I was on the treadmill today. Normally, I do most of my run at the moderate pace of an old man and sprinkle in a dash of a faster speed to simulate a brief interval before I frantically mash the buttons on the machine to slow back down. But today, there was someone on the treadmill next to me that kept glancing over to check my speed.
I’m not an overly competitive person, but there was something about this action that might as well have been a declaration of war. Sure, I’ve glanced at other people’s speeds on the treadmill, too, to see where I stood. But here was this guy doing the same to me! This shall not stand!
He was already running when I got there, and he was going faster than me. A few minutes in to my run, as I fought off the feelings of inadequacy brought on by his superior pace, he slowed down to a walk. Intervals, only his were a mix of walking and sprinting. Sprinting. If you could call it that, I thought dismissively. When it was my turn to sprint, I cranked the dial as far as it would go. All the way to 10. And then I turned it to 11.
As the adrenaline rushed through my body to fight off the agonizing pain and lack of breath, he sped up again to his inferior pace but we were both sprinting side by side on the immovable exercise equipment. Instead of 30 seconds of the faster pace, I kept it going for a little bit longer. 60 seconds. I caught him eyeing my speed on the treadmill. 90 seconds. He slowed his pace back down to a walk. 2 minutes. I casually started reducing my speed back to a brisk jog while he walked beside me, satisfied with the thought that if we were outside actually running, I would have left him in the dust.
As the treadmill slowed, I felt great. My lungs would fill with the sweet air of victory and I felt like I was at least 6
years months younger than I am. Then, as he sped up, another dropping of a gauntlet, I would also casually increase my speed, doing my best not to arouse any suspicion that he and I were actually in a race. Again, the prolonged sprint would continue until he slowed down and I had adequately surpassed his effort and slowed down myself, clearly because the interval was part of my exercise routine and not because my body was desperate for air.
Eventually, he acknowledged defeat and left the mechanical field of battle. Or, his run was over and he had to get back to work. Either way, I celebrated with a victory lap to allow my fellow lunchtime athletes to celebrate my achievement. I didn’t, of course, but I imagined that if I took off my headphones, I would hear the thunderous clapping coming from the elliptical machines and the cheers from the spin class. But I didn’t want to make too big a deal out of what I had just accomplished, so I continued my run in the quiet solitude of victory.
I don’t know who he was. Honestly, I never looked up so I couldn’t even tell you what he looked like, although I’m pretty sure it was a “he”. He might also only have been trying to look at the television screen attached to my treadmill because his was broken. And, well, we were on treadmills, so it wasn’t like either of us were actually going anywhere, so I’m not quite sure how you can beat someone in a race that doesn’t move. But his wandering eyes and my assumption that he was judging my performance made me run a little bit further and a little bit faster than I would have done by myself.
There is a lesson here. Whether it’s on a treadmill, pursuing another goal, or life in general, there is something motivating about being visible, whether anyone is actually watching or not.