An ode to the gym

I’m restless.  A wriggly irritation settles inside my abdomen.  As my blood pressure rises, my sinuses tighten.

It’s a beautiful, 60 degree day… and I am going to the gym.

“I hate the gym.”
“Oh, it’s just a short workout today.  You can skip it.”
“Go home and do a quick run outside!”
“You know you would rather lie in the sun at home and cuddle the cats.”

Oh yes.  All of those.  The last one is the most tempting, especially with snacking thrown on top of it.

Still, I manage to pull into the parking lot.  With only a few previous exceptions, once I am here, I do not pull away without a workout under my belt.

Walking through the glass doors and toward the front desk, a sour wave of chlorine-infused air wafts up my nostrils.  The sickening feeling travels down my throat to my stomach.

“Uh huh, sure you want to be here?”

Somehow I get changed, traverse a flight of stairs, clean off my favorite machine, and get my workout underway.

I’ve never been a gym rat.  In the past, my daily workout routine did consist of an hour doing hills on the elliptical, but I would high-tail it home as soon as I was done.  I might lift here and there if I guilted myself into it.  Otherwise, the place to find me was outside, carving out as much of my neighborhood as possible on runs or hiking in the mountains.

Why bother with the gym, then?  I sometimes feel like perhaps I should join the small religious following that claims that gyms are hell on earth and cardio machines are nothing more than human hamster wheels.

As a distance runner, and perhaps in particular, for those whose lives keep them busy enough outside of working out, training at the gym makes fitting in sweat sessions easier.  And often safer.  If I want to run a few miles, then switch to a bike – and not have to worry about changing, or finding my helmet, or checking my tire pressure, or switching into my cycling shoes, etc. the gym is far more convenient.  I don’t have to do my outdoor run and then pack my bags and drive over to get my lifting out of the way – or vice versa.  It is a time saver.

In terms of safety, I don’t need to have my husband set a timer for when I’m supposed to return home.  This is particularly helpful during long runs, where if I’m hurt early on, it could be quite a while until he comes looking for me.  There are also no road-crossings where I play the, “Let’s try to read the mind of the driver and see if they will follow the crosswalk law.” game.  It’s a lot less likely that some predator will jump out and drag me into the thicket in the green belt.  And there are more people around to call 911 should I pass out and whack my head on the treadmill belt.

But really, to move on from dwelling on the more negative positive reasons…

The gym is a community.  If you’re new, it often doesn’t feel like it, especially once you catch sight of the people you assume are the regulars.  It’s intimidating to start, but after spending some time there, you start to notice the elderly couple who walk the track together every afternoon, or the middle-aged pair who enjoy starting their morning at 5 am on the ellipticals…  The women who catch up while walking an incline on the treadmill or lift kettle bells together…  The high school packs that burn off steam.  People come to the gym for company, to help each other meet their goals, and perhaps to learn something new.

In a sense, the gym levels the playing field.  Say you want to work out with a friend, but you’re just on a Couch25k program and they’re a veteran marathon runner.  Chances are, for both of you to get your desired intensity level out of your workout, you wouldn’t be within shouting distance of one another.  But at the gym, you can run or walk side by side and still catch up on the day’s happenings.  You can take turns spotting each other on different weights and still enjoy each other’s company.

I go to the gym for inspiration.  There are people there who greatly exceed my own abilities and their drive pushes me to refine my focus on my goals.  They make me want to be a “better” athlete and to continue to adhere to an active lifestyle.  I’m lucky that I’m surrounded by these types of people in my workplace, but the energy of their passion hits me stronger when I see it in action.

The fast and the built are not the only people I draw inspiration from.  Last summer, during one of my sessions with my then-BFF the elliptical, I was able to witness someone just starting out.  He spent his afternoons with a personal trainer.  Every afternoon I was there, he was there.  I took a long break from the gym at one point and when I returned, I saw him again.  Although he was still working on transforming his health, it impressed me that he stuck with it, like so many of us who fight the same battle here.

While running outside, I am alone and free – free to let my mind wander as I traverse the miles.  There is hardly anything that beats fresh air or the soft crush of gravel underfoot.  The stair climber cannot replace the intoxicating high one feels once reaching the top of a mountain.  All of that is certain.

But the gym will still be a place where I can find community, inspiration, and allow me to fight off whatever demons might be chasing me.


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