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Column: How to become an elite athlete while in quarantine, Part I: Recognizing there’s a problem

Or at least counteract all those chips you’ve been eating on the couch for the last two weeks. 

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am - Round One Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

It seems impossible that the NBA All-Star Game was just six weeks ago. Then, we got to watch literal high-flying action on the level of that part in Space Jam when Michael Jordan leaps for the dunk despite being weighed down by the Monstars.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite like that, and, like everyone else in the US, maybe I’ve just been watching Space Jam on Netflix too much.

But on that note, especially when you see the likes of Bill Murray and Stan playing ball, doesn’t it make you wonder if you, yourself, could play at an elite level? Maybe not basketball, but something?

The daydreams have been real in the last few weeks. However, if you’re like me (that is, in the state of Illinois), you are likely under a shelter-in-place order and therefore limited in your athletic pursuits for the foreseeable future. But alas, that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Just because you can no longer access actual gyms, studios and other fitness facilities doesn’t mean you have to give it all up. Plus, what else are you going to do with the two-plus hours you’ve saved from not commuting and generally preparing for work?

When I first considered the prospect, I thought of that scene from Ruthless People when Bette Midler gets super fit while a prisoner of the Millers. Heck yes! I’m absolutely going to emerge from this weird situation with washboard abs and the perkiest bootie you ever did see (you won’t...my profile picture is of my FACE for a reason).

But then I remembered how much I love Velveeta shells and cheese (#LiquidGold) and how much I love it even more when it’s the emotional equivalent of a rainy day. Plus, I found a three-pack on sale at Jewel-Osco Sunday. And I also remembered how much I need dessert at the end of a long day without actual human contact outside of my husband. And also how we accidentally stocked up on those ghost pepper chips from Trader Joe’s along with non-perishable food items and how I’ve been eating them whenever I need writing #inspo. And also how when I work three feet from my fridge I occasionally find myself standing with the door open and shoving handfuls of shredded cheddar in my mouth. And finally, how the only social contact we can have now is through virtual happy hours, which means a beer (or two) every day in the comfort of my own home and sweatpants as my only connection to the outside world.

Then there’s the fact that wearing jeans every day now even seems too restrictive, because why wear anything but sweatpants if you don’t have to? I saw someone tweet the other day about how we should all try on our jeans every few days during the quarantine to make sure “all is well in the kingdom.”

Well friends, as you can imagine, things can start to go wrong in the aforementioned kingdom real quick. Remember that posterized quote that was in every human’s fourth-grade English classroom that read “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”? Which is why having a plan for becoming an elite athlete — shooting for the moon, if you will — can result in at least meeting in the middle with your body not totally deteriorating in the coming weeks (months) through Cheetos and cheese and chips — that is, landing among the stars.

Which brings us back to the initial point. During this weird period of quarantine, you probably won’t become an elite athlete, but you CAN challenge yourself to learn a new athletic skill, and maybe even make up for (or overcome) the Velveeta, chips, shredded cheddar, donuts, Cheetos, cookies, snack breads and beers you’ve come to enjoy in recent weeks.

The first step is identifying what you love AND what you hate when it comes to working out. One of the very unscientific tenets I identify with is that if you hate running (or any form of exercise) and force yourself to run (or do that form of exercise you hate), you will never get into better shape through running (or that form of exercise).

The adage of “no pain, no gain” may ring true, but alas, you don’t need to torture yourself doing something you hate when there are other options available. Yes, growing and changing will always be uncomfortable. But you should still feel the wings of victory and success when you achieve your goals, and be motivated toward the next step.

I happen to love running. If that makes me weird, sorry not sorry. But running further and faster has always been a motivation for me, The downside is that, right now, the city of Chicago happened to close the lakefront trail — the crowning jewel, in my humble opinion, of this city. For those of you who are unfamiliar or who haven’t read The Devil in the White City, the lakefront trail is an 18.5-mile stretch of manicured biking and running trail right along the edge of Lake Michigan, running right along the east side of the city. It would motivate even the most reluctant runner to lace up his sneakers and go for a jaunt.

Alas, if your city is anything like Chicago, your trails may have been shut down, too. That means that, now, one of the best parts about running in Chicago — watching the sunrise over Lake Michigan on cool spring mornings — is no longer available. Just like the gym. But that doesn’t mean my fitness life is over.

I can still run — just not in as beautiful a place. And I can do other things now, too. For instance, I’m relatively new to yoga, but have jumped in in recent months with vigor. My practice has been amplified by the fact that my husband and I are now confined to our apartment and yoga is something with numerous (free) apps to work from.

We do yoga. We do HIIT. We run for a few miles. We do yoga again. Are we LeBron James? No. (Are you actually kidding?) But I’ve at least been balancing out the handfuls of cheese I’ve eaten from the door of our refrigerator.

More to come. Bye for now.