Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Some Thoughts About Treadmills

Our first snowfall of the 2007-2008 winter was on December 3rd, and we've had snow on the ground since. Some of our plow piles are 8-10 feet high, and we've had a regularly hideous mix of snow, sleet, freezing rain and rain (sometimes during the same storm), often followed by radical temperature changes, all of which has led to narrow shoulders, impassable sidewalks and all-around treacherous road running conditions. So, despite my resolution to run as many of my miles outside as possible, I have been forced indoors lately, usually when it's simply too slippery and dark to run safely outside.

I am lucky enough to live at a residential school with very nice athletic facilities. Just as I exploit the miles of trails in the lush woods during spring, summer & fall, I use the athletic center's treadmills and 1/10-mile indoor track when I just can't run outside. That said, I'll confess that I hate the treadmill. Some fellow runners call them "dreadmills". I just view it as a necessary evils. In order to train, my legs have to move. If that can't happen outside, then I have to make do, or simply not train. A bit of a Hobson's choice, but I'll say about running what my high school friends and I used to say about sex: lousy running still beats no running at all.

As I cranked through 10 mind-numbing indoor miles last Thursday, I started thinking about the treadmill, about how strange we humans are to have developed a machine to simulate something so basic as running. It's quite a realization to ponder how activities that used to be necessary in order to survive have essentially become "optional" in a world of automation and creature comforts. Of course, most of us no longer kill (or even grow) our own food, so hunting doesn't keep us "lean and mean". But beyond that basic carnal instinct, we've removed so much of the need to move in order to live, both at work and at play, that the default for so many is a sedentary life. Now, I'm going to spare us all from the "Supersize Me" rants (though valid) about obesity, etc., but I will say that our country's obsession with the automobile (as if a car is a constitutional right) has led us down a path of inertia, from which it is very difficult to make a U-turn and find a route to healthier living. When you can, for example, drive through a fast food restaurant and then drive right into your own garage, you not only limit your physical activity, you limit your interactions with your fellow human beings. Despite so many of us being fat (I could say "overweight", "obese" or "hefty", but let's call it what it is), there's no community there, just a bunch of big, mostly sad, isolated people. That's no surprise, since the fat-jolly stereotype is a myth; a person who weighs more than she/he should is not likely to have a high self-opinion. If you don't like yourself, you won't want to be around other people. Well, I see that my thoughts are meandering, so I should get to the point. Problem is, I don't really have a point. [That's one of the beauties of having your own blog.]

Having lived abroad, I can tell you that many people in less wealthy lands would think that the only thing stranger than running for exercise would be to do it on a 20 x 60-inch platform, with a rubberized belt going around and around. It's easy to feel like a hamster on a wheel, raising questions about how much we've actually "evolved".

Along with the feeling of pushing my body (and with it my mind and spirit) to new levels, the greatest joy for me in running is the sense that I'm powering myself through the world, with no fuel, motor, equipment, or other technology (iPods and Garmins don't count). Despite taking thousands of steps per run, I leave no footprint, and take with me memories of nature and my community that I would never otherwise have been lucky enough to experience. Call me crazy, but doing 10 miles on a treadmill just doesn't measure up against that standard.


No comments: