Let me give it to you straight: treadmills and I have never been very good friends.
I tried, oh, how I tried, but we rarely had a good day together. I made up excuses as for why I’d rather do anything else when working out indoors. Maybe it was my shoes that were the problem. No, it was that noise it made that drowned out the television and I was watching the news… yeah, that’s it. Weaving back and forth over the center line like I’d had too many, the treadmill and I always seemed to clash, so after a while, I tried to forget about it and move on with my life.
Oh treadmills everywhere, I am so sorry I blamed you. It wasn’t your fault. It was mine. Gait analysis tells me I was over-striding, that my knee and treadmill issues alike stemmed from the same place (plus lazy glutes.) It was me all along that was the problem — me!
Fast forward a few years. Perhaps something about my body mechanics has changed postpartum, but I find many of the teachings of my physical therapist finally clicking these days. Shorter stride, greater turnover, tucked under pelvis, core engaged. Even the things that aren’t quite clicking yet are finally making sense and are beginning to be something I toy with when things are feeling fluid, trying them on for size. Relaxed shoulders, unclenched hands, kick; let the ground feel like it’s flying under you, like you’re falling forward, drive the knee, chest up.
When the most recent Run Local Social Club opportunity came up, my interest was peaked. Held at Thoroughbred Treadmill Studio in Mill Valley, CA, the event was to be 45 minute class — like a spin class, except for runners. They were trading in spin bikes for treadmills, but not just any treadmills, they were ones I had heard far too many things about and was ever so eager to try for myself — Woodway Treadmills.
Open to something new, I RSVP’d for the free event knowing space was limited. While my husband didn’t quite understand why I was driving 30 minutes to take an hour long class, I was excited — Woodways, music, fellow runners. It sounded like a good time to me! Wouldn’t you know it, ever eager to make sure I was there on time, I was the first person to arrive behind the lead man of Represent Running itself. One of the instructors, Caitlin, daughter of co-founder Laura, caught me taking a picture with their sign and offered to take some better ones for me. If her bubbly persona was any hint, it was going to be a good morning with good folks.
Thoroughbred Treadmill Studio is a concept I’ve never seen in person before, but one that definitely has legs, all puns intended. The brainchild of mother-son duo Laura Schmidt and Jake Schmidt, it has only been open for about a month, making the Run Local Social Club its inaugural event. It was easy to find (as per the photo of me with the giant banner,) has on-site parking, and while it is located on a thoroughfare of sorts, it’s quiet, cozy and inviting inside.
From the lot, I headed up the covered stairs and towards the open door, where some shelves of tees I neglected to check out were displayed. (Next time!) After signing a waiver, standard for any intensive indoor class, they showed me around the light, airy space. While somewhat compact it is hardly claustrophobic, with a clean, modern appeal. It includes a warm-up/cool-down area with yoga mats and foam rollers, lockers, showers, towel service and this handy little guy.
Walking into the studio itself was a trip. I had never seen anything like it before, the Woodways in rows like stately stationary steeds, no, chariots. One could practically hear the faded echoes of runners past, rubber horseshoes, personal horsepower, charging past. The excitement in me was building. As the first to arrive I’d been given my pick of the ‘mills, and at Laura’s urging, I chose treadmill four, right in front of the instructor — which in any class where I’m learning something new, is just my style. I don’t want to miss anything!
Fellow Represent Running ambassadors Charla and Melissa arrived amongst a throng of other excited participants. We mingled, chatted and laughed about how learning each other’s names was hard; couldn’t we just call one another by our social handles instead? 9:30 came, and it was time to saddle up. Eager, my fingers kept hovering over the buttons. It’s almost like I knew I was in for a treat.
Perched on a slightly elevated platform, the instructor area at the front of the class is part DJ booth, part Man Next to the Curtains a la a treadmill “Wizard of Oz.” (Yeah, I’m a creeper and I took this photo of the view from treadmill 4 while Jake was bent down adjusting some things.) Quickly I realized I’d chosen the right location for me; at music shows in high school and college, you’d often find me next to the speakers at the front. This lady wants to feel the bass in her organs, you know? Jake gave us a bit of an informative pep talk so we’d know what to expect, aided by a wearable mic (because what’s an exercise class without an instructor wearing a mic? Music should be pumping!)
