I am a rhinoceros. I realized that just a few hours ago, and I love it!
Let’s settle one thing first. If you read that title and in any way think, “Aww, shame” or have any kind of pity that I would think of myself as a rhino, then you and I are different creatures entirely. There is no self-deprecation or lack of awareness in the way I view myself. And I wish the same for you and every one of my readers.
At the gym this morning, while I was leg-pressing, I noticed that I had a few people watching me. I have gotten pretty comfortable in the strength training area, so I don’t normally pay attention. I play my Power Training Music Mix (see list below), set my face to serious and get to work. Maybe I was paying attention more than usual because of my own excitement at lifting heavier. Whatever the reason, each time I got up to add more weight, I looked up to see people on the bikes staring at me, a couple guys in the strength area staring, and a couple women in the cable area. Staring.
Welcome to Manuscript Monday, dear readers. Making an appearance late in my manuscript is St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.
I climbed this cathedral in May, 2011 with a friend. It was a long climb just to the Whispering Gallery (259 steps) and I wasn’t there long before the fire alarm sounded and we were evacuated.
It was tough to make the decision to start all over again (my weight was much higher and the knee much more painful) but I did, and made it to the top.
The total climb in St. Paul’s is 528 steps. But my version went like this:
259 steps to the Whispering Gallery
259 steps back down from the Whispering Gallery
259 steps up again when we were allowed back in
269 steps to finish the climb to the top.
Phew! That was one tired Marla.
The focus of the chapter is not so much about the climb itself, but what it represented or, maybe more importantly, what it did not represent.
Have you been there? Climbed it?
Happy Monday, readers. Hope it’s a fast, smooth ride to the weekend!
The London Eye
Writer Leslie Conder crossing the bridge from The Tate Museum to St. Paul’s
“Tell the truth…” Kurt asked me, as we stood atop Table Mountain, looking down over the Atlantic Ocean and toward the Chapman’s Peak drive we would take later, “When did you want to quit?”
I just smiled and turned back toward the view. It was a perfectly clear day.
“Okay, I’ll go first.” He said, in response to my silence. He turned to face me, grinning. “When she said we were about a quarter of the way up, all I could think was how much I wanted to turn around and go back down.”
I kept staring at the view, partly because I wanted to memorize it, and partly because I was too exhausted to do much other than stand and stare. Even talking was effort at this point.
I could see out of the corner of my eye that he was waiting, expectantly, for my answer. I had been pretty stoic (for me) on the climb, trying to distract from the effort by pointing out flowers and asking questions of our guide, Binny.
I had tried to make light of how much I struggled, pausing to ask Kurt if he was enjoying the view of my bum. I knew he was bringing up the rear (literally) because he was afraid I might topple back down the mountain. He had also volunteered to carry the camera back-pack and was taking photos of flowers and scenery and anything he thought I might want to use for a blog. He could tell early on that I would not be able to both climb and take photos. I could barely handle the weight of the locket around my neck, let alone a camera.
Around the halfway point I stopped mid-climb, bum in the air, and looked over my shoulder. “You better be taking pictures of my butt in your face, too!” I turned back around to start climbing again. He knew I was serious, but he was reluctant.
I was wearing the only Pittsburgh Steelers shirt I brought to South Africa.
It was a goal of mine to fit into the shirt, and although it was still too small, we had a plan to do a video for my brother at the top, and Steelers’ attire was a must.So there I was in a bright yellow shirt two sizes too small, in undignified poses as I climbed the high steps on my hands and knees.
We both knew the photos would be unflattering. But I didn’t care. I still don’t. I’m pretty demanding that photos should be candid, flattering or not. I believe my readers appreciate raw, often humorous photos of me rather than made-up or posed shots anyway. So I insisted, and he fired away. (You’re welcome.)
A late night arrival the night before had us push back our climb time, and we didn’t begin until mid-morning. Despite packing like twelve-year-olds and only bringing a half bottle of water between us (thankfully our guide had several bottles) and me forgetting my hat (another thank you to our guide for lending me one), I was pretty excited to be checking this climb off my South Africa bucket list.
After a couple hours of stair climbing, the noon gun boomed in Cape Town, which now seemed so far below us. It echoed around us and we watched as the distant smoke rose into the air. I marveled and felt proud of how high we were.
