Finding Myself Through Running and Fitness Classes

Finding myself again after an illness through running and working out. Read more at illuminatewriting.com

Words by Jess Lambert

I was on the high of finishing my first marathon. I’d run Berlin in 4 hours and 9 minutes after the Boston bombers had prevented me from finishing that marathon earlier in the year. My uncle and I were ready to hit Boston again the following spring. I was ready for the winter training this time. Ready for the rainy, cold, London days.

One of my favorite singer songwriters recently wrote: ‘Good things come, good things go, if it lifts you up, it’ll lay you low’ (Gretchen Peters, Disappearing Act). Life has a funny way, doesn’t it? 'Bad news never had good timing’, as John Mayer once said (The Heart of Life).

Riding the high of a marathon, I found myself in the hospital getting a whole bunch of tests and scans. I’d been laughing it off, saying it was nothing to worry about. Apparently it was.

I won’t go into the diagnosis - it’s actually not important here and takes away from the story I want to tell - however, the medication I was put on changed my life. Within days I felt as if I was walking through dark, thick, syrup. I could barely keep my eyes open. All I wanted to do was sleep. My mood slipped. I lost my appetite (anyone who knows me, knows that this is way off course for me). The spring time Boston marathon swiftly became a dream.

I have a dim recollection of those months. Struggling to get up each morning, to get to work, to do my job, to be social, to do anything, really, except watch nonsense on Netflix while half passed out on the sofa, waiting for an appropriate time to go to bed. I found a yoga class that I went to once a week, which pretty much saved me, but that was about as active as I could get.

These last five years have been a bit crazy. Over this period, I’ve changed my meds about four times, undergone two lots of radiation therapy, come off my meds and been put back on them. I quit my job, I retrained. I went to live on a Mediterranean island for a while and I now find myself in Glasgow, Scotland. In the last year I’ve added further training to my skill set - I am now, as well as a TEFL teacher and yoga teacher, a fitness class instructor too.

This journey has been the most challenging. Years ago I started the process to become a fitness instructor. It was put on hold when I got my diagnosis. Over the past few years I’ve been desperately trying to get my fitness level close to what it used to be, because I used to be one of those people whose hobby it was to hang out at the gym for 90 minutes five times a week pushing myself to the max. I’d always taken my fitness and health for granted.

I found myself in a place where I barely had the energy to even contemplate going to the gym, let alone actually go and work out. My fitness slipped. Even running for the bus became too much to contemplate, so I stopped doing that. If I was late for something, I was late. Big deal.

I’ve always loved running, however. While I was out in the Med, that became my go to. Slow, 5km runs along the seafront. And only on warm days. I soon discovered on my move to Scotland that I had become a bit of a running snob and the cold dark days didn’t lend themselves to a nice run.

In the past, though, when gym workouts got boring, I would go to classes - they are my other love. Specifically Body Combat and Body Attack (Les Mills). So I made a decision: I decided to train in both of these disciplines.

I recall my weekend training for Body Attack. I almost died (in a good way). About a month later I did my training for Combat. I almost died, again. But boy did I have fun. A weekend, in a studio, doing exercise with a bunch of like-minded individuals. I passed. I did my videos to be assessed. I passed again. And then I had to teach. All that training doesn’t fully prepare you. You’ve been through the choreography a million times and you feel fit and strong and then you get in front of a class. Suddenly you have to remember all of that choreography, remember all the cues, keep a smile on your face, encourage your class and keep your technique as good as you can! It was insane. But again, so much fun.

I find now that I can do about four classes a week plus some yoga. This may not seem like a lot to some, but I would never have been able to do this five years ago when I first started taking my medication. Bit by bit I’ve worked hard to find my way to a place where I’m happy with what my body can do without feeling frustration. As an active person this was the most unsettling part of the experience for me. Suddenly not being able to do all those things I previously did without thinking about. But this, I guess, is the point.

How many times has your body tried to tell you something and you’ve ignored it? How many times have you forced yourself to do a workout because you felt you should? How many times have you reached out for your drug of choice (be it coffee, sugar, alcohol…) rather than sat and felt what’s going on?

So much of our lives we take things for granted - our jobs, our families, our health, amongst other things - and it isn’t until something comes along to open our eyes that we realize this. This life is constantly changing. Over the last 5 years I’ve learnt so much about my body and what it can and can’t do on any given day. I’ve learnt how to listen, how to feel, how to fuel.

It’s not easy, mind. It’s a constant learning process. I have days where I eat too many bad carbs, too much sugar, don’t drink enough water, or watch too many crime shows on Netflix and that’s OK. What’s not OK is allowing these things to become a norm and ignore our bodies if they protest. I still have days when I’d prefer to stay in bed. It’s what I do on those days that matters now.

I also know when I’ve done too much. I feel it during those weeks when I’m learning a new release, new choreography. I’m very much a person who learns by doing. And so during these periods I end up doing more than normal to learn the routines. It’s about remembering the balance, though. On these weeks I need to eat more and rest more when I can (i.e. go to bed earlier!). It’s the little changes that make the difference.

No matter how I feel, though, every time I get up in front of a class to teach yoga or Combat/Attack I am reminded: things can change in the blink of an eye. We’ve got to enjoy what we’ve got, while we’ve got it. As Gretchen Peters says…‘and in five minutes, you’re whole life can change’ (Five Minutes).

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About the Author:

Jess currently teaches English as a foreign language in Glasgow, Scotland, alongside teaching yoga and fitness classes. She’s always been a voracious reader and has been known to pen and perform a few poems. In recent years she has released two EPs and singles that she wrote and performed herself, with more in the pipeline. Her hobbies include hanging out in coffee shops with her laptop, curling up on the sofa with a good book, and eating good veggie food.