August 20: Running on the National Mall

Moving, especially for a new job, is exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. I have not worked out consistently since May. I finally felt comfortable enough after 5 weeks to venture out for a run around my neighborhood. In my part of town, people don’t really exercise outdoors (and likely not at all). I committed to running for 20 minutes, which I knew was about all I could manage having not run in months and having not worked out in 2.5 weeks (I mistakenly thought the mile I walk each day was doing something for me cardiovascularly). To compound my issue, almost all of my run was uphill! So yeah, for two days I was walking quite gingerly.

My cousin, whom I live with, invited me to go running with his friends after work. I am not an after work exerciser, but I couldn’t resist the lure of running on the Mall. When my cousin said he planned to run from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, which turns out to be about 4.6 miles, I said I would do 2. We missed the rain, so the weather was perfect for running and the sand paths were well-packed and a great running surface. Since my cousin is preparing for the FBI fitness test, he had a different purpose for running, i.e., speed. He charted the course for me and said we’d meet at the WWII Memorial. Off he went. I knew better than to keep up with him, but I was trying to keep my eye on him until I oriented myself with just where I was on the Mall.

I was done by the time I reached the WWII Memorial. I prayed for red lights so I could have a reprieve as I waited to cross the street. I kept wondering how I could be so out of shape. I mean, I just ran hills two days before! A mile shouldn’t wear me out like that. I told my cousin that I was walking back to the car, and he told me no. I was given as much time as I needed to recover, and we started back toward the car.

The thing about running is you can spend lots of time with your thoughts (I think it’s unsafe to run outdoors with earphones on, so I don’t listen to music.). As my body began to rack with great discomfort, I couldn’t help but be reminded that I felt about as bad as I did running across the finish line of my first race, which was a 10K. I wanted to stop running, but I drew on my experience at the Flying Pig and willed myself to the end. The other thing I realized was that I was running a lot more than 2 miles. The most important lesson I learned running last night was that if I am going to continue to run with my cousin in the evenings, I have to do better about fueling my body. Cookies and a PB&J sandwich were such bad choices! I’m embarrassed to even type it, but it’s the truth.

I managed to make it back to the Capitol where my cousin was waiting. I was so nauseous when I should have been feeling awesome. Fortunately, the scenery more than made up for my ill-planned run. I mean, why not enjoy the time spent working out? And what better than taking in the sights of our Nation’s capital!?!? It was a relief and a beautiful sight seeing the U.S. Capitol lit up at against the dusk sky as I made my final push down the Mall. For just a moment, I forgot about my discomfort and savored the moment. It’s going to be really pretty to run in the Fall, and I’m looking forward to it. I plan to be on the Mall every Monday I am able to run. I’m in the process of setting goals, but the end goal is to run from the Capitol to the Jefferson Memorial, which I estimate is about 6 miles round trip. The Jefferson Memorial is my favorite monument. It’s so serene by the Tidal Basin because very few people take the time to walk the extra distance. Framed by cherry blossoms, it’s so beautiful. But before I get my personal 10K on, I have to manage running from the Capitol to the WWII Memorial and back. As it turns out, the distance round trip is about 4 miles, and I ran it in 33 minutes, which includes the time I was stopped at lights. So while my poor running-day diet was highly problematic, the fact that I was averaging sub-10 minute pace for that distance was more likely my issue. It is refreshing, however, to know that with proper conditioning, I should be able to put up some personal bests in future races!
I guess walking one mile a day during the work week has been helping a sista out *smile*


March 11: Ice Skating (update)

It’s been seven weeks since I last went to public ice skating. I have taken 6 group lessons and signed up for the next session that includes 5 lessons. Two weeks ago I learned how to snowplow stop, so I felt confident that I would not be a danger to anyone on the ice. In the local community coupon book, the ice center had a buy one get one free admission coupon. I invited my friend Brittany (who introduced me to the wonder world of ice skating!) to accompany me to my first public skate since I began my lessons.

