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Exercise for Introverts: Gaining unaVOIDable serenity

Celebrating after returning home from 2012 two-day, 170 mile bike ride from Houston to Austin

Steve's STORY

My Writing Corner!!!

I'm currently reading Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It blends Murakami's memoir with great running stories. The book has sparked my own exercise thoughts...

My relationship with exercise has certainly grown over the years as I've become more aware and comfortable with myself. When I was a kid, I biked a bit and played around the neighborhood. However, I rejected all attempts to be in kid's T-Ball or basketball teams, reflecting both the sedentary lifestyle of my parents and of my husky stature as well.

When I was in high school I used to go walking and later jogging with my dad, who had to exercise to keep his strained back limber. That led me to sign up for the school cross country team in a moment of ambitious blindness. After the first team training run in August, I realized running the hills of Mountain Brook was quite exhaustive so I quit once we returned to school.

Much of my 20's and 30's was a swinging pendulum of good intentions and gym memberships countered with lost motivation and clothes-line treadmills.

But in my 40's, while working in London, I joined a gym in the basement of the Shell building. My workouts weren't too brisk, but I built a habit which helped me limit my stress and weight to barely acceptable levels.

Heading out with a couple of the kids on a springtime ride.

When we finally returned to Houston in 2008, Shell had built a new gym on campus so I began to workout four times a week. However, the big jolt to my exercise regimen happened in 2011 when the family decided to buy bikes for everyone so we could float around the neighborhood enjoying the mild spring temperatures together. Though the casual 30-minute rides were soon shelved when conditions better resembled a sauna by June, I had rekindled my boyhood passion for bike riding.

From there, my addictive personality took over and before long I was up by 6am on Saturdays to ride 30, 50, and soon 70 miles across town. My son, Noah, once asked what I thought about while I was riding for three to five hours. I thought it was a great question because my introspection had really come naturally for me. It was at that moment I considered that perhaps biking was more conducive to introverts the world over.

I typically started my rides thinking about work projects, deadlines, relationships, successes, and problems. I then migrated to family topics like vacations, weekend activities, special moments with my kids and wife, Jennifer. Sometimes these thoughts were fleeting and other times they would occupy my mind so much that I discover the last mile pedaling was a blur.

Eventually, especially with my longer rides, my list of thoughts and dreams were exhausted and I relegated myself to thinking more about my speed, how much more time I had to ride, or the inevitable cramps or fatigue that was overtaking my body. On one such ride, I found myself staring through the fence at the end of a Bush Intercontinental Airport runway after riding 40 miles during the early hours of an August morning. Suddenly, I realized I was a LONG way from home and a very hot afternoon ride away from relief.

So excited after finishing the MS150 two-day bike ride from Houston to Austin in 2012

But generally, the solitude of those rides was heaven. I not only enjoyed the serenity but I needed it to balance the stress of my weekdays seemingly filled with social anxiety and conflict management. In 2012 I reached the pinnacle of my riding by completing a couple of 170-mile, two-day biking events. Not bad for a pudgy couch potato!

Only after a 2013 bike accident shattered my left shoulder and arm did I have to park my bike. Not surprisingly, my stress and weight returned with a vengeance in the months following my recovery. In 2016 I knew I had to find another physical outlet. Given my orthopedist recommended steering clear of biking for other sports that are slower and closer to the ground, I opted for some street running.

Waving at my family as they cheered me on at the mid-point of the 2017 Houston Half Marathon

My interval walking/brisk walking eventually evolved into some decent jogging. Again, I latched onto this initiative and tackled over a dozen 5Ks in 2016 before limping across the finish line of the 2017 Houston Half Marathon. While I would never suggest to be a natural runner, it reunited me with the tranquility I had found from my biking a few years earlier. And along the way, I was losing weight and building confidence as I notched another physical accomplishment on my shrinking belt.

Early in Murakami's book he stated, "I run in a void." He soon corrected himself, "I run in order to acquire a void." But during my best runs, I intentionally try to fill most of my void with thoughts, diagnoses, dreams, plans, resolutions, and growing appreciation for the scenery surrounding me.

As may be common for introverts, I find myself running with a purpose far removed from distance and speed. Enjoy the ride...or the run!

Question of the Week

Are you a busy biker or runner? Do you exercise for the escape?

Share your answers on our Facebook page or confidentially via email.

Monday's Butterfly Quote:

"What would a butterfly quote on looking in the mirror? It would say, 'the adventure was worth it!'" -Manali Oak

Sneak PEAK

THURSDAY: Come to work with me for some Introvert Tips on Leadership!

As a sneak preview, our second Thursday of the month blog falls under "Introverts are Leaders Too!" On Thursday I will share some of my challenges during my 30-year career and some tips for those who are trying to tackle the many challenges that especially face introverts like us.

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