Creepy Crawlers

I suppose it stands to reason that at 6am in the morning the gym is full of fruit loops. After all, what sane person would tumble out of bed at such an ungodly hour and voluntarily start running on a treadmill or start swimming half a mile?

That’ll be me then.

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For many years now, I have (often wearily) swum 30 lengths of the pool three mornings a week – before a great race against the clock to wash and blow dry my hair, slap some make-up on, grab a coffee  – and be at my desk for 8am. Recently, I’ve upped this madness to five mornings a week, to include two gym workouts too.

In my mind, I see this early morning as a good use of time: Basically, if I wasn’t at the gym, I’d be happily catching a few extra Zs in the comfort of my own bed.

But you have to draw the line somewhere. What kind of lunatic, for example, sets their alarm at 5.30am, drives to the gym and then idly lounges around in the jacuzzi?

Every morning, as I’m feverishly front-crawling in the pool, there’s a least three people just chewing the fat in the jacuzzi/ sauna/ steam room like they’ve got all the time in the world. If you want that kind of relaxation at the crack of dawn, here’s an idea: JUST STAY IN BED.

Most early-morning gym frequenters follow the unwritten rule of going about their workout/ hair dry/ make-up application in comfortable silence. No-one wants to start making small-talk at such an early hour.

No-one that is, except for Mad Scottish Woman.

I’ve mentioned Mad Scottish Woman before. But recently she has begun to loom even larger in my life. She’s in the pool pretty much every morning, clad in a full black wet suit and thrashing around like a huge excitable whale.

When she’s not showering other swimmers with torrents of water from her noisy, showy lengths of butterfly, she’s pacing around the sides, chomping on bananas and sniffing around eagerly for anyone to talk to. If in doubt, do not make eye contact with this woman.

What amazes me the most is that despite this seemingly extensive fitness regime, Mad Scottish Woman is still about the size of a small garden shed.

Only the other morning, as I was feebly lowering myself into the water, Mad Scottish Woman started yelling and beckoning to me with over exaggerated arm movements.

‘Do you want this float?’ she bellowed.

Float? Why would I want her float?

‘No, thank you,’ I said primly. I lowered my goggles in what I hoped was a please-do-not-engage-with-me-any-futher-gesture.

Luckily for me, Mad Scottish Woman was already eyeing up her next victim: a drippy-looking man, who was doing the doggy paddle in the lane next to her. She started gesticulating to him that he was doing his stroke all wrong.

‘Like this,’ she said, as she pounded down the length of the pool, soaking several unsuspecting swimmers in the process.

On her return, she actually started man-handling Mr Doggy Paddle, showing him how to stretch out his arms. He looked nothing short of terrified.

‘This woman is out of control,’ I thought.

Now, I’m not one to usually cast judgement on the trends of exercise attire but recently, I’ve spotted some rather bizarre get-ups in the gym itself.

Exhibit A: Woman on cross-trainer in full padded coat, complete with fur trim.

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Exhibit B: Woman clad in full length dress, attempting to cross train – and, later hitching it up to her knees to grapple with the rowing machine.

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Whatever happened to a good old t-shirt and leggings?

In the coffee queue the other morning, a man quite randomly offered to buy me a coffee.

I found this a little odd.

It was 7.45am. I’d just done 30 lengths, dried my hair in a hurry, and somehow managed to fend off the advances of Mad Scottish Woman. I didn’t have any fight left in me.

‘Sure,’ I said. ‘I’ll just take a medium-sized-one-shot-extra-hot-soy-latte-easy-on-the-foam.’

‘A what?’ he said.

Running On Empty

At 6.45am this morning the alarm goes off and the husband springs out of bed. No-one should have to rise at such an ungodly hour on a Sunday. But today the husband is running the Manchester 10k.

All weekend, the husband has barely even mentioned this race. But this morning, things are different. There’s a palpable tension in the air. He is stomping around, hunting for safety pins, Googling ‘what to eat before a big race’ – and even muttering about protein shakes.

‘I want you ready by 7.45am,’ he bellows in his best Drill Sergeant voice.

I’m a little taken aback by this sudden change of heart.

The reason the race has not been such a big deal up to now is that the husband went for a run about two weeks ago and managed to pull his calf muscle so badly he could barely walk.

