The Day I Joined the Dark Side

“Listen,” I said, slapping my palm against the counter and leaning forward with ominous significance, “I think we both know that I’m here against my will.” 

A blank stare. The man I addressed was lean but muscular. He wore a polo shirt beneath his mop of blonde hair. He was young. Probably still in college. He’s just a kid, I thought. Still, I continued.

“And even though my better judgment is begging me, pleading with me, not to go through with this—” I lowered my voice in case anyone was eavesdropping on our little tête-à-tête—“I need to join.” 

Without a word, he turned around, grabbed a sheet of paper from the file cabinet behind him, and placed it on the counter. 

“I need you to fill thi…”

“Wait!” I interrupted him. “I just need to know one thing.” 

Silence.

“In the unlikely occurrence that the earth experiences an arctic apocalypse, and the roads are covered in black ice, and it’s dark outside, and I need to do a long run…”

Silence.

“…can I run on the treadmill for three hours, or is there a one-hour time limit for the machines?” 

“I don’t care if you run on the treadmill for a week.”

“Let’s do this.”

And just like that, I joined Gold’s Gym.

I’m not proud of it, folks. But I entered into a (monthly, no long-term contract, zero enrollment fee) relationship for all the wrong reasons. I didn’t ask what the gym had to offer. I didn’t ask about its hopes, its dreams, its weight machines, or its spin classes. I didn’t even crack a joke with an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation. I was too shallow. Too artificial. You see, even though the gym and I are now officially seeing each other, I don’t really love the gym. I don’t even really like it.

TreadmillI’m only using it for its treadmills.

Even worse, I don’t even like treadmills. That’s why I’ll run outside come hell or high water or snowstorms or temperatures dipping well below zero. But there are a few meteorological phenomena that I cannot “tough out” as we say in the biz. And those are

1)   Sheets of black ice covering basically the entire universe, and

2)   Sheets of black ice covering basically the entire universe when it’s dark.

And if this winter is going to be anything like last winter—and rumor has it it’s going to be worse—I’m gonna need a Plan B. And that, of course, is what a treadmill is: Plan B. The treadmill is the ultimate “In Case of Emergency.” The treadmill is backup. It’s the person you ask to the prom when your first choice turns you down. The treadmill is the other guy in Wham!.

Exactly.

That’s because the treadmill is boring and monotonous and soul-draining. If running outside = Travel Channel, running on a treadmill = C-SPAN. Yes, the treadmill is the C-SPAN of running.

Ironically, C-SPAN and its homely sister stations—MSNBC, CNBC, and CNN—are usually the muted features-du-jour at the gym. There they form a closed-captioned horizon of politicians and pundits hanging over rows of workout machines. It’s as though the programming is chosen specifically to mock those working out below.

Congratulations! While we’re busy discussing the most pressing global issues facing the world and creating legislation that will forever alter our nation’s history, you’ve decided that the most productive use of your time and resources is to run in place for an hour and a half!

I’m pretty sure that’s how Arnold Schwarzenegger was inspired to run for office: Gold’s Gym. There he was, pumping iron (that’s gym slang for “lifting weights”), when suddenly he was struck with the epiphanic realization that he wasn’t going to just watch C-SPAN, he was going to be on C-SPAN. And boom! The next thing we knew, he was the governor of California.  

I, too, was inspired by C-SPAN. I was inspired to get off the treadmill in the main gym and head to the treadmills in the “theater room,” where Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon was playing in all of its big screen, surround-sound glory. 

Guys.

I don’t know if you’ve ever worked out in a theater room, but it is pretty much amazing. It is, as one would expect from the name, exactly like a theater, only with treadmills and stationary bikes instead of seats. I made my way through the dimly lit maze of machines to the fifth treadmill from the right. Judging by the number and intensity of explosions going on in the film at that moment, I figured I was starting my run at the end of the movie.

That’s cool. I’ll watch the end, and then when the movie loops back to the beginning, I’ll fill in the gaps.

Ten miles later, things were still exploding. (“Duh. It’s a Michael Bay film,” my brother explained when I told him my erroneous assumption. “Things explode the whole time.”)

But the most incredible part of the whole experience was not that the Decepticons were going to transport Cybertron to Earth via a massive space bridge, but the fact that I ran ten miles on a treadmill without realizing I ran ten miles on a treadmill.

I had never seen any of the Transformers movies before, so you can imagine my rapt and riveted confusion while watching the Autobots and Decepticons fight each other and Shia LaBeouf. (I had missed the beginning, after all.) 

Which one is Optimus Prime? I wondered as I ran. What happened to Megatron? Isn’t that the guy from Grey’s Anatomy? How are Carly’s stilettos still on despite the fact that she just jumped out of a sixty-story building?

There was one other woman in the room, on a treadmill four machines to my right. She had been there the whole time.

“Excuse me!” I wanted to yell across the room. “Which one is Optimus Prime?” (Eventually, I figured it out.)

Needless to say, it was a thrilling run.

Things were still blowing up by the time I finished my run, though I could tell the movie was coming to a close. I hopped off the treadmill and stretched my IT band while Optimus Prime promised to watch over the earth. I had just run ten miles on a treadmill. At tempo pace.

Optimus PrimeEven Michael Bay finds that hard to believe.

But there you have it. If I want to maintain high mileage over the winter—and I do—I’m going to need some kind of backup plan. Now, I have one. And it’s not as bad as I thought.

Oh, and Optimus Prime is the red and blue one. 


Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story.  Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.

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