How Bootcamp is Changing My Game

Since the reality finally hit me that I will be running 19.3 miles over 24 hours in less than 6 weeks (and 26.2 miles around the City of New York in less than 12 months!), I’ve decided to step up my fitness game, one month at a time.

This month, I joined Bulldog Strength and Conditioning for a month of bootcamp/ Crossfit-style classes, with the goal of upping my overall endurance and strength training game in the home stretch before my next half marathon and spring race season.


My friend Kevin found this place about a month ago to get us ahead of the holiday weight gain by taking a drop-in class the Saturday after Thanksgiving with our friend Angela. I’ll admit: I was hesitant. I’ve done a few month-long boot camp style memberships at other gyms and while they were good workouts, I wasn’t a fan of their mentality and sometimes condescending attitudes. In some cases, the instructors cared more about socializing with the members than helping them get a good workout. Too often I’d see people sacrifice form for time and just flail around without the personal attention they should have been getting for $150+ a month – or worse, they’d get injured!

Having an injury-prone body to begin with, I like to focus on form and doing things the right way for the maximum benefit and to keep myself healthy. And it’s important to me that if I’m working with trainers, I make a personal connection with them about my fitness history and don’t feel too intimidated to ask them for help. So I went into this class with a grain of salt. But from the beginning, the owner Keith was super helpful – asking me about where we found him, what our goals were, what we were currently doing to stay active, etc. When I brought up running, he was psyched to hear about my plans for a half in January and asked me smart questions. Before we even started, I was impressed.

The class size was small; about 10 people, which was great – no crowding, plenty of time for personal interaction, and room to move. We kicked things off with a warm up that included 200M sprints, and Keith and his co-trainer were quick to point out that I should find this part easy, calling me out in front of the class – this was fun! After the warm up, they started cranking some old Alice in Chains and Nine Inch Nails music to get us into the groove, and we were off onto interval training, two workouts that we repeated two times each. The moves seemed simple at first, but after one minute on and only 15 seconds to move to the next workout, we were MOVING. My one friend had to tap out because it was so intense, and I don’t blame her – I had to pause a few times to keep my breakfast from coming up to make an appearance!


After just over 40 minutes, we finished completely spent, sweaty and shaking, and I was hooked. I hadn’t pushed myself like that in months, and it felt great. I’ve been so scared of overdoing it and not being able to run that I’ve been shortchanging myself. No more.

On the spot I decided to commit to a month with Keith and his crew. But because he’s a smart businessman and a good trainer, he was open to discussion. He understood that I couldn’t commit to a full 5x/week schedule simply because the gym is 30+ minutes away and I need to spend more time running for now, and was able to work with me on a plan that fits my schedule and my budget.

Last night I took my first class of the month and I already can’t scratch my nose without that soreness in my arms and shoulders – and I screamed when a sneeze earlier this morning made my abs work unexpectedly. But I’m pumped to see where these workouts take me in my running. Tomorrow I’ve got 7 miles to run, and another class Sunday.

It’ll be a tough schedule to stick to this month to get all of my miles in AND reap the benefits of a month of bootcamp too, but I’m committed. If I’m going to do this 26.2 thing, I’ve got to do things I’ve never done before and work harder than I ever have in any training cycle – but I’m ready!

Ode to the Fitness Buddy

I don’t know about you, but with no major races on the horizon until at least March, I’m feeling kind of lost when it comes to my running. Without a big goal race to aim for or a plan to follow, I kind of turn into a sassy cranky pants just looking for some kind of structure to my life that’ll help me avoid gaining weight through the holidays and keep me sane when the Christmas madness takes hold.


Exhibit A: my life.

Luckily, I’ve managed to set a pattern of sorts now thanks to my fitness friend, Kevin. Kevin has been my friend and frequent running buddy for a while now, but recently he’s joined my gym and kicked me into gear in a big way without even realizing it.


Hooray for structure!

