Tuesday, January 11, 2011

That Which Shall Not Be Named

Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful, stunning day. Six inches of snow coated the ground, with not even a breath of wind to disturb it. But yesterday was my rest day, the day I write my weekly column, and the day after a very tough 16-mile run. I've run in the snow before, and it's actually kind of fun, especially when you add in the dramatic scenery.

But today was different. The temperature warmed up just enough overnight to allow for a half-inch of freezing rain. Then everything froze again by morning. I optimistically put on my running gear and went outside. Where the snow had been packed down, it was solid ice. Where it had been untouched, there was a thick icy crust that had about a 50 percent chance of breaking with each step. Nowhere was traction sure. Here's what the street in front of my house looked like:

But perhaps the main road around the corner had been plowed or salted. I walked over to that street and saw that it was no better—there were only miles of ice and frozen snow in either direction. Grudgingly I had to admit that it was not a good idea to run outside.

Instead, I would have to face That Which Shall Not Be Named. Some people derogatorily call it the "dreadmill," but I'd have to say that doesn't do it justice. My wife uses ours for 30 minutes each morning, walking and watching the news. I could probably manage that, but I was planning to run 11 miles today, which would take a minimum of an hour and a half.

I queued up an episode of The Daily Show and three Colbert Reports on the DVR. I decided I'd run until I finished them, allowing myself to fast-forward through the commercials. The power of political satire would help me defeat That Which Shall Not Be Named. I started at a 10-minute pace, figuring I'd speed up once I got used to the device. After a mile, I bumped it to a 9-minute pace, still slow for me. After 30 minutes, I still wasn't used to it. Either Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert were off their game, or even their comedic talents were no match for That Which Shall Not Be Named.

Gritting my teeth, I increased the pace to 7 miles per hour, 8:34 miles. At the end of two episodes, roughly 42 minutes after commercials had been filtered out, I had run 4.6 miles. An average 9:07 pace. Sopping with sweat, I took a hydration break. I got back on the machine, keeping the pace at 7 mph (don't these things understand that runners track their time by minutes per mile, not miles per hour? Or perhaps that's part of their nefarious plot). I made it through another episode and a half before I had to reduce the speed, first to a 9:00 pace, and finally to a 10:00 pace as I finished my final episode of Colbert Report.

Overall, I ran 9.4 miles in 84 minutes, for an abysmal 8:55 pace, on perfectly flat terrain. I don't know what it is about That Which Shall Not Be Named, but it just seems harder than running outside, even with the hills, wind, and weather. Perhaps its the fact that you can't make momentary adjustments to your pace. Or maybe it's just boredom. It's actually got me thinking about buying some of these. Knowing what I do now, I'd definitely pay $45 to avoid another encounter with That Which Shall Not Be Named.


  1. The indoor monotony sucks (and at the campus gym, I usually can't control what's playing on the teevee in front of me), but I actually quite like the enforced pace control on a you-know-what. I'm lousy at pacing myself on my own on the road, but the 'mill forces me to keep up.

    The result is that I end up doing a lot of speed work over the winter, and then have to rebuild endurance when I get outside again.

  2. I've heard several people say that you-know-whats are good for speed work. Maybe if I need to do this again I'll revise my workout plan and do speed work whether the schedule calls for it or not.

    I'm a little afraid of going too fast on the 'mill, but I guess there's actually not that much difference between a 7-minute mile ("fast") and a 9-minute mile ("slow").

  3. Yaktrax might be good though limited in use. Might want to consider a pair of cross country spike shoes, which you can then use sans ice.