Hating the Treadmil


I’ve only been running for a few short years. And when I started, it was entirely at the gym on a treadmill while watching television.

I distinctly remember a conversation with my sister in which I defended the treadmill. The time passed so quickly, I argued, while watching television and various other Spandex-clad gym-goers, while a long, slow slog on hard sidewalks in bad weather sounded miserable.

But as my running life changed, I began to run outside and for longer distances. I also learned to love the trail runs, which were never boring even on the worst trails. Slowly, the treadmill became a last resort, a bad weather alternative to the outside runs.

Unfortunately, for Western New York, there’s a lot of bad weather. Crazy storms are one thing, but the four or five months of winter can be brutal, and sometimes 45 minutes on the treadmill is the only sane option to two miserable hours of slogging through snow and ice on roads where every misstep could send you down painfully on ice or into the grille of a passing car that, itself, is barely maintaining traction.

So during the winter months, I was ok sticking to the treadmill. This meant that I was paying a monthly gym membership for three or four months of two to three times a week in which I mostly just ran. A typical winter morning would go like this:

  1. Wake up at 4:30.
  2. Throw on shorts and a t-shirt under thick, warm clothes.
  3. Shovel the driveway and brush off the car.
  4. Carefully and slowly drive on pre-plowed roads to the gym. This two-minute drive would sometimes take 15 minutes.
  5. Transition from freezing cold to brutally hot gym, where I would pull off the warm clothes, store them in a locker, and run for 45 minutes or so while watching ESPN.
  6. Load warm clothes over sweaty shorts and t-shirt and transition back into the freeze.
  7. Dig the car out from the still-falling snow and brave the tedious drive home.
  8. Shower
  9. Eat breakfast.
  10. Shovel the car out again so I can drive to work, now in the midst of rush hour despite waking up at 4:30.

The entire 45-minute exercise routine would take well over an hour and a half. And have I mentioned how much I hate the winter and the cold?

So before last winter – an admittedly mild one that saw little of the relentless snowfalls of the preceding two years – I splurged on a treadmill and set it up with a television in my office. It’s near the ironing board, and it’s an awfully convenient place to pile up clothes awaiting washing or ironing.

Now, in the winter, I can just get up, get dressed, and run. I can do it while catching up on Netflix programs, with a fan blowing at me and no one watching or caring. It’s incredibly convenient, nearly luxurious. I still hate it.

Everyone knows there are positives and negatives of treadmill running. On the pro side, it’s convenient, simple, and easy on the body. You can watch whatever television shows you want, wear whatever ratty clothes you want, get access to water or bathrooms, and you don’t have to brave the cold outdoors. In fact, logic would make the observer wonder why anyone would dislike the treadmill.

First of all, running is hard enough to fit in as it is. If I don’t run on the treadmill in the morning, I’m far more likely to work late or call it off due to stress of other responsibilities. So I get up early and run, which is itself difficult even for a morning person. Your body is not awake, and forcing it into activity is painful. Just an hour or so and a good cup of coffee makes running so much easier, but my schedule doesn’t permit such luxuries, and I refuse to wake up at 3:30.

Then there’s the nature of convenience. As easy as it is to start and stop the treadmill and run as long as you choose, that is also its biggest drawback. Because when you go out and run, you’re away from your home or car. Say you’re three miles from home and feel tired or uncomfortable; the only option is to get back home, and it’s far faster and more productive to do it running than walking.

On a treadmill, it’s too easy to stop. Your brain will always tell you to stop. The device features a Stop button. It taunts you, calling to you. You justify it, telling yourself you’ll do the extra mile tomorrow. Or maybe you just slow down for a bit, but at that point you have already lost. The treadmill always wins, as it drifts to a stop.

Finally, there’s the illogical fact that running is harder on a treadmill. Sure, it’s soft and springy and low impact. But, then, why do I run so much slower on a flat treadmill than a rolling sidewalk? I can do 7:30/minute miles on a short road run but barely keep up under 9:00/minute miles on the treadmill. Don’t get me started on inclines and intervals when the device takes so long to ramp up speeds and slow down again.

I hate the treadmill, and odds are pretty good that anyone who reads this does too. So far, the positives narrowly outweigh the negatives, and so I get on the device a few times a week when I can force myself to move so early in the morning before my brain wakes up. But I long for warmer weather and putting the device back to its preferable role as a clothes rack. I hate the cold and running on the ice and slush, but as soon as that weather passes, I’m outside again. The sidewalk seldom wins, and the trails never do. The treadmill is unbeaten.