April 17, 2008

No wonder they were popular in prison

[By Merry]
"I'd like to look at treadmills." Seemed a reasonable request to make in a sporting goods store.

The salesgirl waved a perfectly manicured hand. "They're over there."

I went over there.

Then I came back. "I'd like to try one out."

She stared at me as if I'd said I'd like to perform an immoral act with a particularly unhygienic duck. "Try -- one -- out?" she said, disbelief dripping from every syllable.

"Yes, try one out," I repeated. That was my story, and I was sticking to it.

A bit of background: I love my new house, but I do miss living in a place where my front door was 96 merry-steps from a secluded, well-lit jogging trail. I felt safe running in the local park even in the dark, I never felt like people were staring at me, and all I had to worry about was having to share the path with skateboarders (which beats the heck out of sharing a narrow road with cars).

My new neighborhood isn't really new; in fact it's fairly old. It doesn’t have amenities like jogging trails. Or sidewalks or streetlights, for the most part.

In a situation like this, the reasonable thing to do is, of course, to go shopping. But then, I thought it was reasonable to try out a treadmill before buying it, so what do I know. It was not a straightforward procedure.
The salesgirl had to get a manager to approve the request.
Then, of course, we had to figure out how to unfold the treadmill without the salesgirl chipping a nail.
And then how to turn it on.

By this point, the salesgirl was clearly wishing she'd stuck to her register and called Orlando from the back to come help me. Eventually the deed was done, Orlando carried the big heavy box to my car for me, and I went home with a new treadmill.

And ran into another problem...

You know how they say people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones? I’ve developed a variation on this: do not buy a motorized treadmill unless you live in a house that has modern wiring but not GFCI outlets.

It doesn't say that on the box. You have to open the box and read the manual to learn this information.

You must plug the treadmill into a surge protector, since electrical surges can fry the treadmill’s computer. Surge protectors mean you need to have a grounded outlet. You should not plug the treadmill into a GFCI outlet. (Searching on the Internet brought up stories of how the random electrical flow created by the treadmill motor makes the GFCI outlet think it needs to reset itself.)

Scene II, same sporting goods store, the next day

"I'd like to return this treadmill."

The salesgirl raised an impeccably groomed eyebrow. "Why?"

"I can't use it without having an electrician rewire my house. I want to get a manual treadmill."

Now she was looking at me as if the aforementioned waterfowl were not only unsanitary, but underage. It was time to call Orlando in the back. “Do we have any manual treadmills? No, not a manual for the treadmill… Oh. Okay.”

After consulting the poor long-suffering manager again, they found an “on clearance” manual treadmill in the back. The good news is that it was one-third the price of the motorized treadmill. The bad news is that I have the feeling it’s cheap in more than the monetary sense of the word. Still, I have to try something. I know myself well enough to know that buying a gym membership would not provide enough guilt to get me to use the place, and I can’t face running in my new neighborhood – probably someone would think I’d just stolen something and call the cops to report me.

So far, I’m not particularly impressed with this thing. The first time I stepped on the belt, it was like stepping onto ice: I slipped and needed the railing to keep from falling. After that, it got better. I can walk fairly steadily, but every now and then the belt gets stuck. (The belt was perhaps not evenly lubricated?) This is a major pain – suddenly stopping without warning strains the leg muscles. I can see why manual treadmills were used in prison as a form of punishment. I’m going at a slow walk so far; I can’t imagine trying to run on it if this keeps up.

Has anyone out there tried using a manual treadmill? Or plugging a regular treadmill into an 'open ground' outlet? Or does anyone out there happen to be a really handy electrician living in Southern Washington/Northern Oregon? (Well, it was worth a try asking.)

I’m thinking that this is still a matter of getting the lubricant evenly distributed. I’ve only tried the treadmill for a few minutes last night, so I’m not sure how much ‘breaking in’ needs to take place. If it doesn’t improve in another day or so, I’m afraid I’ll have to face that salesgirl again, which would rank right up there with dental surgery for pure joy.

On the other hand, it would mean that I could see Orlando again...


  1. Yikes, we've been using a treadmill for years and I have NO IDEA what kind of outlets we have--either in the old house or the new one.

    Hmm, should I find out or just pretend I never saw this post?

    Hope the manual one behaves itself better soon!

  2. When I was in medical school in an unnamed northeastern city (not lucky enough to be Provincetown), because of the rough winters, I used a manual treadmill made by Tunturi. You could ride it hard and put it away wet! It was a tough mean machine!

    Dr. J

  3. Manual...power...whatever, treadmills are The Horror...the Horror.

  4. informative.

    thanks for the great post.

    M., an avowed stationary biker

  5. Um...can't you just attach a grounding wire from the plug to the metal of the box that holds it and then have a grounded plug? It's what we did for our elliptical, on my Dad's advice, as non of our basement outlets are grounded. It's not perfect, but apparently it should ground it enough for the power bar and machine to be OK...
    I say this like I was the one who did it... but I watched out of curiousity and it seemed rather easy to do.
    Just a thought.
    Unfortunately everymanual treadmill I've ever used was a piece of crap, so other than giggle at the mental image of just what obcene things could be done with a rubber ducky, I cannot be of any help there...sorry.

  6. Funny, every fitness equipment store I've been in has had all of their machines all set up and capable of being plugged in (presumably) so that customers can "try before they buy".

    My boyfriend had a really old manual treadmill that I used a few times while I was visiting, before I moved up here. God, that thing was torture. I doubt if I would ever have been able to manage anything faster than a sloow, plodding walk and still be able to keep the belt moving!

