The Last Lap

Words by Sloane Citron

Photos by Scott R. Kline

When I first got domesticated in my mid-twenties with a wife and then children, I found that after spending eight to ten hours in an office every day, I needed exercise. Because I didn’t have much time or money, it had to be fast, efficient and without a check to write. And I wanted a way to stay in shape without having to overexert myself.

But as much as I wanted to get my body moving, I hated exercising. I can’t stand those people who wake up at five in the morning seven days a week to go on a long run or to a crack-of-dawn boot camp. At five in the morning I am still settling in for some good sleep. So, after giving it some thought, I realized that the quickest way to get some exercise was to walk out my front door and start running.

I do not have the body of a runner and I detest doing it; I started running because it met my criteria. That and doing a hundred push-ups and sit-ups each day. Mind you, my idea of running is not yours. I would run about a mile or so—about 20 minutes of laborious breathing—and then head home, where I would do my calisthenics. While modest by most standards, it was enough to keep me feeling fit. Every other day, I reluctantly put on my shorts and shoes and hit the streets, running a consistent pattern around my neighborhood. I realized that if I did more than what I did, I would hate it so much that I wouldn’t do anything at all.

One of my ridiculous traits is the extreme guilt I feel if I miss something in my own routine, whether it is flossing my teeth or having the same snack at the same time every night or getting my exercise done. I can tell you that this is among my most annoying qualities. No one cares if I don’t floss my teeth one night but it’s like the world will end to me if I don’t do it. Another absurd trait is my anathema for change.  I have the same thing for lunch every day and I eat the same thing for dinner every night. I have had the same toast and jam for Saturday morning breakfasts since I was 20. Ridiculous.

Combine these two idiosyncrasies and it means that for several decades I followed my same standard exercise program. One day I added up the distance of all my short runs and realized that I had effectively run from here to New York and back again. Kind of the tortoise and the hare situation in an endless loop.

Several years ago, however, I noticed that my knees were starting to feel the brunt of pounding the streets for all that time, so in the summer I stopped running and started swimming in our small backyard pool. But if there was anything that I was worse at than running, it was swimming. My dad “taught” me to swim by throwing me into a local pool and then walking away. I was the third child, but still. Over time I taught myself how to swim but was never much good at it.

However, the benefit of being such a lousy swimmer was that I had to extend more effort to get across the pool and thus got more exercise. At the end of the summer—when it was time to shut off the heater in our pool—I would go back to running. But last November, when I relaced my running shoes and hit the streets, my knees said, “No more.” They were shot. I grasped on what else to do, since not following my routine, as you can imagine, caused me considerable anxiety. Fortunately, I discovered that minutes from my home was a wonderful swimming facility, and so I joined up and hit the pool.

I still hate exercising, but I like swimming more than running. I have found things to think about while I am swimming to get through the laps (of course, I always think about the same things). I looked up some YouTube videos and have slowly improved my swimming stroke, though swimmers next to me regularly lap me. And I still do my sit-ups and push-ups. I figure if I ever stop, I’ll never be able to start them up again. This relatively low amount of exercise has done okay for me. I weigh the same as I did in college and most of my vital organs are still working.

Last night I sat down and figured that if I continue at this rate of swimming and live to be 100, I’ll have made it halfway to Hawaii. If you’re on a cruise headed that way and you hear me call out, please send a boat.