TVs on treadmills

Dutch and I lay in bed the other night (I was only there temporarily since , during the current pregnancy, she can only find one spot in the bed that doesn’t cause her hips to tingle or become numb, and this spot allows little to no room for me) before I retreated to my own sleeping corner. Just a quiet few moments after Bobolito had gone to sleep and before Dutch and I did the same. So, of course, I had to choose that time to present one of my usual complaints about life.

“I have a title for my next blog post,” I said. “`TVs and Treadmills.'”

She laughed. “Let me guess. You’re going to be against?” Dutch sensed, accurately enough because she knows me, a rant coming on. Let me admit here that my periodic rants can make a Lewis Black monologue seem like calm and reasoned philosophical discourse by comparison. Not that I’m a screamer, but I do have a tendency to go on and on and on…

This latest impulse to rant had been prompted by a visit to our nearby YMCA. As I stepped onto the far treadmill for my morning run (a treadmill that has an attached television which I never use), I noticed identical signs taped on each of the two adjacent TV/treadmills: “This equipment is not functioning and is under repair. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Consult the director of Athletic Training for information about how soon repairs will take place. Thanks for you support.” Or words to that effect.

“That sucks,” I thought. “Two treadmills out of commission.” Fortunately that particular room holds more than a dozen treadmills (only four with TVs), as well as an equal number of elliptical machines, so the cardio-starved were in no danger of not having a place to work out. It was only after my run that I noticed a small, handwritten addition to the top margin of each repair notice. It read, “Treadmill works fine. TV doesn’t.” So the non-functioning “equipment” wasn’t the treadmill; it was the iPad-sized television screen affixed to the top of the treadmill control panel. This struck me as equivalent to putting an out-of-order sign on a taxi because the radio is broken. That is, the absence of a working television screen doesn’t diminish at all the main function of a treadmill, which is to have something to walk or run on for exercise.

Having spent time in the cardio room there, I know, of course, than many people watch the televisions while they run. Many more use their iPods or other mp3 players to listen to music or books or podcasts while they exercise, and others have  books or magazines in front of them during their workouts. I know that what others choose to do really isn’t my business.   If it really bothers me, I can always run somewhere else–including outside. Dutch, in a very gentle, subtle way, attempted to call my attention to my judgmentalism.

I understand the logic behind the distractors being available to people as they work out. They render otherwise boring exercise palatable; they don’t hurt anyone; people are still getting their bodies moving; better to exercise to TV-music-reading material than not exercising at all.

But I can’t help feeling that something deeper is going on–and being lost in the process. And that thing is “attention.” We seem to spend more and more of our lives *out* of our lives, in some other place or experience mentally. It isn’t enough to engage in one experience at a time. And we have less and less use for silence, for allowing ourselves to notice–let alone focus on–discomfort of any kind. The idea of not texting or talking or watching or listening to anything but our own bodies, of feeling our bodies in motion, seems more than we can any longer stand. And this has reached such a point that moving our bodies isn’t even worthwhile without some accompanying medium to distract us (or, at the very least, an instructor barking directions to us).

For my workouts yesterday and this morning, I chose one of the “non-functioning” pieces of equipment to run on. I could hear my feet slapping on the treadmill track, and my lungs drawing in and pushing out air. I could feel my arms bent at the elbow, shoulders back, and the tip of each thumb lightly touching the tip of each middle finger.  I felt sweat running down my face and tasted it on my lips. And best of all, I felt my lips pulled back into a broad, probably idiotic grin, aware of the sensations of my body working in rhythm, exerting itself, propelling me. I wonder if others in the room who saw the expression on my face had any idea why someone running so hard, without anything to distract him, would be smiling.

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