The weather in Ipswich has turned mostly pleasant, finally, and this is terrible news.
Terrible at least for those of us who train with Jen Tougas at Personal Best, the fitness studio located over the Ipswich Ale brewery off Brown Square.
Jen is acclaimed as the “body genius,” and for good reason. She has a distinguished two-decade track record of sculpting people’s bodies, increasing their strength and stability and stamina, extending their lives, and saving them from themselves — all while tricking them into enjoying it. I am a witness. I’ve trained with Jen two or three times a week for more than five years, and I’m stronger and more physically fit than ever before. I’ve also lost 70 lbs. along the way. But — yes, there’s a but.
As part of Jen’s comprehensive schedule of classes and other fitness offerings, she leads an hour-long session of circuit training every Saturday morning, in which I usually participate. Circuit training, as you may know, involves getting your heart rate up, and keeping it up, and trying not to die. You do some type of cardio exercise for a few minutes — on the treadmill or the stationary bicycle or the rowing machine — then you switch to some form of strength training: pushups or planks or jumping jacks or walking lunges or some other horrible thing.
On a typical Saturday, all of this torture takes place within the comfortable confines of the gym. So I may flop to the floor like a sweaty scarecrow, but at least my humiliation is screened off from the general public.
But now that our endless dreary, chilly, rainy spring has given way to nice weather, Jen has taken to driving her minions outdoors for circuit training.
In other words, you can watch.
We speed-walk from place to place — a gangplank near the wharf is good for pushups, for example, and a memorial planter just off the Riverwalk is ideal for those dreadful “dips,” where you lower your butt from a seated position and then push yourself back up but you don’t get to sit back down, you just keep pushing up and dipping back down, till your triceps are screaming. Keep in mind, however, that we somehow love Jen for making us go through this hell.
The most fearsome makeshift strength-training station of the entire Saturday morning circuit, however, is the old original cemetery on High Street. It’s situated on a steep grade, so to get to the top, you have to climb something like 78 concrete steps. I say “something like” because when I tried to count them on my way up, I was woozy by the time I got to 40-something.
During circuit training, the idea is not to make a leisurely ascent, noting the fascinating historical gravestones and admiring the view. No. We are not here for tourism. We are here for training. For circuit training purposes, we race up the steps as quickly as we can. I normally start out at a pretty good pace, but pretty soon my knees tell me this is crazy, and yell at me to stop. The only reason I force myself to keep lurching up those steps is that there are people in cars puttering along High Street, and people walking their dogs, and I’m sure every single one of them is watching me. Some, in fact, may be on their cell phones placing bets on whether I make it, and I don’t want anyone making more money on this than I’m spending for the session.
Finally, at the top, I turn around and look at the innumerable gravestones, scattered haphazardly over the hill, and I realize what this cemetery really is. This is where, over past 380 years, countless circuit trainers dropped dead. Their bodies rolled down the hill, and wherever they happened to stop rolling, that’s where they were buried. (It’s not widely known, but for the first three centuries of our town’s existence, hearse-drivers had to take freelance jobs in Rowley just to keep food on the table.)
This revelation keeps me alive. If I don’t want to join the corpses of High Street, I’ve got to keep moving. Giddyup, muscles! Don’t let the townies see you wimping out!
On Saturday mornings, I pray for rain.
Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, for the time being. Until the end comes, follow him by clicking “Follow” here at Outsidah.com.