Going to Eleven

I would say that I hate treadmills, but everybody hates treadmills, so there’s no reason to bother. Also, every morning I drive past a couple of people who clearly loathe treadmills way more than I do and probably have dibs on this conversation. These people run outside in 15 degree temperatures. With wind. And freezing rain. Maybe they’re out there on snow days. I have no idea because on snow days I am in bed. These runners deserve all the points. Regular people should not be permitted to look directly at such awesome displays of willpower.

I run on treadmills because I’m a weather wimp. The time and energy it takes to locate and wrestle one additional layer of clothing over my body before I go outside puts my motivation over the edge into gee-a-latte-sounds-lovely territory. I joined a gym this winter just so I could run on a treadmill and maybe not blob out completely before the weather gets better and I can start running outside again. Let me put this another way: The express purpose of joining a gym was so I could run on a treadmill.

The gym I chose gave me a teacher discount and had a whole “treadmill deck” with tons of treadmills. It was a treadmill city! At very least it was a treadmill suburb. I imagined racking up the winter miles while watching easy cheesy talk shows on a TV-enhanced treadmill that had the requisite empty treadmill between me and the next TV-enhanced treadmill runner. I would plug in my headphones like it was the exercise Matrix and enjoy a sweaty high-tech hibernation, eventually emerging like an Asics-clad crocus with the first breath of spring.

“You could also try the Curve,” the gym woman who gave me my tour said, disappointed that I had no interest whatsoever in the rest of the torture racks below the treadmill deck. “It’s self-powered. Environmentally friendly.” The Curve did sound kind of cool, and I do like to fancy myself an environmentally friendly type, so I signed the paperwork and promised to give it a try.

Here’s what I learned about the Curve: It makes my brain work too hard, and while my body needs a treadmill, my brain does not. The beauty of treadmills (and running, if I may) is the ability to forget that you’re exercising while you’re exercising. If you must think, you should think about randomness. I love to think about randomness. I can do it for a very long time. My brain is a randomness ultra-marathoner. But the Curve requires thinking. Run faster to make it spin! Run slower because now it’s too fast! Don’t tip far forward! Don’t lean too far backward! Keep moving or you’re going to die a really embarrassing gym death!

I plugged myself back into the treadmill Matrix.  A few days later, I got a call from the gym. “Hi this is _________ from personal training! We’re offering a free consult to new members!” I like free stuff, so I made an appointment. The consult was immensely entertaining, despite the trainer’s confusion about the lameness of my fitness goals (which were strictly limited to showing up and getting on the treadmill). Once we got past that, he had me do a lot of squats and then I pushed a sled loaded with giant weights back and forth a on stretch of turf at intervals until I thought I might throw up or pass out. Apparently this is the personal-training sales pitch. It worked. I bought some training sessions.

The first thing my trainer told me was that I shouldn’t run on the treadmill. I should run on the elliptical instead. “I don’t like ellipticals. They’re weird. They just go round and round. And those handles.” He looked at me. He blinked. “The elliptical is better for your knees.” Allrighty. Elliptical it is.

After I make my legs do circle things on the elliptical and finish complaining, the trainer asks, “Arms or legs today?” and I forget about the elliptical because now I have to make a snap decision whether it would be easier to avoid writing on the board in class the next day due to an inability to raise my arms, or have to spend extra minutes waiting for elevators because I can’t climb stairs. “You decide,” I say. Having been to the trainer several times, I have learned a bit about the gym. For example, the trainer knows that the really evil treadmill isn’t on the treadmill deck. They keep the evil treadmill around the corner past a giant weight scaffolding thing where runners fear to tread. “Okay, today it’s legs,” he says. Which means he takes me to the secret evil treadmill and hooks me up. “When I say go, you’re going to lean into the bungee harness and run as fast as you can.”

I do this. It’s really hard. It’s uphill. It’s self-powered, but in an “ox dragging a Zamboni across dry land” sort of way. I don’t know about the environment, but this thing is clearly not human-friendly. I survive the first interval.

“We’re going to do that at each level, up to eleven,” he says, adjusting a switch.


“Yes, it has eleven levels.” He’s quite serious. He doesn’t think this is funny.

“This treadmill goes to eleven?” I repeat in my best Nigel Tufnel  voice.

“Yes, it goes to eleven. Go!”

I can’t run properly because I’m laughing too hard, but even so I keep gasping, “This one goes to eleven!”

Spring can’t come soon enough.

Christina Kapp teaches, lives, and runs in New Jersey.