It all started as a CrossFit challenge at the box I used to frequent near my home in Burlington, VT. For the month of November, our coaches asked members to see how many push-ups they could do each day. Maybe it was 25, or 50, or more. Hmm, I thought, an ersatz CrossFitter who really just wanted to run and have fun instead of obsessing about performing a perfect deadlift. I wasn’s so great at snatches and bungled my burpees, but a push-up? Well, that I could do.
So I signed up to do 100 a day—right before a spa getaway with my mother in Arizona. In between massages and meditation with my mom, I somehow managed to sneak in a set of 10 here, a set of 10 there, and went to sleep even more soundly in the Tuscon desert knowing I’d hit the 100 mark. (Related: The 30-Day Push-Up Challenge for Seriously Sculpted Arms)
And so it began, these sets of 10 that became the metronome of my life, not only as I returned to my own motherly duties in the Green Mountains for the remainder of the month, but also beyond that, into December, and then January. Some pretty amazing things were happening to my body, and to my mind. My arms were more toned than ever, I had a tight core, and I felt that I stood taller than before. What’s more, I was increasingly confident about my own capabilities as an athlete. With the 100-mark under my belt for the day, I could move on to tapping away at my keyboard, texting friends, or enjoying dinner with my husband and two kids knowing that I’d put in an honest day’s work. On the floor.
So that was the funny part. The floor. The stuff that I saw, and that I did, while a few inches off the ground. In the pre-dawn hours of a cold February day, I’d find myself in the living room, picking up long-lost Legos from the tufts of our orange shag carpet in between sets. In the kitchen on a warm summer morning, I’d be eye-to-eye with a slug, or a millipede, or a moldy Cheerio. I’d have eureka moments, where I’d suddenly think of the ideal Christmas gift for my nephew or the punniest headline for a story. I’d empty one level of the dishwasher, hit the ground for 10, and then have the coffee going while banging out the next 10 or 20.
Did it suck? Oh boy, yes. There were many mornings when, tired from tossing and turning about daily stresses, I swore I’d never do another damn push-up. But after eking out five, I’d feel my mood improve—and the physical changes in my body were serious motivation. (Just beware of these 7 Push-Up Mistakes You’re Probably Making.)
After more than a year of my 100 daily push-ups, I quit CrossFit—but kept up with the challenge in my local gym, learning to be impervious to the rolled eyes or the questioning looks as I added my own reps during a BodyPump class. When I entered a GoRuck adventure race that spring, I was able to move on to the next stage of the event thanks to my push-up proficiency, and the same skill also got me through a 36-hour venture into the wilderness in California that fall.
I was hooked, and I was having fun—and making friends. Strangers at the gym had a reason to start up a conversation with me, getting a laugh or two when I revealed my mission. I saw the world in a different way. When I went on work trips or on vacation, I found new, inventive places to practice my push-ups. London, New York, California wine country, Denver, Montreal—they all saw a certain blond ponytail bobbing up and down in the push-up position.
One day last spring, I stopped, as I decided to unplug from most everything (screens, work, working out) for a month to give my mind and body a break from the hamster wheel of life. I felt free, and then I felt a bit flabby as my arms lost some of their muscle tone and my core grew curvier. What would I do now, commit to the 100-a-day again, or give it up entirely?
The answer came somewhere in the middle. I still do push-ups. Most days. Not every day, and not always 100. But every time I find myself face to face with a floor, I smile, and start counting.
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This article originally appeared on Shape.com.