Overcoming the 'dreadmill blues'

PHOTO: Overcoming the 'dreadmill blues'

It is a typical evening in Kuala Lumpur as I make my way out of the office with my gym bag on my shoulder. The weather doesn't permit me to run around the lovely KLCC Park.

But as my marathon is a month away, I can't afford to miss my scheduled run. Reluctantly, I head for the gym and get on the treadmill.

As I unwillingly pound the "boredom belt" and blankly stare at the numbers on the console in front of me, I fight the temptation to press the stop button before reaching my desired distance. Although my planned workout is a mere 5km tempo run, it seems to take forever. In all honesty, I'm not enjoying a single second of the run.

Treadmill torture

With the exception of a 21km run I did in a hotel gym in Bangkok back in 2010 (advised to stay in to avoid the Red Shirt street protests, the furthest I have managed to run on a treadmill before losing my sanity, is 10km.

That is equivalent to an hour of running, like a hamster in a sweaty gym, in front of mindless TV torture.

I absolutely dislike treadmills. For me, running is about enjoying the great outdoors. It's about feeling the wind blowing against my skin, seeing a hill emerging before me and knowing that I have to climb that hill.

There are none of these joys when I step on a treadmill.

Overcoming boredom

Since it has been raining frequently in the evenings of late, I'm forced to do my weekday runs on treadmills. Whether I like it or not, I need to get over the mental block that stops me from enjoying the machines.

Lately, I've started to slowly discover ways to make my treadmill experience endurable, psychologically. Allow me to share some of the tried and true methods of beating the boredom of an indoor run.

• Run with a friend: These days, almost all my treadmill runs are done with a friend next to me. It's a great way to sidetrack my attention from the continuous pounding of my feet on the rubber belt while catching up on the latest gossip.

• Hill or interval speed workout: Rather than running at constant speed, I mix my run with hard and easy efforts. Varying the elevation and speed of the treadmill breaks up the monotony. It is an effective method to keep my mind off the clock and keep myself engaged in my run. I sometimes think of my run as a simulation of hill repeats or interval workout, minus the gorgeous outdoor scenery.

• Zone out: It's not easy to stop staring at the treadmill console. Watching the numbers change slowly tends to drive me crazy. Recently a friend taught me how to ignore the screen by covering it with my gym towel and simply lose myself in the rhythm of my breathing or pounding feet. I was surprised by the result of this simple trick. By blocking out everything around me, I enter a peaceful and relaxing state of mind.

• Run with music: I enjoy listening to the sounds of nature. But in a gym, I'm often distracted by the loud sounds of the surroundings.

By plugging my ears into my iPod, I get to use my favourite music playlist to assist my running cadence, as well as keep the boredom away.

No substitute

Although I'm still struggling to appreciate the treadmill, the good thing is that I think I'm getting better at it.

I know that once I've mastered the art of running on treadmills, my runs will become a lot easier and I'll be able to stay on longer than I thought possible. Hopefully, the improved mental strength will be an advantage when it comes to completing those tough runs or races outside.

Having said that, I will only save the machines for unavoidable occasions, for instance when it's raining or when I'm trying to squeeze in a lunchtime workout.

In any case, I am a strong believer that treadmills are no substitute for "proper" running and I will never miss the myriad joys of running in the great outdoors.