This is true for me, and it is true of a lot of other people, based on personal experience: at the gym, people think it's ok to be a jerk. I'm paying big money to go there, and when I'm stuck in some horrible group exercise class, I have no qualms about stomping out of there with a furious scowl across my face. A few months ago I was all pumped up for my standard Thursday ass-kicking bass-thumping step class, when some perky substitute came in and started prancing all around the room. Like bad step teachers everywhere, she had stupid names for stupid moves: "Ok, let's loop the loop! Loop it! Loop it! Loop it LEFT! Loop it LEFT! Loop it! Loop it! Loop--" With a grim look on my face, and muttering the words "this is horseshit," I stalked past everybody else, put my junk away and left. Do I care if people were looking at me weird? Do I care if I offended the teacher? No, I don't. It's my time, my workout. Perhaps this is the kind of thing I should never bother worrying about, ever, but I do, so this is big for me.
Anyways, last night I was stuck in the worst group gym class anyone has ever participated in, and I include the activities of Hitler Youth in that statement. Maybe it was my fault -- the class was called "Cardio Video Dance," I was bored, I figured, what the hell, I watch enough music videos. I walked in and everyone was on the floor stretching like it was the prelude to "Flashdance." The teacher struts in with her posse of J.V. Pussycat-Dolls types, and announces that "today we're going to be 'Mimi.'"
Oh, like Mariah Carey? OK, that could work -- maybe some "Say Somethin'," "It's Like That"....
"...Mimi from 'Rent.' So, all you guys [eye contact from teacher to me], today you're going to be girls."
You know, usually I only grit my teeth when I sleep, but at that moment I felt a familiar tension throughout my jaw. Still, I tried to be a good sport and lined up with the group. First was the toe-tapping thing, then this chest-thrusting thing - awkward but still within the realm of my dignity. Then the teacher starts shimmying her hips and running her hand along the side of her body - moving into a squat on your haunches, rub another hand down your torso.... OK. Yeah. I'm in the wrong room. Not daring to look at anyone, I grab my music and towel and scurry out of there.
I can hear the music pounding in the studio but I hop on a treadmill and start running. I was pissed that I wasted my time and felt embarassed for looking stupid in front of a room full of dance chicks and local gays. I ran for half an hour in that mincing, cramped treadmill way: my pelvis bonking against the front of the machine when I moved too fast, staring intently as the time crawled forward, considering the variations of heart rate and calories burned and when I could stop and go home. It was not cool. I did three miles and walked home, careful to avoid eye contact with the dance class people who were now filing out of the studio.
Outside it was beautiful out in the last waning hours of light, and I knew what I had to do. I went home, dropped off my water bottle and headed out for a real run, outside, along the Hudson down to Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty. Running outside I felt weightless, free, legs reaching outward and into the breeze from the river. The setting sun cast a warming glow on the bricks and glass of lower Manhattan, and I was struck once again by the narrow and beautiful palette of this city: rich browns and ochres and reds, in contrast to the roiling blues of water and light reflected in glass windows. I kept running, the streetlights flicked on one by one, my shirt was sweaty but cool in the night air. I tell you, it felt so good.
I'm doing a half-marathon this weekend, so I was glad I could run eight miles or so last night. To be outside among the anonymous community of Hudson River runners was the perfect antidote to the wretchedness of the gym. It was as if I had burst through the mirrors of the studio and the metal and plastic of the treadmill to come back to reality, to forget the artifice and attitude of the gym to run into and through a place of nothing more than night, water, sky, and sweat.
It was perfect. And I bought a new batch of songs on the internet to get through it - here is a nice little night-running mix you may use for your own devices: "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" by Panic at the Disco, "Deja Vu," by Beyonce, "When You Gonna Give it Up To Me," by Sean Paul, "Me and My Gang" by Rascal Flatts, and --this is the kicker -- "Get Up," by Ciara. Ring the alarm, y'all.