I’m training for a marathon right now, which means I’m currently on a workout schedule that’s just shy of medieval torture. I run outside three days a week, treat myself to a punishing yoga class twice a week, contemplate donating my achy legs to science once a week, and on that last day, I do “speed work,” which entails running on a treadmill at speeds faster than my perpetually sore body ever feels like going.
When I started training, I contemplated joining a gym so that I could have consistent access to a treadmill for said speed work, but I was already paying for my yoga membership, race fees, and a never-ending list of running accessories, and so I couldn’t justify paying for a gym that I would only be going to once a week. (After all, I needed that leftover money for the two beers I deserve after every long run.)
Stuck between a rock and a cheap place, I devised a plan: Most gyms offer free introductory passes to potential members, and I live in Los Angeles, where gyms are practically an indigenous species. I would simply bounce from gym to gym each week, using each location for a freebie day before bouncing off to my next unsuspecting victim…er…fitness center.
At first, things shaped up exactly as planned. I started out at a fancy gym, where I was lucky enough to talk to a sales rep who seemed to have one foot out the door. She gave me a halhearted tour of the bougie facilities, handed me a eucalyptus-soaked towel (which almost made me want to ditch this money-saving plan and join), and then let me work out in peace. Contrary to the sales tactic of most gyms, she called me only once after my workout to see if I wanted to join and then left me alone indefinitely. It was such a nonaggressive push that I was a little worried about her. Was she okay? Had she quit her job? Was it something I did?
While plotting locales for my next plan of attack, I noticed that there was a chain of gyms that had several locations, all within a 10-minute drive of my home. ‘Great!’ I thought, ‘I won’t even have to jump on a freeway!’ This would be easier than I imagined.
And it kind of was. I successfully used a free pass to do my speed work at four different locations and smugly patted myself on the back for my ingenuity while wondering if lying to gyms about how often you work out is a sign that you might have a problem.
I should have known that all that sweat was melting Icarus wings when I sat down for a “consultation” at free gym number six, a.k.a. free gym number five at this particular chain. The sales rep there was going through his spiel about the gym and asking what my fitness goals were. I responded to his answers with what I thought he wanted to hear. “I’m new to the area and ready to get serious about exercise,” I told him, apparently less convincingly than I thought. He stopped abruptly and dropped his “sales” face for a moment. “You know, I have to go through these questions with you. It’s my job.” I nodded apologetically and let the poor man finish before moving on to my free workout.
I should have stopped there, but I didn’t.
The following week, I went back for more. The young guy who checked me in at gym number seven was nice enough and even flirted with me a little bit, telling me I had a nice smile as I entered my information into the computer at the desk. Then the computer bugged out and he had to help me. “Let’s see here,” he said as he took the keyboard from me and continued making small talk. “You liking the neighborhood so far…” His voice trailed off, and at the same moment, both of our eyes fixated on the screen in front of us, where a long list of gyms I had visited “to check out” was displayed on the screen.
“Have you been to this gym before?” he asked, but it was not really a question.
“Um. I…yeah, see, I’m still deciding which location I like best, and the guy at the last one said it was cool to check out each gym until I decide,” I said, but it was not really a confident statement.
The guy shook his head and shot me a disappointed look, as if to say, “How could you? I said you had a nice smile.” I nodded, ashamed, and then responded as any sane person would—by becoming indignant and placing the blame on someone else.
“Well, that’s fine. If you guys want to get all uptight about a couple free passes when you could have me as a lifelong paying member…” I looked down at my sneakers and gym bag. I had to work out tonight.
“Can you just charge me for a day pass?” I asked, as he grumpily made notes in my account that I can only imagine included words like “cheapskate” and “shameless.” He nodded and took my credit card without looking at me.
“So rude,” I grumbled, and then proceeded to walk into the gym, where I exercised for two hours in what would be my swan song at this chain—where, apparently, they think you should have to pay to use their services.
And, okay, look: I’m not proud of what I did. In the end, the embarrassment of getting called out for attempting to pull a fast one was not worth the money I saved. From now on, I’ll just pay up and keep my pride.
But if anyone happens to have a free buddy pass lying around, feel free to let me know.
Run the Women’s Health RUN 10 FEED 10 Race in New York City on September 20—or take part in one of our other runs around the country, or even sign up to run your own 10-K! You’ll feed 10 hungry people in your neighborhood just by signing up.