Oomph

September 12, 2017

There are people in this world who would take precious vacation times and spend it – voluntarily, mind you – attempting to peddle up a cliff.

This astonishes me. We’ve spent dreamy summer weeks in Vermont. We stay in ski condos where jaunty ski motif decorations looking wildly out of place amid the warm, green afternoons. I’ve driven past more bikers than I can count who are grinding their way up the mountain in their tight-pants-serious-helmet gear, and I shudder as I steer around them. Who would DO that?

Who would say “I know what let’s do – let’s straddle a seat that gets increasingly uncomfortable as the long day wears on and attempt to summit great heights by peddling madly with straining thighs and gasping lungs; wouldn’t THAT be a fun break from the daily rut of air conditioning and swivel chairs?”

But then I think of my friend Al, who once told me – with real joy in her eyes – that her workouts weren’t really good if she hadn’t thrown up at least once. Al is one of those people you see running up and down (and up and down) (and up and down) stopped escalators at Metro stations.

And my friend Bob agrees with her; Bob is an ultra-runner who just completed a 212-mile round trip trot through the Virginia countryside. It took him about three days and teams of friends took it in turn to run with him because no one else can (or would) run for as long as he can. Bob once said to me (in apparent sincerity), “running is the most fun thing you can do. It’s like a playground for grown-ups.”

So there’s something going on here. Something I’m not getting. I have to believe that those Vermont bikers aren’t going up the hills just for the bliss of coasting down the other side (which takes mere moments after hours of grunting; seems like a very poor payoff). No, they must LIKE the uphill part. And like it MORE than the downhill part. Go figure.

I hear about endorphins and runners’ highs and other concepts that confuse me; there’s a buzz (apparently) derived from exercise that I don’t get.

But I know you can rewire your brain. I know that smokers and heroin addicts open receptors in their brains that are inactive in non-users, and those receptors don’t close again. Once you’re addicted to something, you stay addicted, whether you’re using or not.

So I’m thinking maybe I can force the endorphin receptors in my brain to creak slowly open like the basement door in a horror movie. What evil lurks beyond that door?! Will I, too, one day transform into someone in padded black shorts and a high-tech helmet who stomps around in clickety bike shoes while buying Kambucha in the general store to power me up Burke Mountain on my ten-speed?

It seems unlikely. But I’ll keep trying… and what gets me there is oomph. Pure guts. The Finnish concept of sisu – a determination to keep slogging even when the outcome is all but hopeless.

In that light, my work-outs are far more gutty than when Bob or Al or those Vermont bikers work out, for I derive very little joy from it. I’m relying on will power where they’re relying on addiction.

Look. I’m actually beginning to look quite heroic in this scenario. Yay, me!

This is my final thought: Every single one of us does the best we can every single day. There’s only a finite amount of oomph in every soul. It recharges, sure… but if you manage to get through your day without killing the jerk who’s racheting up your frustration, if you can still be kind to strangers, if you find the time to do the laundry and wash the dishes and maybe raise a child or hold on to a relationship and if THEN you find you don’t have the oomph to exercise or trek to Whole Foods to buy pumpkin seeds, then don’t beat yourself up about it. There’s only so much oomph in your day.

But be aware that you and I are missing out on a legal and socially-acceptable high that will actually help you live longer, better, and stronger. I’m siphoning off some oomph to see if I can get that high. I’ll let you know how it goes.

But I’m not buying any padded bike shorts.

Uphill

 

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