I miss hills.
That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. But yet, there it is – I miss their challenge, the hard breathing, the adrenaline, the thrill when you reach the top. Admittedly, it’s not the hills themselves I miss as much as the ability to push myself almost to the limit.
In general, I’m a fan of hard exercise. While I was never very good, I participated in competitive sports for six years throughout middle school and high school. Competing against other people never got me excited, but beating my own time and knowing I went as hard as I could did. While I stopped competing in college, I still felt compelled to get outside or to the gym for a run, ride, or rowing session on a regular basis. Hard exercise provided a mental and emotional release, a time for me to focus on maximizing what my body could do. Proving to myself that I could overcome discomfort to accomplish something physical was fulfilling in a way that complemented the mental challenge of schoolwork. In addition, there’s nothing quite like the wash of the “runner’s high” – that potent mix of hormones that makes you smile through a grimace.
As an adult, I’ve switched to activities that I enjoy more and less actively cause pain (I almost never run anymore), but I still push myself to the limit. As much as I inwardly groan when faced with a near-endless hill on the bike, the sense of accomplishment when I get to the top of it is irreplaceable. Pushing hard on a flat is even better, providing a potent combination of hard work and speed.
But all of that ground to a halt about three months ago. That’s when I switched my gym membership from the rock-climbing gym to my gym at work. Understandably, my gym at work requires a doctor’s approval to begin if the person applying is pregnant. Much to my surprise, the doctor’s note said that I was approved to exercise but only if I didn’t allow my heart rate to rise above 140 beats per minute. While she previously said “moderate exercise” was fine, it immediately became obvious that her definition and my definition of “moderate” were from two different life dictionaries.
Even though I’ve tried to stick to this guideline as best as possible, this guidance has been problematic for two reasons. One, pre-pregnancy my heart rate was usually pretty high compared to the difficulty of the work I’m doing. If I went with the heart rate range gyms often recommend, I’d never get a workout in that fulfilled those mental, emotional, and physical needs I described earlier.
Two, this discrepancy between my heart rate and my intensity has only gotten much worse in the second half of my pregnancy. Part of this is just the simple biology of being pregnant. Of the 25 to 35 pounds that women should gain (more or less depending on the personal circumstances of the person) during pregnancy, a full four pounds of it is blood volume. To push this blood around your body without your blood pressure skyrocketing (part of a very bad condition called preeclampsia), your heart has to work much harder than usual. Adding to this issue is that because I’ve tried to keep up my cardiovascular health during my pregnancy, a lot of activities that could make other women this far along out of breath don’t affect as me much.
The combination of these two factors means that it’s become much harder to determine my heart rate from my level of intensity. By the time I start getting a little out of breath or breaking a sweat, my heart rate is 10 or 15 beats per minute higher than it should be and I have to come to a near-halt. Only the most moderate exercise keeps it below that maximum. As a result, I’m a little obsessed with keeping my heart rate low enough, making for a tedious and annoying workout. Especially at the gym, there’s no variety, just one endless slog of easy. In addition, it strips away the few things I enjoy about exercising inside – being able to go hard and watch the numbers rack up in a satisfying manner. Being outside is a little better, but moseying along even loses its charm after a while, especially when I’m by myself.
Because I want to follow my doctor’s orders as best as possible, I’ve avoided allowing my heart rate to stay too high for the sake of both my health and my baby-to-be. Obviously, those requirements come first. But needless to say, I’m looking forward to building up speed and tackling some hard hills on my first ride back.
Has there ever been a time you’ve had to scale back the intensity of your exercise? Did you miss it or was it a relief?