Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Joining the gym.

My wife just took out a family membership of our local gym. I told her I probably wouldn’t need it because I already have a set of weights in my garage but I have to admit that at this time of year clanking away in the damp freezing  gloom amongst the barbecue, lawnmower and kids bikes isn’t  a lot of fun.
I haven’t actually been a member of a gym for nearly fifteen years, my trainers are the same ones that I wear to walk the dog in the woods and I don’t have one of those t shirts composed of anatomically shaped panels that make me look like a butcher’s diagram so as I headed down there last night I was half expecting to find a whole bunch of equipment I didn’t recognise or that the place was filled with the cast of Jersey Shore.
I need not have worried; aside from having to swipe myself in and then being presented with a beautifully folded towel at the front desk, little has changed in the time I’ve been away. The rowing machines, step machines and exercise bikes are all pretty much the same and after windmilling my arms a couple of times and doing a few cursory hamstring stretches it all started to come back to me. I sat myself down on the ergonometer, set the distance for 2000 meters and cranked the resistance knob to just below maximum – my old settings and the prelude to many a punishing workout on the weights.
One thing that does appear to have changed though is the way they calibrate the resistance, because from the first pull it felt as if I was heaving a barge along a muddy embankment .
After a minute my lungs were bursting, my arms were aching and I was on the pointing of jacking it in and trying something easier – like the drinking fountain - when, just my luck, somebody plonked himself down at the machine next to mine giving me no choice but to keep plugging away grimly.
The digital display works backwards from your target distance and gives all sorts of breakdowns of time, distance and calories and with the sweat coursing off me I watched it counting down with agonising slowness. Instead of feeling like Spartacus at his oar on the sparkling waters of the Adriatic I felt like one of the Chilean miners, being slowly winched through the darkness in his metal capsule, willing the distance to deplete but seemingly powerless to make it go faster.
What was worse the guy next to me kept glancing across at my monitor, causing me to redouble my efforts even though my lungs were, by now, heaving like organ bellows and my exhausted arms and legs were hopelessly out of sync. Eventually, with a final, burst of frantic pulling the counter clocked zero and  I came to a grateful stop.
The guy next to me was still working away, looking infuriatingly unruffled and so, with my vision swimming in and out of focus and my knees threatening to fold under me at any moment I staggered over to the drinking fountain and noisily gurgled down a couple of litres before collapsing on a convenient mat and making a pretence of stretching off.
As I stared up at the ceiling I was  forced to admit that I’d done nothing more than prove that, physically, I’m not in the same shape I was a few years ago.
However, psychologically speaking, I am still a man in the prime of his life; because with absolutely nothing of any measurable value at stake, I had been ready to go the distance without a second thought.
My ego still has rock hard pecs, my double y chromosome pettiness has a twenty-eight inch waist and you can crack walnuts on the butt cheeks of my refusal to quit so long as there someone is watching.

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