The invisible gauntlet

Robert-Walsh-walshs-wonderingsWhen he grabbed a pair of ear buds from the bin, I knew I owned him. Only a rookie forgets to bring headphones to a hotel gym, and these tiny fitness centers are no place for rookies.

Traveling over the holidays is an opportunity to entertain my many shortcomings; I pull out flawed coping strategies the way normal people pull out holiday decorations. Nowhere do my bad decisions get more free reign than during those yuletide hotel haunts.

In order to justify the eating orgy that inevitably accompanies every hotel stay, I strike an uneasy bargain: I work out each day so that I might lay waste to the menu later that evening. I tell myself that those thirty minutes on the treadmill will easily offset the nachos, burgers, and beers that will later surrender in my stomach. Few humans possess my vast reserve of unrealistic optimism regarding the caloric power of a gym visit: If I’m going to have that pancake breakfast, I better walk vigorously for fifteen minutes.

Hotel gyms, however, are a crapshoot. Some sport elliptical machines and décor one would expect from a Swedish cathedral. Others are glorified closets with your grandma’s treadmill shuddering and wheezing in a corner. In my world, there’s only room for one thing shuddering and wheezing during a workout, and that’s me. Because these gyms afford me the opportunity to pursue this unholy compromise with my health, I pick hotels based on their fitness centers.

I’m overtaken by a smug sense of achievement every time I manage to drag myself out of the hotel comforters and enter the gym. I go early so as to spare the innocents from watching my bulk bounce and wiggle like a baby seal caught in a tuna net. Still, for a few fleeting moments, I allow myself to feel like I’m putting my health first.

The entrance of another fat man is therefore unacceptable. It ruins the illusion. After a silent round of “Who weighs more?” I wait for the inevitable. It’s been my experience in gyms that other fat men are drawn to my machine like diabetic bees to honey. It’s probably because I make them look better by comparison, and it forces me into a series of mind games no grown man should entertain.

I should view this man as a fellow soldier in the foxhole of holiday weight gain rather than an unwelcome dose of reality. Unfortunately, the moment he steps onto the treadmill next to mine, the gauntlet is thrown. I cannot let him stay on longer than I do; his time on the treadmill becomes the great white whale I must chase (pardon the pun). I steel myself and change the playlist on my phone. No more Little River Band-it’s Green Day time, baby. A quick glance reveals he’s only on 2.8, so I set my machine to 3.0. What’s that, no incline? I click the plus button until my treadmill rises like a stallion beside his. The rest of the workout is spent silently cursing him until, by sheer force of will, I wish him into stopping.

I take a few halting steps after he gets off the treadmill-enough to make it clear who just won. The poor shlub probably didn’t even know he was in a battle for his holiday traveling soul. The last present of the holiday season is the one I give to myself, wrapped in a soaked T-shirt and fragile ego.

Such is the world of holiday travel, friends. Think twice the next time you notice a fat man hitting incline on the machine next to yours. You might already be losing.

You can read more at and contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.

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