Here’s a fact about me: I don’t go to the gym. The only running shoes I own were bought two years ago during a promotion to celebrate the opening of a store in Tucson, Ariz. called Shoe Carnival. My athletic career ended after a semester-long experience on novice crew my freshman year, which I enjoyed but to which I contributed little more than the weight of my body in the boat. I’ve tried running a few times, but the only high I encountered was the sweet release of my body threatening to shut down.
When I find out somebody exercises regularly, I’m super impressed, but I don’t ask to go the gym with them. I would never burden them with my presence as a stowaway on their mission. I also like to maintain an air of mystery that’s impossible when I’m sweating through a Ben and Jerry’s t-shirt.
But for the purposes of journalism, I embarked last week on a journey to the rapidly beating heart of the gym: upper Lasell. Everyone calls upper Lasell the “EstroGym,” because it’s a shrine to the apparently feminine pursuit of cardiovascular exercise. I assume there’s also a “TestostroGym,” which is just a field full of bears you’re supposed to wrestle for a barrel of whiskey.
Did you know that there’s a stationary bike you can recline in? You probably did. Before I went to the gym for the first time in ages the other day I didn’t know that. I went at 8:30 p.m., striding confidently past the guy who checks IDs, who had seen neither me nor my student ID in actual years. There was no blissful reunion, just a loud reminder to swipe before entering. I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t. He didn’t say.
As I had hoped, upper Lasell was nearly empty, except for one girl, presumably a student, who was running on a treadmill with the tenacity of someone being chased by a mountain lion and the grace of the mountain lion itself. She was not sweating. I kept looking around, half expecting a bouncer to take me by the arm and throw me in the street, but the bouncer never came.
My ear buds were blaring a Spotify playlist called, I think, “Workout fun! Summer 2k14!” I soon discovered that this playlist was frighteningly preoccupied with Ariana Grande remixes. Not knowing what else to do, I switched to This American Life. That’s right: Ira Glass murmured piercing insight into my eardrums while I sweated on the elliptical.
What I think I know about the elliptical is this: It’s meant to simulate running without the impact of running. It looks cool. Running on one feels like training for NASA. I will never be an astronaut. I managed to keep space-running for about half an hour. There was no high for me, except the high of Ira’s voice. You can almost hear his glasses through the radio.
I tried getting back on the erg, which went about as well as I thought it would. I babysit a toddler whose house has an erg. One time he pulled on the handle and he got a higher split than I did at the gym.
When it was all over, I walked home; this was a level of exercise I was much more familiar with. I felt good, like I’d conquered something. My face must have held the expression of easy triumph most often seen on statues of white men riding horses.
This is a pretty athletic school, and it’s easy to see why. There are plenty of mountains around to climb if you’re feeling sad, or energized, or if you want to escape to the woods with a lover to lead an ascetic lifestyle. Exercise is good for you, too. We know that because of science.
But I’m here to tell you, fellow non-gym goers, that you’re not alone. I’m also here to tell you this: the gym is not that scary. Sure, it’s full of people who know what they’re doing or are very good at pretending, but this is Williams.
When in doubt, remember: We’re all pretty good at pretending we know what we’re doing.