Sunday, November 28, 2010

Treadmills: Goin'Nowhere Fast

Each morning when I leave my building, even in the summer time, I notice our small gym facility to be in use. Not the nautilus weight unit, or the glorified Tony Little-style Gazelle ( I think it's actually an elliptical machine). It's the tread mill. That thing is running 24/7. These people don't look like hamsters, so why do they want to go 'round and 'round. Are they allergic to fresh air and sunlight? Let's get'em one of those see-through balls that hamsters go in. We can tint the plastic to protect these athletic vampires from the light of day. At least they'll get outside.

Pardon me, I just don't understand this. We live in one of the most wonderful parts of the world - British Columbia. There are trails within 15 minutes of most people's door steps. Even during last weeks deep freeze, these folks could have gotten outside.

Two Christmases ago it snowed a significant amount in the Vancouver area and then froze. It made the trails pretty challenging to run on so I decided to try a treadmill run at the nearby gym. I got there about nine and signed my name to the little white dry erase board. I had to if I wanted to reserve myself a spot on this go-nowhere machine. In fact, I signed my name to three white boards because I was only allowed 20 minutes on each machine. The machines were humming along and the pitter patter of each expert runner created a sort of non-rhythm rhythm so I waited my turn on the stretch mat. I didn't know what the hell else to do with myself. There I sat with my ass down on the blue mat and touching my toes a little and #4 machine came available. The runner's workout had beeped her off that machine and prompted her to start wiping the sweat off it. She walked away pretty proud of herself and I jumped on and quickly poked the start button. I pushed the up arrow and started going nowhere fast. Looking out the window I was feeling weird. I was looking over at other peoples speeds and distances, reading the signs on the walls, observing some really huge dudes, and suddenly I realized I was bored. I'd been running for 6 minutes. I didn't know how I was to survive the next 14 minutes and get off and move to another two machines for 40 more minutes. I couldn't do it. I hit stop, didn't wipe my machine down, erased my name from the other two white boards, and went home.

I don't know how you do it Treadmill people. Perhaps it's mental fortitude? Perhaps you enjoy the controlled environment? Knowing your time, pace, calories, target heart rate zone? Maybe it's like a quicky, not a great, but better than nothing when you're in a rush?

Whatever it is, I admire your will to survive such a work out in the interest of your own health. I suppose it's a LOVE/HATE thing. I love that Treadmills keep people active and ultimately healthy, but I hate thinking they're making people bored like I was.

I saw this video a few years ago and I think this is the only way I could avoid feeling like I'm going nowhere fast.

If you frequently cruise the treadmill strip I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. That video is one of the funny ones.

    Unfortunately, I have had to make peace with the treadmill. I live in MN and our deep cold lasts for a few months. In the last few years I have developed an intolerance for cold - my skin develops hives and start wheezing within just a few minutes of being outside. The colder it gets, the worse my symptoms get. The treadmill is also my saving grace when I am home with my gym memberships or sitter fees. When it's nice out though, I'm hitting the trails as often as I can!

  2. Treadmills suck! No way around it. 99.9% of the time there is really no need. With all of the winter traction devices available in addition to great running snowshoes, you can hit the trails 12months of the year.

    As a training tool, I have found that a treadmill can be useful when training for a mountain race. Especially when living in flat Ontario where our longest 'real' hill only last for about 2-3 mins. The treadmill has been handy on occasion to get in a sustained uphill tempo run. Even then, I find I have to warmup and cooldown in the nearby park or trails.

  3. Thanks, NJ. I'm so glad you commented. It sounds like life has drawn you to the tread mill for convenience and a much larger health issue. Does it make you cherish those moments on the trails even more?

    Have a great winter in the cold. I'm super impressed that you make exercise a priority as a parent. The world needs more parents like you - good, healthy, role models.

