When I first got back into running after a few years away, I started on the treadmill. It seemed like the safest way to test the waters and it saved me from venturing too far from home before my heart and body would collapse. I could simply hit stop and go lie down on the gym mats when it was time to end. I hated every minute of it.
Once I felt confident enough in my endurance to get out of the streets, I rarely got back onto the mill. Occasionally, when the weather was particularly rough, or my time limited, I would strike out again on the rotating mat.
When winter hit, I found myself heading downstairs to our building's gym more frequently. In sub-20 degree weather it meant less gear prep and less time. I could run through a few miles and be back in time to deal with my early-waking toddler.
It was painfully boring.
At first, I could only do a few miles at most before I needed to stop. Time went slower on the treadmill, faster paces felt harder to maintain. It was no longer running as a means to liberate, but meandering as chore... checking the training plan box.
Then, a few weeks back, I seemed to push through the barrier. I found a mental test waiting for me that reminded me of my first long trail race. In that race, in the woods at mile fifteen, I was alone and trudging up and down rocky muck. I hadn't seen anyone for 30 minutes or so and started to lose track of my distance from the last aid station. I was staring at the ground ahead of me and nothing else.
On the treadmill, I go through the same grind. Can I continue to suffer, staring straight ahead at the blank white surface? My eyes relax and go unfocused. The wall could be six inches from my face, or it could be miles. It is here in this head space that I find out if I can do this distance. I am beginning to find that I like the mental challenge of the treadmill and actually look forward to it. There is no change of scenery to distract me, no undulating hills to keep my mind focused on the immediate. Instead I am left with a goal in mind and a ticking red clock counting off each slow second.
Now, in just a few days, it goes away. I am moving to a new house with beautiful quiet streets to run. A trail head sits just a quarter of a mile down the road. But I won't have the treadmill left to taunt me, to fill me with doubt and make me question each run. Very oddly enough, I am going to miss it.