A half-marathon on a treadmill

I am not a runner, but I’m going to try to play one, in August. Thus far, the longest distance I have attempted was a 10K last year, and, believe me, there was very little “running” involved. Any logical person would therefore assume it makes perfect sense to tackle a half marathon. In August. Right?

Make no mistake, I have no intention of completing the News and Sentinel Half Marathon in any kind of reasonable time. I just want to finish it – maybe even not be the last person across the finish line. And to do that, I need to train. I do not live in an area where it is easy to just hop out onto the road and start jogging. I’m likely to be flattened by a large truck. So I decided if I was going to do anything consistently, I should probably get access to a treadmill.

When I signed up to join a gym, the nice young woman assisting me asked for my fitness goals. I said, “I’d like to not die during a half marathon.” She barely missed a beat and said “OK. We can help with that.”

Such optimism.

My first attempt was probably comedy gold for the folks around me. When you are out on the road, a trail or even an elliptical machine, and you stop your feet, you stop. Not so on a treadmill. You sort of get hurled backward as though the machine has had enough of your nonsense.

Only slightly less tricky is the adjustment of speeds. Believe it or not, I had been going for a mile or two when I felt comfortable enough to increase the miles per hour. Tap, tap, tap, tap on the little up arrow and WHOA! A little “whooOOOH!” escaped my lips as both arms flailed in the air and my earbuds popped out. I danced a jig and recovered, with only a few heads turned in my direction.

And then one of the attendants came and asked me what channel I was watching, on the screen above my treadmill. I still don’t know why she asked, but my immediate thought was “Oh, no. She thinks I’m watching something so distracting I can’t concentrate on my feet.” Truth be told, I had no idea what I was watching. Her mention of it was the first time I paid any real attention to the TV.

Big mistake. A novice (really, really novice) runner should not attempt to reach for a remote and change channels while running on a treadmill. More flailing, one little whoop, and somehow trampling my left ankle with my right foot. This brought a heavy sigh from the woman on the machine behind me, who gave up any chance at a peaceful workout and headed to the locker rooms. (I’m sorry, ma’am.)

I’ve gotten better since that first attempt. Why, just the other day, I made another discovery about the treadmill, but this one much happier. If you choose the “quick start” option, it automatically switches to cool-down mode after an hour. The happy part was realizing I had been on the treadmill for an hour, making decent time, and was not, in fact, dead.

I understand, of course, that running/walking on asphalt is a whole new ballgame, and that my shins will be in for a shock if I don’t get in some road time. I don’t even want to talk about the air conditioning factor. But, on the other hand, there will be no TVs, and the road won’t keep moving under my feet if I need to take a rest.

In the event I survive the half marathon in August, I have my eye on another in November. Again, I’m more interested in finishing than setting any records, but the event in the fall does have a time limit. Eep. If I manage to finish two half marathons, will I consider myself a runner? A glance down at my scuffed ankles tell me “no.” But at least I’m discovering my hidden talent for slapstick in the process.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com