When I was eight-years-old, my parents got me a hamster named Sprint. Well he didn’t come with that name; I actually gave it to him. The pet store had placed him in a small cardboard box and he had managed to dig a small hole in the box during the 10 minute ride to our house. In my room, I carefully opened the top to the box and took a peak to see my new friend. I saw his panicked little paws working furiously to escape the container and to me it appeared if he was sprinting inside the thin contraption. I immediately declared his name was Sprint and he carried that designation for the rest of his days.
Of course, we already had cage prepared for Sprint. It had cedar chips, food, a water bottle, and the most important thing – a wheel on which he could get inside and run around. He loved that wheel. It spun and spun and spun and he never seemed to tire of running. How could he? It was in his nature.
Since taking up distance running a few years ago, I’ve often thought of Sprint. However, the times when I’ve remembered the little tan pet have been during the occasions when circumstances have dictated that I run on a treadmill. Those few times have been due to the snow being too deep to get traction, or I because I was traveling and had no access to safe sidewalk or a neighborhood street. Regardless of if I was using a treadmill in a gym or in a hotel and no matter what the reason, one thing has remained constant.
I hate the treadmill.
I know, I know… I’ve read the articles in Runner’s World that tell us how to make The Dreadmill more exciting. I’ve read the blog posts that list tons of tips. Change the elevation – check. Vary the speed and run intervals – check. Listen to music, watch TV, read something, sing a show tune, visualize cupcakes in front of you, pretend Miley Cyrus is chasing you with a foam finger, blah, blah, blah. Been there. Done that. And you know what?
I hate the treadmill.
Going back to my little hamster… after Sprint had settled in, I got him a new toy. It was a large plastic ball that we could put him in and he could make it roll around the house. It was basically a clear bubble that have him freedom he had never before encountered. Boy, did he love that thing. He would get up a head of steam, roll himself across my bedroom floor, smack into a wall, and do it all over again. It was a taste of freedom and he liked it. After that, he used the wheel in the cage less and less. Now, he knew there was something better out there.
During the hard winters in Pittsburgh, I’ve occasionally had to resort to the treadmill. I can deal with heat and rain and wind, but if I can’t find a plowed street or sidewalk I may have to resort to the human hamster wheel. So, I do my best to mentally check-out and put myself in a metaphorical clear hamster ball, rather than the wheel. For a while, watching sports helped. I’d get hung up in watching highlights on SportsCenter and forget I was running nowhere. But, then I found myself wanting to mimic players on the screen. For whatever reason, if I saw Matt Forte spin around a defender and score a touchdown, I’d want to spin. If Andrew McCutchen slid into second base, I’d want to do the same. One time I was watching a TV at the gym and I noticed Blake Griffin finish off a monster dunk. I stumbled and nearly fell off the treadmill because I had actually started to jump too. What the hell??? I don’t even like the NBA. Mentally, I had started to taste the freedom Sprint had experienced when I put him in that ball, but then – like him – I smacked straight into that wall.
But if Sprint could get used to the ball, certainly I can get used to the treadmill. I can keep putting that towel over the mileage and time displays so I don’t initially realize how slow time and distance are passing. I can try listening to audiobooks or maybe mentally outline my next novel in my head. I can make a deal with myself that if I crank out a few seven-minute miles, I can have an extra beer later that evening. Maybe… just maybe I can do this! I mean, isn’t the ability to adapt is crucial to survival? I can change! I must change! I have to remember my goals! I have to remember Sprint!!!
But, now I’m remembering one last thing. Sprint died after one week.
I still hate the treadmill.
Do you have any tips on surviving the treadmill?
J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, and other works of fiction. He is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
RESOLVE has been named a finalist for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization.
RESOLVE was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine.