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.


  1. I've thought this on my bike many times. I don't get it either. That sounds like a nice place you should get pictures. Do you see any interesting birds?

  2. They're probably not staring out the window, they're probably staring at screens on their treadmills that feed them mind pablum.

  3. Every time I go for a run I think, "next time, pictures!" But then my desire to get moving takes over and I forget the camera. I think it might also be because running is the one time I'm focused on doing just one thing, and fussing with a camera might interrupt that tranquility.

    Still and all. One of these days. Pictures. I get to run in some beautiful places and it's not fair to keep them to myself.

    1. I wouldn't ask you to break your stride or your reverie or anything. Make a special trip for a typecast some day!

  4. Playing devil's advocate, I can think of two reasons for going the gym route (albeit only one of which applies in the summer months).

    1. There are serious athletic types (people for whom running is an end in itself rather than a means to better fitness, peace of mind, exploration, etc.) who use the treadmills at the gym at least part of the time because it gives them more control over every aspect of their workout. For example, they can choose to spend a week focusing on hills in preparation for an upcoming marathon in a bumpy part of the country. Not my sort of exercise obsession, but I guess I get why some might be drawn to it.

    2. In the winter, it gets dark and cold and wet or snowy, and if you want to keep up exercise, the gym makes sense. I live right by a trail...but when it's dark except during the hours I'm at work (no exaggeration), plus cold and wet...well. Yes, you can dress for the weather and use a headlamp, but I'm nervous about being out there alone in the dark. It's nice to be able to go to a warm, safe place, put on NCIS or Antiques Road Show or some such thing to help relieve the tedium and stomp away on the elliptical for an hour or so. It's a compromise, but it does save my sanity during the depressing dark months. I did suspend my membership for the summer.

    I guess the flip side to that is that some people who live in extremely hot places might like using the gym for the other extreme in weather. I've never lived somewhere so hot I couldn't get out in the mornings or evenings to beat the heat, but I hear tell such places exist...

    Your running spot sounds lovely! I enjoyed the report.

  5. I too don't always feel safe walking alone in deserted places or on trails... sometimes a bummer part of being female.