Bump and Run

September 4, 2011

For the past few years I’ve participated in an annual 5K run sponsored by a nearby town. Since the course is the same each year, I use the race as an annual benchmark of my level of fitness. I’ve also experimented with listening to music during the race, taking into account issues of etiquette, safety, and whether it’s even desirable to tune out the event. I can report that whatever the drawbacks, earphones will indeed help you go much faster.

The race organizers do a nice job at the starting line trying to separate the faster runners from the slower folks. Several large signs clearly indicate where you’re supposed to stand based on your typical pace per mile. Each group goes off in a staggered start separated by a minute or so.

Although this athletic honor system should help streamline the race, the whole arrangement breaks down under actual event conditions. Pumped full of pre-race adrenaline, people who have never run three miles in less than 30 minutes conclude they’re going to streak down the course at an eight minute pace. Likewise, you have folks with no conditioning at all that decide to accompany their more fitness-oriented spouse or relative at the starting line.

Everything would be fine if these people, totally gassed by 1,000 meters, drifted off towards the sidewalk in a courteous and controlled fashion. Unfortunately for the rest of us, they crash suddenly and stop right in your path. For those of us in the third or fourth wave of runners, the first half of the race is most notable for its frequent collisions and for weaving around the widespread traffic jams. In fact, the beginning of the race encapsulates everything wrong with the state of fitness today: People with unrealistic expectations starting too fast, burning themselves out, all while getting in the way of folks trying to train seriously.

There’s also fun to be had at the water stations at miles one and two of the course. Now, I imagine the race organizers set up these stations only for liability purposes or because it’s required by some county code. As a practical matter, do you really need to suck down a pint of water nine minutes into your jog? I’m serious – are people normally crazy with thirst after four laps around a track? I know that I haven’t even started to sweat yet at this point in my workout. Regardless, runners swarm the the tables and fling their empty cups all over the road. In particular, I like watching the guys who grab a cup of water in each hand and pour it over their heads, like they’re heading into the final stage of a triathlon.

No Class

January 9, 2011

I admit there’s one part of the gym experience with which I have no experience: aerobics classes. I’ve always figured that my own training is far more intense than whatever workout the instructor regresses to the mean. I’d also rather control my own pace and intervals of rest. Regardless, I do spend a great deal of time in the aerobics room – the mirrors and wood floor create the perfect environment for jumping rope. And whenever I jump rope prior to the start of an aerobics class, I am a witness to some incredibly bizarre behavior.

First of all, many members turn their aerobics class into a major half-day activity. People start showing up nearly two hours early to reserve their favorite spots on the floor, marking their territory with the full aerobics complement of step, weights and mat. The scene begins to resemble the unwashed crowd waiting outside early on Black Friday morning. One woman sits atop her step with a book; another naps along her mat. I’m sure that soon someone will whip out a portable stove top and begin cooking breakfast.

I can only assume that the line of sight to the instructor or to the mirror is the cornerstone of the entire enterprise. I have watched one woman on several occasions move her aerobics gear as close to the front of the room as possible – where I happened to be swinging a thin plastic tube at multiple revolutions per second. Even as my rope is smacking against her step, she continues in oblivion to load the rest of her gear into position. When she comes back for her class an hour later, her equipment is mysteriously touching the back wall.

This morning, I watched the level of aerobics egocentrism reach a new high. A guy setting up his station decided that the aerobics room dumbbells weren’t heavy enough for him. So he went out to the regular gym dumbbell rack, helped himself to the pair of 20s and 25s, and walked them back to his station. These community dumbbells, useful for bicep curls, forearm work and shoulder laterals, began collecting dust on the floor of the aerobics room – an hour before the class even started.

Coming Soon

December 29, 2010

Many years ago, before cable television, I remember seeing an amazing contraption at the house of a family friend. The dad had connected his television to his exercise bike so that the bike powered the TV. He could watch television only while converting calories into literal energy. The timing of his workouts determined what was available to him for entertainment.

Recently, my gym installed a “cardio theater,” a room with a large screen facing an array of treadmills and stationary bikes. Gym members often stop at the front desk to ask “what time does the movie start?” and schedule their workouts accordingly. Today, the timing of the entertainment determines when people are available to work out.

This week’s sign of the fitness apocalypse isn’t just the waste of gym resources (money and floor space) now required to persuade people to break a sweat. To my mind, watching a movie while you exercise is similar to trying to read a book. If you’re concentrating enough to truly follow the plot, you’re not focusing adequately on the task at hand.

But regardless of the philosophical issues, I got to thinking about what films might provide the necessary workout inspiration. How about Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV? A loop of Schwarzenegger flicks? Anything starring Sophia Vergara?

I poked my head into the theater today and saw a staff member working on the electronics. I asked her what type of movies they had loaded into the video player. “UFOs and stuff,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Oh, end of the world movies, that kind of thing.”

“Gotcha,” I said. Now I’m inspired.

Cool Running

November 25, 2010

As the weather turns colder and I take my running inside, I recognize the subtle change in my training. Outside, I expend energy pushing against air resistance; inside, I face the relentless climb up a treadmill’s incline. But regardless of whether a run is more challenging on pavement or a belt, there’s no question about the validity of my treadmill pet peeves.

I have worked on my issues, and I’m pretty much over the people who cling to the dashboard for dear life. What I still can’t stand though, is the guy next to me who stomps the treadmill like an elephant. In fact, I bet it’s this pulverizing running style that explains why half the gym’s treadmills are continually out of order.

There is some meager good news, however. These poseurs, pounding the deck at a speed of 7.0 or 7.5, can be counted on to quit after no more than 10 minutes.

The New Normal

October 23, 2008

In search of sustainable (injury-free) fitness, I’ve adopted a new training style: swifter feet, quicker reflexes, and lighter weights that cause failure at 8-10 reps rather than at 6-8. Here’s where I am after five months of practice with the jump rope: