The hardest workout is just getting there

Well, after three years’ absence, I finally made it back to SELF Magazine’s annual Workout in the Park in New York’s Central Park. I came back wondering if I should have even bothered.

Let me start by noting that the area of Central Park in which the event is held, the “Ramsey Playground”, is about halfway between the East and West 72nd Street entrances to the park and a block or two south. The nearest subway station is at the West entrance to the park, so it’s about a quarter mile of winding trails that I go through only for the workout. The lines are always horrendous – several blocks long – and that’s if you’ve already purchased your ticket in advance, and get there an hour early. It’s usually cool enough that some layering is needed. Coming in from somewhat cooler New Jersey, make that significant layering. And in the past, the event has run out of freebie drink samples and freebie snack samples, and often only had highly-sweetened beverages available – between that and the commute, carrying an extra liter or two of water is a necessity. So I’m an hour and a half from home, carrying a Whole Lot Of Stuff, and that’s before I even get into the event…

Add to that, the calf I injured last month started tightening up shortly after I entered the park.

While the Workout in the Park is still a great value ($20 advance admission includes one year’s subscription to SELF magazine --approx. $36 newstand cost – and supports great causes, including the Susan G. Komen foundation, plus the other freebies more than pay for the ticket cost), I believe the event has outgrown its venue.

The last time I participated, there were five separate workout areas: the main stage, the “quiet zone” on a grassy rise nearby, a smaller specialty-cardio workout area, a small sponsored apparatus area (formerly emphasizing Reebok’s latest equipment; this year Ford-sponsored rebounding), and a rock wall. Sponsor tents and giveaways were located between the various workout locations. While there were lines at the sponsor tents and both the apparatus area and the main stage could get crowded, there was always space in the Quiet Zone to attend the yoga and Pilates lessons. I believe attendance was somewhere in the 2000 range, but I don’t recall for certain.

According to the event’s announcer-on-site, there were over 5000 attendees this year – a record number. To accommodate the greater crowds, the event was reduced down to only three exercise areas: a greatly-expanded main stage, the same Quiet Zone, and a slightly-relocated apparatus area. The sponsor tents were relegated to the peripheral edges of the event.

While the lines moved quickly, they were so crowded that you could not skip a line to get to the main stage, or from the far end of the event to the port-a-potties just outside the main event area. Lines overflowed onto the main stage workout area; exercisers overflowed into gaps in the sponsor-tent area. There was the usual lineup for the apparatus classes. The “Quiet Zone” blasted overdriven music and overdriven instruction, and was so crowded that it was impossible to find a spot to try a simple Goddess pose.

To top it off, the astroturf-type covering for the main stage’s workout area was soggy from two previous days’ rain. Anything one put down to grab a spot to work out got reddish-brown muddy. And we had a lot to put down (freebies included full-sizes of Physicians Formula Organics Bronzer, half-liter bottles of Penta water, 11 oz bottles of Silk Soy milk, cotton neck scarves, Asics workout towels, Nalgene bottles with samples of Crystal Light to Go, samples of Clarins anticellulite creams and St. Ives microdermabrasion scrubs, Kelloggs and Quaker Oats 100-calorie snacks, issues of SELF magazine…)

Needless to say, I could not get into any workout until the crowds began to thin, towards early afternoon…

The event ended at 3PM, but I split slightly earlier – when the pace of the last dance workout got too rapid to follow and threatened to do nasty things to my calves and knees. From there it was off to Whole Foods to do some shopping (shopping at Whole Foods in the late afternoon is a whole 'nother set of issues) while I was in the city, and then back home.

For as little workout as I got, I’m wondering if the effort was worth it. At any rate, I have a whole year to think about it.