Kevin is usually the one to text me at 9PM on a Friday with “Are you running tomorrow?” What he doesn’t realize is that I’m usually eyeballs-deep in a glass of red wine and when I see his texts I usually say, out loud, to no one, “Well, I wasn’t planning on running in 12 hours but I guess I am now.” And then I finish the glass and put the cake down because no one wants to see me sweating red velvet and Robert Mondavi.

Now that he’s also a member of the same gym, he’s taken to texting me with random thoughts such as “Just throwing it out there. In addition to running. I want to work on abs, arms, and legs. Abs every day.”

And just like that, I’ve got a strength training schedule in my life!


Exhibit B: this past Saturday’s workout

When I’m in the throes of training, I sometimes lose sight of how fun it is to workout with someone else, so I’m grateful for his reminders.

How about you: do you have a fitness pal to keep you motivated? How has sweating with someone else helped you on your journey?

Weight Loss & Running Fearless

When I signed on to be a Skirt Sports Ambassador, I was thrilled – they’re all about encouraging women to move and embrace their bodies, no matter their size, age, or ability. Their message of fearlessness and acceptance is one that I wholeheartedly stand behind. Too often the snark and body-shaming in the periphery of the fitness community will  and spread those negative vibes. And as an Ambassador for their brand, I’m so lucky to be another voice for positive change. Given my own journey through the past 10+ years, I’m especially honored to help spread the message of being yourself and going after your fitness goals without fear.

When I first started running, I took it up as I started losing weight back in 2004, and had to start slowly – I weighed more than 270+ lbs and I couldn’t go more than a quarter mile before quitting.

before1I was uncomfortable in my own skin and frankly, felt trapped. I was just about to turn 21, I was in college and building an awesome new path in life for myself, but I didn’t feel “skinny enough” to do the things that other people around me were doing. Dating, going out to clubs and bars – I didn’t want to put myself out there because I was afraid of what others would think of me. I took every whisper, every look, every dating rejection as a result of my weight and my appearance, so I put up a wall.

Every day I would put on a show of over-confidence to mask the self-loathing going on under the surface, and each night I would retreat back into my own world, lock the door, and dream of the real me. I saw myself a hundred pounds lighter, living my dream life: successfully managing a full professional and personal schedule all with the confidence I knew I had inside.

Finally, a few days before my 21st birthday in July, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a crushing blow; my mother is my whole world. After breaking down in the hallway of our house when she said the words, my immediate reaction (later that day) was to go down to the park to run myself into oblivion. I had never run more than a mile before that day, but I needed to numb the pain and couldn’t think of anything else to do. So I ran. And I didn’t care about what anyone thought of me that day.

When I look back on it, I realize it was a desperate need to do something – anything – to take care of myself. The C-word has a way of putting all of your life choices into perspective, even if it’s not you but your immediate family. I now technically had “a family history” of cancer. And the only weapon I had against that was taking better care of myself. So after burning myself out in the park that day doing I don’t even remember how many miles (I lost count after 5), I started to pay closer attention to my choices: what I ate, how I moved, how I spent my free time. And wouldn’t you know it: by eating sensibly and moving more, I lost between 30-40 lbs in that first 6 months.

There’s a lot more to my fitness story after that – I went on to lose a total of more than 100 lbs in the next 5 years, AND my mother beat cancer and has been officially cancer-free since 2005! – but the point of it is this: you can’t live your life in fear. Fear of becoming sick, fear of losing your loved ones, fear of what others will think of you – none of it helps you, unless it motivates you to do something.

I spent most of my teen and adult life hiding from what I could become, and once I conquered that fear and did something about it, I finally found the courage I needed to change. I became an athlete; a runner; I became the me I always knew I was!

IMG_4183 (2)How about you: what’s holding you back from your dream? What do you plan to do to conquer it? Share in the comments and let’s lift each other up!

