I have never been remotely sporty. The only Olympic event I watch with any regularity is figure skating, and the sole game my softball team ever won was the one I missed. When we ran long-distance in high school, one of my stoner friends and I discovered a shortcut that gave us time to smoke half a joint in the woods and still amble out in time to meet the rest of the class as they were winding down their jog. I hesitate to say it because it’s such a cliché, but it’s true; I was always picked last for teams in school. However, this wasn’t particularly scarring for me because I didn’t want to there in the first place.
Not surprisingly, as I’ve gotten older and fatter, my athleticism has deteriorated even further. Muscles I never even knew I possessed now hurt and even worse, my joints scream in revolt if I jump or run too vigorously. I take the same supplements they give Labrador Retrievers for bum hips. Yet, unlike in high school, when I would cut class or even fake a particularly bloody period to get out of gym, these days I voluntarily workout. I even pay for the honor. Not because I envision myself running marathons or suddenly getting super buff; the only reasons I put myself through the torture is to stave off death and morbid obesity for another couple years.I stand there, covered in sweat, waiting in vain for an appearance by that mythical endorphin high. But much like Santa, he never arrives.
So even though I’d much rather be home sleeping, reading a book, or even cleaning my toilet, twice a week I haul my carcass to a local park to partake in a grueling, early morning, boot-camp type class called Beastanetics. Based on the Japanese Tabata protocol, it involves multiple fast sets of deranged exercises — sprints, squat jumps, that kind of thing — with decreasing amounts of rest time in between each set. There are also planks, far too many pushups, and, after you’re certain you’re about to die, a quick quarter-mile sprint around the track. After each class, I stand there, covered in sweat, waiting in vain for an appearance by that mythical endorphin high. But much like Santa, he never arrives.
Since I’m possibly the oldest, but definitely the chunkiest and most out-of-shape student in the class, I asked Tim Haft, our fit fifty-something trainer if he thought I would be better off doing something more suited to my age and fitness level — like digging a hole and curling up into it.
“The drawbacks of working out with fitter people mostly have to do with how fragile your ego is,” he said, appealing to my desire not to be a narcissist. “If exercising side by side with somebody who can bang out 75 push-ups makes you feel sucky because you can only do one, then of course you’re more likely to feel like shit working out with the fiterati.”
Now I know Tim’s not talking specifically about me, since I can do 12 push-ups (as long as there are long rest periods between each set of two), but it can be a little disheartening to be the only one in the group on the verge of an aneurysm after our 5,000th burpee (don’t ask). Tim continued, “If you can check your ego at the door and accept the fact that some people are way fitter, then you’ll be fine.”
“Besides,” he added, “fitter people are more likely to mentor you and support you in your quest.” Which is true. My workout buddies are a kind, supportive bunch, and, unlike my fellow high school students, never mock my efforts and have yet to pants me.
As for the shade of deep purple I turn during our workouts, Tim assures me it’s a very attractive shade of eggplant. And as for occasionally praying for a meteor to slam into the field mid-class, Tim thinks it’s just a matter of time until I become — if not a gym bunny — than a non-hater of exercise. “The truth is,” he reassures me, “there can be a long adaptation period for someone who hasn’t worked out strenuously for years and you might just need to hang in a while longer before that sense of dread goes away.”
I’m still waiting.