Rob's Blog Archive

September 1, 2013

Dancing With the One Who Brought Me---Mr. Thingy










There’s an old Farside cartoon depicting a guy being interrogated.  He’s on a chair, light shining in his eyes, in an otherwise empty room.  The interrogator is holding a contraption----horns, bells, a siren, clankers, and the like adorn every cubic inch of it.  He looks at his wide-eyed victim and says, “We call this baby, Mr. Thingy.”  That’s the origin of my Nordic-Track’s name. 

By the time I was finishing my first post-doc, running as often as I was was clearly hurting my knees.  Actually, climbing with its downhill sections and errors during Taekwon-Do workouts hurt my knees.  Running kept them from getting better. 

I found an alternative the winter before my 30th birthday.  Three or four times a week, I drove up to the Eldora X-C ski area and trained there before coming to work.  Skiing up and down those hills just after sunrise, I owned the trails.  Mine were the first tracks on any snow that fell overnight.  A twenty-five minute drive from Boulder made this doable, though still time consuming.  The workouts were great fun and this got me into great shape while preserving my knees, but the time spent traveling, not to mention no alternative for any season outside of winter, limited its usefulness.

That summer and fall, I’d run, even though this continued to aggravate a knee I had injured by landing poorly during a Taekwon-Do the previous spring.  Once winter arrived, I bought my season pass and hit the trails at Eldora again.  Once more, I had a good winter.  Still, between aggravating my knee during the summer and the time spent driving during the winter, something had to change. 

During the spring of, 1987, the only real ads for Nordic Tracks were in National Geographic and airline magazines.  Health clubs had them, but that was about it.  Still, this meant I could try them out---and I did.  A $500. purchase isn’t something a post-doc does cavalierly.  I bought Mr. Thingy that spring. 

At that time, Nordic Tracks had not yet been given names.  Mine was a 505.  Using it, I maintained decent conditioning and my knee finally started healing.  By the time I left Boulder for Cambridge, my knee was 100%.

For the next two plus decades, Mr. Thingy provided me with my go-to workout.  I’d add in running or skiing or biking, depending on what I was planning on doing.  And I always kept up my Taekwon-Do---kicks and patterns nicely complemented the stationary device.

By that time, 22 years after I made my purchase, I had replaced the friction strap on Mr. Thingy a dozen times and the covering on the foam belly pad was duct tape on duct tape.   What happened then was I got lucky. I scored a Nordic-Track Pro----they had long since gotten names—at the dump.  Spotless and in perfect condition, I needed to buy some clevis pins, rubber leg caps, and sand the runners a bit, but with this I had a new workout device. 

With the replacement of Mr. Thingy, the question was what to do with it.  Twenty-two years of relying on it, including working out with a limp for more than a year while I dealt with my pre-replacement hip, meant I couldn’t just throw it away.  I honestly considered burying it, though I’m sure I would have stopped short of a funeral.  What I settled on was to hold onto it. I realized that, on the scale of refurbishing a car, giving Mr. Thingy new chrome, refinished planks, and a reupholstered foam pad would be trivial.  I can’t afford it now, but once I can I will.  In the mean time, I’m holding onto my old friend.

All of which brings me to rediscovery.  With the working out I’ve been doing, I have had to deal with injuries.  In particular, a pulled calf muscle that seems to come and go has kept me from running near as much as I’d like.  And with this, I looked around my house and asked, “What could I do?”  It’s actually a sad comment on my rigidly sticking with a biking/running mindset that I even asked the question.  Still, Pro raised its contrived structure----the name Mr. Thingy was appropriate for all Nordic Tracks---in my mind.   Beyond it being something I could work out efficiently on with minor injuries, it had the advantage of specificity---it’s arguably the best single exercise I’m doing to prepare for skijoring the Iditarod Trail.

And with this, I’m moving ahead.  I haven’t yet done a four week stretch without a break, but I missed working out on only one day in August, arguably an equivalent accomplishment.  Being able to hop on Pro and get a good workout, bad calf and all, was critical.  So was being able to get a quick---my minimum is 2 km---workout on it. 

The degree to which Nordic Tracks have been central to my working out may be best exemplified by the following:  The spreadsheet I use to track what I’m doing allows me to see a lot of detail, everything from how often I’ve done each of my 23 patterns to how much I’m riding my bike, how many miles I’m running, and, of course, how many kilometers I do each week on my Nordic Track.  In the end, I convert it all into Nordic Track equivalent km, and add them together.  With the sum, I can get a single number in km that tells me just how much I worked out---all of my workouts---each week.

The one downside to Mr. Thingy or Pro is that, while I tolerate stationary devices well, I still get bored on them.  I have always topped out at about 40-45 minutes.  That’s a good workout----when I’ve been in shape, it’s been 9 km on the Nordic Track and about a four mile jog, but it’s not the two to three hour bike rides I’m taking now or ski tours I took during the winter. 

But unlike these, Mr. Thingy is always there---bad weather or bad joints or bad muscles.  When I can’t or couldn’t do anything else, I can grab a work-out on it.  I can count on it.  Ya dance with the lady who brought you.   

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