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Learning to love the dreadmill

Posted May 13 2011 12:00am
I am about halfway through . Having published the latest obesity stats in another blog, this passage struck me
"Every action flick depicts the destruction of civilization as some kind of crash-boom-bang, a nuclear war or hurtling comet or a self-aware-cyborg uprising, but the true cataclysm may already be creeping right up under our eyes: because of rampant obesity, one in three children born in the United States is at risk of diabetes--meaning, we could be the first generation of Americans to outlive our own children. Maybe the ancient Hindus were better crystal-ball-gazers than Hollywood when they predicted the world would end not with a bang, but with a big old yawn. Shiva the Destroyer would snuff us out by doing... nothing. Lazing out. Withdrawing his hot-blooded force from our bodies. Letting us become slugs."
Christoper McDougall ,

Today, Colorado has the nation’s lowest rate of adult obesity, at 18.6 percent. In California, with its reputation for athletic-minded surfers and beach bums, one quarter of the adult population is obese. That's right - not just overweight. Obese. In California.

The rapid change over the past two decades is alarming, to say the least. In 1990 ten states had obesity rates below 10 percent. Today none do. In 1990 no states had obesity rates above 15 percent. Today none have rates below 15 percent.

How has this happened so quickly?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , "Many communities are built in ways that make it difficult or unsafe to be physically active."

While I agree that wide, sidewalk-less roads play a role in the obesity epidemic, I also think there is a broader social movement at play... Or rather not moving and not playing?

According to Nielsen , Americans are watching more TV than ever - now up to an average of 34 HOURS PER WEEK per person. People are watching television like it's a full-time job.

Somewhere along the way we've lost our collective interest in getting outside to play, and have turned into a nation of couch potatoes.

I'm hoping that by the end of Born to Run, McDougall will present some suggestions for overcoming our national sloth. Michelle Obama's " Let's Move " campaign is a start in the right direction, but I have to wonder if more people will exercise or will just sit and watch her dance in the Dougie video ?

Map image from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Note According to the CDC, obesity is “defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater. BMI is calculated from a person's weight and height and provides a reasonable indicator of body fatness and weight categories that may lead to health problems. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.”

I can run and chew gum at the same time

You've heard that old expression...

__insert name here__ is so stupid he can't walk and chew gum at the same time.

Well thankfully most of us are perfectly capable of doing both, seamlessly, unless we suffer from some sort of cognitive impairment like Alzheimer's or dementia.

But running and chewing gum? That's just pure madness.


I had never even considered the possibility until recently. If I had thought about it, I probably would have dismissed it under the assumption that running while chewing gum posed a high choking hazard. You know, with all that huffing-and-puffing, you'd probably inhale the gum, right?

Maybe not...

On a rather hot and dry run last summer, a friend handed me a stick of chewing gum before we started. I was skeptical, but she's an accomplished runner. And on closer consideration I realized baseball players chew gum while they're playing and to the best of my knowledge, no game has ever been stopped because of a gum-asphyxiation incident.

So I took a stick, and was off on my way.

Maybe it was the placebo effect, but I felt more pep on that run than I had in weeks. As we have discussed before, I tend to wither in the heat like a snail on hot pavement. The minty gum prevented my mouth from getting that gritty dry feeling that is inevitable on long hot runs. I think it tricked my brain into thinking "it's not so hot out" the way running with music tricks my brain into thinking "I'm not breathing so hard; I can go faster!"

So much of running is about training our brains , because our brains are wired to tell us to slow down, ease off, and take it easy long before our bodies really have to give in. One of my favorite running quotes of all time is: "In the beginning it's hard to understand that the race is not against others but against that little voice in your head that tells you when to quit."
(I have yet to find a credible "first" source for that quote , but do believe that the speaker knows what it means to be a runner.)

My verdict on the gum: it keeps that little voice quiet for a little longer. Maybe it works because it keeps my jaws working on something else, so my inner voice can't say "it's too hot!" Maybe it works because it keeps my mouth from getting dry. Maybe it works because it's 100% placebo effect. But no matter what the reason, it does work.

I just have to remember now to look for a waste bin at the 3-mile point... because the gum only lasts so long, and I don't need to leave my flavorless gum on the street waiting to ambush the next runner's shoes.

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Learning to love the dreadmill

One of the things I love most about running is the time it gives me to go outside and play. I love the scenery. The fresh air. Watching surfers bobbing in the waves, waiting for their ride. Spying on dog-walkers, and wondering who is walking whom? Getting a regular tour of the neighborhood to see what new construction is underway or which neighbor is having a yard sale.

But with my perfect-year-round 68-degree San Diego days now 2,000 miles away, and a Florida Panhandle 90-degree, 95-percent-humidity summer stretching out in front of me, I am in a bit of a bind. I either have to accept a pace so slow I might as well be walking (which sort of destroys all of the progress I've made in training over the past thee years), or I have to make peace with the piece of equipment runners love to hate: the dreaded treadmill.

So I've sucked up my running pride, cast away all "dreadmill" stereotypes, and have learned to embrace my new running friend. In the mornings Kiran Chetry has become my running buddy, filling me in on all of the day's breaking news. Instead of surfers, I get to watch dancers, in the odd instances when Vh1 stops the chatter and actually plays a music video. I won't claim that the treadmill will ever replace the freedom of outdoor running, but I am learning to enjoy it, especially for interval training.

My new favorite treadmill workout:
10 minute warmup (starting at a 10 minute mile pace and gradually increasing to 9)
6 x 90 second sprints (1 min. at btwn 7:00-7:30 pace, last 30 seconds @ 6:30-6:50 pace) with 1 minute recovery (9:30 pace)
10 minute recovery and cool-down

By keeping the speed up on my treadmill workouts, I'm hoping to avoid any "damage" being done to my overall pace on my slogging, sluggish outdoor runs in the heat.

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