The Tale of the Two Percent Incline

It wasn’t exactly a mysterious workout. Just a challenging one. My training plan called for a 10 mile run with four or five miles at race pace. Not easy, but doable and I approached the run with a positive mental attitude, even if weather conditions forced me to the treadmill. The past few workouts on the treadmill had gone well for me and I’d have the moral support of friends Sue and Maureen who would be also be running at the gym.

My two-mile warm up felt just fine. I took a drink of water and a shot block and eased up into my race pace zone. Everything seemed on track. All right, the gym was hot and humid and that started to get me in the second mile. After two miles at race pace, I bumped down to a walk to grab a drink of water and shot block (just as I had planned) and 40 seconds later was back at my race pace. Only now, it was getting really hard. My legs were burning. My lungs were working in overdrive. Race pace is supposed to be a challenge. That’s why it’s race pace. But this was crazy, stupid hard. I wanted to cry.

“Back it off for a bit,” Sue said to me. “You would do that outside. You naturally vary your pace outside, so play with your speed. It’s OK.”

With permission from Sue, I bumped down my speed just a bit. But it still was hard and I was feeling a bit like a failure. My entire body was soaked with sweat. There was not a dry spot on my clothing and I’m pretty sure my hair looked as if a bird had tried to create a nest while high on crystal meth. Not that I cared about how I looked in the moment. I was too busy trying to keep oxygen coming into my lungs and my legs moving in time with the treadmill to avoid flying off the back and thus completing the B-rate sitcom scene slowly being created.

I focused. I repeated the mantra “I am strong.” I offered gratitude for the shot blocks I had eaten because then, if I did actually vomit, I would have something to throw up instead of just dry heaving.

Mercifully I reached the end of my five-mile race pace portion of the workout and bumped the speed down to a walk as quickly as I could push the buttons on the consol. I’m pretty sure “hot mess” would be an accurate description of the run. At least it felt appropriate. It was an ugly, ugly run. But it was done. I grabbed my water bottle for a nice, long drink and that’s when I noticed it.

The incline on the treadmill. It was set for 2 percent.

Wait. What?

Back track: Most of the running coaches I have worked with have said to set the treadmill to a 1 percent incline. That allows you to more closely mimic what it’s like to run outside. When you increase the incline, that changes the actual pace that you’re running. Only you don’t see that on the handy-dandy screen that flashes numbers at you all workout long. (See this conversion chart for an idea of the differences.)

Because I never looked at the incline percentage during the workout, I never knew that at some point I had accidentally changed the setting. And it’s entirely possibly I had accidentally set it at 2 percent when I started my workout. So the reason I thought the run was really, really hard for me was because it was.

Where I thought I had faltered and stumbled and basically let myself down, I actually demonstrated a determination and focus. Sometimes we don’t have clarity until after the fact. That’s when you take the leap of faith in yourself and trust that you are exactly where you need to be and that everything you need you already possess.




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