Let me take a moment to say they nailed the set up. Woodways have minimal controls, but they’re laid out in a manner that makes life super easy. On the left (shown) are the toggles for incline, with a similar toggle on the right for speed. Every treadmill has a black cloth over the screen such that when they bring the lights down, you can only see your own screen. It helps allow every participant to focus on their own run, which is a beautiful thing. Group workout classes can all too often have participants falling into a competitive trap much to their own detriment. This seemingly small thing helps call attention to the fact that every person should be doing their own run, at their speed, pushing their own selves. Clearly, I dig it.
Jake started getting us warmed up and settled onto our respective treadmills. Already I could see this was a room that was to be filled only with positivity. His tone and demeanor were open, inviting, encouraging and confident. He had everything I love in an instructor that culminates in something hard to find: he was leading in a manner that made you want to work hard, both for him and for yourself. I was ready to push and I was ready to sweat. He gave us a rundown on what the day’s workout would be like and had us practice hopping off our running belts on his count, then hopping back on while it was still moving at the same speed. This came into play throughout the workout, so mastering it before we felt fatigued was definitely key.
Early on Jake had reminded us we were lucky because so rarely are runners in an environment where they have such control. We were controlling speed, incline, without crowd noise or wind or any of the usual distractions. We slowed our breathing and learned active recovery. Little did I know this controlled environment was going to unlock a serious “ah ha!” for me.
The lights came down and the music came up, an electrifying combination. At first, as we began to warm up, it was a repeat of those issues I’d had in the past. I couldn’t stay in the middle of the treadmill. It felt awkward. I couldn’t find the right cadence. I felt like a foal who was learning how to walk. Had I really sauntered in there like I thought I was some kind of hot shit and then stumbled along through the warm-up? At least I was nailing the “3, 2, 1, off!” hop-off-the-treadmill move.
Then, as the sweat began to roll down my spine, as we began to break into some ladders, I felt it click. Jake coached us, reminding us that the elite runners always look perfect — whether it’s mile 1 or mile 25, they never let their faces or bodies tell what they’re feeling. Show me perfect form, he said. Every time he reminded us, I dropped my shoulders down and let my chest feel like it was going to guide me through breaking the tape at the finish line. I felt my core working, my hands relax. As the sweat began to trickle down my body, my legs began to beg for more. More speed, more incline, more more more. I found myself smiling as the hard work came. This is hard and I love it, I thought.
If you know this song, you know what’s coming, Jake said, every time you hear Missy you’re going to up the speed, every time you hear Keyshia you’re going to up the incline. (Full disclosure, I can’t recall what song it was; all I knew was that I was grooving and Missy Elliott was involved!) We did the same as Beyonce bounced octaves. I’d never done a run workout like this before and it was both fun and a push. I found myself bumping up speed and incline by 3 or 4 clicks every time he said “2 to 3.” I had found my “putting in work” zone and embraced it.
There, as I whipped off my shirt almost as though I was removing hauntings of treadmills past, it clicked. I was able to focus on my stride, my turnover, keeping my breathing even. I felt moments where I was driving up the hill with my glutes and hamstrings, like my physical therapist said one day I would. I was able to kick as we brought up the speed, feeling that weightless floating that happens when both feet are off the ground. My turnover felt smooth and even when he called for a last push and I went a little nuts adding extra speed, I embraced it. You came to work, so WORK, I told myself — and I held on till the end. Everything seemed to be falling into place. Maybe I really had run a 6-something minute mile a couple of weeks back. I felt strong, fast, like a stately steed driving my Woodway chariot to victory. I finished with a smile and was sad when it was over. I wanted more. MORE!
And I still do. The next chance I get, I am going to be saddling up treadmill number four, and riding into the sunset.