4

My first treadmill class

Cheers to an amazing year! Wishing you a very happy new year, runners! Thousands of miles and smiles to come! 👟🎉

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I know it’s clichĂ© to hate on the dreadmill treadmill, but I try to avoid it at pretty much all cost. There was a time early in my running career when treadmill running was pretty much all I did. It was the first winter after I started running. I’d hit up the gym three or four times a week and just run it out on the ‘mill. I actually started to enjoy it and it was during that time when I fell in love with running.

However, as my running progressed and I moved back outside the following spring, my feelings towards the treadmill changed. It felt like a shackle that forced a pace on me with none of the minor variations natural to running. The stuffy gym air with everyone’s sweat in the air. The unchanging view of yourself in the mirror or some bro getting his lift on. Locker rooms. Ugh. our relationship soured hard. The treadmill became a miserable last resort for bad weather. Eventually, my treadmilling was reduced solely to days when it was too icy to safely run outside.

So when I first heard about Mile High Run Club in NYC a couple years ago, I was skeptical. Why would I want to pay money to run on a treadmill? At $32/class, it’s in the range of most boutique fitness studios in the city, but it’s not cheap. Back when I used to have ClassPass, I kept meaning to at least see what it was all about, but it never happened.

Finally, today, I gave it a try! I didn’t really know what to expect. I figured it’d be a lot like a spin class, except on a treadmill. I actually somewhat like spin. I don’t love it, but it’s a form of cross-training that I’m willing to do. It sure beats the heck out of a stationary bike on your own.

Mile High Run Club has a few different types of classes. We did the High 45 which is an interval class that has you on the treadmill for the entire 45 minutes. They also have a Dash 28 class which includes dome strength training with kettle bells, a 30-minute class, and a 60-minute “distance” class.

When I walked into Mile High, it felt just like FlyWheel or SoulCycle (fyi, I loathe SoulCycle). There was some merch up front, a check-in counter, and then locker rooms. The women’s locker room has four showers and plenty of counter space and mirrors. Not bad! Other than that, the layout seemed like it could cause some cramped quarters if one full class is letting out while another full one is about to start. While we were there, it was totally fine, though.

When you walk into the studio itself, it’s again laid out just like a spin studio. The biggest difference, besides the treadmills replacing the bikes, is there’s no instructor treadmill in the front of the room. The treadmills aren’t your standard gym-grade treadmills, they’re Woodway 4Front treadmills. High-quality treadmills with a great feel to them. If you’re going to have to run on a treadmill, a Woodway is the way to go!

We were on treadmills in the front row which put us right up against a mirror. I hate watching myself run in a mirror. Not because I look gross or my form is bad—I actually think I look pretty good running!—but because it feels weird to be staring myself in the eyes for miles and miles.

Normally, when you get on your bike at spin class, you just start getting your legs going to warm them up before class officially starts. I wasn’t sure what to do at Mile High so I started walking for a couple minutes and then got going into a light jog. I was having issues getting my right shoe tied comfortably. First it was too loose, then too tight, then too loose again, then too different from my left one. Ugh. I started and stopped a good five times before I got situated. Anyway, the instructor came over and asked if it was our first time and then explained how the class would work.

Each treadmill has a little card on it that gives two sets of speeds. One for beginners and intermediates and one for advanced and “elite.” And each set has four different levels on it that the class will go through. The ranges for each level were pretty big so they should accommodate almost anyone. The base incline for their classes is 1% and it doesn’t drop below that.

Class started off with a light warmup and then a quick trip up to level 3 to figure out where your tempo pace would be for the run. As seasoned runner, I already knew about where I’d be, but it was nice to just feel it out on a treadmill.

During the class, the instructor is moving around the room, rather than also doing the workout themselves. This makes a lot of sense, honestly. I would imagine running for each class you’re instructing would be much harder than it is for a spin instructor. I also think it’s a little less necessary in a running class. Often times in spin, I have to look up at the instructor to sync my legs up (I’m terrible staying on rhythm myself). Not something I have to do while running. Anyway, the instructors at Mile High are more like coaches, so it makes sense that they even call ’em coaches. It’s almost like having a personal trainer at the gym.