This might be something to do with the fact that he sprang out of bed that morning, laced up his trainers and simply set off running – without so much as a sniff of a warm-up. Naturally, he refuses to concede that this is the reason for his calf injury. Real men don’t bother with pre-run stretches or warm-ups, says he.

Because of this injury, the husband had pretty much resigned himself to hobbling around the Manchester 10k today. There was talk of him pulling out altogether but he bravely said he would soldier on – limping around the course if necessary.

After much conflab at home, we finally set off for Manchester. The husband’s hands seem to be gripping the steering wheel tighter than normal. He appears pensive – and tense.

‘You seem to be taking this very seriously,’ I say. ‘Don’t forget you’re only jogging round, due to your injury. There really is nothing to be getting worked up about.’

‘I need to stock up on supplies,’ says the husband, suddenly swooping into the petrol station. ‘Energy drinks, ibruprofen, Pro-Plus…’

This doesn’t sound like someone who is merely partaking in a glorified fun run, I think.

Halfway into the car journey, the penny suddenly drops.

‘You’re not just planning on jogging round, are you?’ I say.

‘The workmates are taking it really seriously,’ wails the husband. ‘They’ve have been training for weeks. I just REALLY want to beat them!’

‘You’re injured and you haven’t done any training,’ I said. ‘You can’t possible compete with these people.’

‘If my calf can hold out, I think I’m in with a chance,’ grimaced the husband.

‘Last time, I did it in 42 minutes.’

‘That was five years ago,’ I said, ever the Voice of Doom. ‘And you were in the peak of physical fitness. You’ve barely run 10k this year and you’re limping like Keyser Soze.

‘I know what’s going on here,’ I continued, finding my stride. ‘You’re picturing a scenario where you rise like the phoenix from the flames – and sail past the workmates in a superman fashion, taking them all by surprise.’

The husband nods, looking sheepish.

‘It’s never going to happen,’ I say.

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The husband meets up with the work mates at the starting line. They all seem very keen, talking of personal bests and training schedules.

I leave him limbering up and stretching out his weakened calves.

40 minutes and two coffees later, I decide to amble down to the finishing line to check out what’s going on. It was 42 minutes into the race and the elite athletes were beginning to filter through.

I was in no rush. In fact, I was busy picturing a scenario whereby I was one of the few spectators left, clapping in solitude, as the injured husband woefully limps at the rear – surrounded by people in wheelchairs and a man dressed as Big Bird. 

But just as I look up, the husband flies past! He looks in pain but is gritting his teeth in determination.

He beat rival workmate by 10 seconds; the rest by significantly more.

He came in the top 10 per cent of the runners.

He might have done irreparable damage to his left calf.

But the husband has never looked happier. And secretly, I’m a very proud wife.

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Exercising My Patience

It’s 6.30pm on a dismal Monday night and I’m circling the car park at the gym trying to find somewhere to park. Problem is, there is nowhere to park. Out of 250 parking bays, not a single one is free.

This is because the gym has become overrun by sanctimonious gym-goers, hellbent on toning up their blamangey bottoms after an extended period of grave overindulgence and gluttony (me included!). By March, this madness will be over. But for now, the chaos continues.

In the end, I parked in the only free parking bay left: a ‘mother and baby’ space, while glancing anxiously around, should a wild-haired earth mom appear out of the bushes to berate me. I figured nobody would be bringing their baby to the gym at this late hour. But post-Christmas, anything is possible.

I’ve always thought that the gym attracts some of stranger members of society. But January brings with it a whole new species of treadmill-pounding peculiarities.

First up, it’s the teenagers. The place is overrun with them. There they are… clogging up the running machines in their Superdry togs: chatting, flirting, giggling and typing on their iPhones – basically doing anything except actually breaking into a sweat.

A teenager on the cross-trainer next to me yesterday – all glossy hair and Sweaty Betty attire – clambered on board and started slowly moving up and down on Level 1. Level 1, for those of you who have yet to make the acquaintance with a cross-trainer, basically involves as much exertion as passing wind.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for healthy habits at a young age but seriously what are they all doing here? Shouldn’t they be swigging bottles of Kiwi-flavoured 20-20 on a park bench somewhere?! The idea of running on a cross-trainer, aged 14, wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. 

