In trying to uncover the reasons why I spent my teenage years averse to the idea of being into fitness, I should admit how convinced I was that it just wasn’t for me. The amount of clique flicks I consumed probably factored in my belief that regular physical challenges were simply incongruous to my personality and the type of life I wanted to have.
Fast forward to 2022. I find myself lying facedown on the floor after getting cramps on both my butt cheeks and wondering, “Have I been too harsh on the fitness and wellness industrial complex? Is finding community in exercise and sports actually a rite of passage?”
Is it really that complicated?
It wasn’t too long ago when most of us equated fitness with weight loss. The preoccupation with weight loss has terrorized the human population for more than a century, and because of this, I thought that being active meant that I was giving in to societal pressure about what my body should look like. It’s funny how we ascribe different values and meanings to physical and mental activities when we’re using the same body for both. In reading a book and working out, aren’t we all just looking for stimulation and self-satisfaction? They both make people hot.
“As I get older, the desire to share in the joy of being a Zumba tita or joining a sports club rises within me like cholesterol levels.”
But I’m hardly at fault for associating fitness with aesthetics and privilege. Sure, its industry has become more body inclusive, but a healthy lifestyle and meal plan still cost a lot more time and money. In fact, the market for luxury activewear has grown over the years. We’ve gotten high fashion athleisure collabs, from Prada x Adidas to Lululemon x Roksanda.
As for my general feelings towards sports, I have admired women athletes, but the closest I had to understanding its epic highs and lows was by watching sports anime and Olympic tears. I couldn’t imagine pushing myself that hard for a victory that seemed to put as much attention on the journey as it does on the result. As a mindfulness non-practitioner, I just wanted to move on to the next thing ASAP. I also found it uncomfortable to be intimately aware of my own body outside the context of putting on a show. Maybe it can be an acquired taste once I get over the urge to complicate it for myself.
“I’ve always wanted to be a runner, and have found myself mystified by the feeling of freedom that people say it came with.”
In my mind, exercise and sports were better off as solitary activities since I prefer doing things on my own. But as I get older, the desire to share in the joy of being a Zumba tita or joining a sports club rises within me like cholesterol levels. I don’t have the self-discipline for solo at-home workouts, so I’m trying to muster the courage to find my own community. And I thought, why not give running another try?
A city of running women
I’ve always wanted to be a runner, and have found myself mystified by the feeling of freedom that people say it came with. At the same time, I’ve seen friends on Instagram talk about how fulfilling it was to run with other women. To fulfill my curiosity, I turned to triathlete and Girls Can Run (GCR) program coach Nylah Bautista for insights on what it’s like for women runners living in the city and still dealing with the pandemic.
Bautista tells me that women participation in running is currently at 40% worldwide and that many women are intimidated by and have an aversion to joining a male group for training. Safety also continues to be an issue for all runners in the metro. “Only a few areas are marked safe for runners, more so for women. To classify, safe spaces should be open roads with dedicated lanes for runners. [They should be] well lit at night and free of debris, holes, and construction areas. Ideally, safety is heightened [with the] presence of security personnel and medical aid near the running path for emergencies.”
“It’s hard not to have a great time with a tight-knit group that does its best to make you feel welcome and celebrated.”
Bautista believes that running clubs pave the way for allyship in the sport and are wonderful communities for women of all ages and walks of life. By contributing to having a sound body and mind, running can help a person find more happiness in their family life and career. “Our first roster of Girls Can Run graduates are composed of dynamic women with full-time jobs, homemakers and professionals. GCR became their second family with newfound sisters, all together living the running lifestyle and aiming to go [on] longer distance racing,” said the coach. She also tells me that activewear and sports gear designed for women really do make a difference when it comes to providing comfort and an extra push.
Talking to Bautista cured me of some of my weird cynicism, but it was running with a group that made me realize what I’ve been missing. It’s hard not to have a great time with a tight-knit group that does its best to make you feel welcome and celebrated.
I was nervous when I joined my first beginner 3K run with a running community. I didn’t know anybody and I thought I would spend the run with only my thoughts as my real company. But as soon as the run started, conversation flowed. Going at a talking pace was an actual thing, which was fine by me because I needed a distraction. My joints weren’t used to running so they started hurting a bit; the only time I ran on city streets before was so I wouldn’t be late to work.
Despite my initial reservation and the number of times I asked, “Are we there yet?” in between the chika, I felt like I could belong in their family full of women who you couldn’t help but immediately admire. They were so encouraging and comfortable in their bodies, and with this atmosphere, I didn’t feel judged or pressured. They took my limits into account and asked how I was holding up, but made it known to me how sure they were that I could reach the finish line with them.
Let’s be real, hearing the words “kaya mo ’yan” can sometimes make a task more daunting. But this time, it felt sort of humbling. I weirdly didn’t want to let anyone down and wanted to reciprocate that feeling of trust. There was no room for ego or worries. We cheered each other on and some bystanders even hooted in support. I felt so present. Did I feel free? Well, not yet, but I felt empowered.
Navigating adulthood, especially during a pandemic, can be such a lonely and discouraging experience. Putting yourself in an environment that questions that and roots for your triumph is kindness—fewer physical aches and pains is just a bonus.
For years, I felt like an outsider to sports and fitness. Now, I know that there’s a space for me within the community if I choose to claim it.