Yesterday I approached the gym like a warrior. “Eye of the Tiger” was playing in my head. I was carrying a duffel bag. I had that look of determination in my eye. Or maybe it was just allergies.
I was going to run. On the treadmill. For an hour. Like a true champion. Or a drunk teenager trying to evade the cops.
I sized up my opponent: a state-of-the-art LifeFitness, equipped with many bold buttons and a prominent emergency safety switch.
For nearly ten minutes it looked to other gym-goers as though my workout routine consisted solely of walking back and forth between the treadmill and the stairclimber with my duffel bag, regarding each of them with trepidation, grasping their handles in a suggestive manner while chewing my lip.
I just couldn’t do it. I valued my future pedicure far too much. As it stood (pun intended), the toenail on the second toe of my left foot was aching, swollen with fluid, being pushed out of its happy home by a blister that came as a result of my run the other day. I would have an ET toe. It was going to be ugly once again.
I thought about Los Angeles, about how it’ll be hard to explain to the wannabe-starlets laying on neighboring lounge chairs why my feet look like I ran them through a meat grinder or like I was born with some sort of malady. I saddled up to the ‘climber and spent an hour mounting the stairway to heaven. And by heaven I mean a great ass and ten toenails.
Running has never been my thing. Or, rather, when it was my thing so was wearing a spiked collar and listening to Marilyn Manson. Bill Clinton was the president. Cellphones couldn’t give you directions unless you called a friend with a map. Britney Spears was a respectable punchline. And I was a runner. Short, white, and All-State in track during the last two years of high-school, you wouldn’t have ever thought I was a sprinter, yet there I was. Apparently I’m pretty quick if you fire a gun above my head.
After undergoing the kind of training you only see in 80s movie montages – the type that involves a grizzled coach with a plastic whistle and short-shorts yelling commands at the main character who is spraying sweat everywhere as they vomit into meticulously manicured grass, waving as their friends pass them by onto some social event while they keep training for The Big Race – I quit. I had started drinking and found that my true athletic ability was the speed with which I could pound vodka while trying to simultaneously dance and have sex with my friends’ girlfriends. Running was dead to me. I spat on it. As I gained over twelve pounds from my sedentary and spirit-soaked freshman year, I vowed never to run again. If I were to do cardio, it would be on a machine, dammit, preferably one that had a shot glass holder. One that analyzed which parts of my body were being used and that did more than simply threaten to send me careening backwards into a wall. Of course, the only activities that I partook in during college were the Zima stealing decathlon and a few rounds of the game Somebody Dismantle That Smoke Alarm, Jesus Christ, It’s Three in the Morning, Who Is Stoned And Making Macaroni & Cheese?
Once I was fired in Portland, I had nothing but time on my hands. I started blogging. I started napping. Eventually I started running. Armed with little more than my old iPod and a pair of Converse, I cut an odd figure jogging up to the reservoir in southeast every morning. I would trot around, oblivious to how fast I was going, listening to shitty hipster electronica, fighting back tears and dodging fixed gear bicyclists. Although the drastic weight loss I experienced in those first few months of 2008 could be chalked up to the trifecta of poverty, strict veganism, and newfound sobriety, I’m sure that running had something to do with it. I kind of enjoyed it. It was the only thing that made me feel good.
Until it didn’t. Again.
For some reason I stopped. Maybe it was the weight loss. Maybe it was the fact that I ran out of tunes. Maybe it was because my ex and I moved to Oklahoma and the idea of running out there made me fear being kidnapped by Leatherface or a church group. No matter, I stopped. I forgot about running. I was grateful to leave it behind me.
Sometime after I moved back to New York in 2009, people around me started reading this weirdo’s book, Born to Run. These dopey shoes that looked like toe-socks started popping up among my father’s rich friends. My cigarette-smoking ex downloaded an app called Run Keeper and suddenly started logging a mile or two at night by the Hudson River. Inspired by my natural competitiveness, I strapped on my gym sneakers (a pair of New Balances that appealed to me only because they were pink) and I hit the treadmill. At first it was only fifteen minutes after my usual elliptical workout. Then fifteen minutes became thirty. Then I started trying to go faster. I figured out how many miles a 5K was (3.16) and I began to shave off time. Thirty minutes became an hour. An hour grew into thirteen miles. I listened to every song I owned and podcasts about whales, dead bodies, sexual dysfunction. I was bored out of my mind, but shocked at the fact that I was running. And I wasn’t just running because I was afraid of getting my head shot off. I was voluntarily running long distance, almost every day.
