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*

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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!

January 27: Ice Skating Lesson 1 (falling, marching, and swizzling)

I am just returning from my very first ice skating lesson! It is only the second time in my entire life I’ve been in ice skates. I opted for hockey skates again this time until my balance improves a bit more. Six women of all ages comprise the Friday morning group. Two graceful seniors actually ice dance competitively, one woman ice skates competitively, two women wanted to practice some advanced skill, and the fifth woman is an advanced beginner. Then there is me: the total newbie.

The first 5 minutes of the lesson were spent warming up. Cassie, our guide provided individual guidance as we skated around two-thirds of the rink (the other third was occupied by tots learning to skate). I was instructed on how to properly fall. So, on my butt isn’t best because I could damage my tailbone. Makes sense. So, if I’m falling backwards, I first lean forward, open my arms and hug myself, tuck my chin into my chest, crouch into a ball, and fall to one side. Yeah, that felt way better than when I fell on my knees and my butt. I also learned how to rise from a fall: roll onto all fours, place one foot on the ice followed by the second foot while keeping your hands, then stand tall. Fear of falling gone!

After about 5 more minutes of warming up, Cassie instructed me to march in place to learn how to pick up my feet from the ice when I skate. I found a close spot to the wall and held onto it with one hand as I marched in skates for the first time. It’s a much more difficult to march in ice skates than it sounds! I moved away from the wall and eventually began lifting my back leg as I pushed off. I felt awkward at first, but I learned how to properly balance on one foot.

Apparently I was doing so well, that I was able to learn my first skill on my first day: the swizzle. Basically, I roll onto the outside blade as I move my feet out from under my hips and then roll onto the inside blade as I pull my feet back under my hips. It’s like making a football shape with my feet. I can’t yet swizzle and maintain any reasonable momentum, so I did three swizzles on each straightaway before returned to skating.

The magic moment came when I watched one of the ice dancers skate in front of me. She actually glided. She pushed off, glided, then pushed off the the opposite foot. Wow! I really was able to gain speed because gliding helped me find a rhythm. I was able to incorporate about three good glides before I came to a curve and had to spend some time finding my rhythm again. I guess tackling the corners is what I will work on in my second lesson.

By body is tired. Ice skating is a total body exercise! My arms actually hurt. It reminds be of ballet where the isometric arm work is deceptively effective. I’m really proud of myself that I’m learning to ice skate. I received lots of compliments on my improvement, and it was really good to hear coming from skilled ice skaters. I likely won’t be a graceful skater after six lessons, but I at least hope to be rhythmic with my skating. I will go skate one day after work next week to gain some practice.

January 20: Ice skating

Georgia born and Georgia raised, the closest I ever came to ice skating growing up was watching figure skating competitions on television. I had a childhood dream of being a figure skater, but I was more tomboyish than graceful dancer. I think I just wanted to compete for an Olympic medal. Anywhoo, living in a college town that has an NCAA championship hockey team, I figured I might as well give ice skating a shot since we have a rink on the campus where I work.

My friend, Brittany, texted me to invite me to “Midnight Skate”, which is held a few times a semester for the students. It’s $2 and includes skate rental. She kindly reminded me that ice skating was one of the things I said I wanted to try. I mean, how can I flake out after that?

Dressed in street clothes, my light but very warm running jacket, a hat, and gloves, I walked into the ice rink. There was a mat with right-foot prints to see what size skates you would need. The snugger the better, particularly around the ankles. I paid my two dollars, and traded my running shoes for a size 7 ladies hockey skates, and laced up. Hockey skates are apparently easier to learn to skate in than regular skates. I’m not really sure why, but I suspect the rigidness of the skates helps stabilize the foot and ankle, which I soon learned was crucial.

Standing and walking in skates is very similar to walking in high heels. It’s surprisingly easy, if not awkward initially. We arrived at the beginning of free skate, so it was not very crowded. That was a relief. I stepped on the ice, and Brittany’s first piece of advice was about posture. Stand straight and resist the urge to lean forward. I guess I thought I was going to be like Bruce Jenner out the gate lol.

Fear of falling and hurting myself filled my mind, but Brittany was a very good coach and told me not to worry and to balance on her. The first lap seemed like the longest. I stared straight ahead and didn’t pay attention to the skaters going past me. Evidently, ice skating etiquette says that the better skaters should avoid the less experienced skaters. And for the most part, people were mindful of that.

After three laps, I was balancing on my own and a wee bit faster. I was ready to squat a few millimeters to relieve some of the pressure on my knees and better stabilize my ankles. My balance continually drifted forward, so I was constantly correcting my posture. And the counter-intuitive advice makes all the difference in the world. Once I was comfortable with the micro-squat, I learned how to push off by turning the right foot out slightly then the left foot and alternating. Once I was able to put all the pieces together, I gained confidence and picked up speed.

The ice had started to become choppy on the straightaways and the teeth on the front of the blades was starting to catch. I caught one time and took a nasty tumble forward. I didn’t break anything, but I was a little bruised. Brittany and Jordan helped me up, because I was hopeless in that department, and dusted the ice off my clothes. Off I went. I fell once more, this time semi-backwards. Falling backwards on your butt is best. After the second fall, I took a break because I wasn’t comfortable enough with skating on the choppy parts.

The Zamboni cleaned the ice about an hour into free skate. I waited until the ice was carved a bit before going back out. We had  to skate the opposite direction which was harder for me. I loved skating on clean ice, though. The last 20 minutes before we left, I was skating on my own. Evidently, I improved pretty well for a first-timer. I’ve signed up for group lessons that meet weekly on Fridays for 45 minutes. SoOooO excited!

Ice skating is a great workout. I worked up a sweat just learning how to skate, so I can’t imagine the workout once I actually can skate well. My abdominal muscles and weird parts of my thighs and butt hurt Saturday morning, but it was totally worth it. In six weeks, I should be able to keep up during free skate and fall gracefully. I’m looking forward to continuing to skate outdoors on the Mall once I move to D.C.

Bottom line: Learning to skate was the best $2 I’ve spent in a long time, and I enjoyed myself so much that I’m taking weekly skating lessons for the next six weeks.

January 16: TRX

If you have the opportunity, then you must try TRX training. Period. TRX is like the strength training version of Tabatas, assuming you just do cardio Tabatas. Forget Pilates. TRX is where it’s at for core strengthening. I’ve been in a rut with my fitness routine the last few months, so when the Spring semester group fitness schedule was published earlier this month I was so excited to see that TRX was being offered as a class.

TRX requires a suspension system that is no more than two heavy duty nylon adjustable straps with cushioned handles and foot straps. In the group fitness setting, we used a long bar where about 20 of us workout out as a class using individual TRX trainers. I opted for the end because I don’t like being that close to sweaty strangers lol. We spent about 2 minutes practicing how to adjust the straps, which is quite easy, before warming up using the trainer. It was interesting to feel the muscles work differently with my body “suspended”. I guess I should say here that you aren’t actually ever completely suspended in the air, because there are workouts like that. The suspension part refers to the crazy angles that you can perform basic exercises in like chest press or plank. It’s these changes in angles that really force your core to engage to keep you upright. Intially, I was relying too much on the trainer to hold me up rather than my muscles, but once I realized that I wasn’t going to fall, and “trust[ed] the TRX” as my instructor kept saying, then I was really able to challenge myself.

Basically any exercise you can do in a traditional workout, you can do with TRX. We did chest presses, which were more like push ups at a 45° incline and no wall or bench to support you, one legged squats, rows, lunges, planks, push ups. To mix it up, we used the TRX in a circuit and did about 3 different circuits in 45 minutes. At the end of each circuit, we jumped rope. For me, that lasted all of two times before I switched to jumping jacks, high knees, or speed skaters.

By far, my favorite moves were the plank variations. And they, by far, were the most challenging moves for me. Plank is touted as one of the best abdominal exercises because it works all the abdominal muscles, including the hard to work transverse muscles (the corset muscles as I’ve heard them called). In additional to the abdominals, every other muscles is working to stabilize your body. In 2011, I built up my strength to do a 1:45 plank cold. During an intense workout, I’m lucky if I can spend 45 seconds in my special place in part because I lack upper back strength and my shoulders just turn to jelly. I do pretty well with plank using a stability ball (shins on the ball and hands on the floor). So, I was confident when we had to do our first TRX plank.

Please. That’s another thing. TRX will humble you and boost your confidence simultaneously. For the first time in my life, I felt my rectus abdominal muscles instantly. If you do not engage your abs, and if they are not even moderately strong, it’s a wrap. My hips were sagging when I first lifted into TRX plank, and I immediately felt the stress in my low back. I quickly corrected my form, and that’s when I felt my rectus abdominal muscles. To me, I had to rely mostly on my abdominals, somewhat on my upper body, and very little on my legs to maintain proper form. Contrast this to floor plank where all muscles are firing away. The abs compensated for what the legs would normally do to support body weight. We performed high plank, low plank, tucks, oblique tucks, and the grandmama of them all: pikes. You want a nice booty? Do some TRX pikes.

For a first timer, I think I did pretty well. It was an intense workout that required seldom worked muscles but mostly the same muscles in traditional exercises, only TRX allows them to be worked in different ways. In my class there were some people who clearly have been out of the exercise game for awhile. They struggled.

I’m all for physical fitness for all ability levels, but you can really hurt yourself doing suspension training if you have not mastered proper form using good old fashioned elbow and knee grease with floor work. Fortunately, we had three TRX trained staff in the room, so they helped out when they could. But the instructor, whose other classes I regularly attend, generally works under the assumption  you know proper form for basic exercises. She rarely corrects poor form, choosing instead to tell you what proper form is and model it herself. Good or bad, it’s group fitness and not private classes.

I look forward to testing and pushing my limits in TRX this semester. The class is offered once a day M-R. Right now I will stick with once a week, but I hope to be able to attend twice a week as my strength and endurance builds. Today, I’ll be going to another new class offered this semester: awesome arms. Thanks to a broken leg during my infancy, I developed really good muscle tone in my arms because I had to practically drag myself around as I had a full lower body cast before I could walk. It’s relatively easy for my to do biceps and triceps exercises. Shoulder work is another matter altogether. Lateral raises and forward raises are the bane of my existence. My shoulders are also the weakest link in ability to do plank exercises over the duration of a full workout. But that is going to change this semester!

Currently, my fitness routine includes 45-60 minute cardio. I have been performing Tabatas on cardio machines after a quick warm up. The arc trainer and Precor EFX are excellent for this purpose because I can adjust the incline so that I do high knees, which is my exercise of choice when I used just my body weight and the floor. It’s much more challenging on a cardio machine because unlike in my living room, I can’t just stop for 10 seconds. It’s never really a rest period when performing Tabatas on cardio equipment. I attend one or two group fitness classes after work, mostly focused on strength and flexibility, though a few classes incorporate some cardio element either directly or by quickly moving between toning exercises. I’m tired of being skinny fat, and seeing as I can’t seem to muster the discipline to moderate my intake of processed sugar, then I have to spend extra time in the gym to mitigate the effects of the extra sugar. Sad, I know. But I enjoy working out, and I enjoy sugar. What’s a girl to do? *smile* We’ll see what I’m working with when Spring Break rolls around in seven weeks.

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 Rosstraining.com 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.

 

September 25: Ran a 5K

I received this medal upon completing the State to State 5K. Because I finished 2nd in my age group, I also received a "silver" (it was pewter looking) medal for my accomplishment *smile*

To help keep me on track with training for my first half-marathon, I registered this summer for the State to State 5K race in Oxford, OH. I drove 9 hours from Georgia after a week-long vacation in Florida so I could pick up my registration packet at 7:30 am Sunday morning. I actually didn’t want to run the race because I was tired from being on the road and didn’t want to be caught in the rain. But I managed to make it to the start line. The weather had cleared up and it was only 3 miles. I run more than that on training runs. How bad could it be, right?

Well, it was actually pretty tough. First of all, I went out too fast. I made the mistake of lining up too far back when I ran the 10K, and Sunday I just over-corrected. Secondly, the course was pretty much nothing but hills. Since starting training again mid-August, after a 3 week hiatus from any meaningful form of physical fitness activity, I averaged ~12 minute mile. I figured I could run an 11:30 from the adrenaline of a race. Well, my I’m-tired-behind completed the first 2 miles at a 9:30 pace. The final mile did me in, though, especially coming up a steep hill just before the finish line. I finished with a respectable time of 31:02 *smile* exceeding even my own expectations. I even placed second in my age category! That probably won’t happen to often lol so I will gladly and humbly accept the fact.

In the end, I am glad I ran the 5K. It was a fun race and the participants and crowd were friendly. It was also a small race, which was great to practice etiquette and learn more about road race culture. Since the weather was chilly, I felt it prepared me for running in the desert in December when temperatures can dip below freezing. I considered transitioning indoors for runs as fall progressed, but as long as there is no snow on the ground, I’ll run outside and train my body to be efficient in colder temperatures.

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