Sweaty, Exhausting Peace


megan gahan -sweaty exhausting peace2

I stare at the black metal bar above me. It looks a mile away. I need to jump to reach it. Just the thought of stretching my arms above my head makes my shoulders ache. They’re still sore from two days ago. I steal a glance at the clock, and watch the seconds tick methodically away. Two minutes left. I need to get back up. I need to stop overthinking, and just do.

Beside me, a woman is literally flying through her pull-ups. Her dark ponytail levitates behind her, and I watch for a second in awe. She’s been doing this longer, and it shows in her relaxed frame, in the lightness of the movement. I can’t imagine ever looking that effortless. My movements are plodding and clunky at best.

I’ve certainly thought about quitting. Being publicly humbled twice a week is not my idea of a good time, particularly in light of my annoying penchant for self-criticism and perfectionism. And yet, I keep showing up.

I take a deep breath, step onto the resistance band I use for extra buoyancy, and launch myself up to the bar, praying for a miraculous burst of strength. Just seven more. Just six more. Just five … my muscles abruptly fatigue, and I drop clumsily to the ground. Four left.


The buzzer sounds loudly. I’m finished.

I collapse to the floor, slowly fold my legs in, and cradle my head in my hands, listening to my shallow exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale. I stay in this position for a time. I’m exhausted and exhilarated. I am, as always, surprised by my body’s capabilities. I’m shocked by what it will do when I give it the opportunity and by what is possible when I don’t allow my doubts and fears the wild and free reign they’ve grown accustomed to. But there’s no time for that when the clock is going. I cannot be in my head. I can only be in my body. This body that has birthed two children and is barreling towards middle age, this body that wakes with new tweaks and aches each morning. It can still surprise me.

I reach for my water and take two long, indulgent sips. The woman who was beside me walks by and offers an enthusiastic high five. She’s noticed how much I’ve progressed, she’s seen the change in my ability. Though I still feel woefully behind, I am surrounded by women and men ready to speak to my strengths and eager to tell me their own stories. They tell me all about the things they couldn’t do, how they felt just like I did. And how, with time and effort and sweat, they saw seemingly insignificant changes build to the superhuman abilities I gush over.

They remind me of where I started. When I needed two resistance bands to hold me up, and was so fatigued I struggled to even wedge my shaking foot in the bands. I remember feeling so embarrassed to be failing publicly at the one thing I was supposed to be good at. A woman waiting for the next class graciously came over between my sets. She easily pulled the bands taut, steadied them, and waited until I put my foot through.

“Thank you,” I breathed.

“Of course,” she replied. “We’ve all been there. I promise it will get better.”

And it has. It’s still brutal and humbling. But I can do five pull-ups now—without a band at all. Two months ago, I thought doing one would be impossible.

But my body surprised me.

In the midst of my aching muscles and frustration, there is an odd peace. When I walk over the threshold of the gym, I leave every one of my hats at the door. I am no longer a mom or a wife or a writer or a volunteer. I am not preoccupied with deadlines or potty training or the fight my husband and I had yesterday. I am simply an athlete, and that is the only thing that occupies my mind for the next sixty minutes. Having my anxiety-prone, rapid-fire brain consumed with only one thing for an entire hour is strangely peaceful. It is a mental exhale. It’s emotional therapy in the most topsy-turvy way.

So I will be back next week to stare at the bar. To—hopefully—make a shred of progress. And to have an hour of sweaty, sometimes curse-inducing, exhausting peace.


Megan Gahan
After over a decade in the fitness industry, Megan now spends her days chasing two pint-sized tornadoes disguised as little boys. By night, she is a writer and editor for SheLoves. A proper Canadian, Megan can often be found in the woods or at Tim Hortons. She writes at megangahan.com.
Megan Gahan
Megan Gahan

Latest posts by Megan Gahan (see all)

Megan Gahan