The Treadmill

This is not metaphorical musing on the treadmill of life, work, relationships, etc. I’m talking about a flesh-and-blood treadmill here.

treadmill 19 Jan 2011

Like so, except now it’s on a sheet of plywood. Stayin’ classy.

I asked for the treadmill for Christmas last year. What with set-up procrastination, time away on vacation, and so on, I’ve been using it for 4-5 days/week for about a month now. And I realise that what I like about it — especially compared with walking or jogging outside, made nigh impossible or at least very unpleasant now with the edges of the road either icy or snow-covered, and the slush puddles like non-lethal landmines lurking whenever a car drives by — is that it gives me bite-sized, incremental, fluid, no-pressure goals.  And I can wear what I want. But it’s the creeping goals that I wanted to speak of.

Take today for example. I had semi-planned to walk/jog/run for about 20 minutes. Last week, I did 40 mins every day, but I wasn’t feeling that into it today, and I had other things to do — like write this blog essay — which, ooooh, that’s like an Escher thing where cause leads into effect leads into cause ….  So, I wasn’t really sure but in the back of my mind, I was thinking, let’s get this over with.

Anyway. I get on the treadmill, push the incline to 5, the speed to 5.3 — which is a light jog, but one I couldn’t maintain without heavy breathing for 30 seconds a month ago — and off I go. After about 2/10 of a mile, I drop the incline down a bit, then a bit more as I go along, until by about 1/2 mile, it’s on zero and I am still zipping along at my 5.3 miles per hour. I haven’t moved that far at that speed since college.

Just stepping back here for a second to say that for the last month, I’ve been generally a 4.3 mph walker for about 75% of my treadmill time and a 6.5 mph jogger/runner for the other 25%, alternating the two as I feel like it, with little else in between. I fiddle with the incline, usually keeping it lower (0-2) when I jog and higher (3-5) when I walk. There’s a whole range from 5-10 that I have not explored yet.

So, today, as I trot, I wonder how long I actually can jog at 5.3 mph. Because I am on the treadmill, I am able to, at a moment’s glance, see my progress measured in three ways: distance, time, and calories.*  This fact is crucial to the incremental, in-the-moment,  goal-setting. I decide today to go to 100 calories and see how I feel. I get there, feel OK, and decide to go to 10 minutes. Or maybe vice versa — I wasn’t writing it all down because I was jogging, duh.

Anyway, eventually, at 11:20, I’ve jogged for 1 mile.  A whole mile! And all because I was coaxed along by tiny little goals, like 10 more calories, or .15 miles, or 40 seconds.

When I get to 20 minutes, I’m so close to 2 miles that I think, I’ll just stop at 2.  Yeah, that’s good. But when I get there, at 23:40, I re-think, oh, what the heck, I’ll go to 25 minutes. But once there, I’m closing in on 2.25 miles, so I’ll keep it going til then. But then, I’m almost at 350 calories, so, sure, why not? (Or, again, these might be reversed, but you get the idea.) And by the time I’m saying hello and goodbye to 350 calories, I’m almost at 30 minutes …  then almost at 2.5 miles….

What I observe, today and other days, is that my slight OCD with numbers — preferring round numbers; you might share this neurosis with me — works in my favour, tricking me into exercising quite a bit longer and farther than I had thought I probably would. I guess this incremental motivation could have gone on indefinitely, but I’m not that compulsive, so in the end I settled on 2.5 miles, and I rounded my calories slightly down to 400 and my time slightly down to 31 minutes and called it good.

For me, making snap decisions in the moment seems to work well to challenge and motivate me, much better than laying down a law about what I plan to accomplish. But I’m talking about jogging. Don’t take that as a metaphor.

And don’t get me started on the dartboard.

*Yeah, I know that the treadmill is probably calibrated for someone who weighs 150 or more and who therefore burns more calories in a given distance/speed than I do, weighing less than that. It’s not the absolute number that interests me; it’s the relative number, what I see on the dashboard. The one that’s just 6 calories from 250.


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