How far do I need to run to burn off my psychoses?

I have been asked to write an article that addressed the darker side of running... the shadowy world that no one wants to talk about because if we did, people would stop exercising, and the world would became a scary, lazy, ridiculously obese circle of Hell. Granted, a good portion of our Country is like that already, but I'm talking about the entire planet looking like the first seating at the all you can eat Sunday buffet at Denny's.

I lost 50 pounds last year, and most of that was because of the time I put in on the treadmill. I became a slave to that device, doing its bidding, pushing myself to extremes, and generating enough sweat to drown a tiny New England town.

The truth of the matter is: I hate treadmills. I think of them as a cross between my Evil Step Mother and a Marine Drill Sergeant. Because of this hatred, and because I value my sanity, I now run exclusively outdoors. That might not sound like a big deal to some of you, but I live in Maine, which has been scientifically proven to be the coldest place on Earth. The fact that I'd much rather bundle up and run outside in single degree temperatures, instead of putting on shorts and a T-shirt and running in climate controlled comfort should tell you how much I hate those infernal machines!

The truth of the matter is that running on treadmills is very bad for your mental health. Now I'm a writer, not a psychiatrist, but I did work in a mental hospital for five years. I think that makes me something of an expert on the subject, so you'd better listen to me, or I will increase the dose of the medications I've secretly applied to this article.

When I started out at the gym, I was out of shape, overweight, and had the lung capacity of a chipmunk. However, I was completely sane and had never had a single thought about exercise machines trying to control my mind.

Six months later, I was running six miles a day, looking damn good in my running shorts, and completely under the influence of every treadmill in the place. How did this stunning transformation take place? Well, clearly the good stuff happened because I was eating better and running almost every day. My mental health crumbled, however, because I couldn't let the machines win.

I am the perfect example of why running on a treadmill is detrimental to your mental health. I am obsessed with numbers and have a mind that never slows down. From the second I hit the start button, my brain is doing calculations to determine how fast I need to go to cover six miles in under an hour or to burn 1000 calories. I would try not to look at the display in an attempt to put my mind at ease, but instead, I would just crane my neck to look at the displays of the treadmills of the people running around me. I'd memorize where the second hand had to be on the big clock on the gym wall to signify I'd run a full minute, and then crunch the numbers to guess how far I'd run in that time.

When I finally slid away my towel to look at the numbers on my machine, I'd be devastated if my math was wrong and I hadn't run as far or burned as many calories as I thought I'd had. The punishment for that was to set the pace even faster, crank up the music on my MP3 player, and push myself to run at a rate my body wasn't ready to handle.

All because the machines made me feel like I was a failure. Here I was, running six miles at a 9:00 mile pace, and I wasn't happy with myself. I saw other people in the gym going faster than I was, and that convinced me that I wasn't good enough. I was sweating so much that the gym had to assign one employee to stand behind my machine to constantly mop up my mess, but I was sure I wasn't putting in the maximum effort.

I told myself that the key to running was something of a Jedi mind trick. I'd just convince myself I was someplace else, find a way to stop my mind from crunching the numbers, and I'd be at the six mile mark in no time. To accomplish this, I'd focus my attention on other people in the gym. I'd watch some guy struggle to bench press a ridiculous amount of weight and make up stories about why he was trying so hard to prove himself. I'd chuckle at the lady who was using the shoulder machine incorrectly but acting like she was really getting a good burn. I'd cringe at the imagined monosyllabic conversations that took place when I saw a pack of muscle heads approach a gaggle of tan girls by the free weights.

The thing was, the tricks, while highly amusing, never worked. I'd always look down at the display, see I'd only killed a few minutes and gone a portion of the mile, and go back to driving myself crazy with mental calculations and seeing how fast I could go without falling off the treadmill.

I have a high IQ, I went to an excellent University, and yet I was convinced that the treadmills didn't approve of me and wanted me to go faster. It was insane.

That was when I came to my senses and started to run outside. When I run outdoors, I set the stopwatch on my cell phone and then slip it into my pocket. I turn on the music, pick a route, and then just run. I set whatever pace is comfortable, I have no idea how far I've gone, or how many calories I've burned. I'm no longer obsessing over numbers and running in place. Having my surroundings change and knowing that I have to eventually get back to my house gives my run a new sense of purpose.

My mind gets lost in the music. My body determines its rhythm. I still sweat like a wildebeest with a glandular condition trapped in a sauna, but the difference is I'm happy now. There's no stress. The madness is slowly starting to burn off.

I kind of enjoy running now.

So be forewarned. The treadmills are not our friends. They are machines looking to control us and break us to make us soft for the impending Robot Apocalypse. If you want to keep yourself sane and your soul free, try running unplugged. Choose the path less travelled by and make it your own.

The machines will be mad, but your mind won't be.

Credits - would like to thank the blog The Return of the Modern Philosopher ( for the article "How Far Do I Need to Run to Start Burning Off My Psychoses?" by Austin Hodgens.

Since September 7, 2007 - © Aerostato, Seattle - All Rights Reserved.

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