Run Your Own Race

Anyone who has seen me in the last month has probably heard me talk about ClassPass, which allows you to take up to three classes at any one of the many partnered fitness studios underneath the ClassPass umbrella. Wanting to get a good workout and make the most of the monthly cost, I opt for classes with the more expensive drop-in rates. For example, classes at boutique spinning studios and certain high-intensity workouts will cost upwards of $20, breaking even for ClassPass in just a few classes a month.

At any rate, after three years in Boston and two months of aggressively signing up for ClassPass classes to get my money’s worth, I know the lay of the fitness landscape here pretty well. I’ve done my fair share of classes in Boston, from pure barre to bikram yoga, and probably well enough to open my own studio of something. At any rate, nothing humbles me quite like Barry’s Bootcamp. The name of the place is pretty ridiculous, the standard pricing is more than a little ridiculous (a membership at Barry’s Bootcamp usually costs $150 a month at minimum, with a $28 drop-in rate), but the workout is the most ridiculous.

Last month, on a weekend morning much like this one, I decided to take a break from whatever interview prep and tindering I was doing at the time and signed up for a class Barry’s. I put my things away in the locker room and hang in the vestibule with thirty or so other people waiting for the instructor to open the door to the studio.

I’m fairly fit, but I immediately notice myself not fitting in among the loyal members and addicts of Barry’s, who look like L.A. transplants painted in the shades of Boston winter: all tightness and tone but no tan.  Standing among them a little self-consciously, just as I think,  “Maybe it’s not too late to get out of here,” the instructor welcomes us inside.

The class is held in room that’s dimly lit with a cast of red with about 20 treadmills lined up against one wall opposite 20 staggered floor stations. The room feels a little bit larger on account of the mirrored walls on two sides. Walking in, my MBA persona thinks about the incremental revenue and cost of fitting one more treadmill and floor station in—that’s the last cohesive thought I have for the hour as the EDM music blasts through the speakers.

The instructor barks out the lineup for an intense circuit that will swap us between the floor and treadmill and back again: 30-second sprint intervals at speeds I didn’t know existed on a treadmill. Reverse lunges and squat presses for minutes that feel like hours. Backpedaling on an incline and burpees until your legs and arms can’t move anymore. And so on.

Minutes into the warm-up, I’m worried I won’t be able to survive. I curse myself for neglecting to pick up a towel at the front and wonder how I could possibly have forgotten my water bottle at home. The workout is so hard I forget how worried I am about preparing for interview and how pissed I am about a guy who hadn’t texted me back.  Trying to focus on something other than the sound of my belabored breathing and the feel of the sweat pouring into my eyes, I look at the person on the adjacent treadmill. Somehow in all my exhaustion, I’m not too tired to study my peers, and I’m expending my excess energy getting weirdly competitive on the treadmill.

Blonde and lithe, the girl next to me looks like an animated version of a Lululemon mannequin with cropped wunderunders and a matching top.  I look at her speed—a full point faster than mine. I look at her incline—measurably higher than mine. I look at her hair and body—straighter and smaller than mine. Just as I’m about to descend into self-pity, and indulge in feeling sorry for myself in my years-old workout shorts and already-soaked cotton t-shirt, the instructor counts down to our first sprint.

And off we go to 12 MPH.

Of all the places I could have had a quasi-spiritual experience, I never would have guessed Barry’s Bootcamp. But it’s then and there that I have an epiphany. Moving my legs as fast as I possibly can, it hits me that every moment I spend staring at this other girl, I’m not only slowing myself down, I’m risking getting hurt: “Spend another second comparing yourself to this her and you’re going to fall off this treadmill.”

I take my eyes off of her and her treadmill metrics and lock them forward into my own reflection in the mirror. I have a hard time looking at myself at first, blue eyes unsettlingly contrasting with flushed skin. But after a few seconds that feel like a while, I find it hard to look anywhere else. As I stare into my own eyes, I’m finding a strength and focus I didn’t know I had left in me. After an autumn that rocked me to my core and made me forget who I was and what I was doing with my life, it’s the first time I recognize myself in a while, and it’s empowering and comforting. 

Forcing myself to make eye contact with myself, seeing myself clearly, I’m inspired with an unforgettable new mantra that gets me through the rest of the class. 

The instructor calls out the next sprint, and suddenly, the class doesn’t feel so unmanageable. The next 45 minutes, I’m able to sweat without feeling sorry. I meet my own gaze without interruption. I’m out of my brain and into my body.

At last, the throbbing music quieted and the lights in the room went on. Stunned, somehow I had survived the class. And as I washed my face, gathered my things, and headed out of the studio into the winter cold, I realize I’d left with something outlasting the week of sore muscles and a worth more than a whole year of ClassPass membership: a pair of stronger-than-ever, even-if-I-forget-I-can-always-think-of-that-Barry’s-class lessons.

Every minute I spend comparing myself to other people is useless unless it’s inspiring me to grow and improve. No matter what, I must remember, I’m on my own journey: physically as much as spiritually. Personally as much as professionally. Today as much as tomorrow.

The next time I’m tempted to stop to judge progress in any aspect of my life, I’ll think of my sweaty face in the Barry’s mirror and remember what came to me in the middle of that class:

“Focus on you. Run your own race.”