Sunday, January 6, 2008

Me Against the Machine

I discussed my speed problem with my trainer. At first, I think he didn't understand just how much this slow thing is distressing me. "But you're doing great," he said.

And I am, really. When I first started training with him in July, he would stick me on the treadmill and say, do this really easy thing for 25 minutes and let me know how you do. And I would make it 20 minutes and feel very proud. Then, when I hit 25, he'd say, do this really easy thing for 45 minutes and then tell me how you do. And it took weeks, WEEKS, for me to make it to 45 minutes. Because really, I'd spent a whole year doing nothing.

Before that, when I still lived in Brooklyn, 45 minutes would have been nothing, because I walked that much every day, going from subway to home to work to everywhere. But Chicago was different. Chicago has a sucky public transportation system, and so you have to own a car to get anywhere. Previously, if it was 8 blocks away, I walked it without a second thought. Now nothing is only 8 blocks away, and everything requires a car. If I want exercise, I need a machine.

So it was me against the machine. I gave it a name inside my head: Grendmill, and I was Ceciliawulf, the heroine who, in an astonishing feat of role-reversal, would rip its arm off and hang it from the doorpost.

For several months, the treadmill was my enemy, and time after time, I would defeat it and its time and its incline and step it up, always a little, the next time. I got to the point where I was doing 2.9 miles per hour on a 10 degree incline.

The incline, which always seemed impossible to me at first, began to be something I could defeat. But speed? It took me six months to progress from 2.5 to 2.9. And no matter what I did, I couldn't break 3 for longer than 20 minutes. I felt ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. Felt? Feel.

So anyway, now Matt's got me working on distance. He made me reduce my speed and go for miles instead. If I'm going to be walking 26 miles for Avon, my body has to be accustomed to walking for long periods of time. Okay, I get that. And I'm doing it. I started at 3, did 3.5 the next day, did 4 miles the day after that, and, well, back to only 3.5 the day after that. But okay. My body is getting used to walking for 90 minutes at a time. I'm raising the speed a little, because it frustrates me to be going backward. My hip was hurting a little the day I did 4 miles, and so he told me to reduce the speed again.

I want to defeat the monster. I could write an epic poem about it, in fact:

Hwaet! There was Ceciliawulf, scourge of many tribes,
Wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes,
This terror of hall-troops had come very far,
But that villian Grendmill abided, waiting as the feet
Pounded upon its hallowed rubber belts,
I never heard before of a monster so fearsome,
Waiting, always waiting for the heroine to tempt it,
Two, it will allow, even three, but four:
The murderous monster will prohibit
This victory of the battle-scarred queen!

(Can you tell that I'm an English teacher? I'm one of the few people on the planet who actually likes Beowulf.)

Anyway, I brought up my speed problem with Matt yesterday, and he kept telling me how well I've been doing (which is nice, because I do need my occasional stroking), but then relented and gave me a plan.

First, he said I could try sprints. Set the treadmill to a quick speed and run it for as long as I can, then step off to each side to rest a minute, then go again. I thought about that for a little while, but it scared me. You see, I have a healthy respect for the beast, and I can just see it breaking my ankle to get back at me. (Actually, I have real fear: a couple of years ago I fell down the stairs and did terrible things to my tendons in my right ankle. It took six months before I could walk normally. Ever since then, I'm afraid of anything. You'll see me white-knuckled on any staircase to this day. It's embarrassing, but there you go.)

So I asked him for another solution. Okay, he said. How about sprints along the back of the gym?

I considered this one for a little while. This one is a possiblity, if I can only get over my paranoia. I'll be certain the whole time that people will be watching me. Actually, this is not so much paranoia, because I know people watch each other at the gym all the time. We all do it. I do it. Especially if there's a really lovely man with really lovely muscles and he's doing something that looks really hard. There was a man running up and down the stairs with a football yesterday, for instance. I watched him for a good, long time.

In the end, if the problem is being winded, I have to let myself be winded. If it takes ten seconds for that to happen, so be it. That's ten seconds where I've been faster. The next time, Matt claims, it will take fifteen seconds. Soon enough, I'll be faster and I won't even know how I got there. I have to push myself until I'm hitting that point that I'm afraid of or else I'll never get beyond that point.

So okay. I want to run in the Shamrock 8K race in March, and I don't want to be the 29,999th finisher. I want to be at least 15,000th. Ha. It's like that Snapple commercial. I'm very happy being number 3.

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