Just about a year ago I had emergency surgery and spent a few days in the hospital. I then spent several weeks recovering at home. Since I wasn’t in what anyone could reasonably call “good shape” to begin with, by the time it was all said and done? I couldn’t even do a small grocery shopping trip without being winded and completely wiped out for the rest of the day.
I knew I had to do something to get myself back to at least being able to take care of my basic responsibilities, but I had no idea what to do. A gym membership was out of the question due to finances and a couple of bad experiences when I was younger.
After thinking about it off and on for a little while, I was browsing my favorite Harry Potter websites and ran across a mention of a virtual running club. My mind was blown. How in the hell could a running club or a race be virtual?
I looked into it a little more (let’s be real…I Googled the term “virtual race”) and was astounded at how many I found, and absolutely gobsmacked at how many of them had amazingly geeky themes.
So, I whipped out my credit card and ordered a treadmill (pink and white to match my flamingo themed living room, if anyone cares) and signed up for my first virtual race.
It was a Professor Snape-themed one from the Hogwart’s Running Club and it raised money for pancreatic cancer research in honor of Alan Rickman — who had died just a few months previously. I’m a total Slytherin, so how could I pass that up?
I was a little nervous about how it all worked, but it was actually fairly simple. You just fill out a form, pay your money, walk or run your miles, and wait for the mailman to bring you your swag. Some virtual races require proof that you actually did the mileage, others are on the honor system. That proof could be something like a screenshot of a pedometer app on your phone, or maybe a picture of your treadmill display.
In my case, that first race was on the honor system, everyone that registered and paid received an awesome finisher’s medal a couple of weeks later. There was also an optional shirt available for purchase which also raised funds for the same charity.
I started out slow, just walking at whatever pace I could manage for ten minutes or so. Every day I would try to add a few minutes to my time and within a month I could walk a 5K (3.1 miles) in about 45 minutes without stopping.
That success, and my shiny medal hanging on the wall kept me motivated and I signed up for more races through various companies and organizations. I now have a Stargate medal, a Klingon bird of prey, a sugar skull with blinking eyes, a TARDIS, and a Spaceballs medal that raised funds for testicular cancer research.
I love the bling and proudly hang them from a hook on the wall so I can see them from my treadmill. The real accomplishment, though, became obvious about four months into this adventure. My husband took me to San Juan, Puerto Rico as a combination birthday and anniversary present.
We flew in, took a cab to the apartment we were staying in, and did not rent a car. We walked everywhere for a whole week. Sure, I got tired sometimes, but I was able to keep up and I never felt like I was going to die if I had to walk one more block. It was amazing and not something that I think I could have done even before my surgery had laid me so low.
This was the perfect combination of external motivation (shiny medals) and appealing to my sense of altruism (donating money to cancer research) to get me up off my ass and moving. I don’t think I’ll ever be a real exercise enthusiast, but I lost a few pounds, I can walk my dogs without problems, and I can do my shopping without feeling like it’s going to kill me. I’m calling it a win.