As it turned out, Brittany did not know how to stop! So, it was a good feeling to be able to show her my new skills considering she picked me up off the ice a few times several weeks ago lol. I won’t begrudge that she picked up snowplow stops much better than I did! The ice was not crowded, so it was good to just skate and have fun. We skated for 50 minutes non-stop before heading home. My legs were like jelly, so I knew it was time to end the adventure, though my mind wanted to keep skating.

Ice skating is SO much fun! I have already found an indoor rink in Virginia, so if I decide to continue lessons once I move, I have a place. I am in the process of learning to skate backwards, so hopefully in the next 5 weeks I will learn to do crossovers with both feet, snowplow stop with my left leg, and skate backwards. Thanks to ice skating my lower body is nicely toned. When I fell off the fitness wagon, ice skating was great cardio. I want to live in ice skates lol. My lessons are the highlight of my week! I regret not looking into ice skating lessons as soon as I started my job 18 months ago. I’ve made such amazing progress in 7 weeks, imagine what I would be able to do with more than a year’s worth of experience! Oh well. I won’t make that mistake with kayaking. In fact, I already found a company that offers kayaking lessons and  trips, and wait for it: stand-up paddleboarding! omg, bye bye gym membership!

November 9: The Tabata Method

I was blog hopping a few weeks ago when I came across You As A Machine: Daily Body Maintenance. The blog is such a great resource for high intensity interval training. I spent some time on the website learning about proper body alignment, how to pay more attention to my body, and basic anatomy and physiology. What I was most intrigued about on You As A Machine was the Tabata method, the most intense 4 minute workout you will likely experience. The Cliff notes about the Tabata method is that it was developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata and colleagues in Japan. The workout consists of 7-8 30 second intervals where 10 seconds is spent “resting” and 20 seconds is spent doing a cardiovascular or strength move at high intensity for 20 seconds. Total time for Tabatas is 4 minutes! Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.

I did a cursory internet search about Tabatas to learn more about this form of exercise. One blog I visited proclaimed that Tabatas are the “greatest fat burning workout“.  Someone responsible for content at was thoughtful enough to find the abstract for a scientific paper in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, which is on PubMed here. The abstract is a bunch of science-y jargon, but in short, the volume of oxygen of an individual intakes in a given time increased significantly after 6 weeks of Tabata training. (The VO2 max increase was 14% for elite athletes in the Tabata et al. study). I don’t have access to the paper but I assume that the only physical activity participants engaged in during the 6 week period was 4 minutes of high intensity exercise.

Besides being a quick workout (4 minutes remember!), as an interval workout, the post-workout effects of Tabatas are reportedly greater than for low-intensity, endurance cardiovascular workouts. Dave, at Not Your Average Fitness Tips asserted that fatty acids are released more quickly into the blood stream than with lower intensity endurance cardiovascular workouts. I’m not a biochemist or an exercise physiologist, so I cannot speak to the veracity of what chemicals are released during exercise. But if we accept that a biochemical process that occurs during cardio workouts happens faster with high intensity training than with low intensity training, it is easy to see the benefit of achieving the same effect in less time.

Okie, so enough background. What are Tabatas actually like. I have done them three times now, on alternate days. It was easy to psyche myself up on Day 1 because well, it’s four minutes. I spend more time doing my hair in the mornings. Since it was my first time, I took the advice on You As A Machine to alternate cardio exercises for each interval. I chose jump squats for Intervals 1 & 5, high knees with arm swings for Intervals 2 & 6, speed skaters for Intervals 3 & 7, and alternating jabs for Intervals 4 & 8. I strategically chose to do exercises that incorporated arms, core, and legs. I also opted to not move from standing to floor exercises in large part because of my blood pressure.

I used the stopwatch feature on my Android phone to keep time. I started with a 3 minute warm up to loosen my muscles since I worked out first thing in the morning. After the first 10 second rest period, I exploded into jump squats. I was conscientious about maintaining proper form (squatting into my heels, landing gently) while being as quick as possible. Breathing is another key focus. Thank goodness for Pilates because I controlled my breathing very well during the high intensity segments. After the first interval, I was super confident. By the 4th interval, I kept telling myself “It’s only 20 seconds”, “You’re halfway finished”, “BREATHE!” During the second set of exercises, that 10 second rest period became more and more negligible. After 4 minutes, I walked around and guzzled water for about 2 minutes while my heart rate lowered. My legs felt like I had run 3 or 4 miles. It was unbelievable that such a short workout could produce such a dramatic physiological effect. I followed my workout with 10 minutes of Pilates abs, stretched really well, and went about my day.

On Day 2 and Day 3, it was much more difficult to convince myself of doing Tabatas because I was no longer ignorant lol. Psychologically, it is somewhat refreshing — if I can even use that term — to know that in four minutes it will be all over. And I don’t mean so sound like it’s a chore to workout at my highest possible level of capacity. The high from the intensity of the workout and knowing that I finished and gave 110% for every 20 second interval is tremendously motivating. I workout in front of a full length mirror so I can watch my form. I give myself pep talks to jump higher or to lift my knees higher.

On Day 3, I took Dave’s advice and spent 20 minutes doing steady state cardio to maximize the effects of Tabata workouts. It was an unseasonably mild morning, so I went running. I’m not sure if the lingering effects of Sunday’s step and sculpt group fitness class or the effects of that morning’s Tabatas made it the longest 20 minute run ever. Cardio wise, I felt fine. My lungs and hearts were enjoying the run. My legs, however, felt differently about the situation lol. I made it home and enjoyed 20 minutes of stretching.

Tomorrow will be Day 4 of Tabatas. I really enjoy them and look forward to alternating two exercises instead of four. In terms of the physical effects, my heart rate recovers a little faster each time, my lower belly pooch is half the size it was a week ago, and I lost an inch from my natural waist. I feel much more energetic. It is tempting to do Tabatas every day, but this is not advisable. The amount of stress placed on the body is tremendous, and repeated stress like that can lead to injuries. So on days I do Tabatas, if I attend group fitness it’s for a low impact workout. I am ever more mindful of stretching as well. I’ll stick with the Tabata Method until Winter break when I will have more time for endurance workouts, which also has a place in a well rounded fitness program.


May 23: Pre-training for Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon Revisted

What a weekend! In hindsight, I probably did a bit too much so I have given myself a rest day today. On Saturday, my goal was to run 4.5 miles at a 10:15 – 11:30 minute/mile pace and see how my heart rate responded. I included a second zone in the program to run 1 mile at a slightly faster pace if I still had any energy left. Well, after 4.5 miles I felt good, so I ran the mile. After 5.5 miles, I still felt good and pushed myself to run 10 kilometers! I actually beat my 10K race pace and averaged 10:30 minutes per mile *smile* My average heart rate was 176 bpm or 92% of my maximum heart rate; I want it at least 10% lower.

Initially, it was challenging to maintain a steady pace. Even though I gave myself plenty of buffer room, I found myself running faster than 10:15 minute/mile quite often. After a couple of miles, I settled in to the pace, though. After running my own 10K, I ate breakfast and headed to step and sculpt. I enjoy the class too much to miss it. Surprisingly, I still had plenty of energy for my second workout of the day.

Then Sunday morning, I was up bright and early to begin hydrating. After Saturday’s run, I lost 1.4 pounds due to loss of water. I had a slice of whole wheat bread with peanut butter, sliced banana, honey and cinnamon for a pre-run snack. After 30 minutes, I laced up and hit the pavement toward the high school track to run 4 X 800m intervals at 9:30 – 10:45 minute/mile pace. Since I am new at training with a heart rate monitor, I like to give myself some leeway in sticking to a pace. After each 800m interval, I walked for 0.2 miles (the watch wouldn’t let me program 0.25 miles). In mentally preparing for the interval training, I wanted to jog in between each interval. I found that I needed real recovery time, so I walked. Maybe next week, I will be able to slow my running pace and not walk during the recovery period.