The class went through a couple of sets of incline and speed intervals. The first set was twelve minutes getting us up to a level 4 speed with a two-minute recovery in the middle. The second set was nine minutes and more hill-focused. We increased the incline up to 4% and then dropped it back down and picked up the pace on the “downhill.” Between these two sets was a recovery of like two minutes.

Throughout these two sets, I gave it a pretty good effort. I held back a little because it was my first class and because I did a long run yesterday and am not in optimal shape at the moment, but I wanted to still experience the class as it was meant to be experienced. Those first two sets were a solid workout, however, I was beat. My level 3 and 4 paces were in 7:00 to 7:30 range and level 2 was 8:00 to 8:30. Fairly in line with what I’d run on my own during marathon training.

For the third and final set, the coach took us through a bit of a marathon simulation thing. This was kinda cool. He had chosen the Minneapolis Marathon for the class and kept likening the training we were doing with that which would prepare you for that particular race—a flatter, but windier race along a lake. Through the first two sets, he’d connect what we were doing to how it would help for that race. The third set was like a quick tour of the course. He started from the start line and worked us through the whole 26.2 miles over the span of 4:41. Yes, he was very exact about that time! It was pretty rad to run a marathon in under five minutes! Certainly a feat among feats!

Finally, the class ended with a quick cool-down jog and some stretching. I opted to walk it out a bit rather than do the stretching.

Overall, I hated the class way less than I expected. It was certainly a solid workout, for sure, and I was impressed with the level it pushed me at. I totaled 4.7 miles (in 41 minutes of “running”) so it was a short run—in terms of how many miles I typically do on a run—but I was tired. That said, it’s still a little weird of an experience. As far as treadmill runs go, it wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t a game-changer. The frequent speed/incline changes helped keep things interesting and alleviate some of that annoyingness of running the exact. same. speed. with. no. minor. variation. for. miles. thing that I hate. Still, you’re sorta just staring at yourself bouncing up and down in a mirror for 45 minutes. And I’m not a big fan of running with music. I haven’t worn headphones to run outside in nearly six years. I do wear them on treadmills, but only because I need some sort of distraction.

The biggest annoyance to me, was the changing of speed and incline on the treadmill. In spin, you have a knob to easily turn for resistance and speed is just up to your legs. On the treadmill, you have to press up or down buttons for each the incline and the speed. Both go at tenth intervals so jumping between 1% and 4% incline is either 30 clicks or a press-hold-and-pray-your-timing-is-good-when-you-let-go deal.

I do think a treadmill class can be a useful part of training for some runners, though. For more beginner runners, it can be a good way to push some paces you wouldn’t do on your own. I certainly pushed myself much harder than I would on a treadmill on my own—though, not nearly as hard as I can do outside on my own. It can teach you how to do intervals and keep you honest. And for more intermediate and advanced runners who typically only have flat areas to run outside, it can be a good way to get some hill training in. For us in Jersey City, we don’t get much in the way of hills. My typical routes are flatter than my chest—seriously, we’re talking 20 mile long runs with elevation changes under 10ft. If we want to run hills, our best option is to head into Manhattan and run in Central Park. So something like Mile High Run Club could be a good option to vary up your training a bit.

Would I do another Mile High class? Yeah, definitely. Am I planning to go out of my way to do one any time soon? Nah. Running is something different to everyone and, for me, a treadmill class takes away one of my favorite and most important parts of running, the solitude. I like the alone time. I like pushing myself and being in my own world and in control of what I’m doing. A treadmill class is the opposite of that. That doesn’t mean it’s without a place, it just means its place is very infrequent.

4

Treadmill, what?

If you’ve talked about running with me for more than six seconds, you likely know how I feel about the treadmill. Basically, fuck that noise. It’s boring and annoying and harder than outside and you have to actually go somewhere (yet never actually go anywhere) and yeah. It just sucks. It’s no fun and it takes away almost everything I love about running.

