Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Treadmill inventor dies

His name was William Staub. He was 96.

And he was on one of his abominations, I mean machines, just 2 months before he died.

Familiar readers know how I personally feel about treadmills. (Read it here).  But on my run today, I spent some time reflecting on Mr. Staub's creation, and I decided that it has it's place.

Treadmills are most useful when you are injured, or just starting your running life. At those times, fear of being unable to continue and far from home can keep you from running at all. A treadmill let's you test the waters without leaving the safety of the beach. And for that, we should thank William... though it's actually too late to literally thank him, since he's dead, but you know what I mean.

Where treadmills turn less good is when they become a habitual safe haven. To fully experience being a runner, to get the full benefit, you have to venture outside. You have to experience the world in all its glory and goo. You have to face your fears. And by overcoming your fears, you see what you're really made of.

In fact, I faced a fear, on the very same run... my biggest fear... a snake.

I have an unnatural, innate, unreasonable, uncontrollable fear of snakes. Snakes completely and utterly freak me out. Seriously, I totally lose control. I scream. I run away, all high stepping and kicking my feet. It's hilarious to everyone but me. To me, it is akin to sitting on a live wire in a wet bathing suit.

I saw the little rope of evil half curled at the edge of the trial just as I was passing it, too late to turn around. After 20 seconds of freak-out and hyperventilating, I concluded that the snake was dead, likely vanquished by a valiant eagle, or hawk, or some other bad-ass bird who'd swooped it up, bit off its head, and let the rest fall to the ground as a warning to the other slithering vermin.

Knowing that I'd have to retrace this bit of trail on my return to the office, and that seeing the snake again, even knowing it was dead, would send me into another fit, I moved a stick across the trail 10 yards or so up trail from the corpse so I'd have some warning and I'd know to look for it.

Surviving my greatest fear, I went about my run, feeling more than a little proud of myself. When I'd made the turn back and returned to what looked like that stretch near the snake, I kept an eye out for the stick, sure it was just around the next corner, or the next, or the next.

When the stick didn't appear, a new fear crept in... someone must have come in behind me and moved the stick! Now I was looking franticly for the stick AND the dead snake. The anxiety soared. I wanted to run fast to out run the fear and to just get out of the woods, but I didn't dare run fast toward the snake.

After a couple hundred yards that seemed like 2 miles, I saw the stick, right where I'd left it, straddling the trail, sounding its silent alarm of dead but still startling ickiness ahead. I took a deep breath, moved to the far side of the trail, kept one eye on the trail (the last thing I wanted to do was trip and fall and land face-to-face with a dead snake) and one eye one the sna- "Holy F'in Mother of Reptilian Resurrection! It's gone!!"

It had moved. The dead snake wasn't dead. In an instant I was rocketing out of the woods, scanning left right left right for the slithering evil, and trying to keep at bay the realization that just a few minutes before I'd run by a live snake. It was a blur of adrenaline and emotion and sweat pouring down my face.

Obviously, I survived. Of course I survived. The snake didn't rattle. It didn't strike out at me. It didn't even move when I saw it. Hell, I thought it was dead! It had no interest in me. I ran right by it on the way out. I've probably run right by it a dozen times this summer, and a dozen others deeper into the woods. And I've lived to tell the tale. As I cooled off, I shook my head, laughing at myself the way you'd laugh at how scared you'd been just moments ago as you exit a horror movie.

Still, for the next few runs in the woods, I'm sure I'll be looking for that snake. I'll be a little anxious as I'm winding along that brown ribbon in the relative cool of the deep shade. And every time I venture out into those woods, face that fear and survive, I'll know myself, and what I'm capable of, just a bit better.

Treadmills have their place, but outside of that limited usefulness, they are enablers. They support our fears of heat, rain, cold, snow, dirt, distance, hills, stares, laughter, remarks, and snakes. Treadmills are safe. But safe doesn't get your heart pounding. Safe doesn't give you practice controling out-of-control emotions. Safe doesn't test your limits, real or imagined. Safe wants to keep you right where you are.

Challenge yourself. Be suspicious of safe. Step off of the treadmill, literal, figurative, or both, and experience the uncertain excitement of the real world.

Good running,