I’m in a gym for the first time in my life.
It was inevitable. I need to keep up the running regimen I began last year, but living in the north makes it difficult to run long distances with any regularity, since the sun is long gone both before and after work, and all the sidewalks are slicked over with ice, and the roads are clogged with panicked drivers zig-zagging around, over, and through each other in an attempt to slide their way home without too many head-on collisions.
So I’m in the local branch of a national gym chain, about to go on an eight-mile run on a treadmill.
My immediate impression is that it is the same kind of habitat aliens would give humans in their down time between probes. The colors are bright yet inviting. There are no corners–only rounded edges. The air is dank with a fleshy kind of smell reminiscent of the bottom of a Chuck E. Cheese ball pit.
I pick a treadmill that’s far away from the rest of the runners, feeling a cosmic shame, as if running in the comfort of the indoors, without the promise of prey or conquest, is a disappointment to a distant ancestor, most likely named Gorbo, looking down on me from the caveman afterlife.
I begin to run, and something amazing happens.
I’ve never understood the implicit association between writing and exercise. I feel like the trope is that the runner’s high clears the mind and make it fertile for inspiration. I’ve never felt such an experience. I’ve put about 400 miles on these running shoes and I’ve gotten, what, maybe two lines of prose out of it, both of which I’m sure were poetic descriptions of pain that I could use in horror stories.
No, when I run, all of my mental energy is dedicated toward maintaining my internal monologue of oh God oh man this hurts so much why did I ever decide to stop being fat. I’m still waiting for that moment when I achieve a sudden clarity and solve my narrative problems while on the trail, instead of cursing the high cholesterol that has led me to this activity.
I sort of assumed that in this brightly-colored, motivational space (THIS IS THE NO JUDGEMENT ZONE!) my mind would feel more at ease and thus more creative. Instead, the monologue is louder now as I run and run and run without going anywhere, staring straight ahead at a metal pole because I don’t want to watch television, partially because I don’t want to fumble with the controls and partially because the sense of cosmic shame would then become insurmountable. It’s as if Gorbo would be particularly offended to learn that not only am I running for hours in one place without any immediate reward, but I cannot do so without the reassuring cackles of the E! Network guiding my every step.
The treadmill keeps trying to shut itself down, suicide a better solution than to weather my meaty clomps for miles on end. I hunch over, still running, and wrestle with the buttons. It puts up a fights for several minutes, slowing down and speeding back up, as I trip over the inconsistent belt, whispering no no no, my internal monologue externalizing. I’m a shambling mess. If anyone needed a healthy does of judgment in the No-Judgement Zone, it would be me right now.
Generally, when I finish a difficult run, my teeth and nose and thumbs go numb. This isn’t related to any part of this blog post. I’m just putting it out there because I think it may be a medical issue. Please send help.
When my watch hits eight miles I hop of the treadmill and limp to the locker room, the stabbing pain in my knee a constant reminder of Gorbo’s displeasure. A ghostly spear wound from the beyond.
Only four more months to go.