Until I looked up to see how much more we had to go.
I tried not to think about how suddenly defeated I felt, about how the sun was now scorching my bare shoulders, or how few flat portions remained compared to the endless stairs upward.
“Up – relentlessly up!” This is how Platteklip Gorge hike is described on the official SanParks website; a website I did not consult before our climb. Not that it would have mattered. My new Brazilian friend, Andrea, told me “Whatever you do, don’t take the route that starts near the lower cable station. I can’t remember the name, but it’s just steps. All steps. High, steep steps. It’s a very, very hard climb.”
She was right. But I am a stubborn woman.
Facing the hike I knew I wasn’t fit for, I decided the only way to get through it was to pretend. Could I really “fake it til I make it” with a 3km hike up a steep path of rock steps higher than my knee could lift me?
“Just pretend.” I told myself. “Pretend you are six again. Pretend you can do anything.”
I pretended I was tougher than what I felt on the hike; I pretended it when I first looked up and saw the steps; I pretended it when the steps didn’t seem to have an end; I pretended not to hear the joggers we met on their way down, who kept telling us that the hardest part was yet to come; and I pretended when I finally reached just 50% that I didn’t want to just sit down and cry—too overwhelmed to finish climbing up, but knowing climbing back down would be worse.
On top of the mountain, Kurt was still watching me expectantly, waiting for my answer
Finally I turned to face him, saying: “I just kept thinking ‘Up is better than down,’ so I just kept climbing.”
He waited for me to say more, but I didn’t.
He nudged my shoulder with his and we looked at the expanse of water, of mountain peaks and blue sky. “But when, Pookie Bear? When did you want to quit?”
I wanted to lean against him but we were both still a pile of sweat.
“After the first flight of stairs…” I paused, watching for his reaction, “I wanted to quit after about 100 yards.”
We stared at each other for a few seconds, then both started laughing. My gut hurt, my knees hurt, my arms and shoulders hurt and the laugh felt like it might break my body apart. But it felt good. It felt better than any gym workout or casual walk and infinitely better than any act of drive-by tourism.
We had just climbed Table Mountain.
And we’ll do it again.
Happy Over-the-Hump Day, friends!
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment, when I will talk about what it’s like to hire a guide, the company we chose and why I think everyone would find value in a guided Table Mountain hike.
Here is a list of the personal reasons that made me wary of climbing Table Mountain:
No cartilage in my right knee and a dwindling supply in my left = pain; bone spurs; knee catches
An old, torn miniscusthat was never repaired = pain; knee catches
I’m obese. I don’t say this to be derogatory. I say it to be factual. Even with my six-day-a-week workout routine and altered eating habits, I have chosen an an intentionally slow route to change my life, one small step at a time, and that means that while I’ve already lost 40 pounds (~20kg) since I began a couple years ago, I am still 50pounds (~25kg) away from a healthy, muscular weight. My BMI has decreased in the past two years…to 39, which is still obese. Imagine deciding to climb a mountain and then throwing 8 red bricks (8 BRICKS!) into a backpack and carry those up with you. That would be a little less than the 50 extra pounds I’m still carrying.
My blood pressure and cholesterol are high, and I have a genetic mutation called Factor V Leiden which increases my risk of DVT. I’m not on medicine for any of it, opting to try to reduce my risks through eating and exercise. But putting myself through a rigorous (for me) climb I haven’t properly prepared for is a strain on a body without these added risks.
Because I can.
Because the mountain is there.
Because the view from the top is all the more beautiful because I earned it.
And it was worth every knee-grinding, wheezing, undignified moment of scrambling and crawling on steps otherwise meant for straightforward climbing.
We hired a guide, which I’ll tell you more about in upcoming posts, and she was patient and encouraged me to focus on the experience, the enjoyment, the views, and not worry about the faster people passing me.
So, I focused on flowers. And thankfully, cameraman Kurt did as well. I took every opportunity to stop and examine, comment, or question about them.
The flowers shown in today’s post were along the route we climbed, and I hope if you get the chance to climb Table Mountain, whatever route you take, you do it slowly, deliberately, and stop to take in as many moments as you can.
