October, 2013



The Screaming of the Thighs


by Deborah Steele Hazen

It’s Halloween. Yet another birthday is approaching. And, as if that isn’t scary enough, there’s the elliptical!

When I first heard that word it sounded nice, kind of musical, rhythmic and poetic. Now, it makes me think of a medievel torture machine straight out of an old Vincent Price movie.

It all started a couple of decades ago when my doctor began telling me I could use more cardiovascular exercise. He didn’t tell me this very often because I avoid going to see him.

I tried to convince him that I’m not a couch potato. I walk around quite a lot in my office, especially because when I leave my desk to get something, I usually forget what I needed until I get back to my desk again – thus necessitating a second or third trip. I get lots of exercise looking for keys and glasses. I do housework. I engage in obsessive, often unnecessary furniture rearranging and holiday decorating. I have to climb two flights of stairs to get into my house, and up and down the steep basement stairs to do laundry. I interact with eight grandchildren which requires some degree of movement. If I need to do an errand within a block or two of my house or office,  I walk rather than drive… sometimes.

My doctor remains unconvinced that any of this amounts to sufficient cardiovascular exercise. “You need to raise your heart rate and sweat,” he says.

I have a bad foot. It’s very flat and it rolls in. After reconstructive surgery 10 years ago, it’s held together with a two-inch long titanium screw. It works okay, but it’s not very pretty and it’s not made for speed or prolonged usage. My daughter Amanda calls it “Frankenfoot.”

I have tried to use “Frankenfoot” as an excuse to avoid aerobic exercise, but my doctor doesn’t buy it – swim, ride a bike, try the elliptical, he says, that’s easier on the joints.

I like swimming, but with the wet hair and the ruined makeup, it’s just too hard to work it into my schedule. The thought of straddling a traditional bicycle seat makes me wince.

So, after a recent trip to the doctor, and with closets full of clothes that have mysteriously shrunk, I decided to both change my diet and join a number of friends and family members who work out at the local fitness center.

The first night, Amanda accompanied me. I decided to try the stationary bike with the non-bike-like seat. I pedaled away for 10 minutes with no problem other than that the pedals unexpectedly hurt my feet, and I didn’t seem to be sweating. So, I switched to the treadmill and walked for another 10 minutes. According to the digital readout and the chart on the wall, my heart rate went up to a nice cardiovascular workout level, and, thankfully, did not soar into danger territory. I even got a little bit sweaty. After a total of 20 minutes of exercise, I called it good. Amanda and I had decided that was probably enough for my first trip to the gym.

She had gracefully, and seemingly effortlessly, spent her time on the elliptical.

The next day I felt no ill effects, and after a few busy days and nights getting last week’s Chief out, I returned, this time without Amanda, who was experiencing a sore hip and back – totally unrelated to our trip to the gym. (That’s her story, and I’m sticking to it.)

With one mostly positive trip behind me, I strode in confidently wearing my newly-purchased workout gear, complete with orthodic-friendly, state-of-the-art, silver-with-purple-trim cross-trainers. (My doctor, who criticizes my typical slip-on flats – even though I wear them with custom-made orthodic insoles – would be so proud.)

I had decided not to try the rather-complicated-looking elliptical without Amanda’s assistance, but her friend and work-out buddy April was there and just climbing onto one. She patiently showed me how to make the thing work, then put hers into motion.

“Am I doing it right?” I asked after about 30 seconds.

“Well, you’re going backwards,” she replied. “But you can do it that way if you want. It’s good for the buns.”

Buns aside, I switched into forward motion, and by the time the digital clock had reached a minute, my thighs – I’m told they are technically quadraceps – were already complaining.

For an aging, overweight woman, I thought my legs were in pretty good shape. Apparently, I was wrong. This thing might be easy on the joints, but it’s murder on the muscles.

As the clock slowly – ever so slowly – clicked to the three-minute mark – my quads, if they had a voice, would’ve been screaming.

How can this be? A few nights before, Amanda had ellipticaled for 20 minutes without any visible sign of strain. Now April was beside me performing the same miracle. I turned to her, “I’ve only gone three minutes on this thing, and it’s killing me.” She smiled comfortingly. “I only did it for five minutes the first time I tried, but Amanda and I worked up to an hour.”

What are they, some kind of super-human, mutant X-Women?

Well, that settled it. I wasn’t going to quit until I  reached five minutes. I got through those last 120 seconds only through sheer stubbornness, and despite the screaming of my thighs.

When the timer finally clicked to 5:00, I carefully eased myself off the torture device, and, with legs of rubber, slowly made my way to a nearby chair. “Please, just let me walk well enough so that the other people in here won’t notice what five minutes on the elliptical did to me.”

I rested for a few minutes, then shuffled – still with rubbery legs – to the treadmill. I walked all of 1.3 miles in 30 minutes. My heart rate stayed at a steady aerobic pace, and my confidence was somewhat restored.

In the meantime, April had finished 30 minutes on the elliptical and called out a cheerful goodbye as she left on what appeared to be amazingly unrubbery legs. I never once heard her thighs scream.

I thought I was alone, but as I unsteadily moved away from the treadmill – regretting the loss of its handholds – I saw that another friend – someone who’s actually a couple of years older than I – had entered the center. He was theoretically using one of the weight machines, but he stopped and we talked for 10 or 15 minutes until I was afraid that my legs wouldn’t hold me up any longer.

As I left, an obviously very prematurely gray-haired young man was going to town on the elliptical. I think it was Wolverine.

I drove home, then faced the two flights of stairs up to the front door. I conquered them – step by painful step, using my arms to drag myself up with the handrail.

The next day wasn’t good, but I tried to do some walking anyway. Got to keep those muscles limber! But, even on flat ground, my legs just didn’t work quite right. As the throbbing mass that passes for my quads tried to decide how much to cooperate, I developed kind of a halting, Frankensteinian gait. Now Frankenfoot has thighs to match.

The day after that was even worse. I made several trips up and downstairs, moans and groans escaping with every step.

By the third day, the screaming had subsided to occasional sobs, then whimpers.

It’s just about time to head back to the gym, but as Halloween approaches, I am still awaiting the Silence of the Thighs.


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