Teenagers aside, I’ve begun to develop an irrational irritation for one particular woman who is constantly hogging one of the special cross-trainers that I like to go on (there’s only two of them in the whole gym). This grey-haired, bespectacled being seems to spend half her life slowly moving up and down on it. 6.30am in the morning, she’s there. 6.30pm in the evening, she’s still there. I even went at 8pm the other night and she was STILL there.

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The dotty old dear wears a knitted jumper and spends hours playing solitaire on the cross-trainer’s built-in computer screen, peddling away in an infuriatingly slow manner (Level 1, no doubt). No sane person would come to the gym simply to play solitaire – or wear a knitted jumper on a cross-trainer, for that matter.

I’ve begun to scowl at her and make a ‘harrumphing’ sound as I pass. She hasn’t registered this (too engrossed in Solitaire) but it makes me feel slightly better.

Further infuriation can be found in the swimming pool, where a whole clutch of glacially-slow swimmers seem to have descended in the mornings, feebly traversing the pool like gormless goldfish – doing breast stroke and extending their delicate necks so as not to get their hair wet (anyone who attempts to go swimming without getting their hair wet is, in my eyes, ridiculous. Sorry mum).

They are seemingly oblivious to the unwritten etiquette of the pool. ie. Don’t clog up the fast lane; don’t meander across the pool in front of those coming up behind you; and – above all – DON’T TREAT SWIMMING AT THE GYM LIKE A LEISURELY DIP IN SPAIN.

And then there’s the gross changing room habits: people who patrol up and down completely naked with absolutely no modicum of modesty whatsoever. Granted, I’m a total prude but there’s no way I’d casually wander around the changing rooms starkers.

Boys, shield your eyes now, but I once witnessed one of these nudists nonchalantly lift up one leg and insert something, ahem, intimate in an intimate place – in full view of everyone.

And only yesterday morning, there was another naked woman, one leg extended up on the counter, proudly exposing her front bottom to the world, as she feverishly dried her toes – with a hairdryer.

At the gym, it seems, there is no decorum left.

The Hunk at the Gym

After listening to Lipo Liza‘s woeful tales of extreme fat removal and dodging the advances of omnipresent Big Grey Man, it seemed only fair that I should finally get a new gym ‘buddy’ who was a bit easier on the eye.

My latest gym friend is a bit of a hunk – a young hunk, in fact – but with a beard. Yep, a beard. Not that weird goaty thing that Brad Pitt grew; I’m thinking more of a bristly Ben Affleck in the film Argo.

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You know when you catch someone’s eye several times by accident or suddenly clock that you’ve been vacantly staring at them for some time? That’s what happened with The Bearded One last month. I was on a cross trainer directly opposite him and realised I had been staring in his general direction for quite a while, as my legs peddled away.

I then started to think, ‘Oh no, MAYBE he thinks I’m staring at him because I fancy him. Which I don’t of course (having only eyes for the husband). Except now, I’m acting like I DO fancy him.’

My friend Andrea and I have a name for this: it’s called Toy Soldier Syndrome (the name is a long story). It’s basically where you become convinced that someone THINKS that you fancy them so you start acting flustered and coquettish around them – even though you definitely DO NOT fancy them at all (kind of a weird self-fulfilling prophecy).

After a few minutes, I stole a quick glance back at The Bearded One to ascertain the state of play. As soon as my eyes rested on his, he smiled straight back at me!

I went bright red.

The Bearded One then dismounted from his bike and, despite there being many available cross-trainers, he curiously stepped onto the one right next to me! I was so flustered that I hastily fled the cross-trainer completely, cheeks flaming. This silly non-event was made worse by the fact that the husband was obliviously lifting weights, just several metres away.

The following week, I whipped into Marks and Spencers at my usual gallop and was just striding purposefully towards a Super Whole Food Salad, when a voice said in my ear, ‘You won’t need a cross trainer to work that off!

Cripes… it was him. Bearded and besuited.

‘I’m on a healthy kick,’ I squeaked, immediately going a nice shade of beetroot. ‘I’m going on holiday tomorrow.’

‘Me too!’ he exclaimed, a youthful glint in his eye. ‘I’m going to Ibiza. My girlfriend’s parents have a boat there.’