Then things started to happen. Bad things. Bad things that quickly became Very Bad Things. First there was the weight loss, which was something that I didn’t need while recovering from an eating disorder. My appetite increased to the point that I couldn’t feel satisfied, leading to a precariously unhealthy state of existence for a lady with food issues who is already a size double-0 midget toddler in pants from the Gap. Then my hip started hurting, a flare up of an old gymnastics injury. The blisters on my feet began to bleed and stain my socks. I lost one toenail, then another, and another, until I was missing more toenails than I had. My open-toed high-heeled sandals were shelved. In fact, due to the hip pain, gone were my high-heels entirely. I was obsessed, though. I couldn’t stop. I was doing so well on Run Keeper! I was on fitness social networks where strangers applauded my progress! I did better than some people! I broke last week’s record! I got little award icons that declared me a badass! I hated it, but it felt good to be improving at something other than complaining about my feet hurting. And besides, I had an audience.
I think I stopped running when I started weight training. I wanted to find something else to do, something more sustainable, something less time consuming. There was also a tryst that involved a lot of sex and pancakes at around that time, too. Those were a few weeks that threw me off of my workout schedule and led to me returning to the gym with a satisfied smile and an, “Aw, fuck it” shrug when I walked past the treadmill and mounted the elliptical. Even though I now knew that the elliptical was for pussies, I wasn’t about to attempt running while I was still walking bowlegged. Over time, I increased my weights. I stuck to a regimen. I still do, more or less. No running.
I like things to excess. Masturbation, CSI, watermelon, The Cure, basketball games, my former love of alcohol…you name it, if I like it, I’ll eat it, drink it, listen to it, watch it, use it to the nth degree. I’m often asked why I workout so much. Sometimes I say it’s so that I can defend myself. Other times I tell people it’s because I’m an international assassin, or because I want to be able to cling to Amar’e Stoudemire’s leg for a minute or two before he can shake me off if I ever meet him in person. The truth is, I do it because I’m addicted to it. I like it, and I like the results. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’m lucky that it’s healthy, or at least healthier and more affordable than nine shots of whiskey followed by a PBR chaser. I go a tad overboard with exercise, but at least it’s something that’s good for me. Physically.
When I was in LA last week, the gyms out there are different. For one thing, there are many plasticky blond ladies who wear a drag queen’s worth of makeup on the cross-training machines. There are also fewer ellipticals available to androgynous, tattooed visitors from out of town. My best-friend who was staying with me is a runner. She’s the type of girl who won’t get up before 9AM…unless it’s for a half-marathon. It’s inspiring. Unfortunately.
In those unfamiliar gyms, I found myself approaching the treadmill yet again. First it was for four miles. Then six. After returning to New York, I sidestepped my elliptical. This past Wednesday I clocked over seven miles on the treadmill in an hour. My toenails started to ache. I thought of all the burritos and frozen yogurt I’d consumed out west, convinced myself it really wasn’t a big deal if I ran for a few weeks before heading out there again. But my bullshitting wasn’t enough. Bikini! my inner Tori Spelling shrieked, while echos of my old track coach barking Pick it up, Drew! What are you, a sissy?! punctuated my steps. I rankled, I cracked. Yesterday I went back to basics. Fuck running, I can’t handle it.
There’s a fine line for crazy people. For wackos like me, there’s an imperceptible shift when something goes from being a good thing to being dangerous or self-destructive. So I’m grateful that I have my vanity. It’s what’s going to keep me on the stairclimber, at least until I make my way to heaven, or back to LA wearing sandals. My new goal isn’t to get faster. It’s to be bowlegged every time I get to the gym.