Why I Work Out: To Reach the Top

Stairwell

Twice a week, this has been my view. In February I’m going to climb to the top of the John Hancock Center for Hustle Up the Hancock, a stair climb that benefits the Respiratory Health Association of Chicago. 94 floors. 1,632 steps. For someone who lives on the top floor of a three-story walk-up, who bounds up the stairs to catch the el, who mentally shouts at the people in front of her to go up faster!, training for this has been surprisingly hard.

Back when registration opened, I coerced Rick into doing the climb with me. Now that we’re both immersed in our training routines – I on the stairs in my building and he on his gym’s stairmaster – we’ve started to wonder what in hell we were thinking. Not only is stair climbing really, really, ridiculously difficult, but what happens once the climb is complete? What’s the purpose of our workouts? “Is it to train for the stair climb, in which case, once the climb is complete there is no longer a need to work out,” he asked, “or is the stair climb just a way point in larger/longer lifestyle change?”

This question made me start to think about my own reasons for maintaining fitness. I’ll explore them in several posts, but in thinking about the stair climb I realized that one of my biggest motivations is simply getting the opportunity to finish something. I remember being a few years out of college, going to work every day, coming home, going out on the weekend with friends, only to repeat it all over again, week in and week out. It was all the same and while I enjoyed no longer being under the weight of paper deadlines and the necessity of reading four chapters when all I really wanted to do was watch the next episode of The X-Files (that’s how long ago I went to college, people), I missed working toward something. I missed having something to achieve. I missed putting in my best effort and seeing it all come together in some tangible way.

These end goals have changed throughout time. Originally, like most people, my goal was to lose a certain amount of weight. Once achieved, the desire to maintain my weight was enough to keep me going for a long time, albeit with some occasional wavering in dedication. But then my goals became something else. I wanted to be able to do 20 push-ups. To do one pull-up. To do the splits. (Still working on that one, but I am now significantly more flexible than I have ever been.) To run 5K without stopping. To complete a half-marathon. To climb up 1,632 steps. These are not easy things, but I’m fairly certain that if I put in the work, I’ll make it to the end. I find gratification in this.

Simply put, I’ve fallen in love with the challenge. I went from being an out-of-shape, completely unathletic teenager who believed that this sports thing wasn’t in her genes, to someone who has a half-marathon medal hanging off of her bookcase. Fifteen-year-old me never would have guessed that was possible. Thirty-three-year-old me still kind of can’t believe it that I did that, nor that I’m crazy enough to put myself through it again. But that’s where the fun is – in going further than I did before, in going faster than I did before, in feeling a little less like dying than I did before. The goal itself will never be the end. The process is the purpose.

1,632 steps. I’ll see you at the top.

7-11-14 Lakefront (3)

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