P.S. Can any of my readers who are flower buffs identify the beauties in today’s post? We have some of the same in the states but I bet you can’t guess them all!
Today’s rant is thanks to Leanne, of Weigh to Health, and her friend Becca, of Between Wander and Wonder, who wrote a beautiful post titled “I Am Guilty of Gymming While Fat.” Their posts spurred my own conversation today, and I think this type of discussion does best when as many of us are talking about it at the same time. Get it out there, put a fire under it, stir it up and see how it settles out.
I feel their frustration. I workout at the Virgin Active in Hazeldean here in South Africa. I do strength training four mornings per week, HIIT training two mornings per week, and either swim laps or bicycle 3-4 evenings a week. That’s between 6-10 good, solid workouts every single week. I’m doing this so I don’t die of a heart attack at 45 like my father, so I can enjoy traveling without wanting to pass out on every uphill climb, and so my bloodwork numbers come back clean and healthy.
Recently I had a complete stranger give me a thumbs up, grin and say “You’re looking good.”
To make my own opinion on this issue crystal clear: As a heavyset woman, I don’t want or need your “compliments” telling me “way to go” on continuing my workouts, or giving me a thumbs-up just for showing up at the gym, and I especially don’t need you to tell me I’m looking good. You have no idea how I felt about myself before, what my goals are, and I certainly don’t need your opinion on how I look or how my weight fits in with your version of attractiveness.
Your “compliment” isn’t showcasing how nice you are. It tells me you’re being an ass, even if you’re being a well-intended, ignorant ass. The only way you can behave this way? If you’re a close friend. And unless you know at least three of my pivotal life moments and how they affected me, you’re not in that category.
I generally don’t call people out on this behavior. But I think you’re being an ignoramus.
Why? Because to tell another person, who you don’t know, or don’t know well, that they’re doing great, and to keep up the hard work, is to project a perceived inequality between yourself and them. You are looking at the “fat girl” or “ugly girl” or “poor girl” you see as downtrodden or picked on, and it’s up to you, in all your magnanimity, to give them encouragement to become something better than what you see in front of you.
It’s not your place to praise me for my progress. I am not your child, not your student, and not your trainee.
Here are thoughts for you to consider: I’m fat and I’m happy. I’m fat and I’m sexy. I’m fat AND I’m HEALTHY. I can outlift most women my age, and some men, out-work most of you if you come try my frontier-style living in the woods of Pennsylvania, and out-endure many of you on the elliptical at the gym. I may not be speedy, but I will not stop. And if the apocalypse happens tomorrow, I’m going to survive a hell of a lot longer. (That one’s my favorites. 😉 )
You don’t know me. Unless you’re one of my very closest friends (see above criteria) then you don’t have my blessing or my permission to comment on what you think is my weight-loss progress, or whatever it is you assume I’m there to do at the gym.
Because you. don’t. know. You don’t know if my goal is to lose weight (it is not), to build muscle (it is), to look sexy (I already do), or simply to keep my cholesterol and blood pressure in range (it is).
Let me reiterate. When you “compliment” me on my looks or on whatever weight you think I’ve lost and how it fits into your small world view, you are not giving me the same kind of compliment you give to someone who you see power-lifting and say “Holy shit, that’s impressive.” (That, by the way, is a compliment I will accept. You may view below photo of my 100kg deadlift and compliment as you see fit. And please, do notice that my cuddly little pooh-bear belly sticks out. Enjoy that, too. I do.)
You are not giving the same kind of compliment to an aerobics instructor when you say “Man, where do you get all that energy?” And this is certainly not the kind of compliment you give to a woman you see regularly working out and envy, when you say “Gee, you can really run. I see you on the treadmill all the time and it’s inspirational.”
If you “compliment” a fat person simply because you see them working in the gym, especially if you aren’t running around divvying out compliments to all the non-fat people, you seriously need to think about the way you see us heavyweights.
The assumption this type of left-handed compliment creates is that you believe I’m on some sort of “journey” to fit into a part of society you might believe you’re already in, and want to welcome me to.
Let’s get real people, although the gym might seem a lot like that old high school some people miss so much, it’s not. You’re not part of the “cool kids” and I’m not one of “the outcasts” simply because of my weight (granted, my over-the-top personality keeps me in that group and I kinda’ like it) and I certainly don’t need your pat on the back to make me feel good.
