Winter forces gym culture captivity

Like any other obsessive runner, I began worrying about the coming winter when I moved here from Seattle in August. Having never gone more than one week in the cold (anything under 72 degrees), I entertained all kinds of ideas about how I would handle the dilemma.

Supported by denial and ignorance, I turned out some fairly entertaining images. I will spare you most, but not all. First, I envisioned myself running up and down the stairs in my apartment 180 times. I contemplated the skyway system; I even got entrepreneurial about the whole thing, envisioning “Sky-Way-Ten-K” slogans splayed across city buses.

Alas, I decided all that would be too much work and settled on the idea that when the snow hit I would simply tough it out like a Viking. “I’ll just throw on 12 layers of my super-strength polar fleece special outdoor survivor wear,” I idealized, thinking of the tough folks at REI.

Really, a runner will stop at nothing. In fact, the only thing I vowed I would never do was go to the University’s recreation center and run on a treadmill. For months, my cousin had been trying to get me to go to her gym in St. Louis Park, and for months I had always had something better to do in Uptown (or Eden Prairie). To me the gym has always been like a root canal or the prom – something I had to do because “they” were doing it.

My issue with the gym is simple and hardly original: Everyone there is shallow and checking each other out, being thin and wearing some name brand with an exclamation point, drinking green drinks and sweating soy milk all over the place. I had better things to do with my calories.

Also, I get a little intimidated by all the hard bodies crammed together in one big room, like a bad Michael York movie, and the lifting of heavy things and all the long, nice hair. I am a tad self-conscious because I have hair issues. When I get out of the shower, I often get looks that seem to say, “Wow. I didn’t know hair could do that. She’s from the wilds of where?”

But I quickly got fed up with winter boot camp around Lake Calhoun. And the thought of putting on 18 layers and running around the lake or up and down the Mississippi donning a hat with rabbit ears seems pretty silly. And while it can be fun to run around in the snow once in a while, the lungs probably hurt for a reason. The feet probably slip because they are not meant to sprint on ice. The face probably feels like it is burning itself inside out because it probably is.

So I finally gave in and called my cousin. It was a tough call to make. It was four-ish, within the frame of her gym window, but I played it cool.

“How’s it going?”

“Fine, you? I’m thinking of going to buy an air popper because I get hungry after breakfast, lunch and dinner and that’s just not working. Want to come?”

She hadn’t a clue, so I stalled. “I didn’t run today because it was, like, squalling ice. You didn’t tell me it gets this cold. Want to take a walk?” I was backing down.

She thought it over for a second. “Well, I would except I already did that in the hallway. So, no.”

Before she could abruptly hang up and continue triple-tasking, I took the plunge and told her, as though she never suggested it, it might be nice to go to her gym sometime. “You know,” I said, “we could make it, like a thing. No hurry.”

Jane is a kind relative. She also picks up on things. “All right,” she said. “I’ll go get the air thingy and I’ll meet you at my gym at a quarter ’til.”

The entire way there I dreaded it. I complained to Stevie, the blond surfer dude on my dashboard. I remembered high school in the locker room and how everyone would laugh at my Boy George bra. I remembered the time I went with my mom to her “club” in L.A. and all the women who were liposucked and looked like they were going to hang out on the machines until they evaporated. “I can’t believe it has come to this,” I grumbled, pulling into the lot.

At first, I was overwhelmed by all the machines (was that thing in the last “Terminator” movie?). For one thing, my coordination is atrocious. Add to that the fact I kept doing the
exercises wrong because I kept trying to run on all the machines. When a well-intended co-stepper pointed me toward the Limb-A-Whirl (made it up), I got motion sick and had to get off immediately. I finally adjusted once I climbed atop the Stairmaster.

To my surprise, I found myself having a ball. In no time at all, I was one of them – working it, feeling proud, drinking bottled water. Jane even taught me the “get off your bike and go to the water fountain/check out the cute 6-foot-2 by the row machine” trick. It is now safe to say that I am hooked on the Stairmaster.

Her gym is like the carnival cruise of the club scene. The Lalapalooza of torture. They’ve got it all and are pretty amazing at turning everyday things into “exercise.” The fliers boast classes of all kinds: social dance, waving, cleaning, kicking, stomping, yawning. Who knew?

At first, I felt like a hypocrite. Why the heck am I conforming to society’s silly idea that humans should burn up energy and not get anything in return? I mean, I might as well jump up and down while praying for rain.

Once I got into it, though, I began to sound just like those other addicts: “Sorry, Jill, can’t make it to your thing because I have the gym.” Or existing blissfully in that first stage of denial where I have no time to do anything, yet somehow I can fit in a spare few hours working out.

Now I frequent the recreation center. Sometimes I feel a bit awkward around all the young Scande-flesh, especially since I am in the process of getting a tattoo removed and I’m in that in-between stage where the thing resembles a Pollack painting. And, even though many folks would argue otherwise, I don’t look exactly like Julia Roberts.

But I realized, as I should have years ago, no one is really watching. No one cares that my Mariners tank doesn’t go with my Old Navy fanny pack. No one ever cares that I still use a fanny pack. In fact, no one cares that I missed one day of running.

Best of all, the recreation center has a Ping-Pong table, lest I get a sudden need to kick ass (and that’s a standing invitation). Now that I have options, winter here doesn’t seem all that bad. Maybe they’ll even come up with a Ping-Pong machine in case no one takes me up on my offer.