The Dreadmill

In my Getting Started  post, I talked about being on the treadmill and how I started slowly and then built it up and was finally able to run for 5 miles. What a successful story of triumph over the treadmill and the gym....And flowers and rainbows and unicorns and yeaaaa, if only it were that simple.

Oh the treadmill, how I love/detest thee! I decided to use the treadmill as my starting point at the gym. It was an old and familiar friend that had gotten me to my weight loss goals in the past so it was easy to hop on and run walk.

At the beginning, I didn't think it would be very difficult. Though I wasn't in shape, it was something that I had done before. How out of shape could I really be?! Well I soon found out that I couldn't pass a high school PE class! Initially, this didn't bother me very  much, until I spotted all the forty, fifty, sixty and seventy year olds going at a faster pace. Goodness gracious, how embarrassing!

I started paying attention to my fellow competitors, I mean gym members. There was a huge variety of them and many like myself, favored the treadmill. I observed that some of them would cover the display screen with a magazine or towel, some would read the entire time (how could they do that and run?!), others would get on the treadmill and simply run, while others came with their gym buddies and spent  more time talking than walking. One guy in particular would come in, hop on the treadmill and run at a dizzying speed for about 30 to 45 min and then leave. Oh how I wanted to have that talent!

It's a Mental Thang
Armed with my observations, I put together my own version of my treadmill experience. I would usually start with a 2 minute walk to warm up. The first few minutes of running after that were the most difficult. If I could get my mind to push through, it was easy enough to complete the workout. I also started to understand why folks covered the display screen. I would be huffing and puffing on the treadmill, having beaten the first few minutes and convinced myself to stay on, only to look down and find out that I had only be on there for a total of 6 minutes and still had about 24 whole long minutes to go! My feet would feel like bricks and I would instantly feel completely tired!

Running on a motorized platform that was not going anywhere soon got old and required major mental muscle to stay on. I found distractions that kept me running. I had noticed a sign that was posted in front of my machine of choice (yes by this time I had a specific machine that I preferred and would wander around the gym until it became available).  The sign was simple enough: it alerted gym members that there was  time limit for treadmill use and referred members to a wait list at the front desk if all treadmills were in use. I noticed that the second treadmill in the sign had 3 L's instead of 2 and this became my focus to get through my runs. I would start running and immediately want to quit and look at the sign, chuckle a bit to myself and then stare it down for the remainder of the time, willing the 3rd L to disappear.

When this technique would not work, I would stare out the window in front of me and count the number of cars that went by. Or if there were children playing basketball, I would keep score for them or cheer for them as they developed their skills on the court. I also learned to trick my brain by convincing myself that once I had completed 50% or 60% or 75% of the workout, I could walk. Once I got to the agreed upon point, I would talk myself into finishing it. 

Once I became comfortable with the treadmill, I started competitive running. Well, ok, I competed with whomever was on the treadmill to them, unknown to them of course. I would slyly glance over to see their speed and at least match it, often times cranking mine up towards the end to beat them. That attempt to keep up would spur me on and I would often hit faster speeds than I intended just so that I can "beat" them!

As I kept challenging my heart on the treadmill, I started noticing that it would take me a bit longer to get it racing. I also noticed that I didn't wear out as quickly doing other exercises.
Since then I've learned how to be more efficient on the treadmill. I added a burst at the end of each run to challenge my heart: I started around 7.0 mph and have gone up to 9.5 mph. I also use the High Intensity Interval Training technique to burn maximum fat in the shortest period of time.  I start with a 2-3 minute warm up (walk), followed by 2 minutes at 6.7 mph, 40 sec at 7.5 mph and 20 sec at 9.0 mph and then 2 min rest at 3.0-4.0 mph and then repeat it. I do about 3-5 sets of this for a total of 15-25 minutes. This technique can be done at any level; the key is to find a goal speed and work towards it.   
Though I found the treadmill to be a dread, it became the starting point for my come back into fitness. With the newfound endurance I'm able to push myself in all my workouts. The weight loss I experienced as a result of the treadmill helped build my confidence to keep working on my fitness and weight loss goals.
Lessons learned
1. Just run: whether it's on the treadmill or out in the open, just run (jog) or walk if that's what works
2. It takes a time and consistent effort to build endurance. Lack of consistency will require restarting each time. 
3. Like anything in life, if you believe it, you can make great friends with the treadmill
4. Distracting yourself on the treadmill can allow you to push through an especially tough workout
5. A little friendly competition is good for your heart
6. HIIT is an efficient way to maximize your workout, it can be done on the treadmill or really with any cardio workout.
7. The treadmill is a good starting point, as well as a great part of a workout at any level.
Did you see what this guy does on the treadmill?! Anything to keep you going!
Half-stepping diva


Getting started

The last time I was in Ghana, everyone commented on how much weight I had gained. Most people hadn't seen me in years and immediately noticed that I was carrying some extra...ahem.."curves". I took this in stride though I had myself been having internal battles about my weight and resolved that something had to be done pronto.

