My Life (Part 2): Into the Valley of the Gods

Posted: September 1, 2016 in Gym, In Transition, Lifestyle
Tags: , ,

(Click HERE for ‘Part 1’ of the journey)

For anyone who’s never stepped foot inside a gym, it can be a pretty scary place.

First off, there’s enormous muscle men all pressing weights as heavy as minivans, and then there’s the uber-fit cardio bunny’s all bustling and sweating away on machines of all shapes and sizes (click HERE for more of an insight in the particular ‘Gym Types’ you’ll encounter at your local gym).  To the uninitiated, the gym is like this Utopian society consisting of nothing but buff, beautiful people; Shangri-La all decked out in trendy compression wear.

I was pretty sure that the only reason why I was ever admitted in the first place was to serve as a walking reminder to all these perfectly toned fitness models of what would inevitably happen to them if they stopped frequenting the place.

I was a walking “Don’t Be This Guy” hazard sign, if you will.

But, despite this anxiety, I knew going to a gym was the next logical step in my new ‘Get Healthy” regime as, thanks to my daily walks, my skin was starting to hang off my body in the absence of not having all the usual layers of fat to cling to.  Don’t get me wrong, losing weight felt awesome but I was beginning to feel like one of those little Shar Pei dogs and I needed to start developing my poorly abused and under-worked muscles.

However, when I first contemplated going to the gym – as you might expect – I didn’t know my ass from a dumbbell.  I first searched out and visited a few prospective gyms in my area but they usually came with some unreasonable yearly contract, or demanded that you submit to an initial fitness assessment upon joining and there was no way I was going to have my health scrutinized by one of these muscle heads as I was already painfully aware of my current fitness level – pathetic.

In short, none of them felt like a place where I would be able to confidently walk through the front door, much less workout in.  These places were full of the types of guys who inevitably tormented me at high school dances and in the change room with wedgies, nugies and swirlies, and there was no fucking way I was simply walking into the belly of the beast.  So I decided to settle for a basic monthly membership at my local YMCA instead.  That doesn’t mean that going for the first time was any less intimidating as there were still guys with arms the size of tree trunks grunting and groaning through whatever medieval torture routine they happened to be inflicting on themselves.

But there were other types of people there too; ordinary non-athletic looking people like me, and that was reassuring.

Oh, and the sole vending machine on the premises also had a distinct lack of cheeseburgers.

Perfect.

At first I just fudged my way around and tried everything.  I hopped on and tried all the elliptical, stair-climber and treadmill machines, pushed and pulled at some of the weighted resistance equipment and otherwise tried to blend in even though I really had no idea what I was doing.  At least I was being active and engaging my body in something resembling exercise.  My sore muscles the next day reassured me of that.  Most importantly, I was hoisting things that weren’t cheeseburgers and candy bars.  I was working up a sweat and so, little by little, the weight continued to fade away and in turn, my body started to get stronger.

I developed a healthy addiction to ‘Men’s Health’ magazine and tried all the recommended workouts and exercises aimed at burning fat, trimming my waistline, acquiring ‘ripped, xylophone-like abs’, and giving me the unlimited stamina to boff all my future girlfriends like the stud I was meant to be.

How could I resist?

I am a total sucker for effective advertising and these magazines definitely appeared to my damaged ego and sense of imminent horniness, what can I say?

Eventually my visits to the gym started becoming very emotional and often intense.  I began to go to the gym in the same way others frequented, say, church.  The gym had become my own place of worship where I could quietly atone for all my past years’ worth of sin.  I didn’t just saddle up to an exercise bike and go for a leisurely pedal anymore; I attacked it like a crazed Viking.  There were times, when in a fit of what must have been pure testosterone and soaring adrenaline levels when I thought I might fling the machine through the window, beat my chest like a gorilla and grab the nearest spandex-clad gym bunny and climb out to the roof to await the fighter jets.  It really got that intense and that was all very new territory for me.  Before, I’d be happy to just make it back from the corner store with a bag of Doritos before the season premiere of ‘X-Files’ started, and now here I was engaging in 30-minute Interval sessions on a treadmill.

I even returned to racquet sports and started to play squash regularly with a colleague from work (my boss, no less) and together we joined a friendly recreational group of players who played most mornings at 5-fucking-30am.  Usually, this would be the time I was crawling home from the bar…not heading to the gym for a round of squash.

This was a complete 180-degree turnaround lifestyle-wise.

Gradually, after frequenting the gym five to six days a week, I learned that there was a certain, delicate code of conduct that enabled everyone to play nicely with others.  The gym, after all, is a fragile ecosystem unlike no other.  All one has to do to validate this notion is to wander into the middle of their gym at its peak hour and close their eyes.  It’s like you’ve been instantly transported to the remotest, wildest, unexplored region of the planet.  Besides all the heavy clanging and clamor of heavy metal being mashed together, there are people making noises similar to hissing cats, growling bears, angry squirrels and what have you.  I’m pretty sure I even heard a guy fart through his nose once while struggling to finish his final set of weights.  It’s like you’re suddenly all alone in some weird alien petting zoo.   I eventually learned that while it’s perfectly acceptable to sweat, grunt and make unnatural faces, it’s still no reason to forget your manners.  Besides, if you cram large groups of narcissistic people into confined places with ample pieces of blunt iron lying around, you’re bound to have problems if there isn’t a proper predetermined code of conduct.  And given that even the old woman doing a zillion crunches in the corner could probably kick my ass I figured I’d better figure out – fast – the most effective way to blend in while still getting my workout in unscathed.

