Just so you know, there’s an outside chance I might be lazy. Not shiftless. Not slothful. Not a deadbeat. Lazy. Now, don’t get me wrong. I go to work every day. I work hard and try and put in an honest day’s effort. Even when I write these columns, I do it on my lunch breaks. So, I’m not saying I’m a bad employee. And, when I go home, I work on the house and the yard. I play with my kids. I set the table and do the dishes. I’ve given baths, changed diapers and read stories during potty time. I’m always good for giving my wife a backrub or foot rub. So, I’m not saying that I’m a bad father or husband. But, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that my desire to sit on the couch and watch sports ranks pretty high up on my relaxation schedule. In fact, I’d probably say it’s number two, right in between 1) Spending time with my family; and 3) Eating a perfectly cooked (medium rare) steak dinner.
However, through various recent events, it has come to my attention that I could use some exercise. I don’t consider myself extremely overweight, but, like much of America, I would apparently feel much better if I would only lose a few pounds. At the same time, I’ve also been told I need to find some ways to relax and decompress – do something so the stress of life doesn’t become a burning hole in my stomach lining. The problem I’ve come to is that those two objectives – exercise and stress management – are polar opposites in my mind. It is my contention that exercise – or, more specifically, the demands to be in better shape and the “routines” necessary to do so – is spectacularly stress inducing.
I’ve never been one of those guys that likes to jog. When I’m feeling especially sluggish, I have never once had the thought, “I should go for a run. That will wake me right up.” In fact, I’ve not ever had that thought when feeling especially energetic, either. And, here’s why. I’m not a good runner. I never have been. First, and without getting too personal here, I just don’t like the jiggliness of it. Part of that may be my own fault in that I think I have a somewhat Mickelson-esque physique. When Phil claimed a few years ago that he wasn’t out of shape, but that his fat lining was on the outside of his muscles, the first thing I thought was, “Is that possible? If it is, you can sign me up for that one, too.”
Second, I don’t think I run right. It’s always fun for me at the beginning of fall – just as the weather starts getting nice here in Kansas. The temperatures drop out of the 90s and the humidity, though still oppressive, doesn’t feel quite like it’s going to choke you to death with poison steam. All of a sudden, the streets are filled with joggers. (A corollary to this is the Tour de France phenomenon of the last seven years. You could always tell when the tour had started because all of a sudden there were 15,000 bikers in spandex, aerodynamic helmets and “LiveStrong” bracelets peddling their way along every road and highway. As soon as Armstrong had claimed victory, the bikers started to fade away.) Anyway, back to the joggers. When I’m driving past them in my air conditioned mini-van, it is always easy to tell the “I’ve been jogging for 15 years and have .00002% body fat” joggers from the “I think I’ll take up jogging this fall” joggers. I definitely would qualify in this second group. My stride is too long. My arms are too close to my sides. I can’t get the breathing quite right, so my face becomes blotchy and red. I don’t look like I’m enjoying myself. In fact, I’d say I look like I’m running away from some Jason Vorhees-like youth camp horror fest and should probably be screaming, “NO! NO! He got everyone in the Woodchuck Cabin!” while I run.
Finally, I don’t feel happy when I run. As a general rule, I feel like I’m going to throw up. When I was in high school, I played football. Two-a-days in the Kansas August heat were never a pleasant experience. But, I would much rather have practiced morning and afternoon in full pads than participate in the annual “qualifying run”. If I remember correctly – and I freely admit that I may have blocked out some of the more embarrassing details – the rule was you had to qualify by position by running a half-mile in a certain amount of time. I think it was two times around the track in four minutes for backs and six minutes for linemen. Though I probably should have been on the line, I was under the seriously delusional impression that I would be a great full-back in our powerhouse wishbone offense. So, that meant I got to run based on the faster time. Now, I can happily and fairly confidently claim that I was never lapped in one of these qualifiers. And, I am even more certain that, after about a week of trying, I was able to get my time under the mandated mark. But never, not even once, did I say to myself, “That was great. I feel really good now.” No, generally my thought process was, “I wonder if I should try and make it to the locker room or just dry heave in the bushes by the fence.” It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t pleasant. I experienced no euphoria. Further, I believed the so called “runner’s high” to be an elaborate lie because good runners think it’s funny when bad runners are pleading for oxygen and a bottle of Gatorade.
