When running, I often find myself building motivation by imaging myself running from something. For you this might be a bear, a mugger, the police, your mom. For me, its often my past life. The old me. Everything I have overcome. Corny, yeah, but try it..you might surprise yourself. Have you ever run so fast you’ve hit the front of a treadmill? I have.

I belong to Orangetheory Fitness. You may or may not have heard of this brand of “studios,” which exclusively offer hour-long classes throughout the day. Workouts are coached by a person with a headset and a nice personality and good music, and you cycle through treadmills, rowers and floor (free weights) with a high intensity interval training flavor. The premise is the heart-rate based monitoring, in which every member wears a monitor and watches their heart rate and corresponding “zones” (grey, blue, green, orange and red) on several big TV screens throughout the room. Every minute spent at 84-91% of your max heart rate (“the orange zone”) counts as a “splat point,” and the goal is to get 12 points (12 minutes) of orange-zone during your hour workout. The idea that this type of high intensity interval training triggers the “afterburn,” or continued calorie burning for several hours to days after the workout. Sure.

I joined OTF on a whim after trying a free class with a friend in early 2016. I immediately joined despite the hefty price, but then had to put my membership on hold during

deployment. I couldn’t wait to get back to it when I returned. I love the comradery, the structured workout, the guaranteed one hour max of sweating and moving. It felt .. good. Actually, it felt alot like a cycle that my friend Karolina calls “the de-tox re-tox.” I was burning a ton of calories but not getting a ton of results. I tried tweaking my diet, upping my intensity, frequency of workouts. I was still drinking at this time, and alot. I was in the habit of starving all week and binging on the weekends. I have countless memories of attending weekend morning (sometimes noon) OTF classes still hungover, feeling like

some sort of champion for doing so. Of course, that was if I didn’t drop out of the class while drunk the night before or skip it entirely, costing me $12 for the late cancel. It’s a perfect depiction of the two women living at odds inside of me: one had been desperate to be “fit,” “toned,” happy, healthy for as long as I could remember – the other did everything in her power to destroy that goal, from drinking poison to eating garbage to cancelling the gym to convincing herself to skip.

denver otf
Screenshot of my workout at Denver OTF!

But once I quit drinking, OTF would prove to be the training wheels on my bike, the thing keeping me from totally eating shit on this mysterious, winding road of alcohol-free living.

This happened in a few ways:

  1. It gave me a distraction. In my first few days of sobriety (The First Time), I made a commitment to try something new everyday. This included early (EARLY) morning OTF classes, just for the hell of it. I attended maybe 2 5am classes, but still it felt awesome to do what I had previously deemed impossible/hard/a fucking nightmare (to this day, and to everyone’s amazement, I routinely do the 6:05AM classes). I was also going through alot of emotional and relationship turmoil at the time, and OTF offered hour-long respites from my otherwise 23/7 rolling, anxious thoughts. It’s hard to care about unsupportive friends or bad relationships when you’re just trying not to vomit on a treadmill in an orange-illuminated studio of 45 of yours peers.
  2. It expedited my physical results. Of course, who knew, what a shock. When you stop drinking your daily caloric allowance in WINE every other day, you lose weight! What!? It was a slow process, but once I quit drinking The Last Time, I lost about 10 lbs without having to change my diet at all. I also noticed I had things like abs and triceps and shoulders and self esteem. This also helped to pave the way for me to start eating intuitively rather than my old binge/starve ways. I was amazed at the amount of chocolate and cake and ice cream I could eat and still look vaguely like a healthy human.
  3. It showed me that I can do anything for 30 seconds. If I can run at 9-10 mph for 30 seconds, I can not drink for 30 seconds. I can not react for 30 seconds. I can not scream or cry or binge eat for 30 seconds. And guess what? It all passes. This also helped me to learn to trust the process – every workout is a surprise (if you don’t cheat by checking the OTF subreddit every night, hoping someone in Australia posted tomorrow’s workout), and I just learned to accept this and trust that I would live, it would be OK. Even if it ended up being a dreaded partner workout. In a land where any type of uncertainty sent me into a tailspin of anxiety and reaching to numb it all out, OTF showed me I have tolerance and poise.
  4. It taught me accountability. When I sign up for a class, I go. It isn’t about losing
    That time I ran almost 30 miles in a month!

    $12, it’s about making a promise to my damn self and keeping it. The people at the front desk make a serious effort to remember your name and face, so when you don’t show – they know.

    When they had the Marathon Challenge this past April, I went as much as I could and I ran my legs off and I completed it. I signed up and did the Dri-Tri with Steve this year too, for a free crappy water bottle. It sucked. When we travelled to Denver, we made it a point to get in a mile-high workout. I also (for the first time since I joined) participated in Hell Week, an especially grueling week of workouts leading up to Halloween in which you get a free shirt for completing 5/7 workouts. A FREE SHIRT. I did this for a free fucking shirt, but also for some self respect.

  5. In a shaky, scary world, it was my constant. OTF was one of the only habits I dragged from my old life into my new life, a security blanky of sorts. The workouts, the coaches, the members, everything. No matter what was going on in my life that day, there would be guaranteed high-fives in every class. I hated the high-fiving at first, but after a while I started to look forward to them. “High-five your neighbor on the treads!” “Fuck yeah! We’re here! We’re alive! No one has to know that I have crippling anxiety over the way I’ve alienated everyone I love! Or that a month ago I was routinely drinking a bottle of red wine alone in my apartment! Yeah!” Going through the motions does ALOT to change your mindset – it goes along with Gary John Bishop (Unf*ck Yourself) and his notion that “you don’t have to feel like today is your day, you just have to act like it is.“OTF offered comfort but also comparison – “man I feel so much better working out not hungover.” “Wow I feel way more accomplished when I’m not just burning off last night’s alcohol calories.”

When we moved this summer, the location of the nearest OTF was paramount in our decision. I wasn’t just being a picky, lazy white girl (but also this) – I view OTF as a crucial part of my recovery, not just in the foundation, but everyday. It continues to be my distraction, my tolerance, my accountability, my constant.

2 thoughts on “how a gym franchise saved my life

  1. Such an awesomely transparent and well-written article, Danielle! I’m proud of you for all that you’ve accomplished and continue to accomplish during your recovery and I look forward to hearing more in the days/weeks/months to come! At this point I think it’s safe to say, fitness is now part of your lifestyle. Stay focused and come back and visit us at the Point Loma or Bankers Hill studio sometime – we miss you!!


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