My first time on the treadmill, I started a brisk walk at 3.5 mph; shortly after I had to take that down to 2.0 mph. I breathlessly stayed on there for about 15 minutes before giving up. A friend had started instructing a class called Zumba Fitness and had asked me to come to the class to support her. I had never heard of it but was delighted to be there at her debut. After the warm up song, I thought my heart was going to beat itself out of my chest and plop onto the floor. I hung in there, completely convinced that it would just take the next song to get me closer to my demise. It was a wonderful experience that had me wishing I could come back the next day for more!  I took my first yoga class shortly after Zumba. I was amazed that the instructor's gut stretched out further past mine; how could she be the instructor. I had to pick my face off the floor when she folded herself into a nice pretzel shortly afterwards...I had clearly misjudged that book by the cover! I struggled through the poses and noticed that I was the youngest in the class and the least flexible!

It took a few false starts for me to get to working out. Other than Zumba, I had a hard time getting to the gym. I would get home from work "exhausted", eat and sit in front of the TV for a few minutes which would quickly stretch into an hour and then two and then wow, the gym is closing in 30 minutes, I'll just have to wake up really early tomorrow so that I can go before work. Or other times I'll get home, change and eat something and then "let the food digest a bit". This digestion process would generally take about 2 hours and by the time I realized it was too late. Or sometimes it would rain...who wants to walk 20 brief seconds in the rain, drive 5 minutes and then take another brief 20 second walk in the rain, anyhow.

Many other times I would actually get into the gym, start working out only to experience a cramp, or my chest might start to hurt, or shin hurt or something else would flare up, like the heartburn that only showed up when I was working out...and well  I couldn't work out through any of that, so my run would slow into a walk and I would abandon the workout all together.

I soon realized that I wasn't going to get anywhere with this inconsistency at the gym. I was able to figure out all the self-placed obstacles/ excusese and worked on removing them. I prepped my food for the day to include a snack that I could eat shortly before my workout. I can't quite remember what I would eat during that beginning stage, but my pre-workout snacks have included a banana and peanuts/peanut butter, 8 oz chocolate milk, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, yogurt with pineapple, cereal with milk, trail mix, and a granola bar. I also started watching my spicy food intake: I realized that I could eat spicy foods until about 1pm after which I would need some kind of antacid to combat the heartburn. I learned breathing exercises that would help me through the side cramps and learned to ignore the pain anywhere else. I also organized my workout clothes separately so that I didn't have to spend time digging through to find something decent to wear.

As my workouts increased I subscribed to anything that had to do with weight loss. I read all those articles, you know which ones...10 things you must do at the gym, 10 other things you should be doing, Are you sabotaging your workout, 50 ways to eat fruit, 50 more ways to eat fruit, 10 superfoods of 2009, new superfoods of 2010, the superfoods of the future you should be eating now! Supplements, are they for you? Your 21 day workout plan, Your 21 day total body work plan, Your 21 day abs workout plan, Did you stretch your booty today?
What? Ok, i'm making them up, but I have read a lot of articles about health and fitness since 2009. I also signed up for various online journal sources, or health vaults and trackers and food diaries etc.

So with my new found dedication, my new knowledge about how to lose weight, I plowed ahead expecting pounds to fall off as easily as I'd gained them. After about a month of getting into my groove, I stepped on the scale to find that I had lost 0 pounds! I was completely shattered. It didn't work! I was eating like they said, I was working out....I was in the gym as much as those working there for goodness sakes!

Once I calmed down, well after I binged on some chocolate in response, I pulled out one of those articles...it promised that I would "Lose 10 pounds in 6 weeks". What? Sign me up! The program would meet me at whatever speed I could run, which by this time had climbed up to about 4.0mph or a 15 min mile pace on the treadmill. I started the 6 week challenge and by the end of the year run for 5 miles at 5.0mph or a 12 min mile. And the scale, she moved! Not quite 10 pounds, but I saw my first significant change.

Lessons learned.
1. Start where you are most comfortable; the beginning of your new lifestyle should not be when you try something new.
2. If you're not enjoying your workout, you will not be consistent
3. Spending time working out does not automatically result in change; effort is just as important as showing up
4. It's easy to make excuses as to why we don't do something, and it's easy to talk ourselves into believing the excuse
5. Some of us need a program to stay on course: for me the running program allowed me to try harder each day
6. Motivation is important and oftentimes in life, we have to learn how to motivate ourselves.

In the first few months of starting my new lifestyle, I learned that there was much work to be done. It wasn't as easy as it had been in the past and I had a lot to learn about myself and my body. I truly thought at the time that it wouldn't take me very long to get the weight off, but have since learned that like many other aspects of our life, weight loss requires finding the right formula for our individual situation. It has taken me about 4 years to find that formula and I certainly hope it takes you much less time than that.

