“Does everyone feel this awkward at the gym?” I thought, shooting a terrified look down the row of treadmills.
I had been running along steadily for about 15 minutes, trying to avert boredom by gradually increasing my speed and angle of incline. On the TV, the X Games flashed a silent distraction. At first I wasn’t very interested in the snowmobiles racing along on the screen. But before I realized it, I was completely captivated. As the on-screen snowmobilers hucked progressively bigger jumps, even flips, I became so enthralled that I completely forgot I was running. In place. Uphill—and fast.
I was so caught up in the trick contest on the TV that when one of the snowmobiles hung extra long in the air, threatening a catastrophic crash if it didn’t land the trick properly, I lost my own balance on the treadmill, trending a hard right and tripping on the side of the machine, almost completely flying off backward.
I barely caught myself, and felt my face blush a hot red. Peeking at the other two people jogging smoothly along, I hoped they hadn’t noticed. How was I managing to flail on a treadmill, when everyone else looked so easy and natural?
I’m used to running in parks. Riding on roads and trails. Sun, wind, mud. But January’s short days pressed me hard to squeeze in workouts during daylight hours, and I had finally traded in the city’s dark, icy sidewalks for a membership at the local rec center. But I was having second thoughts.
Later that week, rallying myself to try again, I mounted an elliptical machine—this time I was going to focus hard. I was going to get an efficient cardio workout, whip my legs into shape. But about seven minutes in, to my horror, I realized I had no idea what to do with my massively sniffly nose. Running outside in the cold, I would have blown a swift snot rocket off into the woods. But now there was a cute college-age girl on the machine next to me, racing along in a coordinated yoga-inspired outfit. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t appreciate me turning aside to empty my nostrils, so I continued to sniff and snort my way through a half-hour workout and then made a break for tissues in the ladies’ room as fast as I could.
After several attempts at solo gym workouts, I signed up for a spin class. I’d been to one of the gym’s classes before, and loved that they played heavy metal to ride to. Nothing got me pedaling quite as hard as old-school Motörhead or Slayer. But the bubbly instructor who greeted us was not the same spunky former bike messenger who’d taught the class before. And while she billed the class as her “Metal Monday” session, she proceeded to guide us through a warm up to Kelly Clarkson and Nicki Minaj.
I try not to judge others for their musical opinions, but I had specifically forked over my hard-earned dollars for the class because I wanted my metal. As one dance pop remix faded into the next, I found myself seriously considering dismounting the bike and walking out of the room. I decided that would be rude, so I stuck it out. Finally there was a glimmer of hope: We were all dripping in sweat, mashing the pedals, when the instructor finally admitted that her playlist had been severely deficient of metal, and that she’d crank it up now. My ears perked up. I was ready to really let loose—that spin bike wouldn’t know what hit it. The track faded out, and…Nickelback faded in. My stoke splatted on the wooden gym floor. I half-heartedly spun through the rest of class, sorely disappointed.
After class, I bundled my jacket and pants over my sweaty bike shorts for the dark bike ride home. Slowly dodging ice patches and bracing myself against the cutting breeze, I shuddered as I realized the Nickelback song was stuck in my head. Maybe working out inside isn’t for me.