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Exercise with Somebody

I have a friend that is serious about exercise. We have been working out together for quite a while now, and it's largely due to two prevailing qualities of his personality. First, he's kind of compulsive. Second, he responds well to guilt.

I met him at work. Through our conversations, we stumbled on a subject that seems to wander in and out of a guy's conversation: how fat we were getting in our middle age. And while we talked a lot about exercise, nothing happened until I took the initiative.

Here is a key point: you have to do something. I know that, to many of you, this is a shocking point, but bear with me for a moment and I will try to ease you out of this stunned surprise that you may be experiencing right now. I proposed to my friend that we run in the mornings.

Let me make sure that you know exactly what I was getting myself into. I hadn't ever run for exercise. I ran in high school as part of the training for the varsity team I was on, but that really doesn't count. I remember not being very good at it. And, I had not exercised with any regularity, well, ever. The last regular workout I got was walking to and from class when I was in college.

But I knew I had to do something. Not only was I feeling the lethargy that everybody experiences as we age, but I looked at a family picture taken of my parents and siblings, and it gave me a reference I didn't want to be a part of: I come from a long line of fat, white, Irish people. This is not a legacy I wished to repeat.

But, nevertheless, I thought running would be a great idea. But his participation in this was essential to get me going. First off, I didn't either have the motivation or the discipline to get my butt out of bed to do that first thing in the morning. Secondly, when I do get out of bed, I putter. I do a whole lot of very little and can burn 45 minutes without doing anything.

And I picked running, which is as effective an exercise as there is for weight loss. It is also one of the most mundane, dull, unexciting endeavors I know. My god in heaven, running is boring, boring, boring. It's no accident that fitness centers put TV's by all the treadmills. Frank Layden, a former pro basketball coach, once said that he knew why computers were smarter than people: Computers don't jog.

Back to my friend. Initially, we were going to run in the morning, and the idea was that we would get together four days a week: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He would come over to my house in the morning, and we'd run for 30 minutes. On the weekend, we'd try to run a little longer.

When we first started this, I got my butt out of bed, dragged my sweats onto my body and stumbled through the front door for one reason and one reason only: I had my friend outside my house waiting for me. Sometimes, and at least in my case, obligations made to another person works better, initially, than promises made just to yourself. And that's OK if it gets the job done.

Eight years, three 10Ks, five Half-Marathons, and two marathons later

we're still running together. There were times we slipped a little. There were days and weeks that we missed mornings, that one of us overslept, but we kept at it. Our obligation and drive grew as we have moved through the months. By now, both of us run on our own when the urge hits us.

Whether we like it or not, exercise is necessary. The more we do, the better our health and overall feelings toward life become. People who exercise regularly are far healthier in a plethora of ways than those that don't. It doesn't make the exercise any easier, but the process is more palatable, and far less monotonous, when there's somebody to share the bother with.

Ed McShane is a psychotherapist. His commentaries will be featured monthly on kpbs.org. You can contact Ed at ed.mcshane@gmail.com.

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