Until you stepped up to imply how “proud” you are of me, I was under the impression you and I were equal.
I know I don’t usually speak out so harshly, but this type of “compliment” is just another back-door means of discrimination, so think hard before you speak.
Why did you pick that person to compliment? What about you makes you think they need or want your unsolicited comment?
So with all my bitching, do I even have a suggestion on how to treat an overweight person at the gym?
Hell yes. It’s called “the same everybody else.”
Just go to the gym, workout, smile if you’re a nice person, make eye contact, and say hello when you pass someone, and check yourself before commenting on any other person’s “progress”. Ask yourself who else you’ve said that to, and why you’re saying it.
If you’re not paying these compliments to other random gym-goers, then it’s targeted.
Targeting = discrimination.
Disagree? Argue in comments below. We won’t see eye to eye, but if you’re a regular reader of mine, you know your voice will be acknowledged.
It was more like a one-sided lecture and me taking what I consider the “high road.”
I wondered how I could combine this with the “Baby Big Five” post today, and realized that the same thing happened in Kruger.
We unintentionally frightened a baby elephant as we were trying to leave, and he charged us with all his fierce, baby elephant glory. I’m guessing he was a bull.
This morning in the gym, as I did my five minutes of warm-up on the elliptical (my usual) I scouted the strength training area for my first three sets (as usual) to see what was open so I could just get started. It’s leg day, so my first three items are Smith Machine squats (I can’t do open squats with the bad leg), leg press, and stiff leg dead lifts. The leg press was occupied, the 45kg barbell was in use, and the Smith machine had a bench beneath it with a towel draped across. The bench and towel remained unoccupied for the five minutes of my warmup, with three guys hanging out nearby, chatting.
In Kruger, we watched a small herd of elephants meandering across the road in front of us, eating, pooping, just, y’know, being elephants. After a long time, we knew we needed to get moving. We were on one of the back roads, about halfway through a long stretch between paved areas. We had a long way ahead of us to reach our rest camp before the gates closed at 6pm.
After watching a baby elephant cross the road, leaving mama behind still grazing on a tree, we decided to wait awhile longer, until the mama crossed as well, so we didn’t drive between them. We waited another fifteen minutes beyond when we were ready to leave, but still mama and baby stayed on opposite sides of the road. We almost decided that the calf belonged to one of the cows ahead of it, since it didn’t seem to care that she was still on the far side of the road. It wandered farther from the road, and time ticked by.
In the gym, I got off my elliptical and approached the group of three guys standing next to the Smith machine. “Sorry to interrupt,” I said politely, “but are any of you on the Smith machine? I’d like to do squats.” They smiled back, said they weren’t on it, and said some guy was using it awhile ago but they didn’t know where he’d gone. “Just go ahead and move the bench and swap out with him if he comes back” one of them suggested. Having seen people not put away weights on a regular basis, and occasionally forget towels, I also thought that was a good plan. I already knew five minutes had passed based on my elliptical timing and they hadn’t seen him for “awhile” so I thought he either abandoned it, or I would have time to get a set in before he returned.
In Kruger, we decided enough time had passed with the calf wandering farther from the left side of the road toward the rest of the herd, and determined that maybe it belonged to one of the cows ahead of it. We started up the bakkie and slowly moved forward. What we previously thought was the mama, grazing on the right side of the road, didn’t even look up at us. We drove slowly forward, careful not to rev the engine or spin on the gravel as we moved.
At the gym, no sooner had I moved the bench to the side and started swapping out weights, than a guy appeared and started lecturing me. “I’m on that machine.” I looked at him, and smiled. “Okay, no problem. I can wait or swap out. How much longer do you have?” He didn’t seem to hear what I said “No. I’m on that machine. You don’t ever go touching someone’s stuff or moving things around. I’m on that machine.” I looked him straight in the eyes, not going to raise my voice, but not going to let him intimidate me either. “How much longer do you have?” I repeated the question, beginning to put the weights I was taking off back on. “You don’t move things that aren’t yours!” He stared back, then started dragging the bench back under the Smith machine.
In the park, the moment our truck came directly between the calf (on the left) and what we now figured was his mama (on the right), he raised his ears and charged the bakkie.
