Wanted: Endorphins. Willing to pay.

Instructions: Before being to read this blog post, please scroll down and hit the ‘play’ button on the video. Turn up the volume for necessary background reading music.

It is Day 12 of my post-op recovery and I think I’m coping as well as I can (although my family might say otherwise…). My mood hasn’t been the best, I have to say. Without my daily dose of endorphins from running, I’ve noticed that I’ve been really down ever since the operation. Running is usually my number one coping mechanisms for dealing with daily stresses, both large and small, and without it I’ve been letting things get to me much more than usual. I’ve gotten pretty close to crying over spilled milk (it was white wine, actually), which really isn’t acceptable in my book.

I’ve tried to find a similar athletic high from indoor cycling – the only activity I’m allowed to do at the moment – but it just isn’t the same. It got me thinking about the difference between outdoor training and training in the gym. While we’d all like to be able to head outdoors in 20 degree weather (that’s Celcius to you Americans out there), with brilliant sunshine and a soft breeze, it just isn’t possible all of the time. This is especially true if you have a knack at picking extremely damp, rainy places to live like I do. Some mornings in the winter, I just can’t face a run outside in the dark and I head to the gym. While I’m always glad to get a workout in, I’m never as satisfied after a gym session as I am if I’ve run outdoors. And I never feel as if I’m getting an intense enough workout when I do it inside. Period. It got me thinking, beyond the mental drawbacks of taking the workout inside, is there also a physical downside to exercising inside versus outside?

In this month’s Men’s Health magazine (so much better than the girly version), it touches on this very question. According to a Utah State study, runners who take their workout outside report feeling 225% more satisfied than those who ran on treadmills. Further, in a 5k time trial, outdoor runners ran an average 4 minutes faster than those on treadmills.

Hmm! What about for indoor/outdoor cycling then? A recent French study found that men who used indoor bike trainers “perceived a higher level of exertion” than cyclists outdoors riding at the same pace. That means that it just feels harder to do a workout inside. At the same time, road riding requires 5% more propulsive force than pedaling on a bike indoors at the same speed, so even though it feels easier, you might actually be working your muscles better!

Well, the results speak for themselves. I am getting crappy workouts indoors and it isn’t just in my head. Cycling on a bike while wearing a giant surgical boot with Dr. Phil playing on the tv (horrors) just isn’t cutting it. And I’ve still got 6.5 to 8.5 weeks more to go until I can run again… But who is counting.

Luckily, I’ve got my Polar Heart Rate Monitor (RS800CX) to help me gauge my ACTUAL exertion level, rather than rely on my perceived exertion level. When I run outside, my heart rate usually rests between 140 and 155, depending on how quickly I’m running. On the bike at the gym, I try to get my heart rate up to 140, but it is a huge struggle. I can’t seem to get it to go beyond 120 most days. Even at 140 bpm, I know that would just be an easy running workout, but it is the best I can get on the bike at the moment. Maybe if they played something other than Oprah and Dr. Phil on tv I could tap into my “eye of the tiger” side, eh?

2 comments on “Wanted: Endorphins. Willing to pay.

  1. furballdujour

    Hi again, Stephanie.

    I empathise with your plight. Your experience strongly echoes my own post-achilles injury stationary cycling. Fortunately, I found a way to overcome my own intensity doldrums by focussing on rpms.

    My original mindset had been to push up the resistance level to get my blood pumping but that just left me feeling a bit weak and sluggish. Eventually, I recalled a couple of rides long ago with my cousin, an adamantine ironwoman, and how she’d badgered me to drop my gears to boost my RPMs to the 90-95 range.

    Whaddya know? It worked extremely well on the exercise bike despite how unnatural it initially felt to go at that speed. Now, I don’t usually pay too much attention to heart rate but on tonight’s ride I noted for your benefit (you’re very welcome 😉 ) that at 94rpm I was up to 140bpm in under 5mins and way above that for the remaining 70mins of the workout.

    Of course, I never wore the boot (don’t tell my doc) so I don’t know how to overcome any issues related specifically to that.

    Nonetheless, this exhaustion junkie thinks that dropping your resistance level and boosting your leg speed may just get you those endorphins. There are other ways to obtain them but I think you said your Mum reads your blog… Oh, and for what it’s worth: Spilled alcohol IS worth crying over.

    Best of luck.

  2. Hey Stephanie,

    Don’t dwell on the HR issue when biking. Since you have so much down time . . . you may want to check out this article from SlowTwitch (

    For the past five years I have done primarily triathlons (w/ a 1/2 mary thrown in from time to time) so I am on ST often – it’s a great resource! You could use this time where you can’t run to find out about the world of biking (or just watch the world cup and le Tour!!!). It’s really quite interesting.

    It was a pleasure following you and your fellow competitors in AUS. If your goal was to inspire running more distance, count me as one inspired! I hope to increase my running (first full Mary this fall). Between RTP and recently reading “Born to Run”, I can’t wait for my run workouts days.

    I didn’t get a chance to read about your injury, but good luck w/ the recovery!

    Randy O.

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