The Pros and Cons of Human Hamster Wheels (Also Known as ‘Treadmills’)

There are many reasons to hate treadmills. In fact, as I typed that sentence I swear I began to type ‘dreadmills.’ Freudian slip, I suppose. But treadmills aren’t all bad, and for some things, especially tempo runs, they can even be considered good.

Many runners avoid treadmills at all costs. Others, like my father, cling to them. But just recently my father began running outside and saw how much more enjoyable it is. And I think the typical runner would choose to run outside as opposed to inside, on a treadmill. But why is this? What is it about treadmills that is so unappealing?

First of all, the simple fact that you’re not going anywhere. When you run outside, even if you do an out-and-back route (see my post on The Rate of the Routes for more on that), you feel like you’re getting somewhere. It’s a psychological boost that treadmill running lacks. Running on a treadmill is kind of like the human equivalent of a hamster wheel.

Secondly, at least for me, it’s a physically uncomfortable experience. My treadmill is in my hot, cramped, and airless basement, so having to spend any extended period of time down there isn’t too fun. Of course, for those who have treadmills in more comfortable locations, this is not as much of a factor.

And, most importantly, it’s boring as hell. Even my father, who has run over 13 miles at a time on the treadmill, recognizes this. There’s just so much less to look at; the scenery never changes. Not to say that my runs are always exciting (though sometimes they can be, see The Girl in the Street for an example of a run that was far from boring), but at least I see different people, different neighborhoods- in other words, there are distractions. A television by the treadmill doesn’t help all that much either- in my experience, I can’t hear 90% of the lines, making it obsolete as a distraction. The day I figure out how to work the subtitles on that t.v. will be a happy day, though.

And these are only a few of the reasons to despise treadmills.

But treadmills aren’t all bad. The main reason treadmills sell is because of their convenience. Sometimes it’s just too much of a hassle to go outside, and if you’re in a rush, a run on the treadmill is much faster. If it’s cold or raining out, you don’t have to bother with those uncomfortable layers, and even my hot airless basement seems appealing when it’s 5 degrees outside. Plus, you don’t have to spend any time planning a route.

Another thing treadmills have going for them is that they are much easier on the body than running outside. They absorb much more shock than pavement does (though most tracks aren’t bad) and are thus easier on the joints. This is the excuse runners will give when they don’t want to admit they were too lazy to go outside.

And, lastly, treadmills are good for tempo runs. Treadmills force your body to keep a pace which you may very easily slack off of without realizing it when running on the road. I find I can zone out for short tempo runs; I just stare at a pipe in the ceiling and let my mind wander (of course, you should always pay some attention to your body, lest you risk injury). Outside, I’d constantly be worrying about my pace. Also, I never watch television during treadmill tempo runs; I find that even the minimal concentration that requires (not that minimal when you have to read lips because the dumb subtitles don’t work) makes the run harder and less enjoyable.

I actually just finished a great treadmill tempo run, which not surprisingly inspired this post. It’s raining outside, and, well, treadmills are so much easier on my joints.