    We tossed it when I moved in and brought my electric treadmill with me.

  7. Go back to the girl and ask if she has any lubricant - it would be fun just to see her reaction. :-)

    Can't help you with the treadmill though. I still have trouble walking on solid ground, as evidenced by my total wipe out at a professional writing conference a couple of weeks ago.

  8. Thanks for all the feedback!

    Chickengirl - I can't quite convey the utter disbelief on the salesgirl's face when I asked to try out a treadmill. You'd have thought I'd asked to fly to Mars or something.
    I can see why they don't have manual treadmills out on display -- if people tried them first, they probably wouldn't buy one.

    Dr. J - I'll have to look at Turturi models. I like the idea of a machine that can be ridden hard and put away wet!

    Geosomin - I researched the ground-to-the-outlet approach. Some electricians thought it might work and others thought it was a horrible idea. Still, if you've been using it for awhile, maybe it would be okay. I mean, Crabby's been using a treadmill and she has an older house. I tend to read all the Things That Could Go Wrong and get discouraged.

    Mizfit - Sometimes stationary bicycles can be a real pain in the ass. Literally. If you find one with a seat that works for you, they're wonderful!

    Nitmos - yyyyyyyep!

    Crabby - it's easy enough to test your outlets. You buy a little thingie (technical term) from the electrical store and plug it into the outlet. It lights up to tell you what kind of wiring is in the outlet. I don't know the technical term for the little thingie because my brother brought one for me to test.

    Then he went around testing and resetting the GFCI outlets, one of which promptly stopped working. Now I have an extension cord plugging my frig into a living room outlet. Ah, the joys of home ownership.

    Also - apparently you shouldn't run a frig on a GFCI outlet either. The random fluctuations of energy can trip the GFCI. I learn something new every day in this place.

  9. Marijke, that made me laugh out loud. I can just imagine her reaction!

  10. I am also surprised that asking to try out the treadmill caused such consternation. When I bought mine, there was a whole bank of the set up and we tried turning them on and folding & unfolding them. Seemed to be an expected thing.

    Can't help with the rest. I do remember one of my aunts having a manual treadmill which I tried out at least once. From what I remember, once it got moving it was ok, but I definitely prefer the powered kind.

  11. I didn't know anything about this grounding you speak of..I just plugged my Nordic Track treadmill into the wall and used it. I am glad I know though and I will do something to protect it's electrical system henceforth, since my sanity depends on being able to use it regularly.

  12. Yeah, I tend to be a bit of a maverick where ground plugs are concerned. Home Depot sells 2->3 converters, and I use those quite liberally.

  13. I say go talk to Orlando! :-)

    As for your treadmill dilemma, a lot of equipment comes with warnings about power. Ideally, you want a dedicated circuit with an isolated ground for each piece of sensitive equipment, but that's obviously not realistic.

    There are machines that can track peaks, sags and ground loops over time. If you could get your hands on such a machine, you could find out if your power is dirty enough to worry about. There are also various types of adaptors and surge protectors available.

    Surges, sags and ground loops are your big worries with any electronic appliance, so bear that in mind if you decide to go looking for a surge protector of any kind.

    As for manual treadmills, I've never tried one but I dimly remember them from the '70s. I'm sure one can learn to use them effectively, but have you thought about buying a used treadmill (the ordinary kind) instead? They're much cheaper and then if your power does make it act weird, you're not out nearly as much money.

  14. What an ordeal! Frankly, I never worry about grounded/ungrounded outlets except in the bathroom and kitchen. I lived in a 1911 house with funky wiring for five years and didn't manage to burn it down. OTOH, I do tend to unplug things when I'm not using them.

    I might be in your area (I'm in Portland), and I've had good experiences with the Play It Again Sports in Gateway. I usually buy my fitness equipment used so I don't feel like I need to treat it gingerly. Also, I've never bothered buying a treadmill because I can't stand running indoors. I have a collapsible stepper I use in front of the TV when the weather's just too horrible to run in. I figure I'm getting some good cross-training.

  15. Do what I do..put on some kick ass music, move the furniture and run back and forth and back and forth like this:


    Or if u can't move the furniture, jump over it..it's one of the ways I lost 120 pounds in 2 years..

  16. I can't believe that the salesperson was all confused when you said you wanted to try it out! You'd think that they would expect it.

  17. The Bag Lady knows absolutely nothing about treadmills. When she wants to run inside, she chases the dog around the kitchen island. Weird, but the Princess loves it...

  18. I'm predicating another surge of traffic to CrankFitness on the strenth of the words "lubricant" and "immoral acts on ducks".

    A pay rise is just around the corner for you, Merry!

  19. Oh man I didn't realize you were in oregon. I'm doing the marathon there in october. There are a few bloggers there too. We might plan a meet up or something ;)

  20. "I'm predicating another surge of traffic to CrankFitness on the strenth of the words "lubricant" and "immoral acts on ducks"."

    Oh, I can guarantee that, from my own experience. I get multiple hits from Google every day from people looking for "women killing chickens". (Sick freaks!)

  21. Great Picture! Lots of people power

  22. I wondered what Orlando did between movies. And the store is where?

  23. MizFit's comment was hilarious!!! The picture of Orlando was what really got my heartrate going though...maybe you could just jog back and forth to the store...

  24. You don't have to have a Electrican rewire your house you can purchase a surge protector from Home Depot.

  25. A surge protector from Home Depot plugs into an electrical outlet. It only works if the electrical system has a ground wire. It doesn't do squirrely squatdoodle if you have an open ground.


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