There’s Absolutely Nothing Worse Than Running On A Treadmill (As A Runner)

Flickr / tom stovall
Flickr / tom stovall

I’m not a fan of running on a treadmill. I mean, I guess I’m getting a workout, but it’s not the same. It’s not even close. Treadmills are liars. I don’t know what they have to gain telling me that I just ran a mile, because there’s no way I just ran a mile. I know what a mile feels like, I know what two miles feels like. And despite the blinking red LED display assuring me of distance run, there’s just no way, I’m barely breaking a sweat.

And I don’t know if it’s the same for other runners, but whenever I’m done on a treadmill, everything feels weird. My legs hurt, but it’s not a regular type of running hurt. My elbows feel sore. Why would my elbows feel sore? They weren’t even doing anything.

But the absolute worst part about running on a treadmill is the soul-crushing monotony of running on a treadmill. I don’t know what’s going on, because my body is basically going through the exact same motions as when I’m outside. But on the street, in the park, there’s not a minute of my run that feels like a chore. I’m outside, I’m in the fresh air, I’m propelling myself through space with legs and feet. It’s fun, it’s a good time.

And then I’ll get on the treadmill and, I don’t know how to describe it exactly. What’s the polar opposite of fun? I guess the first two or three seconds aren’t so bad. I press the “quick start” button, because it’s the only way that makes sense to get the treadmill moving. I can feel the rubber surface start to speed up under my feet, I’m matching the pace of my legs to sync into a rhythm.

For a brief moment I think to myself, wow, this isn’t so bad, I’m moving, I’m getting my run on. The machine reaches its steady pace and I start to question what it is I actually have against running on a treadmill. Because this isn’t so bad. I can do this. It’s actually kind of nice, being inside, I don’t have to deal with the winter wind or icy sidewalks. Yeah, maybe I should try to incorporate treadmill running into my routine.

And then I look down at the display to see how much longer I have to go. It tells me I’ve only been running for about thirty seconds. What the hell? It feels like I’ve been on this thing for an hour. Man, and I’m already so bored. How am I going to get through my usual mileage here? I look up and resolve to keep my eyes fixed ahead of me. I will not turn my head down again. I’m going to pay attention to my breathing. I’ll imagine that I’m running laps on the track. I’ll get lost in the electronic dance music throbbing in the background through the gym speakers.

But try as I might, I keep looking down. Every time I sneak a peak, I’m horrified to see that I’ve only ran another .01 miles. Come on! This is the absolute worst part about running on the treadmill, the painful awareness of every glacial second. It’s like one of those asymptotic curves from calculus class, where the line keeps getting closer to zero, but your math teacher assures you that it’s never actually going to get there, and you think, no way, I’ll finish this run eventually, but you look down again and you’ve somehow gone a little backward.

I hate running on a treadmill, so it’s a pretty simple solution really, I just never run on treadmills. But every once in a while I won’t have a choice. Maybe I’m at my cousin’s wedding somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania and I don’t know where I’m going. Begrudgingly I’ll find myself in the hotel gym, trying to figure out how to stop the machine from automatically starting one of those preprogrammed cross-country workouts. Or it’s last week, and New York is hit with a pretty decent amount of snow, and so I can’t go running outside, I have to find my way to a gym.

That was me last week, and it was everything that I’d written about above. I’d felt like I’d been on the treadmill for a month already, but the clock assured me that I wasn’t even close to a quarter of the way there. I didn’t think that my day could get any more frustrating.

And then this lady got on the treadmill next to me. She laid her iPad on the display in front of the machine and put some giant smoothie in the cup holder to the side. None of this was bothering me really. In fact, my only concern so far was that I hoped I wouldn’t splash her if I ever managed to actually break a sweat.

But then she took out a Bluetooth headset and started making phone calls. Whatever, it’s a big city and a billion people are all trying to coexist on top of each other, and so I tried not to let it get under my skin. But she wouldn’t stop talking. She wasn’t even working out, not really, the machine was on a mild walk setting. Again, that’s none of my business, I mean, walking is better than not walking right? That’s what I tried to tell myself, just take it easy Rob, just live and let live.

But I couldn’t not hear every single word coming out of her mouth. Her voice was loud and grating, not interested in making any effort at all at containing her words to her own limited space. At one point she started fighting with her boyfriend. And this wasn’t your normal boyfriend-girlfriend bickering back and forth, this was a, “Who the fuck is this ugly chick liking pictures on your Instagram?” one-sided screaming match.

I was thinking to myself, come on lady, don’t you have any shame here? When my phone rings in public, I’m always super conscious of the fact that I’m basically invading everyone else’s personal space. I talk low, I try to keep the chitchat to a minimum. I’ll never understand the person shopping at the grocery store, or sitting on the subway, or walking on a treadmill at the gym, just out loud talking about nonsense as if they’re the only person in the world.

She was getting under my skin now, and the more attention I put into telling myself to ignore her incessant yapping, the less concentration I was able to give to keeping my eyes off the odometer on the treadmill. I’m a human being, my mind can only take so much mental exertion. When my eyes inevitably fell downward, I couldn’t believe it, I’d only managed to kill another quarter mile.

I couldn’t do it anymore. I pressed the stop button and slid backward off the machine. Even though I’d only logged a couple of miles, I suffered the usual post-treadmill walking underwater sensation while I hiked through the snow back to my apartment. Never again, I promised myself, wondering how people make regular use out of treadmills. If it works for you, that’s great. But I hate running on a treadmill. It’s the worst. TC mark

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