BUT! I’m not setting out to write another anti-dreadmill thing. There are tons of them out there already, I don’t think the world needs me to add another one to the mix. Instead, I want to take a few minutes and talk about how I’ve actually found a love for the treadmill. <insert stunned emoji here>

Last winter, I ran outside everyday through the worst winter I can remember in New Jersey. This winter wasn’t nearly as bad, but I just didn’t have it in me to fight the ice and snow on the ground–which seems to be worse in Jersey City than it ever was in Somerset. Plus, I wanted to be able to run after work without worrying about my safety. So when my wife saw a Groupon for a 30-day membership to New York Sports Clubs, I decided to jump on it. I wanted to get myself in gear for marathon training and I knew I wasn’t going to pull that off without sucking it up and treadmilling it some.

It’s been three weeks running on the treadmill 3-4 times a week with my weekend runs outside and it’s been surprisingly great. Though, I was really dreading it at first. It’s not like I don’t have tons of experience treadmill running–much of my early days running were spent on the ‘mill–so why would this be any different? I figured I’d just have to suck it up and suffer through it.

I haven’t been suffering though. Sure, the first mile or two have sucked on every run, but that’s not much different from outside for me. By mile three, I’m in the zone. I’m in my running happy place, completely lost in the joy of it all. While I don’t listen to music when I run outside, I did take the time to make a pretty awesome playlist for the treadmill, but by the midpoint of my run, I’m not even paying attention to it anymore.

I don’t know what exactly has changed, maybe it’s just because I know it’s temporary, but my attitude has been totally different about it over the last couple of weeks. I get out of bed rather easily at 5:45am (typically, this is a huge struggle for me) to head to the treadmill with no dread. Maybe it’s because I’ve given each run a specific purpose rather than just running at the same old pace for every run like I used to. Now, treadmill runs are more than just some number of miles. Some runs are recovery runs, some are intervals, some are tempo or progression. Each run has its job.

This morning marked the second Monday in a row that I’ve actually done a real recovery run. I have a bad habit of running these things way too fast and if either of these runs were outside, they would have been the same. My legs wanted to go hard and fast and, if I was outside, I would have let them go…or they would have gone without me even realizing. On the treadmill, I’ve been able to lock it down and keep that pace right where it needed to be.

It’s also helped that I’ve finally accepted the treadmill feels harder than outside. My pace will be slower on the treadmill and that’s TOTALLY OKAY! I used to worry about this. I used to worry about other people looking over at me and thinking I was slow (I KNOW…I know). I don’t care anymore. Maybe it’s because I’ve had to get over what strangers think of me anyway over the last couple years and that’s carried over? Who knows. Besides, they don’t know what my plan is. They don’t know how I race or what that run is supposed to be. And it doesn’t matter. I’m not there to compare to them. I’m there for me.

Also, they probably aren’t even paying attention to me.

In a weird way, I’m actually kind of sad my membership for the gym is ending next week. I’ve been enjoying it. If winter wasn’t on its way out, I’d likely keep it.

I don’t think I’ll go so far as to say I love the treadmill now, but I certainly don’t hate it anymore. It’s earned a place in my life.

13

Gymming While Trans

Having to dress like this to go outside generally means having access to a gym is important

Having to dress like this to go outside generally means having access to a gym is important. I also don’t have a more appropriate photo handy for this post 🙂

Almost a year and a half ago, I wrote about how worried I was about gymming while trans. As it turned out, I was actually more scared of approaching it than I originally thought. So I didn’t. I kept paying my monthly gym membership, but never used it again. Eventually, I moved to Jersey City and used this as motivation to just up and cancel my membership. I never once stepped foot into that gym again after starting transition.

Instead of dealing with it, I ran all of last winter outside with no help from the treadmill, which lead to some safety issues during New Jersey Marathon training because of all the snow and ice on the ground. I just didn’t have the strength to walk in there and say “hey, I need to update my membership to reflect that I’m a woman. I’ll also be using the women’s locker room from now on.” I played that out in my head over and over again and I simply couldn’t imagine it being a smooth conversation that didn’t end in complete humiliation.

