A picture to represent my strength training; I am not bold enough to break out the camera at Lion’s Den.

Ever since COVID lifted, I’ve had a few notions floating around in my head.

#1: I need an IRL place to go to workout that isn’t the rec center. Granted, I love my rec center and the diversity there; everybody from high school lifters to Silver Sneakers. It’s a happy place. But when I go, I’m swimming solo or on the treadmill solo or doing a strength routine with my pal P!nk in my ears.

Which leads to #2
#2: I need to interact with the world more. My days of guaranteed social interaction—school pick-up, a group run, soccer sidelines—are minimal now. As much as I love virtually interacting with our fab AMR community on Facebook and over Zoom, it isn’t healthy for me to have my most of my daily conversations be with my dogs. (Even though they always agree with what I say.)

#3: I need to challenge myself and lift heavier weights. Truth be told, I’d rather challenge myself with longer bike rides, mostly solo in the basement.  Again: not super for the old mental health, and TBH, the body too. I am firmly post-menopause, so my muscle mass is naturally wanting to take a nose-dive, as is the density of my bones. And recent hormone tests indicate my testosterone levels—the hormone that goes hand-in-hand with muscles—are not exactly overflowing. Hence the need to be on trend and lift heavy.

And so, as it often happens, I got inspired by somebody else in the AMR community. While writing a series of columns for Women’s Running about not running anymore, I interviewed Britt Parker, a fellow Colorado mother runner who is transitioning out of her trail miles. She mentioned she had been going to a gym—lifting heavy—and rucking in place of miles on her beloved trails.

I did a Google search for “strength training” and “class” and the Lion’s Den–and it’s intriguing Strength. Mobility. Performance. tagline—came up. Less than five minutes from my house, they offer an initial consultation and, after that, a free week to give it a go? I’m in.

The first time I descended into the basement gym, I was both intimidated and slightly intrigued. The turf field framed with squat racks, racks of dumbbells and kettlebells, rowers, and Woodway treadmills gave off a serious athlete vibe, which I feel like I used to have as well. These days, my serious athlete vibe is kind of at the level of my testosterone: it’s sprinkled in there, but it could use a little pumping up.

Yep. You pretty much don’t want to do this.

I started in mid-July, going gung-ho on my first free week with four classes. I came home from the fourth on a Saturday morning. We had done multiple rounds of a circuit that included the aptly named Devil’s Press, which I could barely do. I’d describe my experience with more detail, but I’ve wiped that memory from my brain. When I got home, I could hardly climb the stairs and was probably a little pale. Grant took one look at me and said, “Wow: you look really tired.” That afternoon, I took one of my best naps in recent memory. (Afternoon naps: a serious athlete thing for sure.)

Since then, I’ve been going three times a week, usually at 6:30 am. I love having an “appointment” at 6:30. Granted, it’s not always pleasant to get up before 6, but when I make the class reservation, it’s like making a date with a BRF to meet for a run the next morning: I’m not going to flake. The Strength workout always have a theme (Mondays: squats, Wednesdays: upper body, Fridays: deadlifts), so I know roughly what is coming up, but there’s enough variation—and plenty of humbling challenge—to make the hour go by quickly.

When you’re new at something, your improvement is significant with practice. With each class, my inner athlete becomes a little more validated, a little more confident. I now know to keep my elbows and eyes up when doing front squats. I also know to keep my weight over my front knee doing step ups to minimize knee pain. I can drop and do 10 push-ups on my toes without a second thought. (Something I could never do when I was rowing at an elite level.)

To be sure, I’ve also flown across the box jump and landed on my butt. I’ve not finished sets other people did with time to spare. And getting my giraffe legs loaded into the long resistance band so I can have an assist for pull-ups is ridiculously challenging. Then again, me doing pull-ups? Worth the human tangle.

During class, we load our own weights on the barbells, a process that which also makes me feel like a legit athlete. I haven’t challenged myself much on the squat—I have this image of me crumpling onto the ground with a crashing barbell—and my deadlift still has plenty of room for form improvement before I start looking for a max rep. (Shoulders back and locked, Dimity!) The bench press is my current favorite because I’m lying down and only have to concentrate on pushing one movement. A few weeks ago, I was paired up with a much younger person. (BTW, everybody seems much younger than me, but I kinda like that too.) She kept adding weight, round after round, and I kept up. We topped out at 85 pounds.

This week, when I hit the bench, I knew I was stronger. So I did a three rounds of four reps of 95 pounds, and then, for the fourth and final round, I put 2.5 on either side. Because I had to know if I could bench 100. I can.

Despite my gains (ha!), strength training will never be my main crush; I still crave a truly soaked sports bra and the mental bliss the rhythm of the bike takes me to.

But my new routine has quieted the three notions, and has given me a chance to strengthen and challenge my body that has carried me through 35 years of—wait for it— being a serious athlete.