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Essay: Running the world without leaving the house

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/30/2020 8:36:32 PM
Modified: 5/30/2020 8:36:30 PM

I’d like to cross the road, please. Yes, I know you’re protecting me from a construction zone. Yes, I see there are cars — lots of cars — coming at me, all driving on the wrong side of the road. But I’m just warming up. I have 6 miles of running to do.

And the Tower Bridge will be part of it, if only you’d let me through.

After about 60 seconds of waiting, the yellow-vested gent allows me to cross.

Welcome to virtual running, where you still get the workout but never get worked over. I’m actually striding along on my bedroom treadmill the whole time, waiting for the cameraman-slash-runner leading the way to continue his hourlong tour of London for me.

Now that I’m getting my running vibe going again after a couple of years away, I’ve found I can travel the world for exercise and never leave my house. That’s a good thing, given the coronavirus pandemic and the ever-present drumbeat of having to wear a mask in public these days.

The running bug bit me around birthday No. 40 and grew to a half-marathon infection by No. 50. The parts started to break shortly thereafter. Shin splints. Back and hip pain. Heel surgery. The aches went up, as did the weight. The miles went all the way down to zero.

Dieting off about 20 pounds through a CCBA-inspired exercise challenge over the winter led me to consider a return to running; I’m glad I did. I’ve been less enthusiastic of going outdoors, however, as much as I love the Northern Rail Trail and its easy-on-the-legs surface.

My wife and I have a large-screen TV in our bedroom, to which is attached a smart DVD player with access to YouTube. Looking to break up the monotony of my three-times-a-week treadmill sessions, I slowly typed “virtual run” into the search box on a recent afternoon and came up with something called Treadmill TV.

I’ve been loving a good run ever since.

The first attempt brought a 55-minute jaunt through Highbanks Metro Park, an undulating, wooded route north of Columbus, Ohio. My host kept up a modest pace, but he had a propensity to occasionally stop and admire the views; I plodded onward each time. However, I found myself willing to stretch past four miles having this high-def view to enjoy from the comfort of indoors, and it ended up morphing into a highly satisfactory 5½-mile run.

Amazingly, my route stayed flat even as his modestly changed elevation. Go figure.

(Warning: It’s up to you to what level you raise your television volume. Sometimes the host records audio during the run; other times not. In this instance, my lead burped around the 50-minute mark.)

As one of my neighbors walked her kids down the street, I recently stretched myself out to 6 miles for the first time in a very long time with the hourlong tour of London. We ran both sides of the Thames, past the London Eye and Parliament, up and around Buckingham Palace — sadly, the queen didn’t come out to say cheerio — and finished along Savile Row. Even the signs advertising an upcoming NFL game seemed quaint.

That trek prefaced at 25-minute cooldown walk in downtown Cincinnati (the London of Ohio, I suppose) and another 25 minutes cleaning up to views of a run through Paris (the Cincinnati of France, it must be). That’s about 8,100 miles of trip-taking — not counting distances run or walked — in less than two hours, all from home, all to make virtual running a personal reality.

I’m the Travelocity gnome now, only with more orthopedically appropriate footwear.

What to run today? So many choices.

Outside my window, the gent next door is repairing his fence. The folks across the way are enjoying shade from a hot sun.

Me? I want to do a shorter interval run, maybe 30 minutes in length. Alaska’s Kodiak Island looks lovely. I wonder what virtually running on Florida’s Cocoa Beach would be like; at least I wouldn’t have to worry about getting sand in my toes. I could try a trail route in Colorado’s Crested Butte without the concerns of altitude or head down into the Grand Canyon without having to dodge donkey doo.

Or I could go to the other side of the globe. Singapore has potential. So does the Algarve region in Portugal. Sweden, Australia, the Philippines are all within my running reach.

Just crank up the treadmill, turn on the TV and navigate. The outdoors can wait.

So long as my treadmill belt doesn’t snap.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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