“Listen,” I said to the guy at the gym. “You weren’t here. I asked around, then I moved it to start my workout. Just tell me how much longer you have. It’s not a big deal.” He finally answered “Four more sets.” I bit my tongue from asking if he would be taking five to ten minute breaks between each set, and refrained from lecturing him on gym etiquette, particularly during prime busy hours (it was 7am). He seemed to be muttering again, so I just said, “Look, you don’t need to make this into a thing. This is a non-issue.”
I earn my place in that strength training area, and I know my gym etiquette. That makes me confident enough to handle his outburst pretty well, but even I was a little surprised at how even-toned and calmly I responded to him.
The baby elephant charged and we just drove steadily forward. The mother looked up, but her expression seemed more perplexed at the baby’s reaction than at the bakkie driving past. I watched him in the side mirror as he slowed and then trotted back to his mother as we drove away. She continued grazing, as if to let him know, “Incident over. Go about your business.”
The 45kg barbell was available again, so I grabbed it from the rack and started my deadlifts. One of the trainers I know there, a big bodybuilder, came over to ask me if everything was all right, and was I getting a confrontation this morning, and did I need him to break anybody’s bones for me? I smiled and said, “Thanks, but no. Just a gym thing. The only thing I need broken is a little more of my muscle.” He laughed and I finished my sets. After the Smith machine guy’s first of four remaining sets, he got up to go to the other side of the gym again. I looked him in the eye, square-shouldered, smiled and asked “We good?” I asked it with a calm air of expectation that we should be. He nodded and smiled, and fifteen minutes later, the machine was mine. Of course in that same amount of time, I got in my full sets on the lifts and on the leg press.
I was proud of myself for both holding my composure and talking to him directly, and of course, not letting a third party get involved. Nothing says “I’m a girl and can’t handle myself in the free weights area” more than letting a guy jump in to defend you. I would do it all again the same way. You can’t be expected to go track down the user of a machine on the far side of the gym, especially if you don’t know who it is, and more than five minutes nowhere in sight of your machine is considered abandoning it by any normal standards.
There was no use trying to explain gym etiquette, because (a) people don’t want to listen when they’re in confrontation mode; and (b) that’s a relative term, as everyone’s interpretation is different. Be direct, (like a guy), hold eye contact, and don’t let others intercede on your behalf, because it would only just undermine your credibility.
The best you can do is stay calm, know your interaction will be brief and that he’s just having a baby elephant day: charging at something he perceives to be a threat.
My new bench press goal is 150 pounds (around 68kg). I won’t ever do steroids, so my goals are dependent on how far my muscles can build naturally. A guy in the gym today watched me doing dead lifts and came over to tell me I was making him look bad. He said it in such a friendly and complimentary way though, and it felt really great. That was a new first for me here in the RZA, where mostly the guys either look at me strangely or avoid me when I’m lifting.
Maybe they can tell that I get a little over-excited about how much I can lift. At a recent party attended by several of Kurt’s coworkers, I got a little mouthy with one of them, and in mock-toughness, told the guy not to mess with me, because I could bench press his Mama.
I think it came across funny, as intended, but not all the guys here find my lack of demure femininity so charming. I argue that I am feminine. I’m just a different standard of what it means to be female. Another of his co-workers told him, “Your wife is quite a handful, isn’t she?” Yes. Yes, she is. Thankfully, that’s part of what Kurt loves about me.
Before the latest get-together, Kurt and I had been discussing my new max weights at the gym, and I was excited to report that I had lifted 25kg barbell bicep curls for 10 reps, and shoulder press 30kg for 5 reps, 3 sets. He said that’s more than he can currently do (Kurt’s naturally quite strong but doesn’t lift weights much). I was excitedly talking about how much stronger I’ve become since I really work at it and get my protein in, and wondering just how far my muscles can go naturally. In my excitement, I joked about arm wrestling some of his coworkers at that evening’s party.
“Please. Don’t.” I could see that Kurt was genuinely worried I might outgun and perhaps embarrass his co-workers. Even by American standards (even by Kurt standards, which I think if you’ve been reading the blog, and posts like “Frontier Wife,” you know is the true benchmark of a man who is proud of having a strong wife) it’s not exactly a party pleaser if your wife is bench-pressing your boss. (For the record, I don’t think I could bench press his boss.)
