December 2005

The pain of being fit

By Suzanne Strazza

I have never been much of a “gym” person, preferring instead to stay fit due to my lifestyle rather than scheduled workouts. But, in recent years (those surrounding the age of 40), my lifestyle isn’t keeping me quite as healthy as it used to.

My back still gets a workout every time I lift the laundry basket full of wet towels, my right arm is fairly buff from scrubbing the toilet and I’ve managed to remain thin thanks to too much coffee and no time to eat a decent meal. But somehow, I don’t feel quite as good as I did when I lived in the mountains, carrying a 60-pound pack and hiking all day every day. Surprise, surprise.

So, I recently took a good look at my body and my health — both mental and physical — and decided that I need to make some improvements — it ain’t happening through osmosis. I would like to balance out the muscles in my arms.

I also realize that at a certain age, things do begin to descend and perhaps a bit of working out might hold them up a little better. (I also recently had shoulder surgery, which requires physical therapy, so that gives me a great excuse for going to the gym.)

I like to go when there is hardly anyone there — I panic that I might actually see someone I know and that they will see how pathetically unfit I really am. So I go when everyone else is either at work or still asleep. My first couple of times, I got on the elliptical machine, started my brisk trot at Level 1 and wore myself out within 8 minutes and 33 seconds. I then lifted 5 pounds, did four stomach crunches and took a good long look at the leg machines.

Too embarrassed to leave right away and have the employees see how pathetically short my workout was, I took a 20-minute shower, painted my toenails and read a chapter in my book.

When I finally strolled out of the locker room looking considerably more buff, I gave the gal at the counter the stiffnecked nod of a serious weightlifter, then ran out to my car and drove to the Silver Bean for coffee and a burrito.

Now, after a couple of months, I am more relaxed about going in. I bought a lock — a sure sign of commitment — and a CD player. I’m quite serious about my workouts. I still try to go when no one else is there, but this isn’t always possible, like today. Although I do handle myself a bit more confidently these days.

So this morning, I strolled in (still with the serious weightlifter’s look) put in a rockin’ CD, and practically ran up the stairs to my favorite elliptical machine. I hopped on, pressed “play” and began my imaginary trek to Everest Base camp. I’ve found that with the right music, I could go all day on those dang machines. As I was hoofing it up to 18,000 feet I got so excited that I actually started singing out loud. Wondering why everyone had turned to stare, I realized how ridiculous I was and tried desperately to cover my foible. I raised my arm to wipe the sweat off my forehead, hit the cord on my player and sent it flying across the room, between the Greg LaMonde bikes, disc landing a good five feet away from player.

I just wanted to ensure that each and every person there caught me being a fool.

I did exercise for a good amount of time, but half of that time was spent checking out the other people (especially women), looking to see how much they lift, how many reps they do and wondering which machines gave them the amazing muscles they all seem to have. Then I’d take a look down at the paunch hanging over my pajama pants and the scrawny arms sticking out of my t-shirt and wonder, “Is it just too late — have I already slid so far downhill that I might as well give it up right this second?”

Of course, at the same age, my husband looks better than ever. Even my friends are making comments. He’s thin, fit, tanned and full of energy. And, not having given birth, he still has some elasticity in his midsection. It’s just not fair, is it?

So, do I still keep trying? Yes. Do I still hold out hope? A bit. Do I feel ancient? Absolutely. But, I bought a 20-punch pass, so I will go to the gym at least 19 more times before quitting.

If you see me there, please act as if you don’t recognize me and if I sing out loud, just ignore me.

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos.