Exercise is a superpower

I just finished writing on how I failed at my burpee experiment, so you might be wondering why I’d reboot it. The fact of the matter is, the older I get, the more convinced I am that the little bit of exercise I do is really a superpower.

I had a busy week last week. Tons more work than I usually have, as well as a backlog of prep work that had to be done by last Wednesday.

On top of that, what I think is a pinched nerve in my neck was giving me a hard time, with pain ranging from my neck to my left shoulder, arm, and hand.

So, naturally, I focused on… exercising.

My experience

It’s taken me decades to realize this but I stink at stress. A ‘dose’ of stress that might be considered ‘background level’ for some people can reduce my capacity to work by… well, it feels like a serious reduction. I’m a good worker, and I do a good job, but when there’s stress involved… not so much.

When I exercise, however, I can handle more stress. Much more stress.

So, last week I focused on doing pull-ups and planks — both of which I can do in my apartment without much lost time at all — and getting runs in when I could.

I don’t know if the stress ‘burns cortisol‘ or if the exercising uses up energy that would otherwise be spent elevating my stress levels (translation: maybe exercise makes me too tired to be properly stressed) or if it’s some third thing.

However, in my case, when I know that stress is on the horizon, the right thing to do is to remind myself that, no matter what other things are going on in my life, exercise needs to be a priority.

It’s a superpower.



Yesterday, I did something that I’ve been talking (to myself) about doing for a while: I added exercises to my run. Six times in my usual 7km run, I stopped and did 5 burpees.


I don’t know why I picked them over any other exercise, except that they have the reputation of being super hard, and I was ready to have my butt kicked. Even more, I was ready to push myself into being seen being different. And they’re certainly different.

How was it?

First, let me say that I might have forgotten about them, except that I certainly feel the workout still. And I kinda like that.

Next, in addition to the fact that, although I felt self-conscious for the last set, my shyness decreased with each set, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed getting my hands dirty. It’s a funny thing to say, but for such a (self-perceived) nature-loving, Earth embracing hippy, I don’t get dirty very often. And, doing the burpees, I had to… and I liked it.

The last thing I wanted to mention as I reflect on them is that it was a fun change to start seeing the run as the ‘recovery’ part of the workout. I mean, after just five of them, I was so out of breath that I was glad to be running again. And that’s not how I usually thing about running.

When will I do them again?

My new short-term goal is to add a fourth, short run to my running week and to try and get the thirty burpees in just four sets…

If I do or don’t, I have to say that I’m feeling more active now, and I’m enjoying that level of activity.

When Runners Don’t

I identify strongly with running. Sometimes, I love the act of running itself: getting out and feeling the joy of confidence in my own strength. Moving through the woods, breathing in the air, being a part of what is around me.

Running, I’ve come across deer and foxes and felt tied into their ‘more natural’ world.

I’ve found myself up to my ankles in mud as I tried to make some paths of my own, and felt the thrill of persevering when I knew that the ‘old Toby’ would have rather quit and gone home.

I wasn’t born a runner. I was born a quiet bookworm, and I like that guy, too. But, somehow, I got it into my head that I could become a runner, and I did. Running is one of the few areas in my life where I decided who I was before I became that guy. It was an act by which I defined myself, instead of letting genes and happenstance define me.

And then I hurt my foot.

The esteemed doctors wife and Google consulted and decided that I had an inflamed tendon in my foot. Not super painful, but enough that I wanted to get off my feet. (It didn’t help that I tried to run through it the first several weeks, before consulting the aforementioned doctors.)

The doctors prescribed, among other things, rest. Of course, I can still go to work, but running has been out of the question.

Now, I’m wondering how I ever found time in my day to run as much as I did. The blocks of time that had been reserved for running have been absorbed by. . . well, nothing. The day-to-day drag from which I slowly and carefully carved blocks of time set aside for me and my running shoes absorbed that time again before I even realized it.

I stopped listening to Geeks in Running Shoes, because it seemed to be a podcast about how they weren’t training. Who wanted to hear that? Now, I’ve become someone who wants to think of himself as a runner, but doesn’t.

Who am I, then?