For the most part, people at the Y are there to workout, take exercise classes, hit on people, etc. By and large, we ignore one another, especially since most of us are wearing headphones. We come in, we sweat, we go home. So imagine my surprise tonight, when even with my headphones on, the woman on the treadmill next to me started up a conversation.
I soon discovered that my unplanned treadmill partner was Shelly, a 38 year old divorcée who works out of her home as a medical transcriber. This, I know from previous knowledge, is not all-together a bad gig. I kind of thought our conversation would stay at the superficial level like this and we would learn the basics about one another: what we do, where were from, yada yada. We would pass a few minutes chit-chatting, enough for me to jog through my warm-up, and then conversation would fade. She would up the incline level and continue walking on Treadmill 8 and I would attempt to make some serious contact with the new tread by kicking up the speed on Treadmill 7. And sure enough, a lull in conversation followed the first time I notched up that speed.
But as soon as was getting right on pace and starting to get a good sweat going, Shelly says to me “I weigh 297 pounds.”
“Oh?” I replied. What do you say when a near-complete stranger says something like that to you. She doesn’t respond right away and I am feeling about as awkward as a junior high girl at a school dance.
“It’s the first time I have been below 300 pounds in 14 years.”
“Wow! Congratulations!” Yeah, I still don’t really know what to say to this. I mean, I’m not Bob or Jillian from the Biggest Loser, and if you looked at the love handles winter has firmly affixed to my sides, you could probably guess that not a whole lot of people talk to me about weight loss.
“My husband left me when I hit 350 pounds. He also weighed over 300 pounds, but told me he was really only attracted to thin girls. He thought I just looked gross.” I notched up the speed again, hoping to signify that at this point I would almost rather crawl outside my own skin and leave it there on the treadmill than be having this conversation. At this point, it is only like minute 11 and I was really planning on putting in at least 30 minutes on the treadmill. I am beginning to rethink that plan and maybe bail at 15.
But minute 15 comes and goes and I haven’t heard another peep from Shelly. She keeps upping her incline, I my speed. Until 15:54 when I hear, “I wish I could move like you.” Usually a statement like this would kind of creep me out. It’s just kinda strange language, I am hyper-sensitive about the things people say to me at the gym… all kinds of things. But for some reason, Shelly seemed so genuine and so real in this moment. It wasn’t said to be awkward or make me uncomfortable, and when I asked what she meant she explained, “The way you run. You don’t even have to think about it.” Ha! If only she knew I am thinking about it nearly every minute. I am obsessing whether I should be going faster or slower, I am paying acute attention to my breathing, to the tension building in my left shoulder, to the thud thud thud of the custom Nikes pounding the treadmill.
I think for a minute, finish out a sprint set. “Well, Shelly… you can move like this.”
“Ha! I saw your speed. You were just running 8.5 miles an hour! I will never move like that.”
“Well, it’s not like I started running at 8.5 miles an hour. And I didn’t maintain that speed forever.” In fact, at this moment in the interval run, I am literally thudding along at 5.6 miles per hour. “Shelly, you can move like this,” I repeat. Two or three minutes go buy, and I notice Shelly’s incline has gone down and she is walking a flat surface. It’s about minute 22 and Shelly has traveled just over a mile. I have traveled just over two.
At minute 25 I up my speed to 6.5 miles per hour for the last 5 minutes of my workout. These minutes are magic to me, maybe even sacred. For some reason, the last 5 minutes really matter and I wish I could do a 30 minute run of last 5 minutes. I glance towards Treadmill 8 as I am looking around the room in my glory minutes, and there’s someone jogging. I double-take, and it’s Shelly, jogging. Jogging. She is down right cruising at 4.8 miles an hour (if you have spent much time running, you will know that for most people this is in that weird speed zone where you don’t know if you are walking or running and, I at least, have a hard time creating rhythm in this zone). And she didn’t make it for the whole five minutes, but she did go about a quarter mile.
And then she just beamed, ear to ear, as I finished my run, and we both took a 5 minute cool-down walk. In total silence.
The last 5 minutes of any of my runs have never, ever been that sacred. I don’t think they ever will be.
[I don’t know if it’s true, but I feel like an abnormally high number of strangers end up opening up to me. It’s nice because I never really get bored in public, but sometimes it can be weird and kind of time consuming because I am too nice to not listen to a nice stranger. I used to think whatever it was that drew people towards me was some cruel curse that the world was using to kill me with kindness.
I am over that feeling tonight. This isn’t a curse. In fact, it can be pretty darn cool.]