Playing Catch Up

OK, first: I am SO sorry it’s been so long since my last post! We’ve got a big product launch going on at my day job, and my new role is heavily involved in almost every aspect of the marketing launch, so I’ve had to log lots of extra night and weekend hours trying to get things ready in the past two weeks, meaning this blog had to suffer! The good news is that we launch today and I can finally breathe now. And to make up for it, I’ve got a fun, picture-filled post for you today!

Let’s rewind to almost 2 weeks ago, when I hit my peak mileage in preparation for the Asbury Park Half Marathon. My weekly runs were going well, and the spring weather made things even better – I was finally able to run outside after work again!


These solid weekday runs had me feeling pretty good leading up to my long run of 10 miles that Easter Sunday. I decided to run for the first time with the Jersey Shore Running Club down in Ocean Grove, and I was super stoked! I joined a month ago to connect with local runners and to take advantage of their long boardwalk runs on Sunday mornings, and since Easter was going to be a full day, their start time of 6:45AM worked well. The only catch was the 5AM wakeup call I’d have to make. Ugh.

Of course, Saturday night I was hit with a bad case of insomnia and stress-dreams. Why? I have no idea! But I ended up only getting a solid 3 hours of restless sleep at best, and dragged my ass down the Parkway before the sun came up for the sorriest 10 miles I’ve ever run.

IMG_3977But oh, that sunrise!

While the run itself stunk, everything besides the actual running was beautiful and positive! The JSRC people were the most welcoming, friendly group of runners I’ve met in a long time. I quickly bonded with Hazem, who kept me company for the entire 10 miles! He’s in the bright green, I’m in yellow 🙂


Bless that man for sticking with me, too – thanks to the total lack of rest the night before, I was achy and exhausted from mile 3. We started off at sunrise going south from Ocean Grove, and after a mile or two of sticking together, little groups broke away from the pack and either dropped back (me & Hazem) or took off (everyone else). Once we were on our own, we chatted about work, life, running – the usual. Through Bradley Beach, Belmar, Spring Lake, and back we went, slogging along and taking turns going silent as you do on long runs.

Seeing as how I’d never even met this guy before, I kept telling him that he didn’t have to wait for me – because I was dogging it. It’s like I was made of lead. And as much as I now like running with others, I truly hate feeling like I’m slowing them down. It makes me feel worse and starts the negative thinking spiral. But even though I told him at every water and bathroom stop to keep going without me, he said no and stayed with me until the last half mile when he picked it up and finished, then even waited for me too! Thanks for the company, friend – you made a miserable run totally bearable!

And I also want to issue a public apology for loudly serenading you with some off-key Taylor Swift when she came on my headphones at around mile 6. The long run mania will make you do some crazy things, and I’m sorry you had to witness me Shaking it Off like that.

IMG_3980Another one of the sweet Asbury Park message shells, spotted perfectly on this Easter Sunday Runday!

Final tally: 10 miles in 2:08, Average Pace 12:50/mile. BLAH. Because I performed so poorly, I took the experience as a learning opportunity, and focused on resting and strength/cross training, which helped boost my confidence and made for some solid mileage on Tuesday and Thursday. I think it was the new Skirt Sports gear I tried out on the treadmill!

IMG_4067What up, Lioness Skirt! Want one of your own? Use code SSJRH20 to get 20% off your order!

Come the weekend, I was ready to run and do other running-related things. Namely, pick up my Asbury Park Half Marathon bib!

IMG_4112sounds like a lucky number, yeah?

I decided to go down to the shore one last time before the race to get my feet acclimated to those boards even more. Last year I explicitly remember cursing my thin socks at mile 8 because that boardwalk is HARD. My legs felt fine in the days after the race, but my poor feet were blistered from the beating. So this training cycle I purposely did most of my long runs on the race course to familiarize myself (and my feet) with the work it was going to take on.

Also, about 80% of my race-day anxiety involves the unfamiliar aspects: how will I get there, where will I park, what does the course look like, etc. By driving myself down to the race course and running it every weekend for the entire month before, all of those unknowns were now simple facts that I don’t feel anxious about anymore. I think I’m going to try to adopt this plan-ahead process for all races going forward!


