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The first couple of nights on the treadmill
January 28, 2010

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I went looking for a climbing wall last week and thought it was the beginning of a new life of fitness and exercise. I hadn't gone climbing since college, but when I found out the south side Des Moines YMCA not only had a climbing wall but it was indoors (away from what's turning out to be a motivation killing Iowa winter) I was even more eager. I thought about it all day at work. I pictured a two-story granite-looking wall for scaling, and I was ready to get to the top. I had been jogging a lot recently, but looking for something a little more interesting in terms of a work out. I wanted something outside my treadmill comfort zone, and the climbing wall would be it.

When I joined the YMCA last month there were a few different reasons behind it. The most important was fitness. I needed a place with treadmills on which I could run and a weight room I could talk myself out of using. Another reason was my birthday. I turn thirty next month and I'm tired of hearing newly thirty-somethings say, "Once you hit that age, it's all down hill." The people who usually say that are the people who have spent most of their twenties in the drive-thru at Wendy's, and the "down hill" slide was well in the works before the big three-oh. But a lot of my friends find time to exercise, friends who are as busy if not more so than me. The most important reason behind picking a YMCA membership over other health clubs in Des Moines was proximity. I'm not the most motivated person when it comes to exercise, but living in Des Moines is different than living in Chicago.

In Chicago I would go out at night for dinner or maybe have a few beers at a concert and then I would go for a walk by default. At the least I would walk three blocks to the train stop, at the most I would walk a couple of miles home if the weather was nice. In Des Moines everyone drives. After a night at a bar I'm lucky to walk twenty feet through the parking lot to a car. Luckily, finding a designated driver on the weekends isn't tough, but finding motivation to keep fit is, so I bought a new pair of running shoes to go with my post-New Years gym membership. The soles of my old running shoes had literally been worn out. After digging them out I was first proud that I had put in the time and effort to wear holes in a pair of shoes, but confused why I had bothered to keep them. And when was the last time I had even gone for a jog? And why were my running shoes in the trunk of my car?

After the first couple of nights on the treadmill in my new shoes all the kinks had been worked out. My knees were a little sore but my ankles and feet felt good, and most important there were no shin splints. The running was going so well that I felt ready to explore what else the YMCA had to offer. I was motivated. I was even excited. My membership gained access to all the YMCA's, not just the one near my apartment and I decided to branch out my fitness routine. After a little research I was led south of town to the only YMCA with a climbing wall. I didn't know if my arms would be up to it, I didn't know if I would make a big deal of my first trip up just take it easy and get back in the feel of scaling a wall. I thought back to the TA in college who taught me to climb and offered extra credit to students who showed up when she was supervising the wall at the rec center. I remembered watching American Gladiators and wondered if this could lead to me competing on the show, even though it's been canceled, twice. This might be the end of my jogging. Maybe the climbing would lead to new exercising and I wouldn't have time to run anymore.

The woman at the Y's front desk told me where the wall was, but a Tae Kwon Do class was using the room and would be done soon. I put my things in a locker, laced up my shoes and waited for the last Tae Kwon Do student to walk out before I walked in, ready for what the climbing wall had in store for me, but it didn't have much. It stretched the length of the multi purpose room, about thirty feet wide, but instead of designing an area of the building for climbing, they had designated an existing area for the wall. It was a standard fitness room with hard wood floors and full-length mirrors on one side, and the other side had the familiar faux rocky surface with handles and grips bolted in, but the wall was only twelve feet high. Standing in front of it I reached my arm into the air and easy cleared 2/3 of the surface, not much of a vertical journey. I figured it was better than nothing, but I didn't even make an attempt. I didn't bother. I was underwhelmed, but I didn't let it get to me. I just went back to the treadmill, ready to keep moving, ready to find some other way to put holes in my shoes.

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