January 20, 2012

Treadmill encounter

Once a month the Squamish Writers Group meets in the office of Goodwin Studios. I wrote this piece on a fleeting encounter on the run to read at last night's meeting. 

In Alan Sillitoe's story The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, the protagonist uses running as an emotional and physical escape from his life. I doubt I run to escape, though might discover one day that in fact I do, and I usually run in solitude rather than in loneliness. 

There's plenty to think about on the run, after all, and on hard workouts there's no space or breath for talking. Silence can be golden for a runner but not all days are like that.

She gave me a friendly nod as she stepped on the treadmill to the left of mine. I'd been running on a Star Trac model for about 15 minutes. Escaping the danger of icy patches on the road, I had opted to stay indoors for a third day in four.

Club Flex owner Don Smith had welcomed me back after my two-year absence; the eleven dollar drop-in fee was a small price to pay for using an eight-thousand dollar machine for two hours. Today I particularly sought to escape the arctic outflow pushing the wind-chill below minus 20 on a day when I had to run 23 kilometres.

Running on a treadmill is challenging and takes practice. For starters, one needs a positive attitude and steely determination as the word Stop is emblazoned on the panel in front of you as well as on an emergency button on the side. Thick letters spelling out a forbidden desire that's most appealing when training is toughest are surrounded by a sea of red, taunting the runner to press the button one cannot escape from seeing on the treadmill.

Nothing takes more willpower than to remain in one place when that's seemingly taking you nowhere, a feeling a writer can be all too familiar with. At least the rest of the Star Trac screen reminded me that I was indeed progressing, as my heart, the hardest-working muscle in our body, was beating at 139 beats a minute. 

For the 115 minutes I would spend keeping up with the band I had set to moving at 8 miles an hour, it would about pump about 70 millilitres of blood per beat, as hearts do. At this rate, my heart moved almost 10 litres a minute, or more than 1,100 litres of blood for this workout. 

Cooperating fully was the largest muscle in our body, the gluteus maximus. It's the force that keeps us all upright, and a runner moving ahead—if she takes care not to let this beast become too tight by training too much too soon. The gluteus maximus can become a pain in the butt, as the left and right one are rarely created equally. The result of this common imbalance typically wreaks havoc elsewhere, like the knee.

If the right gluteus maximus is weaker than his left brother, it's the left knee that usually pays the price. Imbalanced is how we are all born, and we learn only to deal with this lack of equilibrium by first discovering it. Injury is a great teacher to those who are willing to listen and learn.   

I'd never met or seen the woman who I was to share part of my run with, as she kept up with her Life Fitness treadmill and I with my Star Trac, yet I knew a great deal about her by the time she left her stationary post thirty minutes later.

An elevated heartbeat, whether on the road or on a band spinning to nowhere, is conducive to talking, which in turn uses our body's strongest muscle based on its weight, the masseter.

She was 26 and about to marry her fiance in September. That's why she was next to me. She was going to use the nine months she had left until the wedding to get in the best shape of her life. She didn't need to lose that much weight. It was her tummy that gave her trouble as it refused to tone the way the rest of her body did.

She began working out as a teen, as she had a job at a gym back then. Her family all struggled with their weight and never listened to any of the advice she gave them.

She always watched what she ate, loving bread and carbs but not able to eat too many of them. For the past year she had done a lot of weight training which had made her a little bulky, she said, so that's why she ran.

Running was tough but she always felt so great afterward. Her fiance was amazing, he could just keep going and had even run a marathon, something she'd love to do one day. First, she'd try a 10K.

A knee injury had taught her boundaries as a runner. Her doctor had advised her to rest, as non-running GPs typically do. 

Tim Noakes, the South African author of Lore of Running, rightly recommends runners to never trust a doctor's advice on running unless he or she has practiced the religion. Rest is always the doctor's answer to an injured runner but it never is the solution to the problem, though it might get rid of the symptom temporarily.

Bikram yoga had filled the void, before she got to the weight training, she said, as we kept pace side by side. I didn't look at the speed she was running at, which I consider bad form unless it's the topic of conversation.

She took Bikram yoga classes—expensive at $20 a pop, she said—every other day and found that the 90-minute routine of 26 postures in rooms that are heated to well above 30 degrees helps you lose weight quickly.

The last class she took in Vancouver, where she moved five years ago from her hometown of Somewhere, was led by a drill sergeant who cranked up the heat an extra 5 degrees and blocked students from leaving the room.

She was glad to have left Vancouver behind after three years. She and her fiance had bought 8 acres in the Upper Squamish Valley. She liked it here; people were friendlier in small towns. Her parents had visited too, experiencing the area's typical wet climate before enjoying a week of the late summer just before fall arrived. 

Plans for the land were still in the works. Organic gardening was among them, though the start she made with tomatoes showed her the soil and conditions were different here. Her tomatoes had become almost the size of melons but remained green. The sunflowers that sprang up in her garden were a neat surprise.

She wanted to travel; visiting a friend in New Zealand might be top of the list.

Her treadmill was almost done as she never ran longer than 45 minutes, less on days she would be on her feet for eight hours at Coffeeshop. Hers was a supervisory role, she added, with unmistakeable pride before she left me at 48 minutes into my run, saying it had been nice to meet me because it made the time go faster. It certainly did.

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