An Open Letter to the Girl at the Gym

I love to run. For me, running is an escape from reality. A break from the duties and burdens each day brings. It is how I clear my head and rest my mind.

However, I do not enjoy the gym. Or perhaps I should say I do not enjoy all the people at the gym. It’s terribly difficult to have alone-time when you are surrounded by people. But if it’s raining outside, and I don’t necessarily feel like jogging through a thunderstorm, this is inevitably where I end up.

I have always had a few pet peeves about these people at the gym - as we all do. People listening to their music too loud. Or not wiping their own sweat off the machine when they’re finished. But there is one grievance that irks me above all others.

Imagine if you will you are on a treadmill. You are running at a comfortable pace - jamming to Bruno Mars in your earbuds (at a polite volume, of course), and some woman comes up beside you and starts running on the treadmill that’s practically touching yours WHEN THERE ARE 18 OTHER OPEN TREADMILLS IN THIS VERY ROOM.

Why? Why do you feel the need to run next to me when you could run several yards away from me? If you are several yards away from me, we are just two women at the gym doing our own separate workouts. But if you are on the treadmill next to me, we are racing. And I am going to win. If you are running at a 6.4 pace, I will run at a 6.6. And I will not stop until you stop because I am competitive and stubborn and outright ridiculous.

At least this is how I used to feel. But not last week. Last week was different.

It was storming on Tuesday – like lightning, thunder, horizontal rain storming. So I gathered up my workout gear and headed to the gym for the first time in quite a while. I got on the treadmill and began my run. About two miles in, a girl got on the treadmill right beside me. Of course, my immediate reaction was to be annoyed with her because there were plenty of other available treadmills that were not located right next to me. But she chose that one. And the strangest thing happened. 

I didn’t mind.

I watched out of the corner of my eye as she began her run, and for quite possibly the first time in my life, I didn’t feel the need to be faster than her. I didn’t feel the need to run farther than she did. I didn’t feel the need to compete with her at all. I just felt proud of her.

Proud of her determination. Proud of her grit. Her stamina. Her sweat. Her dedication. Proud that she was at the gym, taking time out of her day to do something healthy for herself. Not for her boss or her husband or her kids or her friends. But her. And only her.  

I wanted to tell her how proud I was of her. How honored I was to run beside her. How in a world full of constant phone calls, urgent emails, never-ending to-do lists and demands around every corner, we were just two women - running side by side. Taking a break from it all to care for ourselves. And that’s ok.

I imagined her earlier that day getting off of work – leaving behind a profusion of unfinished projects. Getting in her car and pausing for a minute to listen to that voice inside of her head telling her she didn’t have time for a workout today. She still had to cook dinner, finish the laundry she started this morning, call her mother back, work on that proposal that was due Friday. She should really just skip the gym and head home. But she didn’t listen to that voice. She chose to do something good for herself – even if it meant putting all the other responsibilities on hold. And for that I wanted to hug her. I wanted to wrap her up in my arms and say “We did it!” 

But I didn’t do that. Mostly because I was covered in sweat and she’s never seen me before in her life, so it would have likely not been well-received. We finished our workouts and went our separate ways. Both returning to lives full of demands and obligations – not all bad, but time-consuming nonetheless. But together, we returned to them with stronger bodies, clearer minds and lighter hearts.

So my running friend, if you’re out there and reading this please know that I am not angry that you hopped on that treadmill next to me. On the contrary, I am so very happy that you did. I am proud of you. I am inspired by you. Keep choosing you. Keep choosing rest. And for those of you reading this who hate running and would never call it “restful,” find your mental break. Whether it be taking a walk through your neighborhood or diving into a good novel or praying or knitting or writing or whatever it may be. Just do it. Even when you don’t have time. Do it anyway. Because it is only when we are mentally recharged and refreshed, that we have the energy to best pour out love to others.