Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 22, 2010

I Tread on Thee

It’s not what you think (or fear) I’m going to write about. It’s about treadmills. There’s one of them in our garage that we use mostly to avoid having to run outside during the bitter southern California winters. Sometimes I manage to hit the hotel workout room when I travel and run on a treadmill there. It’s not exactly like running on the street or the track, but you get accustomed to it with a little practice.

I still admire the first exemplar I knew for running while on business travel. Dick traveled with the team back when we produced big events for my first corporate employer. I was not a runner in those days, and I was in awe of Dick (who then was probably near the age I am now) as he set off early in the mornings to run the streets of Hong Kong or Rome or along the beach in Acapulco or Hawaii: wherever we were traveling. I couldn’t imagine starting off into the labyrinth of a place like Hong Kong and finding one’s way out and back over half an hour or more of running. Now, thanks to the all-inspiring Counselor, who got me out on the roads in the first place, I have run the streets in lots of the places I’ve traveled, sometimes with her, and sometimes on my own if it’s business travel. Rome, Venice, Nice and lots of U.S. locations. One doesn’t always know exactly where one is going (looking at a map the night before helps!) but it’s always a little bit of an adventure. The best-ever solo run was, indeed, when I was back in Hong Kong, running in Dick’s footsteps more than 15 years later, tooling out through Victoria Park which, even at 6 in the morning, was full of people, hundreds of people, some running or walking, but more practicing Tai Chi, singly, in small groups, or in big assemblies of scores of people: silently, slowly, smoothly stepping forward, stepping back, leaning forward, their arms gliding in those hypnotic patterns. Thanks for that, Dick.

I’ll write some other time about some of the great runs I’ve had with The Counselor as we’ve traveled, and there have been some great ones.

Other mornings, like the recent one I came here to write about, I’d rather just hit the hotel gym and put in 20 minutes on the treadmill.

First, let me say that the toil and drudgery associated with the word ought to have motivated the “running industry” (whatever that is) to have come up with a spiffier name for the treadmills. Treadmills have been around for at least a few centuries, and provided a way to apply human labor to activities like grinding grain or pumping water in a day before steam or electricity. I’m not sure what the word would be, but there ought to be a better word. Send in your suggestions.

This particular morning, I started pounding away at a reasonable pace, noticing, of course, that everyone on the other treadmills was running faster than I was (you can steal a glance to see what number is displayed on their digital “pace” readout). OK, OK, just ignore that. 5 minutes. 8 minutes. 10 minutes. This was going poorly. I was laboring and there was no sign of the lighter, more in-the-groove feeling that ought to kick in after the first mile or so. Then I recognized the problem. At gyms, every treadmill has a little video screen in front of it, hooked to the hotel’s satellite TV feed. On my screen was some dreary news program from World News From Places You’ve Never Heard of Where Everything is Bad or something like that. All the stories had to do with oppression, pollution, execution and destitution. Thank goodness the sound was off! I studied the control panel in front of me while I strode along and found the channel button. I tried changing the channel to CNN (Corporately-Neutered Nonsense), MSNBC (More, Sillier News, Badly Chopped) and all the morning programs like Good Grief, America. Each worse than the one before.

I turned it off.

Suddenly, I was running. I could think of all the fascinating things that normally occupy my brain when I run. They were the timeless topics: breathing three times in and three times out and repeating. Was I stepping with the lower rear left-hand part of midsole or had my stride subtly and rebelliously shifted somewhat too much toward the heel? Was I pressing down on my hands too hard with my thumbs? Man, now that’s something to occupy one’s mind.

After all, I don’t turn on the TV in the mornings at home and not usually at night, either, so why in the world should I be subjected to the stuff when I’m running?

Although he was running in a day before most hotels had gyms with treadmills, Dick had it right. Just run, kids. Leave the TV to the couch potatoes.

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