Wednesday, July 16, 2008


For a golden time in 1993-95 when I worked at the Cleveland Law Department, I rode my bike to work every day. I was getting exercise. Mayor Michael R. White once called out to me in the hallway to make sure I worked in the building because bicycles weren't generally allowed in the building. Then I worked at the airport, too far to ride. For exercise I did some rollerblading and plenty of walking with Sascha, then Max in the park. For Lila's 40th birthday, she got a treadmill. I heaved it into the car and then up the steps into the house but there was no way I could carry it up the stairs to the bedroom where we wanted it. We hired two guys to do it. Then, as the joke goes, we hung clothes on it.

Well, I was determined this year to start some kind of exercise. My stumbling block had been when to do any exercise. So I got a piece of graph paper and nerdiliciously graphed out every hour of every day of the week. I could see that the only time free was in the evening after dinner, Max's bath, Max's bedtime and before Sascha's bedtime (roughly 8:00 and 9:00 going on 10:00). So I moved the clothes off the treadmill and walked through one of the programs, which make the speed go slower and faster and the incline go up and down. First I tried the shorter programs -- 20:00 and just walking. Looking back, I think of this as the geezer pace. Then I tried the other programs -- 30:00 and 40:00 minutes with some running in intervals (and lots of hills). I settled on one with fewer hills and more intervals. Then I crossed some kind of divide between enjoying exercise as a comfortable experience of the body's power to move and push and enjoying exercise as a crisis: a not quite comfortable, rising-to-the-occasion, can-I-do-it, breathless test of the body. God, it's better that way.

First I liked the running intervals in the program. Then I added intervals where the program had me resting. Then I ran the early intervals at the faster speed. Then I tried to finish the last X minutes at the sprint pace. Soon I was just putting the machine on manual, not on any program, and running at a good pace. I had settled on 40 minutes so I had to see how far I could go in 40 minutes. I triumphantly went 3 miles in 39:00. I also tried faster intervals, say 1 minute at 7 miles per hour (the machine uses mph).

Oops. I made what I have since learned is a beginners error: too much too fast. I injured my knee, not badly but enough to be sore walking and unable to run. I told Lila that now I would be able to hold forth whenever the subject of running came up: "Yeah, I used to run but then I blew out my knee." I kept up my schedule (which is every other day) with walking as fast as my knee would allow. And it seemed a long time but it was only ten days until I could run again, this time armed with information from running websites about not overextending my stride. I practiced and practiced having a shorter stride before starting to run faster. Then I made my way up from 4 mph to 4.5 to 5 and from 3 miles to 3.5 to 4 to 4.5 to 5. I timed it so that I could try to run 10K (6.1 miles) when we were at Wrightsville Beach on vacation. I did it. I was much slower in the sand but I made it.

Now, during all this time, I noticed the weird sounds the treadmill makes. If I step off-center, it makes a zip zip sound like corduroy pants rubbing together. If I run a certain pace, the magazine hold above the consoles starts to vibrate. I stuffed a washcloth in the gap. If I take a long stride and come down hard, there was a wheezy springy sound. And there was a sound that became more and more common, a sound like a fan belt in a car. And if you are thinking that a fan belt in a car is not supposed to make that noise, you are thinking right. Last week, I was running hard and hearing the squeaky noise and a really loud vibrating noise. I pushed down on the magazine stand (which usually stops the vibrating noise) but the noise persisted. But not for long. With a loud boom something inside the machine gave way and the belt stopped. I did not fall down. Lila called out to see if I was okay. Sascha came to see and to try to fix the treadmill for me. Such confidence!

I hope you know I am clearly boasting. I am just tickled that I ran far enough hard enough to wear out my treadmill. My new goal is to wear it out again.

Later that night I took the plastic cover off the motor part and discovered that the drive belt (just like a fan belt) had come off and was frayed along one edge. All hail the internet. I was able to find a parts dealer that still had the parts for our model. I ordered a new belt and pulley spring (which had also come off). On Friday and Sunday I ran in the park. I came up behind a tiny poodle who panicked and ran off, then turned and starting to chase me with that rapid-fire barking only little bitey dogs can do. I tried to outrun her but she was gaining on me so I turned to make peace or at least drive her off. She backed down.

Yesterday I went to put the belt on and realized that it could not be slipped on since it had to go over the roller, which was attached on two sides. So I undid the bolt on one side. Just as it came free I heard the clink of something falling into the machine. The nut, of course, now nestled at the bottom a hollow steel beam. Lila said, easy, just pick up the treadmill and shake it upside down. The roller still would not come free so I had to undo the other side. Long story short I got the belt over the roller, the belt on and the roller back on (I found a nut that fit). Then I had the puzzle of the pulley spring. I had figured the old one to be broken since it came off but the old part looked just like the new part. Hmmmm. And I could not tell for the life of me how the spring could make the pulley tighten on the belt. There was an obvious was for the spring to attach but that left the pulley without any tension.

I resolved to call it a night and work on it the next day. But the pulley question kept pulling at me. So I went online again and googled treadmill pulley tension spring etc. I had the sense that I was not getting what a tension pulley really did. Then I found a picture on an appliance repair website that showed a tension pulley making it obvious that I had the pulley in the wrong place (or rather the drive belt on the wrong side of the pulley). I was thinking of the setup on a bicycle with a loose chain tightened somewhat by a spring loaded derailleur. A tension pulley puts much more tension on the belt by pushing it out of an oval shape and into a "C" shape. All hail the internet again. I was up to midnight but I did get the belt on and pulley into place and pulley spring pulled tight. So the trusty treadmill is ready for tonight, the belt good for another 150 miles. I am getting exercise!

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