Ah, a girlfriend. Phew.

‘I’m going to Croatia with my husband,’ I said, sounding like a prim housewife. And immediately thinking, ‘Oh no, he probably now thinks I’m some desperate old housewife with a crush on him.’

‘See you at the gym,’ he said.

‘Defo,’ I squeaked.

I scurried off to join the queue, scooping up a pack of Percy Pig sweets on the way.

I have a fairly serious problem with Percy Pig and Haribos. About twice a week, I purchase a pack at a petrol station or supermarket – and then gluttonously tip the whole lot into my mouth – in one go. I probably need to see a therapist – shortly followed by a dentist.

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I dashed to the car, clambered behind the wheel and before you could say ‘Super Whole Food Salad’, I had rammed the whole pack of Percy Pigs straight into my mouth – just in time for The Bearded One to be passing by.

He smiled at me through the car window in a slightly bemused manner and gave a departing wave. I attempted to smile back but my cheeks were bulging like a giant gerbil.

‘Oh great,’ I thought, ‘I just told The Bearded One that I was on a health kick and then he just saw me gorging on a bag of Percy Pig sweets in a most uncivilised manner.’

I vowed to have a month off from the gym.

Curse of the Cankles

I’ve got a problem with my ankles.

I went on Google, typed in ‘pain at back of ankles’ – and diagnosed myself with Acute Achilles Tendonitis. It’s basically a serious-sounding name for puffed up ankles.

The reason my ankles have puffed up is because I’ve been attempting to walk/run/trot 20,000 steps a day. This madness began when I acquired a Jawbone UP band, which you wear around your wrist to chart your activity during the day – from calories burned, hours slept and the amount of steps you complete.

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An average active human should be walking around 10,000 steps a day. But being the competitive type, I wasn’t happy with a mere 10,000 – so I rather ambitiously set my target to double it.

The problem with attempting to do 20,000 steps a day is that despite running 5km on the treadmill, sweating it out on the cross trainer for half an hour, and then spending the rest of the day galloping up and down the stairs at work, by the time I get home, I’m still about 3,000 steps short of my target.

This has meant that most evenings, the husband had landed back from work to find me pacing around the living room like a deranged Duracell bunny.

Another feature on the UP band app is that you can add friends who also have this step-counting device. I only have one friend: Anna. I can see how many hours sleep she gets, what she been eating and – most importantly – how many steps she does in a day.

It’s all rather competitive and, if I’m being perfectly honest, a little bit stalker-ish.

I was quite happily charging around for about three weeks, revelling in the knowledge that I was one if the top steppers in the UK (and beating Anna’s steps on a daily basis), until I woke up one day and realised I could barely walk. My ankles had seized up.

My wails of, ‘I’ve got cankles on my ankles!’ were met by complete indifference from the husband, who has long been impervious to my hypercondria.

Incidentally, I haven’t got cankles on my ankles. I didn’t even know what cankles were but the rhyme seemed to add a certain seriousness to my situation.

(I then googled ‘cankles’ and realised to my horror that it’s a condition where the calf meets the ankle without tapering at all. In short, your legs resemble those giant inflatable tubes they put down the sides of a ten-pin bowling lane for beginners. Thankfully, this isn’t an affliction I’ve been cursed with after all).

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However, when I casually mentioned that my Achilles’ tendon might be the source of the problem, the husband put down his New Scientist magazine and suddenly looked serious.

‘If it’s the Achilles, you need to stop exercising immediately,’ he said gravely – probably having horrific visions of spending the next 50 years pushing me around in a bath chair, while I bark orders at him.

‘If your Achilles snaps, it will be VERY serious,’ he added.

So there we have it: I can’t go to the gym. I can’t pound the pavements watching my steps rack up. I can’t canter up the stairs at work, two at a time, thinking, ‘steps, steps, glorious steps’.

No. All I can do now is meekly hobble round like a stiff-ankled sloth, knowing that – if I’m lucky – I might clock up a paltry 5,000 steps, while receiving updates on my UP app that say: ‘Anna has completed 18,000 steps today.’

I should be mourning the fact that I can no longer exercise and that my ankles will soon turn into giant squidgy sausages.

