On The Run

March 29, 2012

The other day I was at the gym and running on a treadmill. There’s a side of me that always thinks there’s something goofy about running on a treadmill since, technically, I’m not a hamster living in a small enclosed space whose only means of real exercise is a big wheel. Although as a kid I did have a pet hamster and I always wished just once I could get in the wheel too and run alongside him, and maybe say something like, "Man, I’ve really got to cut down on the food pellets. Those things are just pure carbs." I could run or walk anywhere, and doing it outside does give me a feeling of accomplishment, of getting somewhere. And outside I have interesting experiences, like the time I was on a streetcorner and a guy came up next to me and asked, "Do you have any issues?" I said, "I have some old National Geographics, but mostly I recycle."

On the other hand most treadmills will keep an exact count of how much distance I’ve covered-although I wish instead of putting it in miles or kilometers they’d say things like "If you were outside you’d be home now!" And they keep a count of my heart rate and how many calories I’ve burned, and I’m grateful they don’t say things like "Cut down on the toaster waffles. Those things are pure carbs." And I’m not positive about this but I think running on a treadmill might be a little easier on my legs and knees than running on concrete or asphalt. At least I hope that’s the case. I’ve heard several different runners say that you know you’re a serious runner when you don’t have any cartilage left in your legs or you have to have a knee replaced, which seems like kind of a boneheaded attitude.

The reason I’m running is hopefully to keep my whole body in shape, not to destroy part of it, and if I really want painful and completely unnecessary surgery I’ll go to a plastic surgeon and say, "Make me look like Marty Feldman." Maybe I am doing damage to my knees and feet, though. And I wonder if even the earliest humans suffered from bad knees, since running, after all, is the second oldest form of exercise, although back in the very early days people didn’t just run for their health. They ran for their lives since they were usually being chased by lions or warthogs. The African veldt where modern humans first appeared was a pretty dangerous place which may be why homo sapiens collectively is sometimes referred to as the human race. Even from the very beginning we’ve been racing away from or toward something. What I’ve never been able to make sense of is why different groups of human beings with varying skin colors or with or without epicanthic folds are referred to as different races. In spite of mostly superficial environmental adaptations we’re all the same species. When was the last time you looked at, say, two different orchids that were the same species but different colors and said, "Hey, they’re different races"? But that’s another story.

To get back to the treadmill, I’ve found that it also has other advantages. I’ve noticed that it’s really hard to go running outside and watch a soccer game at the same time, even with a handheld TV. And I can run five miles and I don’t have to worry about how the hell I’m going to get back to where I started from. I don’t have to worry about being hit by a car or chased by warthogs or getting so caught up in thinking about what it would be like to look like Marty Feldman that I run off a cliff. And the last time I was running on the treadmill I noticed something interesting: I could adjust the angle I was running at. Outside this is bound to happen, unless you’re running in, say, Kansas. You’re almost always going to be going either up a hill or down one, unless of course you’re my grandfather who used to regale us with stories about how he walked to school uphill both ways. I admit I’d seen the angle adjustment buttons on the treadmill before and thought maybe they just increased the resistance, the same way fancy electronic stationary bikes will make it harder to pedal when you’re climbing a "hill". This time, though, I was on the treadmill over by the wall, which, this being a gym, was covered with mirrors. I have no idea why gym walls are covered with mirrors because I’m pretty sure only about five percent of the people there are slim and attractive and narcissistic enough that they actually want to spend that much time looking at themselves. Maybe it’s supposed to be motivational. Maybe it’s supposed to make me think, "Keep running, or you’ll look like a fat gargoyle for the rest of your life!"

Really looking at myself I’m more inclined to think, forget this, I’ll just get liposuction and pec implants, so rather than focusing on my reflection I looked at the base of the treadmill and decided to adjust the angle to see if it really raised the treadmill. And it did. Levers on either side lifted up the front of the treadmill, so it wasn’t just a resistance thing. I was actually running uphill. And cranking the number up to five I was already at about a thirty degree angle. I didn’t put it up any higher than that, but it did go all the way up to fifteen. I think when you get to that level hand and foot holds pop out of the treadmill so you can climb straight up. For extra motivation a lion can also be provided.

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