When I first joined the gym last year, I couldn’t even run a mile. By 0.8 miles, I was exhausted and out of breath, not to mention very sore the next morning. The next day I returned to the treadmill, nonetheless. Walked for a mile. Jogged for half a mile. And walked some more. That wasn’t too bad.
My personal goal was to be able to run at a steady pace for 20 minutes straight. I was happy with my weight, except maybe for the little pudge on my thighs.
The membership clerk at the gym last year asked me why I wanted to run. I don’t remember my response exactly but it must have been something like, “I’ve always wanted to be able to run past a mile. I don’t think I was meant to be a runner but I want to give it a try.”
During that week over dinner, I told a friend about the gym and how I started running as a personal challenge. She thought it was great and she was really supportive. But she also said that she would feel too self-conscious about exercising at a gym and if she were to take up running, it would have to be outdoors.
“But there are so many people there and they could be looking at you!”
I replied, “Well, yeah. You can look at them too,” laughing, “That’s the best part about it. Even though you’re all doing your own thing, you’re all working out together. It’s like you’re feeding off each other’s energy.”
I also like running outdoors in nice weather. Nothing beats the scenery and the fresh air. But I could understand self-consciousness. I was far from graceful or physically well-coordinated. In middle school, I felt the sting of rejection, consistently being the last one picked onto a team in Phys. Ed. unless one of my friends was a team leader.
Over the past year, I have seen many different types of people at the gym. There are gladiators in the weightlifting area, moms on elliptical machines, speed demons in spin class, Abercrombie models, big girls and big guys on step machines, even dudes biking with spiffy neon green sneakers. When exercising with an eclectic bunch, self-consciousness becomes irrelevant.
So what if the others are skinnier or more muscular than you? Everyone who has paid their membership dues or signed up for a guest pass deserves to be there. Perseverance is necessary; shame is not. Maybe one day, you’ll be like one of them. You don’t have to aspire for their six-pack abs. Feeling healthier is a reward in itself.
I’ve run alongside people whose effortless movements reminded me of gazelles. I’ve also run beside a guy who must have been an ex-Navy SEAL because his gait had a sort of militaristic discipline to it. Hovering at around 9 minutes per mile at my most recent 5-K, I still haven’t caught up to their pace, but one day I will!
Today at the gym, a man whom I’ve never seen before, steps onto the treadmill next to mine. It was after my 4-minute warm-up. He was middle-aged and heavy-set, but not obese. He quickly joined me at a pace close to my own. We ran like that for 30 some minutes. Out of curiosity, I glanced over to notice his reddened face and sweat-soaked t-shirt. Even though he had an excellent running posture, I could sense that he struggled through the mileage.
Although I don’t know his precise motivation for going to the gym…losing a few pounds, training for a marathon, following the doctor’s orders, being able to squeeze into the tux from his wedding day fifteen years ago? I don’t know.
I just thought his achievement for today was very commendable. I really wanted to pat him on the back for a job well done and tell him to keep going. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to do that because he was a complete stranger. I could only press the “Stop” button on my machine and jump off after 37 minutes, presenting him the encouragement of a small victory or what some like to call the highest accolade one runner can give to another.
It was official. He had outrun me.
I picked up a paper towel and some disinfecting spray. When I returned to spritz the handles of my treadmill, I noticed my neighbor had dropped his pace down to a brisk walk. I smiled and thought to myself, “That guy has it in him! He’s definitely a runner!”
The competitive spirit of a runner is unmistakable. Whether they run at a 6:00 minute per mile pace or a 12:00 minute per mile pace, they are all runners. We don’t care if we look like chickens or Olympic triathletes while running. We run because we enjoy the challenge. We run for the sense of accomplishment. We run for victory!
What I learned from being the overpronating, nerdy chick on the treadmill: Blessed are the shameless, for theirs is the glory of winning.
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