Our apartment is directly across the street from a popular health club. I can stand at my kitchen window and watch some guy on a treadmill reach his personal best. I can see a Spandex-clad woman tinkering with the scales to make sure she hasn’t gained a pound.
And with my warped imagination, at night the building looks like a lit-up laboratory of rows and rows of little futuristic boxes. Each with a miniature action figure inside, all wound up and training to take over the world.
I know, I have way too much time on my hands.
But at night I wonder: why are you running to nowhere? and isn’t there something important to do at home? And then eventually I start to think that they are just a bunch of idiots who don’t really know why they are working out. And that they’re just programmed to be competitive drones.
I know, I’m a running snob. But I just don’t think it’s natural to have to pay money to run. And it’s not really running, is it? It’s completely artificial.
It goes way back, my mistrust of gyms. P.E. class of course. But running track in high school, that really ruined me. Because now whenever I run past a stadium track I start to hyperventilate and nearly launch into an anxiety attack. It’s post traumatic stress. Because it was brutal back then.
And none of it taught me to trust my body.
It was all about competition. And that is so not me.
Switzerland is the land of the elite athlete. I have never seen so many athletic specimens, especially masters level cyclists. They are incredibly fit with what I imagine are hearts the size of grapefruits. And everyone hikes. Even Grandma. In fact she’ll take your ass handily on the Alpine pass. Their tiny dogs are faster and more sure-footed than you.
I’ve read that children here start hiking when they are toddlers. They sprint right past you like billy goats barely taking a breath. But they’re not checking their pulse rates or gauging their pace per mile and certainly not their calories. It’s just not a big deal to the Swiss.
Unlike American athletes. We have to be all serious and professional about everything. We can’t just hike, we have to hike in Peru or tramp the entire Pacific Rim Trail. How fun. And practically everyone I know runs triathlons. It’s not enough to just try to run every day.
And the same with cycling, people can’t just commute to work responsibly or bike around the neighborhood for recreation, they have to bike across the United States. The whole thing is unbelievably achievement oriented.
Even Mac gets drawn into it with his cycling. He has that craven, been-to-hell-and-back expression on his ghastly, wasted face when he comes home after a ride. And after his vitals have come down to post-triage levels, he downloads his graphs.
And he shows me the hills and the altitude increases he biked, and, I swear, he looks as horrified as I do at the masochistic data. And, of course, afterwards, the weekend is shot – no vigor, no energy to go outside, no sex. I mean are we meant to do that with our bodies?
Recently one of Mac’s colleagues told me about his summer vacation plans. He and his family were flying out to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to hike/rock climb in the Teton mountains. No, not a relaxed, family hike – they were spending the first five days taking an instructional repel/belay class in order to pass a proficiency test to make sure they didn’t plummet to their deaths or bash their skulls into the side of a mountain.
This was a vacation. I wanted to ask him if he was afraid to be a middle-aged man with thinning hair, but of course that would have been rude.
Call me lazy. I call myself that. Because no matter how hard I try, my legs are locked into a nine minute mile. Even if I really try to push the pace, or a snarling dog is chasing me. I’m like that old Shetland pony that no whip could ever entice to giddy-up. My giddy-up giddy-upped and left a long time ago.
But the only thing about excusing yourself from the rat race of competition is that sometimes it’s hard to motivate. You start to feel lazy even beyond your own lazy standards. So maybe you need to get out there with people and show yourself you really are a bona fide athlete.
Or at least that you are a participant.
This might be one of those times: Biogenidec is sponsoring the Lucerne Half Marathon on October 26th to benefit MS. I know, I caved. But hey, I’m a little lethargic here. And I might not even go, OK? And now I’m sorry I said anything, because sure enough you’ll ask me about it, won’t you? Now I have to do it. I’m screwed.
I hate road races more than pelvic exams. They are way too early in the morning and before you even hit the starting line all your adrenaline is gone. So you spend the entire race running on some kind of weird, stored-up stomach pooch energy. You feel alternately silly and darkly grim. And you get that old P.E. panic all over again. It’s a mob of eat or be eaten out there. And afterwards you vow never to enter another one again.
But that’s partly why I’m doing it, because once you finish a road race, your everyday runs go back to being so awesome. You feel free and natural and happy to go only as far as you want.
You remember how much you like being alone, setting your own pace, stopping at the creek if you want to. And you can savor being sluggish as hell, too. You can settle right back into the familiar Shetland pony gait and it feels just perfect – nice and lazy, just the way you like it.