On Canceling My Gym Membership

by Nathan Gunter


Every day or two, I run past the house where Vince Gill grew up, past the high school where Color Me Badd’s members met. I run past countless mid-century modern homes, past campaign signs I want to tear down (Randy Brogdon for Governor? Really?), past a British imports store where I can get a kind of orange soda I thought was only available in Ireland. I drag my out-of-shape carcass up hills, through traffic, past Taft Stadium and Shepherd Mall and through the neighborhood I’ve called home for five years.

I just started street running. I’m turning 30 this year and–this may come as a shock to you–it turns out that as you get older, your waist expands. Totally unfair, right? I’m someone whose athletic activity for the past 3 decades has been 8-bit video games and yelling at 8-bit video games.

When I was three days old my dad, then a lifelong smoker, had a heart attack. That sticks with me; I almost didn’t have a dad. He and I used to walk from our house down to Dead Woman’s Crossing and back. But I hated playing sports. I hated having to pay close attention to something I was terrible at. I was small, allergic, and would rather read or draw than chase around after some ball with people I didn’t like. Most boys spent their recesses on the soccer field; I spent mine on Neptune, with dinosaurs.

At 27 I joined a gym. But it was a little too far from the rest of my life. Just getting there and back took an hour. Working out and showering took another. When do you wedge that kind of time into a schedule, especially when getting out of bed before 7 a.m. proves almost physically impossible?

So, one day, a few weeks ago, I strapped on my shoes and took off through the neighborhood, short little 185 pound me running a 10-and-a-half minute mile up and down the winding, stacked streets where I live. I thought I’d hate it and go back to the gym, sobbing with regret, confessing my adultery.

I took off down my street and up another, up a steep incline. My body protested and groaned. I told myself, “That’s it, you old fart. Give it a rest. Let’s have some Doritos.” But I kept going. I don’t know exactly what happened; I got to the top of the hill, it became easier. I kept going. I hit another hill. I kept going. I ran three and a half miles. It took forever. I stared at my feet the entire time, thinking perhaps that each step might be the last one.

Two days later I did it again. And I started to look up, around at things. I watched a group of kids playing in a sprinkler; they watched me suspiciously but waved as I passed by. I watched two squirrels fighting. There’s a gigantic McMansion going up on our neighborhood’s only vacant lot; it looks tacky and out-of-place, like Tipper Gore shoved into one of Lady Gaga’s costumes. I’d never noticed it before. I went minutes – sometimes entire streets – without noticing how out of breath and drenched with sweat I was because I was so fascinated at the new things I was seeing. On my last run, it was mid-morning but already searing hot. God, but Oklahoma is brutal in the summer, isn’t it? Everyone in the neighborhood was watering their lawns, and as I ran by I slowed down just enough to catch each sprinkler as it passed my side of the street.

I have yet to lose a single pound or inch of my waistline. But I’m enjoying myself. I get back to the house grinning and dripping, my lungs begging for air. I’ve discovered the wonders of a lukewarm shower after physical exertion.

My neighbors find the whole thing very amusing; “I saw you out running,” they say with barely-suppressed giggles. Even a couple years ago this would have terrified me; I’d have vowed never to leave the house again. Now, I smile along and say, “I know. It’s crazy. I’m loving the hell out of it.”