For basically the first time in my life, I ran on the treadmill for an extended period of time.

To quote myself whenever I talk about running, “I did not enjoy it!” But then, I also sort of did because the treadmill is an interesting machine that makes you think you’re a better runner than you actually are. You’re not, but because the numbers on the machine indicate a quicker pace than you’ve ever run before for a longer distance, you feel like a winner.

That’s tempered somewhat by the existential crisis experienced while running in place.

I did not run on the treadmill for any reason outside of raw practicality. I find myself in Houston, TX once again, and needless to say, it’s hot as fuck. Literally, I walked the equivalent of four city blocks yesterday and found myself sweaty and angry – sweaty because it’s 95 goddamn degrees with a full complement of humidity, and angry because I’m sweaty because it’s 95 goddamn degrees with a full complement of humidity. The Houston weather is remarkable because you’ll spend a few seconds outside and perspire like you’re cooking prime rib inside your face. And then it’s back inside! The air conditioning is set to roughly the equivalent of your grocer’s freezer (Trust the Gorton’s fisherman!) and your body does a big ol’ rejection spasm from the sudden, dramatic shift in temperature. It’s like combat training for having malaria.

So, I’m limiting my time outside, and that includes exerting myself in this ungodly heat, lest they find my mountain ass lying in the surprisingly sharp mutant grass that grows all over Houston because god knows there’s no sidewalks here, and having to hook me up to a Gatorade IV before they send me back to the land of the outside people. And since running has ruined me, I’ve learned the elliptical machine is basically worthless and I’m living an exercise version of Flowers for Algernon.

So, treadmill it is. And since I’m in a business traveler hotel, the treadmills are all the super nice, overly plasticked, built like goddamn hybrid cars, and have nice display screens right in your grill. I ran last night watching “American Ninja Warrior” and today watching some NFL Network replay of an Eagles/Cowboys game from last season. It’s hard not to feel like you’re in a Manchurian Candidate experience when you’re staring at other athletes while running in place in a room with a mirror and windows that only face an exceedingly artificial hallway.

But you run. And you run faster than you’re capable of, largely because you touch down as the ground moves underneath you and you basically float from step to step tabulating distance without going anywhere. The lack of having to propel yourself makes this both remarkably easier and simultaneously more monotonous. It’s the paradox of the easy job – satisfying because you exert less, frustrating because it’s unfulfilling and time slows dramatically.

The other weird thing about the treadmill is how differently my body has reacted. I know how I’m going to hurt when I get done with a run. On the treadmill, everything’s gone all cockeyed. My left shin and calf hurt. My right oblique is tight. My right ankle is tender, and so is my left, but in different places, which makes me wonder if the treadmill was secretly mimicking what it’s like to walk on cobblestones for three fucking days. My neck is stiff. My shoulder blades burn for reasons I cannot fathom. In short, my body aches in unusual ways, but that’s kind of cool because when you work out, new pain means evolution.

The downside, however, is knowing why you’re on the treadmill. The only reason anyone ever gets on a treadmill is because you have no other choice. Running on the treadmill is literally the last option available to you because another condition (or set of conditions) is so objectionable, you’d rather run in place and trick yourself into thinking you’re a better runner than you actually are than get outside and experience real life scenery changes like Tom Joad or whatever the fuck.

In this case, it’s remarkably too hot to venture outdoors. That’s a perfectly valid reason to avoid the outside. But that’s only the unnerving entrée to the existential question you may not be ready to answer: Why am I in this city to begin with?

Something something something running in place metaphor. I promise we’ll tackle this at some point in the future.

But hey, movement is better than stasis, even if you’re going nowhere.

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