Every Thursday, during the winter months, I run on a treadmill at my local gym. Depending on the night before, this can either go well or be a struggle. I usually arrive at the gym around 5:30am. The gym I go to is on the 3rd and 4th floor of a building that used to have a Circuit City, which went out of business due to the recent economic recession. Sometimes the climb up the stairs gives me a pretty good idea as to how the morning will go. Most Thursdays, I run into the cleaning crew, whom always smile and say high. This particular gym has only one staff member for the graveyard shift, which usually ends around 6:30am (which is when I see him work out). Each time I come in, Leon, always says hello and we chat about whatever suits us (usually, how early it is).
Surprisedly , there is always a fair number of people already there. People that get to the gym early in the morning are usually dedicated to the cause. Most likely, I will see the normal cast of characters that, even though we don’t know each other, find comfort in our shared neuroses of early morning workouts. Once the customary nodes and smiles are exchanged its off to the changing room, which is on the 4th floor, where the weights are. The treadmills and other aerobic equipment resides on the 3rd floor. The locker room always has some lame infomercial or CNN. Sometimes I can’t help but spend a few minutes staring at the talking head, spouting off about some poor economic indicator while the up to the minute news stream on the bottom reports on far off places that I think effect me in some way. No matter, I came here to run.
Getting ready to run involves a ritual. I wear a heart rate monitor so that I don’t completely over exert myself. This monitor talks a minute or so to warm up. While that gets synced up, I stretch. Stretching is a vital part of how the overall run will go. If you are too tight when you start, it will feel really painful and take extra effort to get in the zone. Once stretched, its treadmill selection time. Usually, I have the pick of the litter, since it is 5:30am and most people do those elliptical things away. I have tried those and they just don’t do it for me.
I usually choose the treadmill next to the window since that gives pretty good air flow and it is away from the TV’s and the mirrors. There is nothing more weird that to stare at yourself running on a treadmill, so I avoid mirrors at all costs. Once my trusty steed is selected, I have to program what I want. This usually includes the time, my weight, incline and speed. Now the nice thing about the treadmills at this gym is that they sync to my heart rate monitor, so not only can I track my heart rate, they also tell me how many calories I burned – which allows me to justify that yummy scone I plan on eating after running.
It is important to start out slow on a treadmill and work your way up. You need to warm up properly or you will be behind it and struggling to catch up. For me, that involves an easy 5 minutes at 10 minute/mile pace or when my heart rate settles down, whichever comes first. Once my heart rate is stable, then I can crank it up. This process of stabilizing my heart rate is the most critical part of the run since if you go out too fast, you end up over exerting yourself. This can make the rest of the run miserable.
To be honest, running on a treadmill is really boring. Running outside is a lot better but during the winter, it is just too cold at 5:30am. Critical to avoiding the countdown clock is to cover it with your workout towel. There is nothing more boring that watching the time tick by – it makes the whole experience just drag on. There are times when time seems to fly by. To a runner, this is called the zone or the flow. The zone is when your whole being is focused on one and only one thing. Akin to meditation, the zone is the precursor to the runners high, where your whole body feels like you are floating and you get the sense of euphoria. For me, this rarely happens on a treadmill. As with life, running on a treadmill can seem like drudgery with no end in sight. All you do is run and go nowhere. Only rarely do you lose yourself in the moment and enjoy the journey and not the destination. Then and only then can you get in the zone and experience the joy of the now.