Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wednesday Workout Update - Perceived Exertion and Guilt

I didn't start out exercising a lot when I began my diet - riding my bicycle a couple of laps around my circle (not a block - just the circle of my long cul-de-sac) was a huge effort for me in the beginning.  Quite honestly, it took a lot for me to ride four laps, which was a mile.  I was rubbery-legged and exhausted when I was done...when you aren't used to doing any exercise at all, even a little will make you feel like you've practically run a marathon.

Within about nine months, I progressed from simple bike riding to working out with trainers and a small group of people.  In the beginning, those workouts also left me rubbery-legged and exhausted - truth be told, pretty much every time I did those workouts, I was left in that condition, because as things got easier for me, my trainers increased the weights or reps or intensity.  Then I started running, worked my way in mileage up to running a half marathon, became injured, started swimming, and finally got back to running.  So you'd think, with all of that under my belt, that I would kind of have this whole exercise thing understood at this point.  Well, no...apparently not.

I've been struggling with perceived exertion - the act of doing something that takes a lot of effort, and the way you feel while you're doing it. The background for this is that Jenny and I have been running quarter-mile intervals for a while now, and while we are doing them, I'm breathing hard, working up a sweat, and, most significantly, feeling out-of-shape and disappointed with myself that it's taking so much effort. I feel like I've done something wrong; I've let myself go and I've lost my conditioning.  It's funny, because when I worked so hard, say, during my group workouts, I felt accomplished afterward - yes, I was breathing hard, sweating like a fiend and exhausted when I was finished - but I was proud of myself for managing to make it through the workout.  So why the negative feelings when it comes to running these intervals?  

This isn't the same thing as negative talk - it's not like I'm thinking "oh, you're so slow and such a bad runner" - no, absolutely not. I guess when I put out the extra effort with these intervals, I feel like it shouldn't be so hard for me at this point, and of all the things I'd be struggling with when it comes to running, feeling guilty at being winded seems kind of crazy to me.

It's obviously a head game, and I'm sure it harkens back to me being overweight and sedentary for so many years. As soon as I sense that I’m working hard physically, I instantly get the perception of how out-of-shape I must be. I guess I spent so many years struggling through the most simple of things (like climbing a flight of stairs) while I was overweight that I don't always know how to translate the feeling of putting out physical effort in a good way, like pushing myself during these fast-paced intervals.

And here's the kicker:  afterward, when I check the stats* on my Garmin, each and every week I've been surprised at how well we did. Plus, we're consistently improving our times. You'd think I'd remember this while I'm running the intervals, and give myself some credit for pushing myself, but brain doesn't work that way.  I wonder if I'll ever move past some of this mental madness that stems from being overweight for so long?

*(In case you're wondering, the way the Garmin is set up for intervals, you can't see your pace while you are running that program - otherwise, you know we'd be checking during the workout).


  1. I totally get this. I'm not sure why we play these mind games with ourselves, but we do. Good for you, Shelley, for sorting it out and recognizing that you ARE making progress and moving forward. Take a bow! :)

  2. I totally understand this too. My mind plays these games with me too.

    I use the Garmin for intervals too but I can see my running pace in the left bottom during an interval session. When I download the info I see the average pace but I can control my paces during a run (going faster or slower).

  3. Im with CAMMY and say pat yourself on the back and take a bow.
    are we destine to all possess a smidge of the madness in some realm? WHO CAN SAY...

  4. Oh I so get this. I think its not that we play these games. I think its that same 'neuropathway' thing going on. For so long, my aching back was directly associated with my being so overweight. So now when my back aches, my internal perception is that I am right back to that old very heavy weight, even when I cam look in a mirror and see that I am not. (and my back hurts a LOT these days...)

  5. Wait, intervals are SUPPOSED to feel awful and hard and punitive, or you're not doing them right! That's the hideous awesomeness of them. If you didn't feel like you were wanting to die, you wouldn't be pushing your body into the zone where amazing things start to happen.

    So every time you feel like you are running smack into a brick wall, congratulate yourself on challenging yourself to suffer in the most efficient way possible!

  6. Haha, maybe it's time to write a post about perceived success?

    It's nice to be able to look back and see how far you've come. I'm always frustrated in the pool, then after the workout I realize what a better swimmer I've become in the few months I've been swimming. (That's right, who swam 1000 yds yesterday, alternating stroke the WHOLE way?)

  7. I think Crabby totally summed it up - just going out to do intervals is over half the battle - completing the workout is the bonus!!!

  8. I think your activity and all that you do is fantastic! Hopefully over time your mind plays less tricks on you. And just keep doing what you're doing, 'cause it's sure working and you continue to inspire!!!! Have a great day Shelley

  9. Your physical conditioning is amazing! Everyone's comments are right-on! You have come so far and improved so much. It's hard to remember that on a day-to-day basis, I know. I am still in awe of all of the running and exercising you do. As I've said before, I'm still walking the dog around the block :)

  10. What an amazing transformation. Thank you for sharing this will all of us. Exercise has always been difficult for me. It helps to hear how you started out riding your bike and where you are now. I also loved the photos in your previous post. Congrats on 5 years, and thank you for sharing those years with all of us out here!

  11. It's crazy how the mind works! Last week I mindlessly ate a whole bowl (1 cup worth) of peanuts in the shell. I love the whole process of cracking them. The next day I was kicking myself, until I realized I'd only eat 300 calories, and had only had a total calorie intake that day of 1550.

  12. I don't have any advice, but I do think there's a lot that needs to be worked out mentally after spending such a long time being overweight. There are so many ways that your thinking needs to change, and it takes a really long time. I just pulled out a few summer dresses from storage today and I automatically expected that dresses that fit me last summer would be too small for me now, because that's been my experience pretty much every year. I was stunned when they zipped up, even though I hadn't gained any weight or changed sizes in any of my other clothes. Maybe next year I won't jump to that conclusion?

    And I remember feeling like everything I did was so hard when I started out too - I'm kind of glad I've been blogging so I can look back at some of my old posts about exercise and see how far I've come. But there are still times when I feel like I'm out of shape or not doing very well. It's good that you have numbers that tell you that you ARE doing good and improving! I guess just keep trying to think about that, and maybe eventually you'll get it.


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