Saturday, January 12, 2013

The flow of the treadmill

Recently I've been logging alot of km's on the treadmill, an idea I was loyally opposed to not all that long ago. I firmly believed that treadmill runs were not real runs, that they didn't reflect the true essence of running, which is freedom, nature and feeling the ground beneath your feet. I would even refuse to run on the treadmill on rainy days, would even face a snowstorm just to get my training done and avoid the 'fake' running on the treadmill. I have always found running to be a way of getting in tune with nature, yourself and others, things that you can't do on a treadmill, well at least the first and the latter things. You can't get in touch with nature on a treadmill because, obviously, you are inside and your feet connect with an electronic mat and not natures ground. A major attraction for running outdoors is that you continually meet people who share the same passion as you and, through that, you build a little community and enjoy running in groups, or what we could call running tribes, through cities, over trails, through mud. Running unlocks your expression and often allows you to express yourself in a much more fluid and comprehensive way. Thats also how running allows you to get in tune with the true essence of yourself that, I have learnt, can be achieved on a treadmill as well as outside.

As a total contradiction to my anti-treadmill attitude, I have come up with the idea to run 70km on a treadmill to mark the 70th Inferno Ski Race. I will be accompanied by Swiss Paralympic Wheelchair athlet Heinz Frei, with the objective being  to get people involved by, either, running beside me on a second treadmill or riding beside Heinz on an Ergo Bike. We will also be aiming to raise funds for the Swiss Paraplegic Center in Nottwil.

With 70km of running on a treadmill in sight, I have recently spent numerous hours clocking km's on that shiny black band that passes beneath my feet. In the initial days of running on the treadmill it felt incredibly foreign. I didn't like the idea that, eventhough I was in control of the speed, the black band was dictating my pace and flow and that my running began to be a race against the clock, persuing that time I had set myself, hypnotised by the clock.
As I got off the treadmill one night, depleted and feeling worse than when I began (when generally I feel better after a run), I had a realization that as long as I fight the treadmill physically and mentally, it would fight back at me. I needed to start looking at it in a positive light, for the benefits and different kind of challenge it could bring me.
That night I watched a youtube clip about a guy who does Free Solo Highlining (look it up if you don't know what it is) and I realized how vital the mind/body connection is, that it is unblocked and has a free flow. That only if those connection channels are open, you can truly trust in yourself. It triggered me to think that, when I was on the treadmill, my mind was in a different flow to that of my body and my body was in a different flow to the treadmill. To be able to complete 70km on that treadmill that flow needs to become fluid and uninterrupted, I needed to stop controling and let it flow. Towards the end of his Free Solo Highline attempts (note, this guy is not attached to anything other than his feets connection to the slackline, suspended high above ground), Mich closes his eyes for a second or so which, to me, acts as a symbol of surrender to trust.

I wanted to find a way to translate that trust to the treadmill, so every so often, for a few seconds, I would close my eyes and let myself flow. It made me feel how off balance I was with my eyes closed, yet how much more fluid and free I felt. I began trusting in my stride without the fear of being spat off the back of the treadmill or drifting off to the side causing me to trip. I began to notice imbalances in my body, things I previously didn't notice outdoors because I was too distracted by my surroundings. I noticed that I could still talk to the other people in the gym and make connection, just on a different turf. I began to feel fluid. I began to feel enjoyment. I began to look forward to my daily treadmill dates (which I coninue to do).

My fear was that a treadmill was reflective of life, that you are stuck in one spot moving, yet not moving forward. That notion is an illusion. It's all about your attitude and mental approach. The treadmill has taught me to be more aware of my mind and body. It has forced me to pay attention. In the bigger picture it is helping me move forward in more ways than one and grow, not only, as a runner but also as a person.

I am excited to take on my 70km treadmill challenge now that we have become friends, and I have found a different kind of freedom running on its shiny black band.