Get on the Treadmill, Bertha

netflix and ice creamDo you consider yourself a dedicated runner, yet still find that you often struggle to get going when it’s time to run? This problem seems more common in the winter, when the urge to feel warm and snuggly overrides our desire to go outside or jump on the ‘mill. That’s why we’re kicking off our 2017 Treadmill Tip of the Week series with helping you deal with your inner Bertha.


Yeah, there’s an inside joke here at Salty Running about Bertha. If anyone mentions that she’s dreading a run or putting it off or can’t find motivation, you know, whining about having to run, someone else chimes in with a “Get on the treadmill, Bertha!”

Who you calling Bertha, you ask? Bertha is the Running Queen of First World Problems. She is me. She is you. She is all of us. 

No really, who is this Bertha?

Bertha is every runner’s alter-ego, the devil on our shoulder with an endless litany of excuses. She’s your id, the part of your brain that loves salty, fatty, sweet food, resting, and helping you weather all the famines you’ll never see. She’s the side of you that grossly overvalues a few extra minutes of sleep, the joys of sitting, and the brain boosting power of Candy Crush strategizing. Often, it’s Bertha who is wasting your time, enabling you to procrastinate, or worse skip runs all together.

Why does Bertha exist?

Are we wusses? Are we so pampered, such spoiled little snots who can’t appreciate how fortunate we are that our biggest problem is often resisting the temptation to luxuriate with our iPads loaded with Netflix in favor of braving a little cold air or the boredom of a treadmill run?

Well sure, but there’s more to it than that. Bertha exists to protect us. She’s a remnant of our ancestry, yet to be phased out by evolution like the vestigial tendon, goose bumps, or those bones in our pelvis that look like a tail. She’s there to protect us from famines, enemies, and the hard times sure to come our way.

There was a time, not that long ago, where we did not have the luxury and definitely no need to intentionally exercise. Exercise for our cavewoman ancestors was something to do when under duress and in emergency settings, like we’d die of starvation if we didn’t get off our ass to catch that wild boar or we’d burn to death if we didn’t flee from that molten lava streaming towards our village. When given a choice, Bertha says rest, eat up, and replenish because now you can. In fact, you must, if you’re going to survive that plague of locusts likely to devour all your maize.

Today, while our brains are wired with Bertha to keep us prepared for disaster, disaster rarely strikes. In fact, our lives are so disaster-proofed that Bertha does more harm to people than good (hello, obesity epidemic). Most of the time Bertha is simply a nuisance, getting in the way of the exercise we desperately need in our otherwise sedentary and disaster-free lives. Respect Bertha for her importance in our evolutionary past, but put her in her place in our current world.

Should I always ignore Bertha?

Well, that’s a little complicated. The thing is that Bertha is a voice we can ignore, but as we get better and better at ignoring Bertha, we might miss our body’s other voices that tell us when we’re on the verge of illness, burnout, or a life out of balance. So yes, ignore the attraction of laziness, but don’t ignore real fatigue, signs of injury or burnout.

How to deal with Bertha when you don’t have someone else to tell her to get on the damn treadmill already.

Have a plan

One major reason people procrastinate is that they do not have a concrete plan. If you have a treadmill workout you’re leaving for after work, you’re more likely to procrastinate if you haven’t picked an outfit, a workout, a place to run, whether to have a water bottle or a towel, etc. But when all these things are set and planned and you’re prepared, you’re far less likely to let Bertha in to waste your time.

Things to plan out in advance to prevent Bertha from piping up:

  1. When you will run
  2. What you will wear on your run
  3. Watch charged and ready
  4. Where you will run and what route you will take if outside
  5. Workout planned from start to finish
  6. What gear to bring with you
  7. Entertainment – if you’ll listen to music or podcasts, download it and have it ready to go!

Be ready to go

Bertha loves it when you’re not prepared. So once you’ve planned, do the next step and prepare! If you’re running in the morning, have a firm never-snooze policy and everything else you need to run ready before you go to bed – coffee, breakfast, outfit, toothbrush, headlamp … everything. I put all my little gear, like my watch and headlamp in my shoes so they’re right where I need them in the morning. If you have a treadmill at home, put your towel, water bottle, and earbuds on it. If you’re heading to the gym have your gym bag organized and packed before you go to bed. If you’re running after dropping the kids off or after work, bring your gear. Never stop back home if you don’t have to!

To Bertha-proof your treadmill: remove all cats, cheesey chips, pillows, and chocolate syrup from within a 10 foot radius of device.
To Bertha-proof your treadmill: remove all cats, cheesy chips, pillows, and chocolate syrup from within a 10 foot radius of device.

Limit smart devices

The only reason you have a phone with you during the 15 minutes before a run is to have it ready to listen to your tunes on your run. That Instagram app does not exist during this time. DO NOT LOOK AT IT! No Facebook, Twitter, texting, email … NOTHING. Bertha loves surfing the net and will make your friend’s cousin’s wife’s Facebook profile suddenly so interesting that you scroll through the previous three years of her posts when you could have two miles done already.


No, you’re not lazy. You’re not doomed to procrastinate or make excuses. You can become an efficient running machine even during the darkest, coldest, treadmilliest times of the year. You just need to know Bertha.

The next time you find your motivation lacking to get out the door on your run for no other reason than laziness, kindly tell your inner Bertha to shut it. Brave the cold, brave the snow or sleet or rain, fight the urge to lounge all afternoon. Although giving in to Bertha can feel fantastic in the moment, you often regret it pretty quickly. On the other hand, you rarely, if ever, regret ignoring her. Still haven’t squeezed in your run today?! Get on the treadmill, Bertha.

How do you resist your inner Bertha?

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. Bertha’s favorite month is January. She likes hot dogs and beer, or cheese and wine if she’s feeling fancy.

    And sometimes Bertha needs to STFU.

  2. I have found for myself that it is all about mindset. I knew last night that getting up this am to run in freezing cold temperatures, in the dark, solo – would suck – only if I let myself think that way. So, I don’t. I lay out my layers of clothes and cold weather gear the night before and when I get up I try my hardest to just focus on getting out the door. Once I get out there and get going, I am super happy. I hold the carrot of hot coffee and a hot shower in my mind as well. I also know that the early am is the only time I can run and facing the guilt of not getting a run in is way worse then getting up early to run in cold temperatures by yourself. I guess I would consider my internal drive a strength of mine. I have really never battled with an inner Bertha. I think her evil twin sister “guilty Gertrude” is worse – I crave the satisfaction of getting a workout in or a hard sweat and can’t stand the guilt that I feel or the crappy feeling I get when I don’t have that time in my day.

  3. Ah, the Bertha force is strong. I’m using peer pressure to help me overcome it. If I know I’m going to flake on a friend, Bertha is pushed way back. When running with a friend isn’t an option, it’s definitely harder. Now I’ll just think of the second picture and tell myself if I don’t get on the mill my cats will take it over and I’ll never get it back…

  4. “The only reason you have a phone with you during the 15 minutes before a run is to have it ready to listen to your tunes on your run.” UGH! I’ve been struggling with this so much lately. As soon as I get to stretching or foam rolling, I can’t help but start to troll through social media and email. And then I waste time and don’t get in a good mobility session.