For this reason, I created and adhered to my own set of ‘Ordinary Man’s Guide to Gym Etiquette and Survival’ (click HERE – bearing in mind that I still smoked pot at this point so this old post was geared more towards hippies than “ordinary” guys).

Whatever, I still continue to follow these same principles today.

Anyway, the fat continued to drop off my body and I started to build some muscle and, consequentially, I was also beginning to develop something I hadn’t experienced very often:  pride.  Furthermore, and maybe most importantly, I wasn’t so immediately repulsed by my own reflection in the mirror and, believe me, there are no shortage of mirrors at the gym.  I figure this is the gym’s way of reminding you to work hard.

Yes, things were definitely looking up but I was becoming restless.  I still walked periodically, but these workouts had been mostly replaced by things I could do indoors at the gym.

And it was getting boring.

It had been nearly two years since my turnaround from my old habits and I was beginning to crave something new – a different challenge perhaps – something in which to show off my new athletic prowess, basic as it was.  I wanted something different to sink my teeth into.  I felt like I had something to prove to myself, I just wasn’t sure what it was yet.  It was around this time that fate finally stepped in and dropped the gauntlet down squarely before me by offering me the one thing that would eventually consume me for the seven years up to the present.

And it all happened innocently enough:

“Why don’t we do a triathlon”?

I looked at my brother like he had just suggested that we castrate each other in some ritual ceremony by the light of a full moon.  My physical reaction was probably akin to had he just tried to tie my nipples into balloon knots.

“Get the fuck out of here!”, I responded.

You see, my most vivid (and only) recollection of triathlon came at a very early age when I was just 10 years old.  Most likely, I was lazing around on the couch at home and hefting an Oh, Henry!  to my mouth to pass the time – doing as little as possible – waiting for the dinner bell to ring.  It was 1982 and TSN, which was new at the time, was broadcasting the live Ironman competition from Kona, Hawaii and Julie Moss was on the final leg of her marathon and wearing that geeky baseball cap.

I liked watching sports.

I just wasn’t very good at playing them.

What she was doing was completely lost on me as I had no concept then of the distances involved, or what the scope and magnitude of what she was attempting to accomplish was.  I don’t even think I knew where Hawaii was.  Sure, she was running…but she was also walking.  How hard could that be?  I probably would have likely changed the channel had there been something more interesting on.

But then the broadcast took a decided different tone when shit – actual shit – started to stream down Julie’s leg as she began to weeble-wobble, eventually toppling over completely…over and over again.  She would then get up…and collapse right back down again down (click HERE to see for yourself).

The fuck?

What I didn’t know then is that her body was basically beginning to shut down (referred to as “hitting the wall”) and she was ultimately losing control of her ability to function normally as a result of the extreme hardship that she had placed on it over the course of 226.2 kilometers of racing.

My thought?

“Eww”, immediately followed by: “is she retarded or something?”

Hey, I was 10 years old and it was 1982 so that was a perfectly acceptable thing to think.

Anyway, Julie would eventually lose the race to Kathleen McCartney only mere meters from the finish line but I didn’t care, I just knew that triathlon was definitely not  for me.  So when my brother suggested this very notion some 25 years later I thought:

“No fucking way am I ever going to risk shitting myself in public!”

Truth!

That’s fucking crazy.

Of course, my brother wasn’t suggesting we tackle an Ironman, he was suggesting we do something less than total batshit crazy, like a shorter (much shorter) “Try-a-Tri”…for, you know, beginners.  Once this was explained to me I began to give it some serious consideration.

I still had my doubts considering that I hadn’t swum since grade school, and even then it was just to play tag at the local community pool.  I didn’t own a bike.

And running?

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But I won’t deny it, I was curious.

I mean, how else was I ever going to put this newly acquired fitness to the test?  The distances seemed reasonable:  a 400m swim, a 10k bike ride, and a 2.5k run.  My walks around the neighborhood up to that point were easily longer than that so, hey, maybe this was  entirely possible.

Besides, I was beginning to feel the stirrings of sibling rivalry rear its ugly head.  My brother has always been fitter than me…always has.  When I was eating candy bars he was out playing.  Later in life while I was drinking beer, smoking pot and staying out late, he was in the gym or doing something active.  In university he studied physical fitness to become a phys-ed teacher for Christ sake.  Clearly, we were very different apples that just happened to fall off the same tree.

But here’s where fate really  steps in:

The very next day a poster appeared on the YMCA message board announcing that there was going to be a new triathlon club starting up…for beginners.  There was going to be organized swimming and running groups as well as a triathlon specific “Brick Class”.  I didn’t know what a “Brick class” was and it scared me to the bone.  It sure didn’t sound fun.  However, it was all going to be provided at my local YMCA for no extra cost aside from my normal monthly membership, so how could I refuse?

It was as if Fate itself had just stepped out from the shadows and bitch-slapped me.

Reluctantly, I picked up the phone and called my brother that same day.

“Okay, let’s do it.”

(to be con’d…)

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