Whatever time of day I stagger into the exercise room, at least two of the three treadmills are in use. They’re by far the most popular of the cardio-vascular machines – and I can’t figure out why. But perhaps my view is prejudiced from the sneak attack from one that I faced a few years ago and a long way from home.
What I can’t understand is why anyone would choose to walk or jog on a treadmill in Vancouver. I could understand that enduring ice and snow underfoot would get old fast in some place like Calgary or Winnipeg, but here we get about ten days of snow a year. So why would anyone endure the tedium of a treadmill when the sidewalk is waiting outside? I would much rather see the parade of people, birds and animals than endure stationary exercise. Our suburban streets are only mildly dangerous, too, so long as you’re not hanging around ill-lit bus stops at midnight.
True, the same question could be raised about the bike that I use. But I plead the insanity of trying to pit eight-five kilos of body and bike against twenty times their weight of metal and gas. By contrast, walkers and joggers have safe sidewalks to use.
I also confess that I endure by doing flat out intervals – much to the disgust of most gym-goers, who seem to think that exercise is fine so long as you don’t break out in a sweat while doing it (or maybe it’s my silent snarl as I go all out). When I see how most people plod along at a continuous pace, I’m not surprised when two-thirds of them stop exercising regularly after a few weeks. They’re setting themselves up for failure.
I also have to stop myself from delivering warnings of doom to those who use the treadmills. From my own experience, they are treacherous machines, that would just as soon humiliate you as drop the pounds from you.
My revelation came when I was on a business trip to Indianapolis just after the turn of the millennium. I had put in long hours the day before, and the different time zone had my circadian rhythms mildly befuddled, but decades of guilt drove me down to the hotel’s exercise room at 7AM, determined to get at least some exercise. I would have jogged outside, but it was mid-winter, and Indianapolis is flat, and that trip at least, an arctic wind was blowing so hard that once or twice two days before it had almost knocked me off my feet.
The day before, I had used the treadmill for a long slow walk. However, having a meeting in less than an hour, that day I decided to replace quantity with quality. After studying the controls (someday someone will standardize them, but probably not in my life time), I set the machine to a six minute mile pace.
Then I made the mistake of glancing up at the news cast on the TV mounted on the ceiling. And while I gazed with bleary eyes and pondered the wickedness of politicians, the treadmill attacked, sending my chin against the handlebars and throwing me to my knees.
As the treadmill careened below me, I tried desperately to get to my feet. Twice, I was almost up when it swept my feet from under me again. Now thoroughly humiliated, I crawled on my hands and knees to the edge, sprawling forward on to the floor and looking desperately around to see if anyone had seen my humiliation.
Fortunately, I was alone.
Determined to conquer, I leaped back on the machine. But one foot landed long enough before the other that I was swept off my feet again, this time on to my back. Frantically, I clawed my way off again.
This time, I could see the evil gleam in its LEDs. Muttering nonchalantly, I pretended I was walking away. When I was out of the machine’s line of sight, I pounced and managed to turn it off before it could attack again.
Suddenly, the exercise bike seemed a safer alternative, not least because another hotel guest had now entered the room.
I spend the rest of the day walking stiffly, feeling each bruise on my legs and knowing it part of an unprovoked assault on my dignity.
Looking back, I won’t swear that I had nightmares that night. Nor, so far as I could remember, did I hear a repetitive sound outside my door that night and peer through the peephole to see the treadmill waiting for me in the hallway. But that might only be because the machine couldn’t climb stairs. The next day, I keep a close watch as I came down in the elevator and took my exercise while braving the arctic winds – a preference that I keep to this day.
You see, you can use a treadmill, and get to know it, but you can never really trust it. Relax for just a moment, and it will turn on you. Believe me, I know.