Even on race days, it’s not that easy to get up at 4:30 a.m. No matter how enthusiastic you might feel the night before, getting out of a snug bed is difficult.
Then to consider the cold drive from home to the pool? Well, that’s the stuff of daily legend, is it not? You’ve got to be your own hero sometimes.
Yet as we all know, the work of heroes is often humble business. Depending on the sport, that means your workout starts with getting dressed or undressed.
Oh, perhaps you’ve got the body of a goddess or a god. Getting undressed is like revealing the glory of all creation. Every muscle you own ripples with sinewy, sexual strength. The shine of transfiguration glimmers from your glossy hair to your gleaming toenails. Then you slip on some form-fitting suit and emerge from the locker room to bless the universe with your athletic presence.
Or maybe not.
Instead, you sit shivering on a worn wooden bench wondering if you can do this thing you’ve voluntarily chosen to do. Perhaps you’ve been sitting in locker rooms much of your life, with the same internal dialogue going through your head. Many of those locker rooms have looked like this. Gray metal lockers with slats at the top to let out the stink of sweaty workout clothes. Lockers. Nothing glamorous about them.
The clatter of latches flecked with rust is the real work of heroes in this world. Even professional athletes covered in cash and fame must still go through these motions. The getting dressed. The getting undressed. Putting on the costumes of effort and glory. That is the business. It must be well attended in order to have any hope of improvement or achievement.
We leave our marks in locker rooms as wet footprints on concrete floors. These last a few hours perhaps, then evaporate. Sometimes the wetness never stops. We get out of the pool to take a shower. From wet to wet. Removes the chlorine from our skin, lest we smell like kitchen cleaner all day. It’s all relative. The entire goal of the locker room transition is to smell less, or smell better. Take your pick.
This is the process by which we interact with the world. We get wet. We dry off. It’s the same in the locker room, the hotel shower or the welcome feel of your own bathroom after hours on the road or a long swim. Wet. Dry. Wet. Dry. Over and over. In and out of locker rooms or one kind or another we go.
Sometimes we even stop to talk about our workout or experiences while standing around in the locker room. How did it go for you? Wasn’t that interval set tough? How much did you want to die after the last section?
When talking with strangers, the conversation must start with easy questions. How’s it going? Good workout? How did the race go?
One should be polite. Going straight for the locker room jugular by asking, “What was your time today?” is impolite. Too intimate. If the day has gone badly for the stranger you have just met, the probing questions are too close company to expect to keep.
Unless you’re simply a social dolt. You meet those in the locker room too. Guys or gals who stand too close or talk too loud. Ask weird questions or stand around too long, period. One of the guys at the club where I belonged the last three years spent hours getting in and out of his clothes. Pretty sure that was his entire workout. Getting dressed undressed. I never stopped to ask him his gig. But everyone in the place knew the look of his giant ass in those baggy white undies. That was his locker room persona.
With people you know, locker room talk can be more friendly. Think of the scenes in the movie Independence Day when the Will Smith character talks with his buddy about getting into astronaut school or shows the ring he’s about to give his stripper girlfriend. The locker room is often where true confessions can indeed occur between friends.
Yes, we all know that some locker room talk gets filthy and funny too. Guys and gals alike will let fly with banter that crosses the line of good taste. The locker room has always been a “safe space” or free zone for that kind of talk. I’ve done it. So has just about everyone. But when locker room talk and sexual braggadocio crosses the line to one’s public persona and behavior it becomes a problem. There’s a time and place. Reign it in.
We all leave our marks and gain memories from the locker room one way or another. I well recall those afternoons after high school cross country workouts singing with the boys in the locker room showers. Those events are unforgettable. Pinball Wizard. The Beatles. Choose your song and belt it out. Post-workout stress release.
As the years go by, those locker room memories get compressed into a memory wad like a wet towel inside your gym bag. In some cases it’s hard to recall some of those events even occurred. This is the Black Hole of athletic experience, when you’ve got so many years stuffed into your life that it begins to bulge and expand like a big old sun. Then time and memory contract into a dark energy from which even light cannot escape. You take that with you when you die.
But for now, that leaves you standing before the gray door of a locker with just one thing in mind: how to do the workout of the day. Or maybe you’re standing there thinking about how it went. Was your form okay? Did you pass the test of the moment?
And if you’re a triathlete, “What do I need to do next?”
Eventually you shower and change back into your clothes. Slide the slightly rusty latch up and into place. That familiar sound is something you’ve heard so many times and so many places. It is a mark of your existences. So many workouts. So many friends. So many races. So many dreams. So many numbers on lockers. Combinations to recall. So many coaches. So many wins and losses. So much internal dialogue about all these things you’ve experienced.
That’s the real meaning of locker room talk. That internal dialogue is the voice inside your head that helps you navigate it all. For better or worse, that is the voice you hear most often. Locker room talk. And how is it going for you?