Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I Don’t Understand People: Exercise Edition

Had a lovely run today. A bit over four miles, down a back-road, past some cranberry bogs, a long stretch of power lines that wound past kettle ponds, a wooded path through some tall grass, and then back along an historic highway graciously edged by a sidewalk, with trees arching overhead and antique houses alongside. It was cloudy and the air was dry—perfect running weather. I was concerned that I might have picked up some ticks in the run through the woods, so I finished it off by jumping in a lake and swimming across and back.

So much lovely scenery and fresh air. I ended up feeling energized, relaxed, and a little euphoric.

Also, a little bit confused. See, where today’s trail came out of the woods it led past the local YMCA. This is a rather dismal blocky structure surrounded by weedy dirt fields and a massive parking lot. It’s the low point of the run, architecturally speaking. I haven’t been past it in years, and I think the only time I’ve been inside was for a classmates pool-party birthday in Middle School.

And behold: up there on the second floor, in front of some plate-glass windows overlooking this sprawling parking lot, there was a line of treadmills occupied by folks pounding over empty miles and standing in one place.

They were indoors, staring at a parking lot, on a day like today. Even stranger, the corner of that parking lot contained the entrance to the trail I’d just emerged from, and all the wonderful stuff I’d just run past. They could have parked their cars in the same place, run down that trail, and they could have done it for free.

But the grass on that trail was so high it was obvious nobody ever did this.

Now, I like the fitness aspect of running. Since I returned to it a little over a year ago I’ve shed some pounds, toned my legs, and ended up in what’s probably the best shape of my life.

But fitness is not why I run. I run for the scenery, the challenge of different terrain and weather, and the satisfaction of going a little farther every time. I run because it’s both a great mood enhancer and my frivolous indulgence. I run because it’s a comfortable way to be alone and an opportunity to listen to new music with an open mind. I run because there’s nothing like the freedom of knowing you can travel seven miles in an hour, uphill or down or both, with nothing more than a decent pair of shoes.

I guess I’m mostly running these days because I can’t help myself.

But running on a treadmill? Paying money to join a gym? Burning gas and driving to a facility for the pleasure of staring out a window?

If that’s what running was, I’d never buy another pair of sneakers.

Not that I’m complaining. It just means more empty trails for me.