One woman’s journey... from sofa to summit

MARCH 12 — I never exercise.

In school, I impressed friends with my endless supply of creative excuses designed to wriggle me out of PE (Physical Education).

“That time of the month” came many times a month much to the embarrassment of the mild and meek male teacher who led the class. A sprained ankle was another reliable go-to and one that can be stretched on for weeks.

But lately, with my 33rd birthday looming, I am suddenly acutely aware of my expanding waistline. Dresses that were a loose fit are a tight squeeze leaving me feeling more sausage than sexy and I am beginning to appreciate I don’t have the infallibility of youth on which to rely.

So I joined a gym.

Growing up, one of the most important lessons I learnt was my mother teaching me to identify and work within my limitations. This is why I found a gym, Ritual, for lazy people — a stroll from my office, you don’t need to bring gear (no it is not a naked gym, they just provide shorts and T-shirts) plus the workouts don’t require shoes and it lasts exactly the maximum length of my limited attention span for most things outside of devouring a bowl of bak chor mee: 20 minutes.

The first day I walked in, I was intimidated.

I felt like an impostor as the regulars had their routines and protein shakes while I wasn’t fully sure what the plank pose meant (he said adopt the plank position and I just laid down flat, mimicking a plank on the floor) so when they had me do an assessment to figure out where I sat on the spectrum of fit to flab, I was already bracing myself for failure.

The trainer — a buff, smiling man — explained they had three levels of fitness and most first-timers found themselves in Level 1 and if this was the case for me, I should not be disheartened.

So, we started and at the end of it after multiple patient explanations on why my frantic twerking did not count as a successful deadlift, he called it: I was Level 0. Too unfit to even make it onto their scale.

Nonetheless, I persisted and at the end of each session, I would strip off my clothes in the changing room and stare at my paunch willing it to flatten hoping what I lacked in physical strength I could make up with sheer determination.

And by Day 5, I too felt like I could saunter in and no longer felt sheer terror and confusion when the trainer bandied about phrases like burpee and Mountain Climber.

A view of Adam’s Peak as seen from the Nallatanniya route. — Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A view of Adam’s Peak as seen from the Nallatanniya route. — Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This past week, on holiday, friends and I put my newly-discovered muscles to the test with an eight-hour, 5,000 steps hike up Adam’s Peak, a 2,243 metre sacred mountain in Sri Lanka.

The day before, I had a warm up run around shopping for all the equipment I imagined I would need: trainers, water bottle, running tights. I fervently believed that if I looked the part, I could pull it off.

So while my fitness freak buddy did stretches, I instead admired my new shoes.

We began the ascent at 1.30am. By 2am, I was filled with regret. By 3am, I was pausing every 25 steps. Okay, that is a bald-faced lie — I was pausing every 10 steps. Fine, 5 steps.

I wheezed and coughed and huffed and puffed as 70-year-old pilgrims in flip flops glided past me. It hurts the self-esteem when you’re being lapped by old ladies and I did not think I would make it up the seemingly endless steps.

But I did. And dare I say I enjoyed it which led to my revelation: that maybe, just maybe, exercise need not be painful and I had already crossed the biggest hurdle of all. I had finally hauled my overweight ass off the sofa and actually got started.

Now, with the shoes already purchased and the thigh muscles ceasing their revolt against me I’m setting my sights on the entire peninsula of stunning hikes, treks and climbs just next door in Malaysia.

After, all today I did Adam’s Peak and tomorrow perhaps I will scale Mt. Kinabalu?

Maybe I’ll even hold the plank pose at the top.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.