Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fleet Feet

My girlfriend took me to a meeting at Fleet Feet for people interested in running for exercise. I was the only male in a surprisingly female bunch. We were probably the youngest people there by six years. The group's mission was to get people running with a group mentality.

"If you have to crawl, we'll make sure somebody crawls with you," the fitness guy said. He was a believer in inclusiveness. I am also a believer in inclusiveness but somehow felt like an outsider; dozens of women as inactive as myself pinned me against the sports bra rack.

I wonder what would happen if I put on one of these bras, I quietly thought. Would anyone notice? Would the women think I was one of them? How can I belong?

I did not answer any of these questions for myself before a bouncy woman delivered her 13-half-marathons-and-two-full testimony. She held back the tears. A man in his 40s lingered on the outside edge of the group, gave me a sad look and turned back toward the merchandise. He could not save me. I tucked the information sheet under my arm and stared at the back of my girlfriend's head. The fitness guy took over again and without giving me eye contact delivered the obvious knockout punch.

"We have a group for men too," he said.

Oh God, please stop.

"Some of the men run in groups with women, but we also have groups for men." He went on, but I could not tell you what else he said. My ears rang between the bras.

I tried to play it cool after the fitness guy broke the huddle. I looked at some running shirts with holes in them and wondered if they could work as pajamas. I smelled some shoes. A soccer mom nodded at me while she talked with a friend.

". . . and of course we always have a man or two come," she said. "It's so great." She pulled me in with one wrist flick. The two women chatted back and forth about something while my ears continued to ring. If I were half the man I wanted to be, I would have told her she was a loon to think I would come back to run with 55-year-old women searching for their physical prime. How could she not see that I was accompanying my girlfriend, who was shooting in the dark herself? My girlfriend browsed water bottles nearby while I pondered my escape line. But I could not think of anything to say.

"We need to leave," I told her, leading her by the elbow. I did not look back.

As we walked to the car, I felt defensive and proud of my inactive lifestyle that leans on a generous metabolism and acceptable male stereotypes. My doctor has never told me that my cholesterol was too high. My blood pressure is fine, and my red blood cell count is formidable. I drink socially and do not smoke. Sometimes I stretch my hamstrings at night for a minute or two. I like this healthy yet unfit profile. It carries with it a perfect balance of leisure and peace of mind. My body is the miracle pill.

But I am tired at the end of my workday. My glory days teammates probably play pick-up basketball between weight training sessions. Richard Simmons would tell me I would feel more energetic and spectacular if I ran for a couple miles each day, so I will. But I will have to do it by myself because I have an enormous ego and an 11-minute mile. I will start tomorrow.

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