Now, I am fully aware that there are other ways to get in shape. I could join a gym or buy one of the thousands of workout machines advertised on late-night television. I could actually inflate the tires on my bike. I could join a rec-league basketball group or just do push-up and sit-ups in the living room. But, like it or not, running is the most cost effective, easiest and most proven way to get your heart rate up for the requisite 30 minutes a day three times a week. All the science proves it out – a good aerobic workout is best achieved through an activity like running. (By the way, it takes a crack research staff like mine to come up with a nugget like “all the science proves it out”. No actual scientific studies were quoted in the writing of this column.) The nearest gym is still 20 miles away from our house and a good treadmill or elliptical machine is going to cost me at least $500. So, in my view, my options have been narrowed. If I’m serious about getting healthy, then I have to get up off the couch and become a “jogger”.
So, that leaves me with the stress issue. My wife asked me the other day if there was something I would like to start doing that would help me to relieve some of the stress in my life – a hobby I would like to take up. As I thought about the possibilities, I became fairly certain that all the great hobbies out there require one thing that I don’t have in abundant supply: money. I’d love to play video games as a hobby, but at $150 for an older system and well over $200 for the new ones coming out later this year, plus $40 to $60 for the good games, this doesn’t seem practical. I used to love collecting baseball cards when I was a kid, but that was back when you could buy 3 packs for a dollar and the coolest “inserts” were the Diamond Kings in every pack of Donruss trading cards. Man, I loved those things. Now, you can spend $4.99 for a pack of six cards with the advertised chance of finding a piece of Curt Schilling’s blood stained sock or Sammy Sosa’s corked bat. But, just like the old days, what you usually end up with is a checklist, three Todd Walker’s, a Mike Piazza and a piece of Alan Embree’s game worn sanitary socks. The payoff isn’t what is used to be with baseball cards.
The conclusion I came to was that the relaxing activity I truly love the most is kicking back on the couch with a 32 oz. fountain drink and a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos and watching a game – specifically afternoon baseball, college football or the National Football League. I’d even settle for basketball, golf or NASCAR and probably be fine. (The one exception for me is the Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team. It is impossible for me to relax while watching the Jayhawks. I get more and more wound up with each missed shot and turnover. I’m not happy until they’re 30 points ahead with under a minute to go. I think we all have that one team that just keeps us worked up until the end and the Jayhawks are mine.) Anyway, this is the relaxing activity I would choose. That’s what I enjoy doing. And, truly, is there anything quite like really getting into a good game? I’ll take a pitcher’s duel or a slugfest. I enjoy an offensive explosion as much as a defensive dogfight. The excitement that builds as a runner gets to scoring position or a drive moves inside the red zone is electric. In fact, if my wife is sitting next to me on the couch and my children are playing nearby, I’m in hog heaven. In my mind, nothing can be more relaxing. If I could get that kind of opportunity three times a week, there’d be no stopping my ability to bleed the stress from my life.
So, here lies the rub. If I take one afternoon for the game, it will take me three days of jogging to even it out. So, it’s a wash. If I take the time to enjoy the sports, my weight goes up and my stress backs off. If I go for a jog, my stress jumps up but my overall physical health improves. The happy medium doesn’t exist. What should I do? If I go with the program for greater sports enjoyment, I end up adopting the uncomfortably large look of KU football coach Mark Mangino. On top of that, let’s be serious. There’s too much going on every Saturday for me to take three hours and watch a game. We’ve got activities, we’ve got shopping, we’ve got lawns to mow and rooms to paint and children to tire out. It’s just not going to happen. So, I guess it’s time for me to bite the bullet. Like Jimmy Chitwood joining his Hoosiers teammates, I think it’s time for me to start jogging. It can be done. It’s not the end of the world. My father and three sisters are all accomplished joggers. My mom walks on a regular basis. My younger brother has a gym membership. I can join them in their quest for a thinner waistline, rock hard abs and buns of steel. I can get my cholesterol below 200! My only hope is that the runner’s high is not a myth and that, someday, somehow, I will reach the point when I am jogging with a smile on my face and not the pained expression of someone running for his life. But, just to be safe, if you’re ever in Eastern Kansas and see me standing on the side of the road with my hands on my head and big, bright red blotches on my cheeks, please don’t laugh, honk or flash your lights. I’ll be okay. I’m just trying to decide if I can make it back to the house or if I need to start looking for a bush before the dry heaves begin.
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