I got to Asbury at around 8:30 – the sun was shining, the air was getting warmer by the minute, and I was feeling unstoppable. I set out in the same way I would on race day – back and forth on the boards in Asbury, then straight through the casino building south to Ocean Grove, Bradley Beach, over the Belmar Bridge, and down the boardwalk until I hit about 4 miles, and back for my 7.  I couldn’t have asked for a better day to run: the boards were packed with other runners, bikers, walkers, and generally nice people that were just as thrilled about the weather as I was!

IMG_4125Just breathe it in!

I was determined not to let my previous week’s long run cloud my mood, so I didn’t look at my pace until I turned around – and was so happy to see that I was averaging almost a FULL MINUTE FASTER per mile than last week!


That’s one happy (and overdressed) runner right there.

I was jamming out to some new tunes (thank you, Kendrick Lamar) and turned into a full-out whack job by the 10K mark, singing along to my music and even run-dancing a bit. I’m sure the locals appreciated that. But who cares?! I crushed those 7 miles in 1:26 at an average pace of 12:04 per mile – holy crap!


I know better than to expect a SUPER awesome performance like that again this weekend, but who knows? It was definitely the perfect confidence-boosting run I’ve needed this training cycle. I didn’t know what to expect going into the “two-halfs-in-one-month” plan that I basically created on the fly. But 4 days from go time my knees are feeling great, my legs are feeling strong, my confidence is high, and I’m nowhere near as burnt out as I have been before other races. I feel more like a border collie, with tons of energy and excitement about getting to that boardwalk starting line and showing myself how strong I’ve become!

How about you? How has your training been going? Are you loving the spring race season? Tell me everything!

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

It’s been a quiet month for me as far as running goes – but I’m happy about that! After my excellent 5K at the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line, I thought I’d be itching to get back on the pavement to see how much better I could get! But the day after the race I took off on a rocky cruise vacation where running was all but impossible without Dramamine (damn my inner ear imbalance!), so I focused on strength training instead.

photo 1Roses are red, poems are hard, go to the gym and squat.

When we returned I was happy to hit the bricks again, and maintained that 11-15 mile a week average that I stick to in the non-training months. But I also really liked the feeling I had after my strength training workouts! So in addition to running, I added a few more strength sessions into the rotation each week, working up to 3-4x.

I know I’m stating the obvious when I say this, but all of that strength training has got me feeling super strong! I’m so pleased at how easy it’s become to open the heavy-ass door of my office building every morning, and how little energy it takes to haul multiple grocery bags anymore. But the best part is how great it’s got my knees feeling! That pinchy twinge I get when I try to squat or bend has all but disappeared! Stairs in heels don’t need to be taken one at a time, because my quads are finally (FINALLY!) starting to get that old strength back.

ACL surgery was an eye opening experience, and I’m amazed to see that it’s still teaching me things almost 2 years later. Yes: recovery was hard work – going from 20-ish miles a week to *nothing* for 3 months will seriously kill your strength. But it’s just the bare minimum. Once they get you back up on two legs and release you into the wild, you need to do some serious pushing on your own!
photo 2
In the 2 years since my surgery, without that doctor telling me to do my clamshells every day or the therapist urging me to try one more flight of stairs, I got – for lack of a better word – lazy! I thought “OK, I’m out of therapy, I’m ready to go!” and I jumped right back into running. Sure, I was vaguely aware of the need to incorporate strength training into my routine, but dammit, self-motivation is hard! Especially when my knees were killing me all the time from the rapidly increased mileage.
YES, hindsight is 20/20, and I realize NOW that my knees were achy because I let the weights collect dust, but you live and you learn.
The moral of the story is I’m happy to report that I’m finally feeling more balanced in my fitness routine – without something to train for, I’ve been able to take a break from the stressful “must get the miles in!” anxiety and really focus on strength, and I’m loving every minute of it. How about you? How many days do you strength train when you’re training vs. off-schedule? Let’s compare notes!

