Barbara is very subtle with her phone when we run. She holds it in her hand so very casually – nothing to see here.

Of course, I know she sets the timer when we leave Body Dynamics (Falls Church, VA). She’s mapped out a loop that is “about a mile” (this is the kind of statement that defines the difference between a marathon runner and a professional couch-sitter. I have not yet grabbed her by her slim, strong shoulders and shaken her with the mass of my far larger body, shouting “MORE than a mile? Less? Tell me precisely. I NEED TO KNOW” but that may yet be coming…).

She starts the timer at the corner; if you’re not watching, you’ll miss that she’s doing anything at all.

Today I ran a little farther than last time; I’m down to three (or is it four?) spells of walking in between plodding along. My endurance is definitely increasing, but I think my speed is slowing down. (Of course; I know it’s going to be longer until I allow myself to walk again.)

“Soldier, I’ve noticed that you’re always last.”  “I’m pacing myself, sir.” From the Book of “Stripes” – the wisdom of Bill Murray.

When we got back to the “about a mile” corner, THIS time Barbara acknowledged the timer she held. “Fourteen minutes! That’s almost a minute faster!”

(Barbara sometimes puts on Facebook the training runs or actual races she does; she regularly maintains a pace of eight-minute miles over such long distances that if you were following her in a car you’d need to pull over and get gas, so for her to be pleased with a 14-minute pace just proves how exceptionally kind and encouraging she is.)

I was pleased with the feedback. I can’t yet run for a solid mile, but I think that day is coming… and I don’t think a 14-minute mile is much to be proud of, but it’s far better than it was a few months ago. So I got my feedback today, and found it edible.

Then, because sessions with Barbara are 60 minutes long, I had to do another three-quarters of an hour with her in the gym. This seems unfair; my instinct is that if I manage to get across “about a mile” of distance, I should immediately be shown to a soft couch and handed the remote control; isn’t that enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after all?

But no. Today we worked on squat-type exercises, while I dripped with sweat. (I astonish myself with my profound sweatiness during exercise. I’m surrounded by people who are also working out; they have perfectly dry skin and look lovely. I’m red-faced and sometimes the beads of sweat amass so much matter that they go rolling down my face to splash disgustingly on the mat or bench or whatever. Who knew I was so sweaty??)

Barbara had me focus on stepping up onto a bench while my weight was in my HEEL. (This is my cheat: Everything for me is a quad exercise. I stand on my toes. If you stand on your heel, you have to use your glutes. After a lifetime of toe-standing, my quads are mighty and my glutes are astonished at the exercises they’re being asked to accomplish. It’s a constant battle.)

The fact that she’d strapped a broad belt around my hips (exactly like the Yves Saint Laurent Russian Peasant styles of the late 1970s, but with a pendulous belly) and hooked me to resistance made the action far more challenging than simply stepping up. We did this for two or three years, interspersed with some triceps exercises and some modified push-ups.

When the governor finally called and offered me the reprieve (that is, the clock finally ticked over to noon), Barbara said “You’re done. How do you feel?”

“Glad we’re finished!”

She gave me her Barbara smile, and it suddenly occurred to me: SHE needs feedback, too – and more than me simply bitching with every new exercise.

“And,” I added, “We worked out muscles that I would NEVER have gone near, and when I’m 80 I know I’ll be grateful to you – so let me thank you 22 years in advance. I’m going to feel great!”

“THAT’S what I was hoping for,” she grinned.

So today’s lessons are: (1) Weight in your heels. And (2) everyone benefits from feedback.

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“We all have one thing in common: We were all STUPID enough to sign up for this.”

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