  4. Treadmills are just another fitness machine. I used one when I was stuck on a week long Cruise to Alaska -- it had the best view. I used one the other day to try a pair shoes and test my best steady pace on a 10K. I also figured out my max heart rate in intervals of a 30 minute session. But, I am with you -- get outside!

  5. I think what tom is talking about is the regular use of a treadmill as part of a fitness opposed to the odd use of one for whatever reason. Absent some sort of medical reason I can't understand why anyone would use these boredom mills if they have access to trails or even nice quiet streets if road is what you do. This city has plenty of both. The most shocking thing is when you see a line of people in a window all running on them and it's a beautiful summer's day out! I try to put myself in their shoes and think what they're thinking ... but I can't. I can't fathom it. Would love to understand the thinking behind it too.. Any die hard treadies out there?

  6. treadmills are training secrets... im so inspired to take my next 3 whole minutes and enjoy this pleasent distration. okay... 3mins down 2 hrs and 27mins left :).... thANKs TOm... great points! however think of 8 weeks of treadmill running (of course balanced with some trail) then being unleashed on a six day staged mountain ultra.... ../giggles, huGE SMile :) you end of rUNning with a wholla of hEARt because you miss trail so bad. :) (strategy, shhh..heheehe.. good.)

  7. Okay. Thanks for weighing in, folks. I think I get it. Most of you and others I have spoken to face to face agree that the treadmill can be very boring.It seems that at some point most treadmill runners feel it is their only option. Perhaps it is dangerous outside, they're nursing an injury, it's cold or icy, I suppose too hot would do it as well. it right though. I don't understand it when it become part of a regular routine during beautiful weather. Or when there are a line up of treadmills spinning about while their user looks out the window at the mountains - on a beautiful.
    Sorry if I pissed anyone off. I meant nothing by it. Hope it made you think.

  8. You hit the nail on the head, Tom. I cherish the trails so very much when I can get out there. The joy I feel out there, I can't even begin to explain (making myself wish I could go out now! Why is winter so long?!!).

    Hillary Biscay, a pro triathlete,is notorious for her treadmill marathons. She feels that it has helped her with the mental aspects of training. Apparenly something has worked right for her since she just took 2nd at Ultraman and was under the previous course record by over an hour! Impressive woman!

  9. I agree 100% and I'll only use a treadmill for something like intervals when time or other issues get in the way. Road, trails, whatever ... outdoors is the way to go.

    Not only does the treadmill bore me to tears, but because it does, there is no way I can focus on the purpose for running on it.

  10. I like that a lot, James. "there's no way I can focus on the purpose for running..." Maybe that's my hang up. My entire rationale for running is based on freedom and a naturalness. When I attempt running on the treadmill it feels false. That animalistic running feeling disappears when I'm inside.

  11. Tom what can I say I love my treadmill. I've done most of my training over the years on the treadmill. Maybe if I lived where you did with that awesome scenery I might want to run outside more but in winter here in Manitoba no thanks and in the hot, humid, windy, buggy summer no thanks. Really the scenery kind of sucks for the most part where I live so I'd rather just jump on my treadmill at any time day or night when I feel like a run. I know it's not the norm but it works for me.

  12. Treadmills use too much electricity.
    OK because of this post I bought an electric motor and am building a generator to power with my stationary bike. Treadmills take at least 1-1/2 hp motor to run.

    So I am getting a grid-tie inverter to wire directly into my electrical panel and am currently experimenting with how much wattage I can produce. 300 watts seems to be OK and it is 90% efficient if batteries are not involved. The bike option seems to be the best for cross-training. It is like a job. I can't hear the dishwasher going without wanting to jump on my bike.
    But running in the mountains is where my heart is.

  13. Unfortunetly I work/live six months a year on a ship so 50% of my time training for my ultras is in a gym...below sea-level. The only saving grace is that the motion of the ship also moves the treadmill around and there is a nice flat-screen on the wall in front. I've run 3hrs on that thing and yeah it DOES suck. I'm at sea right now, training for my next 100km. Borderline retardo...