Boot Camp “Fun”

Today, just like last Wednesday, I decided to do cross-training instead of running the miles that were on my plan. At this point, I don’t want to subject my knees to 3 days of running in a row just yet. I had a simple 3 miles today, so I opted to take a free 45-minute boot camp class with my friend before work instead of running for 45 minutes.

Which it turns out was kind of like opting to shave my head and setting my scalp on fire instead of combing my hair.

Anyway – I heard about this class randomly on Facebook at 9pm last night and was intrigued: Back in 2010, I’d taken this very same boot camp for about 3 months when the camp was just starting out. Three times a week after work, I’d join 10 other sweaty folks in a garage for an ass-kicking of epic proportions. Then, with wedding planning in 2011, life got hectic and my wallet got tighter so I didn’t go back. Fast forward to now, when I’ve been looking for something fun and intense to add into my training.

So I asked my friend who is currently a boot camp regular if he wanted to come with me, and he said yes (yay!). Then I set my alarm for 5:20, laid out my clothes, and went to bed early. Waking up before the sun was not something I enjoyed, but when I got there I was greeted with the same old familiar face of the class leader (who did not remember me) and the same old ridiculously insane workout.

photoI’m surprised they didn’t give me a mop afterwards to clean up my sweat.

After warming up with 5 minutes of jumping jacks, planks, and stretches, we broke into groups of 6 and jumped into 40-20’s: Alternating between 40 seconds of 2 exercises 8 times at each of 4 stations, with 20 seconds of rest between each set (MATH!). The punishment began immediately with ball squats/wall ball tosses, followed by 24 inch box steps. I purposely wore my knee brace to keep myself under control (and frankly, to get the instructor to cut me some slack if it looked like I was wimping out), but I surprised myself with my leg strength!

The rest of the workout got progressively harder as I got weaker: 44lb overhead bar presses and 10 squats/1 sprint with a 10lb sandbag on my shoulders, TRX cable tricep dips and kettlebell tosses, topped off with sled pushes across the length of the gym and lifting a tire that may as well have weighed a thousand pounds because my jelly arms couldn’t even lift the damn thing. Seriously, I spent all 4 sets of those tire presses with the stupid thing around my neck because that’s as far as I could lift it.

By the end of the 45 minutes, I was shredded. I haven’t done a super-high-intensity workout like that since before my injury in October of 2012, and that fact was very apparent. I started struggling at just 20 minutes in. It was a wake-up call: I’m nowhere near as strong as I used to be. But instead of getting discouraged, I thought about how much stronger I’m going to be in a few months of training! It was exciting to get my blood pumping again, to feel the “totally spent muscles” burn, to gasp for air between sets.

I’m not saying I’m going to sign up for 3 times a week, but it was definitely a win in the cross-training department. What about you? Do you do boot camp (or Crossfit or TRX or anything else that makes you sweat like a beast)? What’s your favorite cross-training workout?

28 Day Handstand Challenge

When a friend of mine showed me a picture of herself doing a one-armed handstand against a wall, I was equal parts in awe and intrigued: I could do that if I wanted, couldn’t I?? I run 13.1 miles for fun! Surely I could just throw myself up against the wall and balance there with my feet against the wall for safety, right?

Well. As it turns out, I most certainly cannot.

SO, being the stubborn Polish girl I am, I took to the interwebs in search of a “handstand challenge” because I will not stop until I get fully inverted too. There were a few interesting plans out there, but I chose the free plan offered by Chris Salvato. He gives you a LOT of information, and I won’t give away all the details (it is free though, so why not go sign up yourself?), but the bulk of his plan boils down to a simple 2-step process:

  1. Wall Planks, progressing into…
  2. Wall Handstands

That’s it! That’s all there is to it. It’s really just about overcoming the fear of being upside-down first, while building up the arm strength to hold yourself up.