Skip ahead to a few months ago–November, I believe–and I was finally ready to deal with all of this. I had been wanting to try spin for years and my wife convinced me to book a class with her. I was excited and terrified all at once. I was especially worried because it was an early morning class before work. I wasn’t going to just be walking in, spinning, and leaving. I was going to have to shower and get ready for work there. Eep!

I spent the night before freaking out to my wife about it. I was a complete nervous wreck. “But someone is going to freak out about me being trans!” “I’m going to get chased out of there!” It went on and on while she tried to talk some sense into me, but I couldn’t really calm down about it.

The next morning, when we showed up, I was already dressed for class so I threw my crap in a locker and hopped on my bike. Class was amazing and I immediately fell in love with spin–so much so that I try to do it at least once a week now. After class, it was time to actually deal with this whole being trans in a locker room thing. Luckily, this particular spin studio has an open locker area with private unisex changing rooms, bathroom, and showers. Definitely the way to go. I didn’t have to worry about someone freaking out that I was “in the wrong room” or anything like that. I went about my business and showered, got dressed, did my hair, and put on my makeup. Entirely uneventful!

Life would be so much simpler if every gym was like this, but sadly that’s not the case.

Shortly after that, I decided to join ClassPass which lets you take an unlimited number of fitness classes at hundreds of studios for one flat fee each month. The only catch is that you are limited to three visits per studio per month. Since I like doing spin once a week now, that meant having to branch out to other spin studios. The not so fun thing about this is not all studios have private unisex showers and changing rooms. My second favorite spin studio has women’s and men’s areas, as does the gym I’ve joined since.

Now, I actually have to deal with using single-sex locker rooms and it’s terrifying every time. It likely wouldn’t be nearly as bad if I worked out after work and just threw some sweats and my jacket on and left. But I workout in the morning before work. I have to shower and change there. In a locker room. Full of cisgender women. While hoping no one notices I’m trans and freaks out.

On Tuesday, I came out of the shower all wrapped up with a couple towels and hurried over to my locker. I try my best to not really look at anyone and just go about my business as quickly and quietly as I can without being noticed. Sitting on the bench next to my locker was a middle-aged woman. I looked up for just a second to see this woman staring at me with the dirtiest look. It cut through me hard. Her face was screaming “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE!” I was horrified. I grabbed my clothes from my locker and ran back to a shower stall to change in private. When I came out, she was gone, but my fear wasn’t. I half expected someone who worked there to come in screaming at me.

While looks like that don’t happen every time, I’m still constantly terrified. I keep my eyes down and don’t look at anyone. I try not to talk to anyone so I don’t have to worry about my voice outing me, but other women will occasionally talk to me. I respond quickly and quietly, praying they don’t think anything of my voice.

I always change in a shower stall or bathroom stall or whatever private area is available. Under no circumstances would I want someone to see what’s between my legs. Fuck, I don’t even let people see my stomach. While other women are walking around in their bras, I always have a shirt on.

But that’s sort of the thing here that people freak out about. Politicians, transphobes, and people-who-claim-they’re-not-transphobes-but-are-totally-not-okay-with-trans-women-in-women’s-spaces love to obsess over our genitals. They seem to care more about them than we do. They go on and on about how we don’t belong in women’s spaces (e.g. locker rooms) “because penis.” I’d really like to know how they know what’s between our legs. We don’t go around showing them. I go through great lengths to make sure no one could ever see my genitals.

Despite this, other women get to change out in the open locker rooms. Some women are more private about their changing than others, but there’s always the one or two of them who give zero fucks and are hanging out straight-up naked. That’s cool, I don’t really care much what you do. If you’re comfortable baring all in the locker room, that’s totally cool.

But, here’s the thing, you being naked actually makes me terribly uncomfortable. I’m in constant fear of being accused of just trying to see other women naked. Yes, I’m into chicks, but I’m in the locker room to change and shower. That’s it. I keep my eyes down. When I’m using the mirror, my eyes don’t wander an inch.

And even if I did want to see you naked in the locker room and snuck a peak, do you have any idea how much dysphoria I’d have to deal with for the rest of the day? How badly my body image issues would be triggered? No, you probably don’t have any idea. At best, I’d just completely shut down and be useless for a few hours. At worst, I’d spend much of the day thinking about how much I’d rather just die.

I’m not suggesting people don’t change out in the open if they’re comfortable with that. My only point here is that if the presence of a trans woman in a locker room makes you uncomfortable, you need to get over it. It takes every bit of emotional strength I have to get through each and every time I enter a locker room. I’m scared out of my mind every time.

2

Using the gym while trans

A story broke yesterday of a transgender woman being banned from using the women’s locker room at an LA Fitness in California after the gym learned she was transgender. While this is clear discrimination, it’s unfortunately not at all surprising to me. I’m sure the gym has absolutely no issue with treating trans women exactly the same as all their other clients when it comes to monthly fees, but when it comes to actually providing the same services and facilities, they just can’t seem to see us the same way.

I just found out about this story earlier this morning, but I find it interesting this story broke when it did since I was thinking a lot about this very thing last night on my run. With the colder weather coming in and winter approaching, hitting the gym for some treadmill runs may be unavoidable soon. I typically don’t mind running in the cold, even when it’s only in the upper teens or low twenties out, but when it’s raining or exceptionally icy, sometimes it can be just a bit too much for me. I don’t even think I’ve used my gym membership half a dozen times this whole year. I really hate the treadmill and I have little interest in any of the other equipment there. However, it’s nice to know I have the option when I need it so I continue to pay my cheap $20/month membership for Retro Fitness.

To be honest, I don’t know how my gym is going to handle my being transgender. I know the women’s locker room has changing rooms so, in theory, I could just walk in and change and no one would give me a hard time. However, when I’m running (and I guess working out, in general), I look much more androgynous than I do like a woman. While it’s getting better, I do expect that I’d get clocked at some point. And even regardless of that, when you scan your membership card, your photo pops up on the computer screen on the other side of the counter. If someone is there at the time, they’d likely see that my photo doesn’t match what I look like now.

I’ve seen some chatter on Twitter about this and it seems some people have or plan to just preemptively quit their gyms and join new ones. This is what I was specifically thinking about on my run last night. Most gyms have completely ridiculous termination fees. Even after you terminate, they make you pay for two or three more months. I don’t think that’s fair to begin with, but it’s in the contract you sign so you don’t have much room to fight it. However, when it comes to situations like this, exceptions need to be made. If you’re unwilling to provide the services you promised me, that’s on you, not me.

Since my run last night was a nice nine-miler, I had plenty of time to really think about how I would personally handle the situation. I decided what’s best for me would be to stop by the gym after work sometime when I wasn’t planning on actually using it and simply ask them to update my account accordingly. Tell them I need to change the name, billing information, gender, and photo on my account. I would also inform them that I intend on using the women’s locker room. Being upfront about it in this way can save some potential awkwardness later on. At this point, it’s on them to either tell me they have no problem with me using the women’s facilities or declare themselves as transphobic assholes. I would obviously hope for the former, but if it is the latter, I would ask for the manager and simply explain that if I am not allowed to use the appropriate facilities then they need to cancel my account without charging any fees. I would be as nice as possible about it and I wouldn’t want to immediately go the route of telling them I would dispute the charges to my credit card and get a lawyer involved if necessary, but I probably do need to be prepared for this as a possible outcome.

In the end, I don’t know how my gym will handle this, but it’s something I will be facing soon, I’m sure. Regardless of how my specific situation works out, the fact that this is even a thing trans people need to think and worry about is a problem. Trans women are women and trans men are men. It’s that simple. Me being in the men’s locker room would be MUCH more jarring and make more people uncomfortable than me being in the women’s locker room would.