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Battle in the Basement

This is an excerpt from I Run, Therefore I Am--Nuts! by Bob Schwartz.

Part IX

Competition and Effort

I'd Whoop My Grandma in Tiddlywinks!

Chapter 39

Battle in the Basement

It's often said that pride goeth before a fall. With me, it's more like pride goeth before the wall.

I don't mean the proverbial challenger of intestinal fortitude otherwise known as the 20-mile mark of a marathon. No, I mean the wall of my basement that resides behind my treadmill.

On those cold winter running days when I decline a rendezvous with the lovely feeling of frozen lips and jaws, I resort to the treadmill. Unfortunately, I still have the mindset of a young runner with the declining speed and energy of an aging one. Not a great combination when you also throw in those twin qualities of groundless ego and stubborn pride.

My seasonal difficulty is that I keep the speed settings on the exact same pace I used when I began some indoor running five years ago. Every succeeding winter I find it slightly more difficult to maintain that speed.

But I battle forward with the mindset of a maniacal runner, and constantly hear Winston Churchill saying, “Never, never, never give up.” I doubt he had a treadmill in mind, as each time I use it I come upstairs and, through gasping breaths, say to my wife, “That thing kicked my butt.” Oxygen depletion then causes me to hear a little chortle coming from a piece of exercise equipment in the basement.

But, like most runners, my dedication is as strong as my proficient ability at rationalization. I consider myself quite the expert in the explanation of SRP, otherwise known as slower run performance. Outdoors, I have a plethora of excuses, including the gusting wind, car traffic slowing me down, or a hilly course with too many turns.

Indoors poses a slightly different challenge, with its constant climate and the inherent difficulty of claiming you were boxed in on the treadmill. When the treadmill running first became more difficult, I began with a scientific excuse. I determined that there had been an increase in the current coming from my electrical outlet, causing greater voltage to the treadmill and a higher rate of speed—though the actual programmed pace remained the same. Yeah, yeah, that's it! I sounded like Jon Lovitz as the pathological liar from the old Saturday Night Live sketch.

Next year I went with a geological theme, and claimed that there must have been a shift in the earth's crust beneath my home, creating a higher grade of incline under the treadmill. A year later I concluded that since we added a room onto our house, I'd somehow diminished the quantity of available oxygen. Kind of a sea-level, high-altitude method of training.

Finally, last year, I came up with the fact that since my children were now playing in the basement more, there was, in turn, more carbon dioxide being exhaled, making running more difficult. The old invisible-vapor justification.

I'm not enough of a dunderhead to think that I will, for all eternity, be able to maintain the same speed on the treadmill or keep coming up with some half-cocked explanation each year for why the degree of difficulty seems to be increasing. I know if certain accommodations aren't ultimately made, the treadmill pace will overcome me and I'll fly off the back end of my revolving belt into my basement wall. I can envision slowly extricating my body from a six-foot hole in the wall, kicking the plaster chunks from my running shoes, and shaking the paint particles off the back of my head.

As I then explain the situation to my wife (who by then will have responded to the sonic boom sound from the basement), she'll undoubtedly ask, “Well then, why didn't you just slow the pace down a little?”

Ah yes, I'll think to myself. I will have just pulled myself out from being lodged within my basement wall, and she'll offer logic! We're not talking logic here; we're talking running!

You want sound reasoning from someone who mixes chocolate energy gel in their milk for breakfast and who pins and re-pins his race number an average of 23 times to get it feeling just right on his shirt. You're looking for common sense from one who, when completely drenched from running in a torrential downpour, moves off the sidewalk to avoid getting wet from an approaching lawn sprinkler. You want logic from one who convinces himself a running injury doesn't really exist if an ample dosage of pain relievers allows him to limp through a short run without crying. Logic escapes me faster than the sprint for cinnamon rolls at the postrace refreshment table.

My less-than-pragmatic runner thought process dictated that I come up with a solution other than simply slowing the speed down. The conclusion I arrived at may seem a little expensive, but there's no price for a runner's peace of mind.

It was time to get a new treadmill. Recognizing the slight variance between treadmills and their actual versus stated speeds, I decided it was time to begin again with a new speed setting on a new treadmill.

This time I'm going to pick a pace that I should also be able to handle in five years. I'd hate to have to truly replace that basement wall.

More Excerpts From I Run