Late Sunday, I noticed my lower back was rather sore. I wasn’t sure if all the physical activity was the cause or if I overextended my back doing supermans in step and sculpt. I stretched throughout the day and feel much better this morning. I’m usually pretty vigilant about proper form during exercising, but I must be even more mindful in the future. I have a long road ahead in training for this half-marathon. I am not interested in being sidelined with a preventable injury.

Tuesday and Wednesday, I am back to training based on heart rate rather than pace. My goal is to develop enough patience so that I can do three or four days in June using heart rate training. As I practically sprinted around the track, I felts as though I was betraying the process of heart rate training even though learning to maintain a pace for an extended distance is an important part of training for any race. I’m not going to beat myself up too badly; I’m just taking heart rate training one run at a time!

Recap for 1st five days of pre-training:

  1. Wednesday: Ran 38 minutes. Average pace: 13:52 min/mi. Average HR: 144 bpm (75% MHR)
  2. Thursday: 45 minutes in total body tone group fitness class; 15 minutes May 2011 SHAPE abs workout
  3. Friday: 60 minutes in group fitness Pilates; 51 minutes ballet conditioning DVD
  4. Saturday: Ran 66 minutes. Average pace: 10:30 min/mi. Average HR: 176 bpm (92% MHR); 60 minutes step and sculpt group fitness
  5. Sunday: Ran 33 minutes: 4 X 800m intervals, walked 320 m recovery. Average pace per run-walk interval: 11:57 min/mi. Average HR. 166 bpm (86% MHR); May 2011 SHAPE abs workout

I am going to give the long, easy runs on Saturdays another shot next weekend. But I had the most insatiable appetite after running and attending step class. I did well and ate healthy carbohydrates, protein and fats. I really, really, really wanted some ice cream though! If my appetite goes haywire again, then I will just move my long run to Friday mornings and do ballet on Saturday.

January 27: Kickboxing

Yesterday evening, two colleagues and I ventured to a group fitness kickboxing class. It’s becoming apparent that Thursday and Friday classes should be avoided or I need to arrive earlier because they are just so crowded. One colleague speculated that the reason for the crowded group fitness classes was a pre-emptive strike against the carbs in their binge drinking weekend. I haven’t been working here long enough to speak to the validity of that claim, but based on the overflow of crowds at local bars and the red solo cups littering nearby lawns, I’d say there is probably some truth to the claim.

Fortunately, everyone was mindful of their surroundings. It could have gotten ugly during the interval with the burpees lol. Anywhoo, the class was an hour, but we did cardio for 45 minutes. For the most part, we worked at a high rate of perceived exertion. I’d say I remained between a 6 and 7 most of the class, though the instructor was at an 8  to 9. I’m very mindful of proper form because I’m not interested in having a knee problem, but the class was so quickly paced that it was easy to harm oneself. Besides concern for proper form, the lack of adequate personal space had me holding back for fear of striking someone inadvertantly.

After 20 minutes, I had to mentally will myself to push through. If my body could speak, I know it would fuss me out about trying new workouts and shocking it into recruiting different muscles or pushing it beyond its comfort zone. Just as I am becoming faster in the pool, learning to like spinning, and managing in Step & Sculpt, I go and try kickboxing lol. Thankfully, my body hasn’t said “Eff you” since January 2 lol. Following 45 minutes of kicking, boxing, jumping jacks and shuffling from side to side, I welcomed abdominal work. Oh, to be 21 again because our instructor was full of energy. What I thought would be a time to cool down turned into hardcore abs. She made Jackie Warner’s core workout look like child’s play. I toughed it out, though, as my abdominals are much stronger than they’ve probably ever been. Lord knows I would never do such an intense abdominal workout on my own.

