A Fitness Regimen He Can’t Stand … and Can’t Stop

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2012 12:00

Those who exercise regularly, be they runners, cyclists or swimmers, deep in their incredibly healthy, 45-beat-a-minute hearts, know the truth:  They hate their sports.

Sure, these ectomorphs will bore you with the rapture, preaching ad nauseum about runner’s highs, the self-discovery of cycling 100 miles or the zen of watching the blue line at the bottom of a swimming pool for more than an hour.

But there’s more hate than love in these relationships.

The love comes when your workout is done, leftover endorphins are still coursing through your system, and you’re waxing poetic over a beer or – if you must – a fruit smoothie.

Hate is the rest: Waking up on frigid or sizzling-hot day, dreading the self-imposed 10K run, two-hour bike ride or mile swim, slogging through its fulfilled promise of unpleasantness – then realizing you have to do the same thing tomorrow.

“Sacrilege!” you true believers may cry. “Blasphemy.”

Yeah? Well, hearken back to your own first encounter with sustained exercise, which was probably ordered by some sadistic PE teacher.

In my case, it was Mr. Raley, a wiry, rail-thin martinet at Skokie School in suburban Chicago. “Give me a half mile,” he would bark every Thursday, invariably the low point of my junior-high week.

By the time I was done, maybe 30 minutes later, I was sick, gasping for breath and hoping Ed Raley would become a custodian.

Then came Dave Robertson, the cruelly smiling swim coach at nearby New Trier High School. After the six laps of freestyle he had ordered, I staggered to the locker room, threw up, and quit the team.

Human instinct is not to like this stuff.

Our prehistoric ancestors ran only to catch dinner or to avoid becoming something else’s dinner. But now we are at the top of the food chain: We hunt down pre-killed prey in grocery store aisles and our streets are free of woolly mammoths and saber-tooth tigers.

So why do we even bother to break a sweat?

Vanity is partly to blame.

Through my college years, my only exercise was hoisting beers and, when absolutely necessary, walking to class.

But by the time I was 30, I had added a paunch and noticed that women had long since stopped looking my way.

The year was 1977. Jim Fixx’s “Complete Book of Running” was a bestseller, marathoners Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers were heroes, and the nation’s roads echoed with the footfalls of cultish, blankly staring joggers. Truly desperate, I bought a pair of Nike Waffle Trainers and joined them.

Within weeks I was hooked. I blew by Ed Raley’s once-excruciating half mile and  suddenly couldn’t run enough. I ran five-milers, 10Ks and marathons. I ran in the rain, at night and in 100-degree heat. I once ran 200 days in a row.

I really didn’t like it much, but I could eat like a pig, drink like a fish, and still lose  weight. Women began casting glances, albeit fleeting, my way. And one – the otherwise sensible future publisher of this very magazine – in 1987 agreed to marry me.

An addictive personality helped me pull off this irrational, years-long fitness crusade. Through the ’70s and ’80s I was a drinker and a smoker, and this new obsession fit well with my dysfunctional lifestyle.

I still treasure the astonished, horrified stares my fellow runners gave me when, after finishing a 1980 10K with a respectable time, I fired up a Marlboro to celebrate my success.

I’ve since quit smoking and drinking, thanks to a looming sense of my own mortality that hit in my mid-50s. I quit running, too, but because of an arthritic right hip that surgeons replaced in 1998.

Alas, I didn’t shake my endorphin addiction, which I now satisfy with seemingly endless, often disagreeable miles of low-impact but still painful bicycling. Over the past 15 years, I’ve gone through three mountain bikes and two road bikes and about 30,000 miles. I’ve ridden half-centuries, centuries and the relentless, ridiculous climbs of Markleeville’s Death Ride.

In 2008, I pedaled coast-to-coast – 4,000 miles in 65 days – with my 20-year-old son. Both of us hated at least half those miles.

Would Krista Howell, the ever-upbeat, always-encouraging Friends and Neighbors fitness columnist, recommend my regimen and attitude? I doubt it.

Although a prodigious endurance athlete herself, Krista instead endorses a hate-free program that includes strength, flexibility and balance exercises. And she might let you in on a little secret that some of us endorphin addicts don’t talk about:

Studies show that just 15 minutes of exercise a day can improve your health and extend your life, and that 30 minutes can confer dramatic long-term benefits.

What’s more, your cardio exercise need not be Death Rides, marathons or open-ocean swims. Walking, water aerobics, or even Wii bowling can fill the bill.

And, really, who hates Wii bowling?

Still, the National Institute on Aging reports that 75 percent of us 65- to 74-year-olds go without regular exercise. Maybe the daunting, no-pain, no-gain manifesto advanced by more-macho-than-thou runners, cyclists and swimmers has kept our brethren on the sidelines.

Yes, my thousands of miles on foot and on bikes have paid dividends: My cholesterol and weight are low, my heart is slow, and my energy is high, at least for a guy advancing on 66.

That I might have achieved good results with a fraction of the miles, effort and sweat is certainly worth discussion – some other time.

Now a 20-mile bike ride through the hills of Columbia awaits me – and I’m determined to hate every minute of it.

© 2012 Friends and Neighbors Magazine


Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2012 12:00