I have always had an irrational fear of treadmills. Much like water and fire – except I eventually got over those. I never quite mastered the treadmill, and it may be even more surprising to learn that in the 10 years I’ve been running long distance, I never tried the treadmill, until a few weeks ago.
For the past month, I have been attending physical therapy sessions to strengthen my iliotibial (IT) band. When I started physical therapy, I could only run seven minutes before an excruciating pain intensified around my knee, a result of an inflamed IT band. It certainly wasn’t a result of overuse – I had just started running again after nine months of rest.
I’m an outdoor runner. I’ve never joined a gym. I like the changing scenery and the varying climate conditions. But the physical therapy office did not have an outdoor track. It had a few machines such as the elliptical and of course, the dreaded treadmill.
For three weeks, I avoided the treadmill. Well, sort of. It was never part of my exercise regimen. But then the inevitable day came.
“I want to see you run,” my physical therapist said. She was probably in her mid-thirties, petite, and spunky. I liked her positive focus and upbeat attitude. Whenever I felt I was failing, which was often, she always disagreed, looking at the silver lining.
“What’s your speed? Five? Six?” she asked, jumping on the treadmill and turning on the machine.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” I said. I felt stupid. As a runner, I didn’t want to admit I never used a treadmill, much less I was terrified of them.
“Well, let’s start you slow, and then you can increase your rate as you go. Average is usually five or six,” she said. My feet remained planted on the ground.
“I have to admit I’ve never used a treadmill,” I muttered, looking at the ground as I spoke. She didn’t laugh or question my logic, just simply turned to the machine and gave me the 101 on treadmills.
I hopped on after she finished, determined to overcome this silly fear. The machine started, and I felt uneasy as it started to move beneath me. I began walking … then quickly. How was I going to keep up with this thing, I wondered? But I pushed the up arrow button to increase my speed and started running before I needed to.
My legs felt unstable, my palms were sweaty, and my eyes were glued to the monitor.
“Do you always run on your toes?” my physical therapist asked. I shook my head. But I struggled to plant my feet on its base. What if I rolled off? What if I lost my balance and hit my head on the monitor?
“You will also want to let go at some point,” she said with a smile. I realized then I was still holding onto the railings. I let one hand go and felt okay. Then I relinquished the other, my grip so tight my palm hurt. I was all over the place. I couldn’t run in a straight line. But I had finally started running on my heels.
“You’re really loud,” my physical therapist said. “Try to be light on your feet.” I know she was trying to instruct me, thinking of how I could better my alignment and muscle strength. But I also knew I felt off-balance. I was stomping to reassure myself I was hitting the ground and not losing control.
“Okay, I think that’s good,” she said. I nodded my head and slowed the rate down. I began walking and then quickly stopped. Phew, that felt like 30 minutes at least, but when I looked at the clock, I had only been on there for three.
I hopped down, but as soon as I started walking on solid ground, the room went dizzy, and I felt light-headed. I eventually regained my balance and thought how am I ever going to do that again? I never want to be on another treadmill.
Maybe it’s the fact that as I get older, I find I become more paranoid and scared of things that never used to bother me like riding on an elevator or flying in a plane? I always assumed if I ever tried the treadmill, I would overcome my fear and be okay. But after that experience, I realized my fear was deep-rooted, and it would take more than one session to overcome it.
Apparently, my physical therapist picked up on it, too. The next time she wanted to see me run, she took me into the hallway, and I ran back and forth between the elevators.