At Day 1 I was only able to hold one :55 plank before my lungs felt like they were being crushed. And while I felt like I was in total danger of tipping over and cracking my skull open, the photo evidence above suggests that I was more in danger of falling flat onto my tummy than anything!


Seriously, it’s a real trip to realize how much your body will resist going upside down!

By Day 2 I progressed to 2 sets of :45, but I only made it a few inches closer to the wall. And my lungs were still none too pleased with being compressed upside down. But I kept at it, aiming for a few more seconds or one more set each day. I also followed Chris’s “Never two in a row” rule (never skip more than 2 days of practice in a row) and used my rest days from running as rest days from handstands. I also started videotaping myself to check my form, and I’m loving it!



Keeping my practice to the same area now is a great way for me to see how much faster I can get up, and how close I can get to the wall. I’ve gotten up to 5 sets of :45 and will keep doing this for the next week or so, until I’m ready to face the other way and try kicking up to the door. My main concern now is having an exit strategy: the closer I get to the door, the less room I have for a controlled exit, and the greater my fear of falling out of the handstand. If I face the other way, I’ll be able to just gracefully land out of position when I’m done (in theory).



Wherever this takes me next, I have to say that I’m loving it! I’m working new muscles that I forgot about and finding new courage to push closer to the wall and to hold for longer than the day before.

How about you: are you currently doing any extra challenges along with your training? Can you do a handstand already? I want to see! And how did you solve the “graceful exit” problem I’m faced with now? Inquiring minds want to know! 🙂

From 2 Legs to 2 Wheels

So back in 2011, I got a bike. Specifically, a good friend gifted me the bike as a wedding present. And it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten!

I still remember unpacking that thing a few weeks after we got back from our honeymoon and putting it together with my own damn hands. I was so excited! I was going to finally get back in the saddle after almost 10 years, and I was going to jump right in! Well, once I figured out why the brakes weren’t working and if I could get the tires to stay inflated. Then winter came. I promised myself I would get back into it after the snow finally cleared out. Then we moved. OK, I’d get it all fixed up and hit the road once we were all moved into the new house. Then I figured I’d wait until after the AC Half Marathon. And then I tore my ACL and lost 15 months to rehab.

SO. Fast forward to this past weekend when I found myself laid up with a surprise ear infection the same day that my good “virtual” friend (and Mermaid Club founder) Helena completed the Ironman Texas Triathlon. I was inspired, to say the least! Since I’ve managed to incorporate cycling into the last 3 months of my training, and have found that I REALLY like it, I finally called my papa – AKA the Bike Doctor – and he swung by to give my pretty girl Maggie a tune up. 


Yeah, that’s the bike’s name, so what?

A quick 20 minutes of tightening and oiling, and I was ready to hit the road! So the next morning, when I woke up feeling much better (thank you, modern medicine), I threw the bike in the back of the Honda and we went for our inaugural ride!


Selfie time with Maggie!

I set out to ride on feeling, just to see how far I could get. I even found that I could use my Garmin for biking – score! And after one mile-long lap, I felt so good that I took the turn out of the park and went exploring. My knee felt great and I was having a good time, and before I knew it I had done 3.5 miles! I started to feel it in my legs after taking a few small hills, but I kept going and told myself to push for 5 solid miles as hard as I could go.

So push I did, and I completely surprised myself when I finished all 5 miles at a little over 6:10/mile pace! 


happy biker

Needless to say – I’m hooked! I can’t wait to incorporate biking into my fitness plans, especially when I start getting into the thick of my marathon training and need to give my legs some good cross training. I’m already planning out new routes to test my limits now that I’ve transitioned from 2 legs to 2 wheels!

Tell me: if you’re a runner, do you bike too? What are your other favorite cross-training exercises? Give me some other ideas, I’ve gone exercise-crazy and I’ll try anything next!