There’s a reason I’ve avoided joining a gym for all these years. I managed to put it completely out of my mind during my years away, but one week with my old friends the Nautilus machines and pedaling, walking and running to nowhere has brought it back. I am a competitive maniac.
I don’t like to think of myself that way. I avoided team sports as a young person and as a parent I favored cooperative games, hoping to teach my children the value of working together toward a goal.
Sadly, they preferred cutthroat games of Chutes and Ladders, crowing as one of them stood atop a ladder watching the other slide back to “Start.” It didn’t get better as they got older; they can get into a fist fight over a game of Monopoly. I refuse to play any more because I do not consider games blood sport.
That’s apparently true only up to a point.
The first inkling I had was when I did my orientation on the weight-lifting machines.
“Start very slowly,” I was told. “You recently hurt your back, so you have to take it easy.”
A little voice in my head, a voice I hadn’t heard for years whispered, ‘Make the weights heavier.’
I looked around and didn’t see any bad trainers whispering behind me, so I shook it off and wrote down the weights the sane trainer suggested.
My first day on my own at the gym found me following a wiry little woman who looked to be 90 years old. She was hoisting those weights while hardly breaking a sweat. I followed her on each machine and discovered that all of her weights were set at least fifty pounds heavier than mine.
You can lift as much as she can!, whispered my evil little internal voice. Go for it.
Common sense won out, for the most part. But where did that voice come from?
Fast forward to the treadmill. I hate treadmills. They’re boring. And, I discover, they bring out the worst in me.
I was on a machine beside a woman ten years young than me, at least. She was in good shape, too. Her feet beat out a steady thump, thump, thump rhythm and she glistened with a well-earned sweat. I found myself peeking at the setting on her machine, looking to see what her pace was. I matched it. And then, god help me, I sped it up so if we were walking beside each other on the road, I’d have left her behind.
Ha!, cried my inner voice triumphantly.
What kind of sick puppy would compete with people working out at a gym? Woof. That would be me.
It happened again on my last visit. I was beside an extraordinarily sweaty man who was on the treadmill (yes, the treadmill again) alternating between jogging and a brisk walk. So I kept pace with him. And when he slowed down from his jog to a walk, I jogged for just a little longer. When we walked, I raised the incline on my machine so it was just a little harder.
I didn’t say anything, of course. I’m not that far gone. But I knew. And I knew that I knew and that was very, very worrisome.
I saw a woman doing some amazing exercises for the lower back and abdominal obliques. I had to try. And I suspect I am drawn to it because it looks so damned hard. It is.
This is not good. First, this goes against the image I have of myself.
I’m not competitive. I like games where everyone wins.
That’s apparently true unless I’m in a gym.
I’m not alone. I see people looking around at the people working out near them, then watch them pick up their pace. I see people pushing themselves so hard that they’re either punishing themselves, or trying to show up the rest of us. Even in the gentle stretch class, people are looking around to see if they can’t be just a little more flexible, a little more relaxed than the guy on the next mat.
I didn’t expect a gym membership to be an opportunity to analyze myself, but this is what it’s become. My long walks by myself allowed me to avoid confronting my inner crazy competitive person. I avoided her for so long that I actually forgot she existed. But it’s winter, I’m out of shape and I’m going to have to learn what she wants and how to keep her under control. Or I’m going to be a completely unhinged woman with an incredible physique.