This morning I survived an excursion to my local YMCA to run on a treadmill. The anomaly wasn’t running, it was doing it indoors at the Y. Snowy arctic blasts, blistering heat with monsoon like downpours, I’ve run through it all, and my previous treadmill experiences have been limited to sparsely populated hotel gyms or my parents rickety treadmill in the isolation of their basement. But after almost 2 weeks of on-again, off-again sub-zero temps and a recent dumping of snow plus ice that no one seems to be compelled to clear off walkways, I caved. Sweating it out indoors in a t-shirt sounded like paradise.
As someone who regularly participates in road races, I am no stranger to running with other people, and dare I say that a large part of my desire to race is to be with other running crazies. After months of training it’s nice to feel some camaraderie in the shared goal of making it to the same finish line, and it’s nice to have the push and pull of trying to keep up with a selected rabbit, or conversely trying to prevent one from passing. Frequently if you are the passer it’s not all that uncommon to hear a “You go, girl” wheezed out by very same person you are passing. The gym, however, is an entirely different beast, perhaps because no one is united in the same goal, or perhaps because I showed up with a very specific one. In the words of anyone younger than me, my vibe was harshed.
The nature of the gym set-up is a little hostile in and of itself, and while I’m theoretically supportive of shared resources, the process of securing a treadmill felt a little too much like my high school cafeteria experiences and less like, I don’t know, adults coming together on a cold Wednesday morning to workout. Being new to this whole thing, I naively hopped on an available machine, only to be curtly reprimanded by a woman next to me who had allegedly reserved the treadmills on both sides of her for her soon-to-arrive friends. Willing to chalk this up to my newbie gym status, and letting her off the hook for feeling sort of mean girlish, I begrudgingly headed over to the large white board on which you were supposed to secure your vehicle.
It’s not really having to sign-up for the machine that’s most bothersome, or really bothersome at all if you know the protocol. I felt like the layout of equipment lacked any consideration, any fengshui, if you will, and even after your treadmill was appropriately tagged on the board, I still felt like I was headed butt naked into the cafeteria. Logistically, I get it. To maximize the number of machines in the room, they need to be crammed together in rows, especially if you want everyone to be able to see the almighty TV. While I much prefer a distant TV to one embedded two feet in front of me, possibly a ballad of farsighted woes, I also do not feel watching TV while I run enhances my experience. But hey, I’m the asshole with the cracked skin from the arctic weather who selectively rolled in to do a half-marathon training run and was like “What’s this shit?” So, take my propensity to tough it out over watching the morning news with a grain of salt.
Still, I can’t be the only one who wants to use the gym and still maintain a tiny bit of privacy, or at least not feel the eyes of everyone else drilling into my back as I hoof it up those manually inclined “hills.” Let’s say, for instance, that machines simply lined the perimeter of the room so everyone could gaze out of the windows, or perhaps even just a few machines were sectioned off for those of us not wanting to be so on display. I know what you’re thinking. “If you hate the gym set-up so much, why don’t you just not go to the gym?” This is a fair point.
Last weekend, before the weather broke my back, I headed out into the winter wonderland to do the mainstay of long distance race training: my weekly long run. Optimistically blinded by the freshly fallen snow, and feeling surprisingly comfortable in the single digits, my only real concern was finding clear enough terrain not to twist an ankle or strain a tendon. A couple of miles in I spotted the holy grail: the mall parking lot. Assuming the mall would go to great lengths to avoid having an injured patron, I decided to run laps around the parking lot, which worked out well for the early hours of a Sunday morning (no traffic). This was not as dizzying as it may sound; one full lap around the perimeter of the mall was a little over a mile. There’s a small strip mall attached to the mall proper, and as I was rounding the corner to complete my first of many valiant laps, in front of said strip mall, I realized I had run right in front of a gym full of people in shorts (and yes, on machines).
I was all too suddenly aware of that fact that I was that person out there with the frosty eyebrows dressed like the abominable snowwoman. I was an elusive creature spotted in the wild (parking lot), the running crazy who knows no limits, the one proudly sporting fleece-lined pants from the aughts, with the sheen of a constantly running nose on my upper limit. With my snot-crusted mittens, I pulled my topmost hat down over my face a little more and prayed for anonymity. But, seriously. Why would anyone prefer the gym?
*Featured image photo credit: kirbyfood