But knowing that Anna is achieving the top 5 per cent of steppers in the country, while I’m languishing in the bottom percentile, along with the injured and the infirm… now that’s my real Achilles’ heel.

Big Grey Man’s Back

At 7.45am on any weekday morning, Big Grey Man (see Gym Buddies) is usually queuing for a coffee at the gym – and attempting to make inane talk with me.

So imagine my shock when at 7.45am, I joined the queue at my local Caffe Nero (several miles from the gym) and who should be lurking ahead of me but… Big Grey Man, seemingly bigger and greyer than ever.

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He appeared completely unfazed by this random coincidence, simply beaming moronically at me and making small talk about the weather.

Same time, same coffee queue, completely different location.

I’m a little scared.

Gym Buddies

The gym is rapidly becoming a no-go area. After my close encounter with a former flame the other week, I seem to have made the acquaintance of another character who I’m avoiding with equal determination.

My new friend – let’s call him Big Grey Man – first made an appearance when I was queuing for a post-swim, pre-work coffee. Me: flustered and late as usual; Him: big and grey – and overly eager to chat.

‘We meet again…’ he said, as I approached the coffee queue. I actually turned around to look behind me, so convinced I was that he couldn’t be talking to me. He was.

It transpired that we had also been queuing for a coffee together the week before (quelle surprise!), and exchanged the very smallest of pleasantries – an encounter so inconsequential that I had completely forgotten it had ever happened. Obviously he hadn’t.

And so began one of those awkward conversations, where I try hard not to engage with him on any level (short monotone sentences usually do the trick), and he tries his hardest to keep up the patter. I feel a little mean because Big Grey Man is perfectly pleasant. But I have a rule about the gym: I don’t believe in communicating with anyone whilst there. I just want to get in, do 30 lengths in the pool, and exit – all with minimum human interaction.

This was tested about two years ago when I was reluctantly befriended by Lipo Liza – a woman who regularly had several pints of fat removed from her stomach and thighs, and seemed hellbent on sharing the details of this gruesome procedure with me – at 6.30 in the morning. It wasn’t just her thighs that got airtime though: I knew all about her job (she hated it), mother (hated her), ex-boyfriend (hated him) and many other details which I would not want to inflict upon you. Luckily, her newly-thinned thighs led her to new-found love and she moved somewhere down South, finally leaving me in peace.

Another strange specimen at the gym is Mad Army Woman. You know those people who like to Make A Scene at the gym by huffing and puffing loudly, pacing up and down and doing exaggerated stretches? She’s one of them. While the rest of the morning swimmers are quietly getting on with their lengths, she’s busy doing her own peculiar routine, which as far as I can see involves angrily striding up and down the pool in a full wet suit (she’s about the size of a small bungalow), pausing to eat half a banana, taking two controlled swigs of Lucozade and then – bizarrely – circling the jacuzzi in figures of eight, thrashing through the water in an exaggerated army march. It’s quite frightening.

Back to my new friend though…

Big Grey Man: We obviously have the same routine!

Me (feigning interest in the coffee menu): Hmm…

Big Grey Man: I didn’t see you last week though?

Me: My car broke down.

Big Grey Man: Really? What was wrong with it?

Me (yawn): The alternator. (Yawn. Yawn.)

You get the idea.

I finally managed to escape but as was crossing the car park, there he was – honking his horn and waving manically.

I hoped that my interaction with him would be limited to the pre-work coffee queue. But when I went down to the pool this week, lo and behold, he was there – sat in the jacuzzi, beaming like a mentalist and waving at me (again!). Crazily, he was chatting to Mad Army Woman (who appeared to be on stage seven of her drill: Stop circling jacuzzi for three minutes and eat second half of banana). They both seemed to be staring at me. Big Grey Man waved again.

What next? Inviting me to join them in the jacuzzi? Chatting to me in the steam room? (attempting to strike up a conversation in the steam room is strictly taboo in my eyes).

At least Lipo Liza had entertaining stories in her quest to fight the flab. Big Grey Man offers nothing but big greyness and Mad Army Woman nothing but drill-sergeant lunacy. I didn’t want to be part of their weird jacuzzi club.

I dunked my head under the water and swam away – with a little theatrical splash of my own.