Sweating with the Oldies

“Hello!” , the young desk clerk says with feigned enthusiasm, then quickly resumes his phone scrolling . I scan my ID tag then hang my car keys on the handy hooks placed by someone years ago when the gym was new.

Some old photos from some old gym days.

It’s Saturday and I should be running on the trails but I try to be responsible sometimes and I have to conserve money . Trail running on this Saturday would have meant a longish drive because there was a race going on at the closest park that I was not willing to pay for . Plus , I am taking a trip soon and I figured I should stay home this weekend with my family, whether they notice or not. Plus, I’ve been sick all week and don’t have tons of energy . So many excuses, but here I am at the gym.

My fitness plan materializes as I’m walking the 20 feet from the desk to the Stairmaster. I need to workout , I tell myself, for at least an hour and a half to feel like I’ve done the equivalent of a mid-distance run. So I decide that 30 minutes of killer stair climbing and 60 minutes of easy treadmill running will suffice.

From atop the highest point in the gym, I gaze out the windows in front of me which make up the front wall of the gym. Trying to pay more attention to the running podcast in my earbuds than to the pounding of my heart and sweat pouring out of my every pore, I step, step, step up the never-ending staircase. This exercise provides me with a great sense of accomplishment because of the sheer amount of salty fluid I remove from my body in a short amount of time. It’s legit! I crank up the level a couple of notches to keep the effort doable, but difficult.  I don’t want to pass out and fall off.

The minutes are passing fairly quickly when I notice an older model, light blue Oldsmobile 88 ever so slowly moving into the parking lot. As it approaches the space between a new, full-size Ford pickup and a BMW hybrid, I start to cringe and stiffen up , thinking that maybe the barge is going to take out the dock. But no! He made it into the gap. Inching closer to the curb, I silently willed him to STOP NOW and he did. Curiously I waited to see who would emerge from the land yacht.

This gym is not 24 Hour Fitness or Planet Fitness or Orange Theory. It’s a small gym in a small town. Five old, uncalibrated treadmills that thankfully each have a little TV mounted on them, 4 rarely used ellipticals, and the groaning old Stairmaster line the front wall made of windows, along with the entry doors, front desk and a small area with a couch and a rowing machine. There’s another room with three tanning beds that I am constantly amazed to see being used regularly. And on the other side of the desk,  behind the couch area, is a room for the free exercise classes, taught by women from town. There are a few trophies on the shelf behind the desk won by the pretty young body builder who also works behind the desk. The clientele includes quite a few retirees trying to stave off osteoporosis. Besides the older crowd, and the middle-aged women in the yoga and cardio-sculpt classes,  there’s a good sprinkling of young boys and men, and a few women, who lift weights. I have been coming here for about seven years, doing mostly cardio. It’s just too cheap to give up my membership.

So the driver of the Olds 88 steps inside the door and I get a sideways look at him. He is wearing khaki slacks, a long sleeve, plaid, button-down shirt, socks, and velcro sandals. His back is hunched and he appears to be over 80 years old, maybe not the oldest member that I’ve seen here, but the oldest one I’ve seen drive himself here. He hangs up his keys, takes a sweat towel, and climbs up on a treadmill, and starts walking. I am so impressed by this man! He’s as old as the hills but that isn’t stopping him from exercising! I start to wonder about his story. Was he a soldier when he was young? Has he lived here all his life like many of the older people? Is he friendly? Was he once a star football player or track champion? I’d love to go talk to him and get some answers. Then I start musing about interviewing some of the other regulars here. Ask them what drives them? What are their goals? But then I think, well, probably most of them are like me, trying to stay sexy.

I’ve been going to gyms for as long as I was old enough. I like working out. I like having muscles and doing cardio. Back in the day I used to go to a fitness ‘club’. It was called Charlie Club. They had a hotel, a restaurant and bar,  plus a pretty nice fitness center with an indoor running track and all the extras. I loved it! I’ve also been a member of lots of medium sized gyms. One I liked was the Memorial Athletic Club which also had  racquetball courts. I sucked at that sport,  but it was still fun. I guess I inherited this gym gene from my dad who was a lifetime member of what used to be called President and First Lady. What kind of name is that? I think we had a family membership for a short time, but it was mostly my dad’s after work escape place. He loved the whirlpool and sauna and he claimed he would get into the ice bath as well. Well, this is interesting. The things you find when you Google! Texas Health Club Tycoon On Trial

My 30 minute goal has been completed according to the Stairmaster screen. As soon as it finishes I take a photo of the numbers to add manually to my Strava records.  I take a few seconds to catch my breath, mop my sweat , and wait for my legs to stop feeling like jelly, then I climb down and go refill my water bottle. The gym is practically empty on a Saturday afternoon, which suits me fine. No one else is using the treadmills at that time. I hop on the one in the middle, well not exactly hop, more like gingerly put my foot on and hope my legs will hold me. After setting my Garmin watch to Treadmill, I hit the Quick Start button on the treadmill and  hit Start on my watch and the belt starts to move. I tap the Up arrow for Speed until it gets to an easy pace of 5.8 mph. I’m not here to race, just to add some miles to my legs. Since my last race I’ve been dealing with one family crisis after another. Running has fallen off my routine like the empty feedbags from the back of a farm truck. A few miles here and there is all I’ve had the time and energy for. I tell myself sternly,  “Do not quit until you get to one hour.”, knowing my usual urge to quit at 3 miles.

The treadmill has a tiny TV on it with cable channels and I randomly pick one. I see the ending of one movie and the beginning of a new one, Walking Tall with The Rock. I feel hopeful that this might be good enough to distract me enough to forget that I am hate running on a stupid treadmill instead of a trail. The Rock can be pretty amusing and he’s not bad on the eyes. In this movie he has to fight all the bad guys to save the town and his family and the girl. The usual.  There’s a casino in the movie. In one scene there are pole dancers, which I have only seen in one or two real casinos in Las Vegas, not the nice ones. I felt a little uncomfortable watching that scene in the gym with the 80 year old man somewhere behind me in the room. But who knows what that mystery man has seen and done in his lifetime! I bet he’s got great stories!

The miles pass slowly as usual, so I decide to add some faster running and higher inclines to make it more interesting. I do this for a few minutes at a time, watching the numbers change and also counting in my head, taking rest breaks in between. Running is such a mind game. How long can I run at this pace and how many times? I don’t want to overdo it. I still have a lot to do after I run, and I’m still congested, so my heart is racing. My watch and the treadmill are not in sync as far as distance.  I decide to stop running at 5 miles and just walk out the rest with a high incline. Not my fastest run but not terrible. I feel good. 90 minutes completed.  More sweat mopping and draining the last drops of my water bottle, then I grab my keys and head out into real world.

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