Two types of people go the gym on a Friday night. There are the hardcore fitness enthusiasts that can’t skip a workout (let’s call them “category 1”). Then there are those who have no Friday evening plans, and possibly only brave the public gym when they know it will be virtually empty to avoid excess embarrassment. While I don’t like to necessarily categorize myself to any particular allegiance, I will tell you that I prey upon that second group, which I’ll refer to as “category 2”.
Tonight I brought my son Andrew with me to the gym. This sometimes throws off my routine because I have to keep an eye on him. If I leave him alone too long, I’ll find him sitting perfectly still on the bike watching Man vs. Food. Once he was settled onto the elliptical, I headed towards the treadmills. As expected, there were plenty to choose from. A handful of machines were being used, mostly by the category 2’s I just mentioned. Serious runner coming through, guys. You category 2’s in your oversized sweaty cotton T-shirts. I, a marathon runner in my tech shirt, will leave you awed in my complete mastery of this treadmill. I am a runner among walkers. A god among mortals.
I stepped onto the treadmill and before I could even press the start button, my iPod flew right out of my hand. Somehow it landed – don’t ask me how – underneath the belt of the treadmill. Andrew saw this from his perch behind me on the elliptical and howled with laughter, which then caught the attention of the cotton t-shirt clad walk/joggers. As gracefully as I could, I bent down, fished under the belt of the treadmill until I could latch onto that slippery sleek iPod, and resumed my position. To recover from this, I needed to reestablish myself as a god-like runner as quickly as possible. I wasted no time cranking up the treadmill. After a quarter mile warm up, I picked up the pace to a comfortable 8:30.
Cruising along nicely, I quickly worked up a sweat. This is where it’s in everyone’s best interest not to run on the adjacent treadmill. My very long, very thick ponytail swings wildly from side to side and even occasionally picks up a spiraling pattern. Once enough sweat has built up, that ponytail turns into an F5 tornado, spraying water in every direction.
Today was a people watching day. There wasn’t much to look at but it’s still a fun Friday game I like to play. I watched the half a dozen personal trainers loitering at the front desk in a perpetual flex, high-fiving each other and subtly surveying the amateurs for their next training gig. As I was analyzing their primal pack behavior, a category 1 runner pulled up a few treadmills down from me. Ah…competition. She instantly cranked up the speed and her pace was, at least as far as I could tell from my distance, considerably faster than mine. And to top it off, she was wearing a teal tech shirt with a matching bandana. Matching bandana? Who does that? I hated her instantly. I cranked up my speed to match hers, but during this time I felt the effects of my lunch coming back to haunt me. My lunch consisted of leftover Mexican food, which probably would have been ok except for the red onions, which make me very ill. I had picked out every onion but there must have been some onion residue, and it was wreaking havoc on my stomach. Not now, damn it! I’m in a horserace against bandana-lady! This is no time for vomit!! Unfortunately my stomach didn’t care about bandana-lady, and I was forced to walk and encourage my lunch from five hours earlier to make its way back down to my stomach.
My stomach had betrayed me, and I sulked walking on the treadmill feeling beaten by bandana-lady. Then, the last straw. Bandana-lady received a phone call on her cell. She answered it, and continued running her 8:12 pace while talking on the phone. Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is for that lady to trip and fall off the treadmill. Please, Santa. I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t really, really important to me. Santa didn’t pull through and bandana-lady continued her phone conversation, her swift legs steadily rolling along. Deciding that schooling this lady was more important than potential vomit, I sprang to life and turned the treadmill back up. For the next couple miles I maintained the same pace. I kept a watch on her out of the corner of my eye. Andrew was long gone at this point, doing bicep curls or something. I wouldn’t have noticed if he walked out the front door, because I was focused on my own performance, and that of my archrival. My lunch bobbed just south of my esophagus. Sweat sprayed freely. I cranked the speed again. I knew I couldn’t last because as much as it would hurt my pride to get beaten by this lady, I think my pride would ultimately suffer more if I indeed vomited all over the treadmill, and that was becoming a distinct possibility. I would have to admit defeat. Then suddenly, bandana-lady slowed to a walk. She was done. After just a couple miles, she quit. I had outlasted her, that bandana-wearing, cell phone yapping runner. Ha! She has no endurance. She was probably sprinting, that was probably her top speed. I could have done that for 10 miles (if I didn’t have red onion poisoning). If she were a horse she would be a Quarter Horse. Good for short distances only. I would be an Arabian. It was settled, I had won the battle of the running gods. I did a quarter mile victory lap and once again increased the speed to an even 8:00 pace.
As I did my final quarter mile and reflected on my undisputed victory, I realized that the success of a run is measured in so many ways. Outrunning a rival is one. Achieving a certain distance or time goal is another. I looked down at my treadmill, and then to the treadmills to the left, and to the right. Sweat drops from my F5 ponytail were spattered recklessly all over all three treadmills. Ah yes, this was a successful run. The final success came when I glanced back up and watched bandana-lady hop off her treadmill and walk out the door. There was no obligatory wipe-down of the machine. She had committed the ultimate betrayal of the runner’s code (not to mention Board of Health requirements). She was no category 1 runner. She was just another member of amateur hour. Victory was mine.