Half-stepping diva


Shattered silence

The peace in my ultra-quiet ultra-safe neighborhood was recently “lined” with three gunshots and a whole lot of questions.

A few Sundays ago around 10:30pm, we were kept awake by a police helicopter that just would not go away. Living so close downtown means that we get the occasional police activity while they were looking for a suspect. I, of course assumed this was business as usual and dismissed the howling blade as someone else’s problem. Shortly after, I was notified that there were police officers outside our complex with guns drawn…Our immediate response was to run to the window to see what was going on. Sure enough, we spotted the police who then started shining a flashlight up our window- we instantly ducked! This was completely out of place for our neighborhood, so we didn't think much of it. An ambulance came up shortly after prompting us to think that a neighbor had some kind of medical emergency. We didn’t even flinch when the police stopped by to ask if we’d seen or heard anything suspicious. The officer instantly put on his  "black speak", joking and laughing with us. He told us that detectives would be coming by to complete their investigations; that was when we noticed the whole complex had been roped off with crime scene tape. But as far as we were concerned, it was all something minor. The police officer also let us  know that it would take only a few hours to complete the investigations and they will let us know when we could leave. No problem for us. We went to sleep blissfully ignorant.  
Our lockdown continued into the next morning; I went outside to see how it was all going and was informed it would be a few hours before we would be able to leave. We settled into our morning and didn't think much of anything. I had googled our city a few times to see if any news had been updated, but seeing nothing, we continued to believe there had been a minor infraction. Nothing at all to worry about.   After a few hours I stepped out to check for the police or their crime scene tape and as suddenly as it had started all was clear and peaceful around the complex. I went on my merry way to work, just thinking of how bizarre it had all been.  

Shortly after I got to work, reality hit: I received a text from home saying a news channel had stopped by and wanted to know if we knew the victim…I’m sorry, the who? Victim? In our neighborhood? What in the world are they talking about. I started frantically searching the internet to see what had really happened and discovered a murder had been committed right next door!  According to the news, our neighbor was gunned down in his garage. The suspects who were seen leaving the scene had been caught, their discarded weapon retrieved.   We were a part of an episode of Law and Order and didn’t even know it.
The next few hours left me feeling all sorts of emotions, from relief to indignance and many more in between. Above all those emotions however was disbelief. How could something like this happen in my immediate world? When I returned later in the evening from work, a very eerie feeling had settled through the neighborhood, though my neighbors seemed to have returned to their normal world. It was as if nothing had happened and even though it was reassuring to see everything settled down, it also felt so wrong to just go back to normal after a family had suffered such a loss.

Following this harrowing incident, I became very aware of my vulnerability and my mortality. It is not uncommon for any of us to be outside the apartment around that time of the evening...what if any of us had been out there. Many other "what if" situations popped into my head and threatened to keep me awake at night. On the evening following the incident, as I was driving home, I completely panicked when a car pulled alongside mine thinking someone was about to pull a gun. I also spent time really looking around the complex before proceeding into the garage.
Over the next few months, I went through various activities aimed at making myself feel safe again in my environment. I found my home to be eerie and unsettling. I also realized that not really knowing what happened made me wonder if there were other targets in the neighborhood. Maybe my excessive watching of crime shows raised my paranoia level wayyyyyyy up. I had to engage  all the stress relieving activities to calm myself down on a daily basis and with time starting accepting the reality of my new now tarnished world.
I have since realized that there is no such thing as a safe neighborhood. I cannot take for granted that life happens and though I cannot prepare for everything that happens in my life, I can be vigilant in my daily actions. During those times when I felt completely exposed and vulnerable, I remembered to rely on my faith in God to get me through, and I learned a few safety tips.

A few safety tips:

- Always be aware of your surroundings; pay attention as you walk or drive; avoid distractions such as playing on your phone, texting etc.
- The elbow is the strongest point on your body, if you're close enough to use it, do so. If you're not close enough to use it, run.
-When walking down a street, make eye contact with people you encounter; it shows awareness and confidence
-Avoid carrying excessive bags on your person.
- If you're being robbed, through object away from your being and run, do not just hand it over.
- Once you get into your car after a day of shopping etc, do not sit in your car  to complete your checklist or send out text messages. Lock your car and leave.
-When getting into your car in a parking lot/garage, make note of your surroundings before getting into your car. If you feel uneasy, find someone to walk you to your car.
-Get to know your neighbors and those around you, it'll be easier to spot someone out of place.
-Take a self-defense class, and stay active.
It is now business as usual: the remaining members of the affected family moved out, having been told they were likely targeted and followed. Children are back to playing around the complex again, folks are living as if nothing happened. I can't forget that someone lost their life so close to our head, but, life must go on.
Stay safe everyone,
Half-stepping diva