Archive for July 2010

All the cool kids are doing it

July 6, 2010

There are pretty much only two reasons people exercise: they either care about their health, or they want to look good.  I’ve personally  always fallen firmly on the latter side of that fence.  I have tons of appearance-related issues with my body, but I’ve always had naturally good health.  When I do push-ups, I’m doing them to look and feel more attractive, not for some improvement to my natural pushing ability.

But, a few days ago I started jogging again.

Improving my cardio conditioning has always seemed like a waste of effort.  No-one can see that I have the heart of a 120-year-old man, so why worry about that when bigger triceps might impress women at a bar?

(And, if a sexual encounter ends after two minutes in me clutching my chest with one hand and miming an ambulance with the other, then, well, at least I got that far in the first place.)

Now, I’ve always, since I was a little kid, had absolutely terrible cardio conditioning.  I blame Nintendo for showing me that there was something more fun than running around all afternoon in a giant field chasing a ball.  I was never overweight, and in general my fitness was good, but when it came to sustained aerobic exercise (running, field sports, long division), I was just a wreck.  I remember doing the annual government fitness test in gym class and acing everything except the endurance run, for which I would stumble to the finish line at the end of the pack and collapse into a twitching, gasping mess on the ground.

However, a few years ago, for reasons I’m still not sure I understand, I started jogging regularly, for the first time in my life.  For about a year I went running maybe five times a week, and slowly worked up from a few puny city blocks (and being half-dead after it was over) to doing a good 8k a night (and being merely somewhat dead).  Of course, to anyone who had been running for a long time, that distance and my near-geriatric pace aren’t very impressive at all.  But, to me it was a big deal, because it represented such a huge improvement.

Then I stopped, and, bang, it all went away and I returned to the feeble gasping wimp I’d always been.

Once or twice since then I’ve tried again to run (jog, stumble, whatever) regularly.  It’s never stuck, probably because I find it just so damned unpleasant.  “Jogger’s high,” my ass.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve enjoyed going for a run, or felt even remotely good when it ended; every moment I’m either counting down the paces until it’s over, or trying to distract myself from counting down the paces until it’s over.

And, yet, I’m doing it again.  Why?  I don’t enjoy it, nobody can tell if I do it or not, and I look like a fumbling amputee when I’m actually at the task.  I’m also not especially worried about being chased by a bear any time soon.  But, I keep coming back to running; there’s got to be a reason.

My theory: peer pressure.  I know lots of people who jog regularly, and they are all (almost by definition) much better at it than I am.  It’s downright emasculating to know that a significant number of my friends, perhaps even a majority, could run circles around me; in the admittedly unlikely event that we are ever chased by a bear, I’m the one who’s bear food.  But (since I’m not really that worried about bears), it’s not a performance issue, so much as the inescapable feeling that all the cool kids are doing it.  Whenever friends drop casually into conversation that they just came back from a run, or are going for a jog later, or bought new running shoes, I feel left out.

So, I run.  Not because I care about my heart (I do not anticipate any bear-related emergencies), and not because it will make me look better (because no one can see it, and it would be gross if they could), but because I want to be able to say that I do it.  There’s nothing worse than feeling left about because you haven’t seen the new movie everyone is talking about.

This is an interesting example of how peer pressure can be a good thing.  I do something that I don’t want to do, just because everyone else is doing it, and I’m better off for it (assuming I’m not hit by a car).  The lesson here is that social pressure can actually be a useful thing if you’re clever enough to blindly follow a healthy crowd.  Even though it’s kind of a damp and cold evening, and even though I absolutely don’t want to, at all, I’m about to go for a healthy, cleansing run.  It’ll suck, and I’ll get no meaningful sense of satisfaction from it, but I’ll do it.

Peer pressure was easier when it just meant that you had to do drugs.