SANF January 2014 : Page 68

starting line ( one woMan’s strange, sweaty race to Fitness ) pho t o gr a ph s b y s t eph en M C l a re n ➫ three obstacles off the side of a third, just missing a puddle of vomit splattered on the parking lot pavement behind AT&T Park. Hundreds of spectators cheer wildly, like reMain between Me and the Finish line: a row of taxi cabs, a bright yellow school bus, and an 8-foot retaining wall. i leap onto the nearest taxi’s hood, feeling it crunch beneath my weight. to my right, a burly dude in a pink muscle tank hurdles himself over another taxi, while to my left a Marina girl in Lululemon attire tumbles extras in the climactic “ Kill her! ” scene in a gladiator fl ick. Glancing back to see a few hundred more people, nearly all wearing neon spandex, gaining on me, I scuttle up the cargo net draped over the bus. Moments later I fi nish the course and am handed a frosty Michelob tall boy for my eff orts. As my heart rate slows, I wonder how I, someone who has assiduously avoided competing in anything remotely racelike my entire life, fi nished in the top 30 percent of an insane 11.3-mile endurance competition called the Urbanathlon. Who was that woman? To be honest, the outdoor-fi tness world has always made me queasy. There’s something about the SoMa CrossFit crusaders and the Pac Heights boot camp sergeants that brings to mind paranoid survivalists preparing for the end times. Then there’s the righteous Lyon Street steps contingent: those type A overachievers who run the most brutal stairs in the city every day before I’ve even had coff ee. And now an obstacle race fi xation has spawned a new breed of fi tness freaks—last year 1.5 million people indulged in what’s considered the fastest-growing sport in the United States, up from 41,000 in 2010. It’s a bit sur-real—this hysteria to overcome a manufactured physical gauntlet just to forge camaraderie with 2,400 strangers and earn some water cooler bragging rights. Yet as the ranks of outdoor-fitness fanatics have grown—there are now over 20 boot camps (aka group outdoor-exercise classes) in San Francisco, compared with a handful fi ve years ago—so has my curiosity about them. With races like the Urbanathlon being hosted nearly every month and coaches torturing their recruits in every grassy lot, San Francisco is deep in an alfresco fi tness love aff air. Maybe, I thought, I’ve been missing out by sticking to my low-lit, patchouli-scented yoga studio all these years. I decided that the best way to survey the new landscape would be to spend 10 weeks in training for my fi rst race without ever setting foot inside a gym. I mean, how hard could it be? Fourteen minutes. That was the mortifying time of the fi rst mile I ran with my trainer, Jenn Pattee. As the owner of Basic Training, a popular boot camp in the Marina, Pattee is used to coaching boot camp virgins like myself, but this was not an auspicious start. 68 San Francisco | January 2014  Over the fi rst three weeks of training, I slowly acclimated as we explored nooks of the city in the crisp dawn hours, mov-ing my body in ways that I never had before: crawling like a crocodile through hidden corporate parks in the FiDi, dash-ing down alleys in Hayes Valley, scrambling over a retain-ing wall at Fort Mason. Along the way, another coach, Ernie Baton, gave me a convincing rationale for working out this way: “If you want to look good, you go to the gym, but if you want to be fi t all around, you work out outdoors.” As an added benefi t, these new urban workouts sync nicely with many San Franciscans’ existing attitudes about exercise: Here, we don’t talk about getting into bikini shape; we talk about getting into Pacifi c Crest Trail shape (even if we don’t actually intend to hike its 2,650 miles). Being attractive isn’t so much about looking like Gisele Bündchen as it is about being outdoorsy, capable, nimble, unwinded by a march up Telegraph Hill. That’s not to say that this outdoors-fi rst mindset doesn’t have its drawbacks. There is something comforting about working out in a gym, quarantined in a room with other sweaty people doing mindless reps on expensive machinery, shielded from the brutal judgments of the outside world. Exercising outdoors, by contrast, leaves you feeling naked, exposed, vulnerable to the chance that a coworker or an ex might walk by and Instagram you at your worst. What’s more, exercising in out-of-context places like the fi nancial district can make you feel like you look—insane. That’s why fi tness junkies often stay inside buildings with safe, predetermined functions: Gyms are for exercising, just as offices are for working, bars are for drinking, and seedy motels are for sex. But early one Monday, as I’m painstakingly attempting pull-ups on an Embarcadero streetlight and a passing commuter yells out a window, “Five more!,” I’m reminded: This is San Francisco—we don’t do safe and predetermined. “What you need, you already have. Everything else is around you,” Pattee says, preparing to bear-crawl backward up the Filbert Street steps. Sure enough, the only equipment that I’ve bought is a good pair of cross-training shoes. I learn quickly that primal movements—crawling, climbing, gripping, jumping—are the essential building blocks. And instead of an intense 60-minute workout, training in the open means fi nding ways to exercise constantly throughout the day. The gurus call this “functional fi tness,” and, true to form, I spend the next three weeks exercising in analog: hurdling orange construction barriers in SoMa, dipping under railings, and scampering along narrow ledges. Like their hacker-programmer brethren, trainers like Pattee are constantly manipulating our city’s infrastructure to use it in

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