At the gym today, my trainer — I’d like to omit that detail, but it’s hard to tell the story without it — mixed in some cardio with the usual weights, lunges, Bosu balls, etc. On the second round, he brought me over to the ergometer and said: “Do you know what this is?”
I almost ran screaming from the room.
The Concept II ergometer is a training tool for rowers. It is smarter than most workout equipment, able to determine actual effort as measured in strokes-per-minute and meters traveled. If you pull quickly, you’ll have a high strokes-per-minute count. If you pull hard, the stroke count might drop, but you might also travel farther. But you cannot fool the erg the way some people cheat treadmills and stairclimbers. The erg knows all.
“I think I’m going to throw up,” I said. “I used to row.”
“Funny,” the trainer said. “I have another client who rowed, and she said the same thing.”
I rowed on a club team when I was 30. I was very, very, very bad, a fact I’ve never tried to conceal. I rowed in a women’s four and while we were never DFL (dead fucking last) we were sometimes DFP (dead fucking penultimate). Rowing starboard, I never really mastered the balance one needs in a good stroke. I was the queen of the quick-catch. But I was strong and I showed up for practice, so I got to row in races such as the Head of the Charles and the Head of the Ohio, not to mention a sprint in Philadelphia where my oar caught a dead rat and sent it flying.
Erg workouts were for rainy days, the off season, and supplemental training. There are actually events just for the erg (Crash B sprints) and some girls are qualifying for college scholarships on their erg times alone. All I remember is this bit of coaching wisdom: If you don’t feel like vomting after an erg workout, you didn’t try hard enough.
Today’s goal was 700 meters in three minutes and, bear in mind, I was already 40 minutes into a pretty intense workout. The timer showed me pulling 500 meters in 2:04 — not the sub-two minute goal I aimed for in my rowing days, but not too shabby. I pulled 700 in 2:50 and then sat, head between my knees, sure I was going to throw up, not because it was that hard but because my body was heaving with some scary old memories. My yoga instructor — again, another phrase I hate to invoke — says the body has memories and sometimes these are released during exercise. She says it’s not unusual for people to begin crying during yoga. Lord knows, I’ve felt like crying during yoga, but I’m not sure that’s what she means.
What does your body remember that you wish you could forget? Were you an athlete? A “spaz,” as I was called in my youth? What does your body never, ever want to do again?