"sauron drips into your heart through a pinhole"

Today my father and I had a discussion about heart rate. I’ve been working out at the Y every weekday and just about killing myself on the treadmill. Example: yesterday, after running two miles, my heart rate was (if we are to believe the machine) one eighty-five. I decide to consult my dad, an experienced athlete who ran in road races for years most every weekend and won prizes most every time and beat guys half his age.

My father doesn’t run any more. Chemo and its associated nausea, fatigue, and low platelet count keep him from running. Just when he gets a break from his cpt-11 regimen and is feeling better his CEA shoots up and he has to go back on and we’re back to weight loss, illness, low-grade depression. I’m not running for him, but I know he loves to support those who run.*

So this morning my father tells me that believe it or not, the most healthy running is at that seemingly mild workout, for a longer amount of time. The trick is, you run to a target heart rate for a long distance; soon, your heart will be stronger and you will have to run faster to elevate it to the proper level. He explains, “I’d run seven miles and my heart rate would stay at 145. And I’m a lot older than you.”. I’m thinking how much I’d have to slow down to keep my rate where it needs to be (152 is the magic number – 80% of maximum recommended for a thirty-year old) and feeling like a wuss.

I follow him to the bedroom where he seeks out a device he has to monitor heart rate; a chest strap worn against the skin that transmits a signal to a wristwatch. He can’t at first get it to work; he pushes buttons in vain. He lifts his shirt and for the first time I see his colostomy bag, nestled against his ribs next to his bellybutton. The first thing I think is, Why aren’t those things manufactured opaque? and note that it’s position is lower than I’d thought. The skin on my dad’s torso is smooth and young like a boy and I remember when he used to walk around shirtless in the house or go swimming; no more. He fiddles with the strap and tells me it needs to be wet in order to work.

At the gym, I put the strap on and it’s comfortable. Running to achieve a steady heartrate is a bit awkward. I spend fifteen minutes on the elliptical machine and it’s easy to keep to about 148. The treadmill is harder – I hit on about a 3.8 mph range. A very slow jog, but an awkwardly jarring walk. I mess about with the incline and this helps me walk “slow” (3.8) but strenuous enough to get my cardio rate. For the first time ever in my life I think about my heart, my heart I am now taking care of. I’d always assumed it worked and worked well; now I’m working it out like any other muscle to help it live longer. The thought really stays with me.

And it works. All told, I spend 45 minutes and I feel great. I’m working out but I’m not hating it, or counting the minutes. I’m listening to my iPod and watching John Travolta shake his ass on the Ellen show on TV (I look about the room and see sexy, satisfied smiles on all the female faces lifted to the television). When I get off the treadmill my body moves me, not the other way around.

Another bonus: it’s 7 PM and I feel supple, energized, and body-good. I’m excited to go back tomorrow.

* This last weekend we celebrated and as a foursome participated in my father’s thirteenth “Mayors’ Cup” run, an event that he sponsors to encourage children to do a 2-mile fun run. He buys a trophy and awards the school with the most attendance at the run (percentage) with a cash donation to their library. The event was his brainchild and it grows in popularity every year.

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