Humor by Chason Gordon. See below.
The problem with treadmills is that they always cater to the ideal running experience. Now surely that is the role of any piece of equipment in the gym, but life is not all smooth motions and balanced weight; physical exertion doesn’t always end when you want it to, nor start when you expect it, which is why the treadmill fails its user with every rotation of the belt.
Take the video screen for instance. Whenever I am running along a virtual road I see a predetermined pattern of trees and bushes, but I never accidentally run into a friend with a car, who gives me a lift the rest of the way. “Try not get any sweat on the seats,” he might say, dropping me off at my destination and allowing me to leave the gym early. This happens when I jog in my neighborhood, but even when I am not offered a lift, I still stop and acknowledge the friend, occasionally leaning on the car while chatting about that sound his engine is making. This is my life, and I resent how the treadmill edits these parts out so I can run uninterrupted.
Next to the video screen is a series of clocks and counters which puts your progress in mathematical terms. But when I am jogging in the park, my sense of time plays second fiddle to my desire for completion, so ten minutes becomes forty, and an hour becomes two days. It is a pure triumph of subjectivity, permitting me to stop, check my pulse, and turn around for home. I am not arguing that these exercise machines should tick to our own subjective speed, but that they meet us halfway, with a little sympathy. It would be nice if at the end of my workout the treadmill asked, “So, how long do you think you’ve been running?” When I replied, “An hour,” and it knew it was only thirty minutes, the treadmill would compromise and say, “You’ve run forty-five minutes.” Satisfied, I would take a shower and return home.
However if the treadmill must keep track honestly, let it also keep track of other things being displaced by the time spent on it. In addition to telling you how much time you’ve run, it should also tell you how much time you’ve spent away from your kids, or not working on your career, or not calling your mother. Are they not as valuable as your rock hard calves? I think so.
Besides, the treadmill is in no way a bastion of accuracy. Some have the option of tilting upwards so as to simulate running up a hill, but all this simulates is the ground moving during an earthquake, which frightens me, causing me to run to the shower and go home. But even if you are satisfied with this version of running uphill, why is there not an option for running downhill? Show me a place on this earth which does not eventually go downhill, and I will show you a mythical land without bicycles. A jogger dreams of the descents which allow gravity to take its course, but in the world of the treadmill, we are all in a gym version of the myth of Sisyphus.
So many variables are absent. Sometimes when I’m jogging in my neighborhood I trip and fall, but at least it gives a chance to rest and take a nap. Where is this button on the machine? I’ve also frequently seen people casually stroll into the gym and start running on the treadmill, as if running were a simple luxury that can be started whenever one desires. I have to run every time I see my friend Pete, whom I owe a thousand dollars, and sometimes he sends his dogs after me, extending the run even longer. It’s not just a matter of exercise, it’s my life we’re talking about. (Of course if he broke my legs I wouldn’t have to jog anymore.)
Finally, what are we teaching our children with the emergency stop button? Is not the speed and time selected a purchased future for which we must take responsibility? Where else in society are we allowed to bet more than our worth and not suffer the consequences? The treadmill is an altar without a sacrifice, a gym version of mark to mark accounting, a reset button which we can press as often as we want. If these kinds of ethical gymnastics are practiced in the gym, they will only spread to every other area in life including our work and family. Too tired to continue? Well that’s what those automated braces are for. You selected twenty minutes at level seven, and you will complete it, jogging, or dragging. It makes no difference to me, I am only a machine.
The treadmill has a lot of ground to make up before it can be taken seriously as an exercise machine. I am not proposing we ban treadmills outright, but that one of two things happen: either we alter their mechanics to reflect the risk and chaos of a random world, or failing that, we remake the world in the image of the treadmill, smoothing all transitions, eliminating every variable, and stopping only when we, the user, have had enough. I place it in your hands.