Musings from the treadmill

Since the miscarriage and the end of multiple cycles of clomiphene citrate, I’ve dedicated myself to getting back into shape and trying to identify as more of an athlete.  One of the things I was always curious about using was a heart rate monitor, which in so many fitness magazines and websites seems to be a better way to estimate calories burned and exertion than a random website’s guess.  And, when I had a little visitor for a few days, I began to worry how I could possibly continue running to stay in shape – they say it is so critically important for your health, controlling weight gain during, and returning to your regular body after pregnancy to keep active –  without putting myself in danger. A few websites suggested using a heart rate monitor to make sure that you weren’t working too hard. After weeks of researching different body monitors (like BodyMedia’s, the one used on the Biggest Loser) and heart rate monitors, I decided on a heart rate monitor.

I purchased the Polar FT60 monitor in pink from Amazon – I’ve enjoyed it and I recommend it for any beginner. It had great reviews, it wasn’t too expensive, and I figured if this made me more motivated to run, train, and exercise, I could splurge on this and not a gym membership. I’ve only had it for three weeks but I have learned a lot about myself in those three weeks. Although I was training steadily to be able to run a 3.5mile race comfortably, I wore the watch at every chance I got – during a weeknight walk with my dog, a pick-up volleyball game during lunch at work – and was shocked at what I learned pretty quickly.  I can’t wait to wear it with a Jillian Michaels video. It turns out that most of the time I’ve been working too hard – in the maximum heart rate zone, far longer than I should be especially if my goal is to lose weight and improve fitness. No wonder I was always exhausted from running – I was going far too hard. One thing you don’t ever factor in into your race performance is the boost you get of adrenaline that protects your body from the stress you put on it in the maximum heart rate zone. You simply don’t have that adrenaline when it’s just you out on the road, or worse, on a treadmill.

I ran for an hour for the first time in my life. I was just at the border of my maximum heart rate, trying desperately to run slow enough to keep my heart in the “aerobic” zone but fast enough to still feel like I was getting somewhere. On a treadmill I did 4 miles in about 55 minutes. As I never really put any analysis into training/running before, this felt like a huge defeat for me. But, after doing this twice in a week and having nothing else to do in that hour but think, I thought about every little adaptation I could make to my exercise and see how it would impact my heart rate.

I tried breathing deeply, as deep as I could as quickly as I could (about the length of two paces), and exhaling.  My heart rate slowed a beat or two.

I took great big strides and my heart rate shot up. Short, tiny ones and it slowed.

When someone got on the treadmill next to me, my heart rate picked up though my technical pace didn’t. A little competition, maybe?

Some songs on my iPod made me lose my concentration faster than others.

And when my heart rate got up higher than I really wanted it to be, especially if it was early in the exercise – I was going to hit 4 miles no matter what – I had to make peace with the fact that I had to go slower, not faster. I had to tell myself that it was okay. I still felt like I was cheating.

What was the end result of all of this mundane knowledge? For the first time ever I was able to run the full length of the 3.5 mile race without stopping, walking, or side stitches. I hit a personal PR (for this particular race). And I wasn’t exhausted.

I was happy and all it took was a little forgiveness… maybe even a little loving kindness to accept myself and all the amazing things my body can do, even when there is one thing it can’t.