion of my days off doing this. I’m a big fan of skateboard videos and to me skateboarding is very social too, you can have conversations with other skaters about Plan B’s The Questionable Video that came out in 1992, and if I don’t seek that out this interest would just be an internal obsession.
So the goal is to make the gym a routine but focus on the skateboarding. I know a lot of people simply want to look good and have done so by working out in the gym. If that floats their boat, that is fine, but I feel being ‘active’ is doing activities. If I wasn’t into skateboarding I’d join an intramural sport. So in a way the gym is kind of training to skate better. One time I googled cross-training and skateboarding and people have blogged about it. If you have a skill set getting in better shape can only help. This might sound corny but I’ve always been fascinated by acts of feat and displays of athleticism and I always wanted to be super good at something. I would like to excel at something active, and I think skateboarding is the only sport I have a chance at being great at. It might be by late 2010 or 2011, but I’m okay with that. So to me being active is more than just looking good it’s about being able to do something.
If anyone has read this far I understand why you as a reader might be asking why this is so important to me. The answer is this in early April after a night of drinking I passed out standing up and was told that I hit my head by the person that helped me up. Because of this I stopped drinking and plan a life of sobriety. But it definitely changed my life and left me with questions of what to do with myself. Around 2000 there was a popular workout book called Body for Life, I did not read the whole book or do the program, but I did read the introduction. In the introduction the author Phillips wrote something interesting. Paraphrasing the intro he states that if you feel like there is a void in your life, exercise is a good way to fill it and it can give you a sense of purpose. From my previous experience as an avid tween to teen skateboarder and compulsively running in my early twenties I think that Phillips is absolutely right. About my issues with drinking the classic book Autobiography of Malcolm X got me thinking a lot about living better. In the autobiography Malcolm X describes himself and a criminal in his early adulthood life. In the amazing section of study in prison he gave up all drugs and devoted himself to the Black Muslim and Civil Rights cause that impacted the whole country. After I read this I thought a lot of his transformation and how I could improve myself and live better. I contemplated that finding religion gives people the support they need to give up partying and a reason to live. I thought of the born again Christians I knew that had a lot more to regret than I do. Growing up religion was not forced on us, and as a result I do not know the Bible. Some day I’ll read it so I can understand my Victorian era novels better. But until then, until I studied some of it, I do not think religion is the answer, and that self improvement can be done without a religious experience. But a sense of purpose has to be found, and I think exercising and concentrating on living a healthier and more controlled life is the first step. Also to keep busy, avoid drinking completely, and find alternatives for spending my time.
In closing, one of my many great undergrad classes in 1998 or 1999 was simply a semester of reading Fitzgerald’s works. I was overweight at the time and trying to workout at the University of Toledo’s gym. I saw the professor and he said something like ‘exercise is good for the brain.’ He was right and I think with being more active I may finish my novel attempt sooner rather than later.