“Arm wrestle me.” Kurt challenged. “If you can beat me at arm wrestling, you can arm wrestle at the party tonight.” My eyes lit up. After learning I can out-bicep curl him, I was excited to finally beat someone at arm wrestling. “But,” Kurt challenged, as he squared off against me at the table, “if you lose, you can’t curse the entire night.”
“What the f*ck? Seriously!?” My mouth, famous for making sailors blush, was my trademark, my calling card, especially when drinking. But I was pretty certain I could now beat him at arm wrestling, since I had just passed his weight-training marks, so I agreed.
My resistance was pathetic. He even offered a do-over so I could reset my position, and still I couldn’t hold out long before he toppled my arm. Whatever the magic is that occurs in arm wrestling, sheer bicep and shoulder barbell presses do not account for it.
I spent the evening not drinking, since it was the only way I could be sure to keep my mouth in check. I did manage one or two gestures, since technically those didn’t count, but except for one accidental slip toward the end of the evening, I managed quite well using alternatives, like “sugar,” “fluff” and “some of a machinery, mudder fluffing, corn shucking, piece of cheese and rice smashing, cuisinarted fluffity fluff fluff fluffer.” (Say that three times fast.)
I actually kind of liked trying to come up with more creative ways not to use any of the censored words.
Maybe I’ll think twice before making an arm-wrestle bet with Kurt.
Probably not. Who would I be if I weren’t a little bit of crazy and a lot of bravado?
Special thanks in today’s post to my current trainer in South Africa, Willem. I only have him through the end of this week when his regular 7am client returns. (I couldn’t convince him that dumping a regular for a pseudo-infamous, potty-mouthed writer is good for his career.) Next week I’ll be training on my own again, so this week Willem is helping me determine my new one-rep max’s.
Until then, maybe I’ll try a little more sugar, a little less spice with this mouth of mine.
So yeah, F*ck the helmets. And I would add, F*CK the sissy-a$$ time-outs every ten seconds in the game. If there’s a pile-up, keep that d@mn ball moving! Get the game over in 90 minutes without all the p*ssy-a$$ time-outs and breaks, and contesting this that and every other whiny-a$$ tidbit. And half-time? How about just 10 minutes!
Just. Play. Ball!
And oh man, they did!
Don’t get me wrong. I can’t really tell you a scrum from a bum (except that seeing bums is how I remember scrums), or why the little guy is “the 9” is “the hooker?” No, that’s not it. The 9 is not the hooker but there is a hooker and he’s not part of the dancing girls.
But I’m going to learn.
I was on the edge of my seat watching that ball move. I loved watching the guys launch each other into the air. Kurt was likewise fascinated by the remote control truck delivering a little tee onto the field (small, shiny objects 😉 ) and the bouncing dancers, which I can only describe as “if U.S. cheerleaders created choreography in their living room and had no evident gymnastic ability, but really great bras” (medium, shiny objects 😉 ).
No, really. It probably sounds like we should insert a giant “meow” right there, but let’s face it. I’m used to watching American Football, and I was expecting something like the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, who have incredible choreography and are part contortionist. These dancing girls have beautiful bodies and nice faces, and I’ve heard they’re actually very nice ladies as well, but my bar is already set to American cheer standards.
Actually, as much as we were both drooling over the cheerleaders (me lusting in envy of those tiny waists; him in, um, er, well…lust), Kurt and I could not stop watching the match! It was great to learn the names and faces of the players since our friends had grabbed us a program. I’m pretty sure I even recognized one or two from the Hazeldean gym. Fortunately for them, my stalking is limited to writers, and I turn into the ice queen while working out anyway.
Okay, well it’s off to the gym for me right now, actually. My usual 07:00 workout is a 16:00 today. I’ll try to find a “Rugby for dummies” book before I post on it again.
Well since Marla is moving and super busy I have been recruited to do a bit of a guest blog and make Marla’s blog mine for a day. Cue maniacal laughter… muahahahaha.
No but really.
I’ve been following Marla for a while now and we comment back and forth, she is such a source of motivation and frequent laughter, so I’ll try not to do her blog any injustice and simply write about what I know… which is fitness!