Sunday, January 2, 2011

Just a tiny bit extraordinary…

Gymuary, day two of thirty-one.

Resolution-makers were out in full force today, which was nice to see. I like that my gym—it's a YMCA—is so unpretentious. We've got body-builders and the usual sporty, perky young women with bouncing ponytails and distinctly un-bouncing bodies, but also eighty-year-old men who walk on the treadmill at two miles an hour in khakis and suspenders and boat shoes, excitable senior ladies who gab in the locker room in their dripping swimsuits after a water aerobics class. We've got people of all races and ages and sizes, who nearly all adhere to the rule about wiping down the machines when they're done with them.

Then there's me. Unremarkable. Short brown hair, not quite five-foot-six, size eight in both jeans and shoes, 140 pounds, just about textbook averageness in every physical sense. Except maybe my boobs. They're sort of average and a half. I'm thirty-one, an age at which no new privileges are granted and people no longer ask what you think you'd like to do with your life. These aren't complaints, mind you. Average is a nice enough thing to be.

But for ten minutes each day, I can make myself feel exceptional. Before I do, I spend thirty or forty minutes on the most central elliptical machine I can find. I scout. The row in front of the ellipticals is treadmills, with big screens and large red numbers displaying the incline and speed and time and such of the people using them. I scout for a pace car, usually a twenty-something guy, and I try to spy on him and see how fast he runs. I pick a guy, because the women who run have an eerie synchronicity in which they all seem to top off at six miles an hour. As though they were all made privy to some stone tablet passed down from on high that proclaims 6.0 to be the optimum and perfect setting for every woman. But usually there will be a fit guy that hits seven or faster, and he is my pace car.

After the elliptical-slash-voyeurism portion of my workout is done, I've already burned a few hundred calories and my heart is going at a nice fat-burning pace and my muscles are warm and primed. I switch to a treadmill and set it for ten or fifteen minutes. I pick the interval workout setting, which asks you to enter your jogging speed and your running speed. I enter six and seven. I cue up Kylie Minogue's "Get Outta My Way" and "Aphrodite" and for ten minutes, I am a tiny bit extraordinary. Well, I feel like I am. It's mostly the music and the adrenaline, but when I hit the interval button and it goes to run-mode, I feel like an Olympian. If I saw a guy running at 7.2 during my stake-out, I make it a point to nudge myself up to 7.5 for sixty seconds toward the end. Finish strong, the cheesy inspirational poster on the wall tells me. Okay, I will, I say.

I'm not a distance runner. When I run outside I rarely go more than three miles, because I hate carrying water and my knees just aren't the marathon types. But for ten minutes, I can run my ass off. For ten minutes, I can run as fast as a college guy. And for ten minutes, in a gym full of relative strangers who probably aren't paying me any attention, I feel pretty exceptional. I pump my arms and sprint as though I'm in a character in a movie, sequestered in an underground training bunker, taking some high-tech stress test with electrodes taped to my vital bits. The white noise of the popular media that's always buzzing in the back of my Western brain, always murmuring to me about thinness and grooming and brand names is utterly drowned out, and I don't care that I'm stinky or red in the face or what my little pockets of excess may look like to an observer. I don't care that my track pants and tee-shirt and bandanna make me look like a frump compared to that trim woman in the form-fitting, matching work-out gear. I don't care if anything's jiggling because I am running an eight-minute mile, and I just blew right past all those pointless voices, too quick to hear.

When I am done, I am sweaty and pink and probably not attractive beyond the pheromonal level, but it is the best and most desirable I will feel all day. High on endorphins, I do an A+ job of wiping down the machine, even the parts I didn't touch, and for this short sliver of my time on the planet, I am damn-near perfect.

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