Dear Dumb Runner,
My physical education class is filled with very athletic people. I, on the other hand, would rather be shopping at the mall and doing my nails. When we do warmups in the beginning of gym class they are very intense. I can’t keep up, and I feel that people judge me for that. Halfway through the warmup I get really worked up and feel like I’m about to pass out. Why does this happen? How can I fix it?—Anonymous, New Jersey
First of all, you should know that almost nobody, myself included, has fond memories of PE class. This is why you see so many references to it in movies and TV and so on. I feel like I've seen a hundred variations on the "rope climb" thing alone. So you are far from alone here. Trust me.
Second, I can virtually guarantee you that no one is judging you during your warmups. Why? Because they're way too busy worrying about how they look. I promise you.
This self-consciousness, unfortunately, is something that even adults wrestle with. Part of the reason I’m publishing this response here, rather than simply giving it to you via email, is that I want to reassure runners of any age, and any level of ability, that most folks are way too self-absorbed to notice you and your imagined flaws.
Third and finally: Warming up is meant to, well, warm us up—to prepare our minds and bodies for something more intense. It should feel nice and easy. If your instructor's warmups are making you feel like you're about to pass out, either the routine itself is way too challenging or you're pushing yourself way too hard, or both.
I recommend approaching your PE instructor—ideally before or after class, not during—and telling him or her what you've told me here. Unless your instructor is a total jerk, I bet he or she will listen and make a real effort to help you out.
Either way, you can and should go easy on yourself. If you feel you’re pushing too hard, push less hard. It really is that simple. (As I wrote in Dumb Runner Poster #84, “It never gets easier. Unless you slow down a little.”)
Most important: Hang in there. The whole point of PE is to encourage physical activity and to teach us to do it right—not just while we're in school, but for the rest of our lives. Staying active, however you choose to do it, is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and sticking with it will pay off for you in a huge way. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
Best wishes, good luck, and thanks for writing.