It’s been years since I’ve enjoyed working out this much. Even though buying a group fitness pass is more money on top of the gym membership, I definitely enjoy myself much more than I had been when all I did was crank it out on the elliptical or adaptive motion trainer. And based on the variety of workouts I’ve endured in the last four weeks, I just wasn’t pushing myself hard enough on my own. I am definitely stronger and leaner than when I brought in the new year.

Bottom line: Kickboxing is a good cardio workout; spinning still wins in my book, though. It’s really easy to hurt yourself because of the fast pace and quick transitions from one move to the next. I’ll try other kickboxing classes to find a less crowded time, but I will definitely try it again. More than likely come the end of February when the students are overwhelmed with coursework and making plans for spring break, attendance will thin considerably.

January 7: Spinning class

Yesterday afternoon, a group of friends who also happen to be colleagues, went to the campus recreation center to try spinning. The Center was hosting an open house, so admission to the facilities, including group fitness classes, were free for the day. Apparently I was so excited to try spinning that I had us at the gym an hour early. While I’m sure they had better things to do that play a very comical game of around-the-world, my friends were good sports as we found something active to do as we waited for class to begin.

In preparation for our first class, I did some online research so I would know what to tell my friends to bring for class. Some tips for spinning class can be found here. I didn’t need my towel as much as I expected since the room was well ventilated. A 32 oz bottle of water was sufficient,  though you should definitely begin hydrating about 1-2 hours before class.

Mary and Justin adjusting their bikes before class

I knew I was in trouble when I could barely lift the spinning bike to roll it into a position in front of the mirror. The four of us adjusted the seat and handle bars as the instructor prepared for class. While I tried to do some basic research before class, none of us were really sure how to properly adjust the bicycles. At the beginning of class, the instructor explained that the seat height should come to your hip when standing beside it. The position of the seat, whether closer to the handle bars or further away, depend on your range of motion. The seat should be so that when you push your glutes as far back as comfortable, you can rest your hands on the lower corners of the handle bars. Also, the knees should not go over the toes when peddling. The height of the handle bars can vary, though the instructor suggested it be in line with the seat height for beginners.

Class started out as if I were riding a regular exercise bicycle. MJ’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” blasted, so I was dancing on my bicycle as we learned some more basic information, like don’t adjust the tension any more than is comfortable for our level of fitness. The ride in the park abruptly ended, as we mimicked riding up mountains and performed interval circuits. Some circuits were pedal quickly for a certain amount of time then recover for 30 seconds. We worked for 30 second quick tempos to 3 minutes. And this was after we did alternating standing and sitting for about 2 minutes, at which point it felt like the muscle was falling off my bones. I thought Bob kicked my booty; I hadn’t yet met the spinning bike. I worked so hard that the seat no longer felt uncomfortable because my butt and thighs were basically numb. I’m not going to lie: I wanted to quit. My years of yoga came in handy because I just focused on breathing deeply and keeping my abdominal muscles tight. I slowed down until my breathing stabilized, then I slowly ramped back up to continue challenging my body.

Bottom line: Spinning is a great cardiovascular workout. Using the larger leg muscles really increases the heart rate, which means more calories burned. I enjoyed simulating an outdoor bike ride. Standing while pedaling, though difficult, was actually a bit of a relief from sitting down. The bike I was on had a wobbly handle bar even though I tightened the knob as best I could, so it was that much harder to pedal standing. Apparently, my form was bad because one of my friends later shared that when she kept her upper body steady, the handle bars didn’t wobble. Good to know. I had fun but I won’t be making the class a regular part of my fitness plan; spinning is just not my cup of tea. Next week, the entire week of group fitness offerings are free. I’m going to try yoga pilates and kickboxing! Maybe one of those will be a better fit for me.