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In the 1966 film Born Free, a tearful Virginia McKenna tells her onscreen husband that sending their adopted lion cub to a zoo would turn it into ‘a cow on a milking machine.’

I think of that sentence when I hear the word ‘Gym’.  Know, I’m not entirely sure why.  It’s not like I’ve ever seen a farm animal in The Gymnasium, although lots of milking takes place there, I hear – your wallet, its money, and pinch.

Perhaps it’s the very idea of being racked up next others, tied to machines.  That and also looking a bit like an animal.  There’s really no difference in my mind between a dog chasing its tail, a hamster on its wheel, and me on a treadmill.  We’re all going nowhere, looking stupid.

And speaking of looking stupid, the mirrors.  I can see why some people go to the gym – to get muscles like a gorilla or legs like a gazelle.  But run in front of a mirror and I’m sorry, the only animal you are ever likely to resemble is a budgie. 

What do people think about as they stare at themselves?  Go me?  Go more red?  Wobble more, wobbly bits?  It’s ridiculous!  If ever I’m in a gym I make it my mission to look everywhere BUT at myself. Which often means I end up looking at other people.  I drift off into my own little world (stadium, me, medal) then crash off my podium when I realise for the last 5 minutes, I’ve been inadvertently gawping at some weightlifter’s scrotum.  It’s really rather awkward.

‘You watch the tele,’ my friends tell me. I was in a gym once doing just that, thudding on a treadmill trying to focus on the news, when an attendant from The School of Workout Sadism decided to switch channels – to a food programme.  I mean, why not just shout out: ‘Chase the cakes, fatties, chase the cakes’? 

I do not attend gyms any more – although, having said that, I was caught in one the other day.  I was actually en route to a free massage or something (just as ridiculous) when I bumped into a boy.  I’ll call him H.  H said he didn’t realise I was a member of the gym.  I couldn’t be bothered to explain, so I just said yes, I am a member of the gym.  If you end up reading this H, I am sorry, I lied.  I am not a member of the gym.

So anyway, no gyms for me.  This doesn’t mean however, that I do not like exercise.  I am, in fact, partial to a run every now and again.  Ah, running.  There are many benefits to this sort of workout.  You go at your own pace and there’s no flibberty-gibbet machine beeping at you, flashing its silly lights, telling you your heart rate is so far off the charts you’re basically dead.

You don’t breathe in other people’s body odour either, plus you get to look at nature – ducks and doggies, babies and buggies (no budgies).

This time of year is especially good for running.  It’s marathon season.   Run in the park tomorrow and I guarantee you’ll get instant entry to the club; the exclusive top 10% fittest in the country (made-up statistic) club.  You run passed other joggers, catch their eye and – snap – the split-second acknowledgment of this unspoken affirmation:  ‘I’m doing the marathon, you’re doing the marathon.  See you at the start line.  Respect.’

Only I’m not doing the marathon.  But I like the respect bit.

To jog outside is to feel less pressure.  Yes you run the risk of being overtaken by a grandpa three times your age (or worse, a Jack Russell) and that is fairly mortifying, I agree.  But the fresh air, the seeing of things and the feeling cool and getting respect, makes it worth it.  Note though, I said ‘feeling cool’ not ‘looking cool’.  If you care what you look like, you’re no runner.  There’s no swish Lycra or fluorescent headbands anywhere upon my jogging person.  I favour a pair of mud splattered trainers, ripped sweatpants from the 80s and a free t-shirt from “Crabshack” inGeorgia.  Yes I do look a sight – and a fright.  But if Forrest Gump can get away with a Bubba Gump cap, then it’s quite alright for me and my Crabshack.

Outfit asides, I must also highlight the great sense of achievement one feels in running home straight from a…run – a feeling you just don’t get at the Gym, collapsing off your exercise bike.  It also sounds so much better too.  ‘I cycled 15ks in a spinning class.’  Greaaaat. 

‘I ran round the whole of Hyde Park – and then home.’ Respect.

I told a friend this recently.  I also let slip my circuit of Hyde took 30 minutes (let slip? Pah, I was very obviously boasting).  The friend baulked in my face and told me I was lying.  Of course I had exaggerated a little – what’s 9 extra minutes between friends?  But in all seriousness, I was simply accounting for things that got in the way; the obstacles that added-on time between the start and finish point – like the rest of the park, for example.

Nevertheless, it’s not about timings for me.  Who am I trying to beat anyway – myself?  That’s clever.  Whilst I’m very competitive even I know I won’t be able to beat myself forever.  I’d be setting myself up to lose eventually, and no truly competitive (forward slash, stubborn) person would ever do that on purpose.

So I like to stick to my leisurely runs, taking my time and not being in a Gym.  Yes there is a downside.  You won’t tread in dog crap at Fitness First.  But in my experience, it’s all about how you deal with these things. 

As I see flecks of turd splaying out from beneath my trainers, I adopt the mantra of my fashion guru, Forrest Gump.

Head held high, face of true grit, I stare-out passers-by with: ‘Sh*t happens!’

Humbled by my fervour, they nod in agreement, and stare back at me with: ‘Respect.’

by Beenie Langley

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