Monday, February 3, 2014

Spoiled: A Treatise on Dreadful Treadmills

(Note: I wrote this about a week and a half ago, but things came up, and I never uploaded it. Now the ice and snow have melted, and I’ve had more runs and workouts to change my mind a bit, but I’m posting this very belated entry for the sake of accurately portraying my thoughts while training for a marathon/overcoming an injury.)

Treadmills really suck.

I forgot that when I started running again, I was so thrilled to not be biking. Sure, I wasn’t actually physically moving forward and I was committed to staring at gym walls and moronic TV, but at least I was running.

But then I went for a few more jaunts outside and quickly was spoiled. The hatred for the treadmill came back as if I had never missed it. I can manage an easy run on it, although I would certainly prefer not to. Too far and I’m bored and annoyed I’m indoors. Too hard and I’m hating life.

With snow and ice covering all the trails and tracks, though, I was going to have to suffer through a tempo run, of all horribly terrible things, on the treadmill. As soon as the snow started falling I debated how to avoid it. Maybe the track would be clear in time? Maybe there was somewhere with less ice? But tempo day came and nothing had melted. I knew attempting a hard workout on the treadmill was signing up for torture, but there seemed to be no alternative.

I tried to glean some inspiration from past running logs and looked over my notes from 2010’s Snowpacalpse. I know that I attempted a treadmill tempo at least once, because the aftermath is etched in my mind: glad the horrible ordeal was over, I headed into the locker room, purple-faced and sweating more than should be humanly possible in the middle of winter. In the row of lockers next to me, two girls were discussing some insane woman on one of the treadmills, saying something to the effect that this woman should have eased up or not tried so hard or run at a less killing-herself pace, as if it was supremely uncool to be working out in a gym.

Was the problem that these gym-going girls had never seen someone really hammering a workout? For our toughest efforts, we runners confine ourselves to tracks and roads, and there’s a simple reason for that:

Treadmills really suck.

But my notes corrected my memory. In fact I did two treadmill tempos: one appears to have actually been a success, but the other one was, predictably, a disaster. I had to stop and take a break, and wrote a stream of discouraging thoughts in my log afterwards. (Ironically, I think the locker room girls made fun of my successful one.)

I tried to look at the positive: I had been successful before (okay, 1 for 2), and the Snowpacalpse workout—while slower than my current pace—was actually longer. Surely I could manage just a bit faster for less time, four years later? As usual, Husband had some encouraging advice as well, reminding me that whatever happens would have to go back in the log. Just like the first of the Snowpacalpse workouts, if I did well I would have proof to convince future me that it was possible, in addition to the proof that training was going well and my speed was coming back. If I did well. 

Except I couldn’t. Despite Eminem’s best efforts, I had to take a break just over halfway through. I took a little rest and then tried to finish, but I could only do a mile before needing another rest.  Completely discouraged, I debated stopping completely, giving up not only on the tempo part, but also the total mileage for the day.

I had thought that one thing the injury couldn’t take from me (and would possibly give back) was toughness, determination earned from weeks on the bike, miserable days missing running, hopes for an entire season abandoned. You come back from injury with a hardness that allows you to dig deeper into reserves you didn’t have before. Despite my muscles and lungs being out of shape, my mind was rock solid.

Except it wasn’t. That’s what disappointed me the most about the workout. Why do treadmills suck? With no mandatory hills and no wind resistance, they are actually easier on your legs and lungs. The tough part is completely in your head. (Although I wonder about the lack of running by effort, and just locking into a consistent pace. On outdoor runs you might slow down a bit in bad patches and speed up in good patches, but still average the same.) But my head wasn’t having it. This time’s log entry contains another stream of pessimism and defeat.

It turns out toughness is a muscle as well, and it needs to be worked and whipped back into shape. I did at least make it through the total distance, my only victory for the day. I guess my mind wasn’t yet quite ready for this particular beast of a challenge.

I just hope the snow melts soon* so I can work on my toughness somewhere else.

Dream big,

(*And it has. Stay tuned for updated thoughts from runs that are both done outdoors and require less than seven layers of clothing.)