Running Like a Well-Oiled Machine

Forgive the pun-ny title, but I just couldn’t bring myself to come up with anything more creative to give you an update on how things have been going this past month.

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With the Dark Side Challenge about a month away, I’ve been keeping up with my training relatively well – only got sidelined with minor life-related issues twice so far, which isn’t too bad considering I never really stopped training after the Rebel Challenge in January. My weekly runs are hovering around the 11:00/mile pace and under, and even my long runs are strongly around 11:30ish.

Aside from running all the miles, I’ve also branched out this training cycle, and have tried things I never did before. Namely, taking a Barre class with my sis-in-law Meredith.

I’d heard of Barre before, and know that lots of celebrities swear by it – it was the kind of thing I read about and go “Hmm. That’s nice,” and move on. But when Mere suggested we try out a class at a shop not too far from where we both work, we went for it. And let me tell you – I now know why all those celebrities are in such good shape. Holy hell.

For those of you who haven’t tried this specific form of torture, it goes like this: you enter a small room lined with mirrors and a ballet barre with about 20 other women. A small, energetic woman then comes in, blasts music and starts barking orders that all the other women seem to already know, and you struggle – for the next 50 minutes – to keep up with these teeny tiny movements they’re doing with a tiny medicine ball, resistance bands, and a red yoga mat. You stand, you sit, you hover, you balance, you squat, you lunge, but here’s the kicker: all of these movements are done in TINY, TEENY INCREMENTS. At one point the instructor told us to “trace the outline of a quarter with your toes”.

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It doesn’t sound difficult, but I – and my fluttering, screaming thighs – assure you that it is extremely difficult. I specifically remember glancing over at Mere in the mirror at around the 15 minute mark, and we both looked like this guy at each other:

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It was intense.

BUT – having said that – we WILL be doing this again. It was an insanely good workout, and we both felt it help open up our hips and strengthen parts of our legs we never knew existed before. I’m all for trying new things, and this was no different!

Speaking of trying new things, I recently picked up a bunch of ice cream and snacks courtesy of the folks at Eat Enlightened – have you ever tried this stuff??

Their shtick is ice cream that’s low in sugar and higher in protein – think Halo Top – but it’s SO creamy and unbelievably delicious. I’ve already devoured the Peanut Butter Cup pint and gotten halfway through the Red Velvet, no shame in that game. They also sent me some of their Bean Crisps, which are a real game changer. I struggle with savory cravings and hate that my only options are chips or other semi-junk-y food that only take care of my taste buds but not my actual hunger. The crisps have 7g of protein per 100 calorie pack (!) and the flavors are awesome. In addition to the sea salt pack I already put away last night, they have sweet and savory flavors like wasabi, sweet cinnamon, sriracha, garlic & onion, and cocoa-dusted. Full disclosure, they sent me this stuff for free to review, but I’m not making it up when I say:  So much yum. 

How about you: How was your February? Have you tried Barre? Or Eat Enlightened snacks? Tell me all about it in the comments!

My First Aerial Yoga Class

Alternative title: how I learned to quit worrying and let go.

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My friends Kevin and Jessica had taken aerial yoga before, and after hearing about their experiences, we planned a date at the Om Factory in the Fashion District of Manhattan:

We entered the class to find a room full of slings hanging from the ceiling and a few females who introduced themselves as sisters and co-instructors, Grace and Laura. They – along with basically ALL of the other students – are younger than me and my friends by… let’s say a lot… and could fit right into an episode of Girls without even trying.  This is not meant to be disparaging in any way. It’s just that their mannerisms and speech patterns and personalities were very millennial. And their class playlist consisted of Robyn, Temper Trap, and M83, which I really dug and am pretty sure I’ve actually heard in an episode of Girls.

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After Laura adjusted my sling to my height, we discussed how our party of one Kevin and two Jess’s would require the instructors to create nicknames for us to tell us apart (I proudly accepted Grace’s choice of “Jess Leia” after seeing my Star Wars race shirt on the way in), and we got started by sitting on our mats while Grace… led storytime? I don’t know how else to describe it.

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And again, this is in NO way meant to demean or insult, it’s just a fact that we sat there on our mats for 5-7 minutes while Grace told us about how she had just returned from Mardis Gras where her friend got so caught up in getting ALL THE BEADS that they didn’t have fun. She then talked about how her mother called in a panic after hearing about an accident at Mardis Gras that happened a mile or so from them, and that was a bummer. This was a fun story about Mardis Gras but also a… metaphor for yoga and life? Don’t get so caught up in getting all the beads and just enjoy the process? OK. I can do the deep breathing and stay centered, but I also paid 25 American dollars for a 60 minute class and feel like we kind of wasted 10 of them on storytime.

However, that is the ONLY negative thing I to say. Once we got to the yoga part of yoga class, these ladies were phenomenal. Encouraging, strong, incredibly funny and welcoming, Grace instructed verbally while Laura took a sling at the front of the class and demonstrated. Their sisterly dynamic added to it, also.

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We started off doing basic yoga poses to warm  up, using the fabric to do pull ups and squats and lunges, which I felt immediately. Having the fabric there to help me open up my hips and stretch the rest of my body felt incredible. Then we did downward dog while folded over the fabric, and floated by tucking our knees up and turning into eggs, engaging our cores to stay stable. My first time off the ground in yoga and I loved it!

Next we made the first really frightening move: standing ON the fabric. I was terrified, but had no time to panic: before my brain knew what was happening, everyone around me hoisted themselves up so I did too, and suddenly I was standing in the fabric, three feet above the ground, my head in the ceiling! It took lots of core and arm strength to stay balanced, but I focused and nailed it. I guess Grace’s story about just living in the moment really did have some value 😉

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The final part of our class was spent going upside down and sideways in a variety of ways. This was my favorite part, especially because, as Grace and Laura said, “We face the wall on these poses so we can be vain and see ourselves in the mirror when we go upside down.” They just get me, these girls.

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This was another case where I was scared at first, but after just letting go (in the metaphysical sense, of course, because physically holding the fabric was the only thing keeping me from cracking my skull open), I was upside down and able to fold and bend into some incredible positions I never thought possible. The only negative to all this: my over enthusiastic posing had me swaying more than my inner ear would have liked, and my motion sickness acted up pretty much instantly. I can’t win.

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After spending the last 15 minutes of class working on these poses, we then unfurled the fabric of our slings to create delicious cocoons where we lay in savasana and floated for a good few minutes. I would go back to class just to do this for an hour.

Finally when class was over properly, we were allowed 10 minutes of “play” time to practice whatever poses we wanted, take pictures, and clean up our spaces. We had fun taking pictures together and laughing about the poses I didn’t attempt because my body was so shredded (I’m looking at you, aerial split). This was also fun to see other people in the class totally whip out these incredible routines – I’m guessing they were all circus performers or ballerinas or both, because they were so talented that I found myself just watching a few times.

All in all it was an incredible experience; I enjoyed it a LOT more than I expected, and I can’t wait to go back. It was a super intense workout, too – 3 days later my abs and upper body are still sore, and I can see this being a great complement to my running and a way to cut loose and have fun while getting a workout in.

Have you ever tried aerial yoga? Is it something you’d like to try? Let’s hear it in the comments!

 

Avoiding Confrontation, Sweating thru Christmas, and more…

First off: Happy Holidays everyone! With the yuletide madness, things have been quiet here on the blog but crazy in real life. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you all got to spend some time with people who make you happy, because isn’t that what it’s all about after all?

I promise to get some more posts up in the next few days (teaser: I ran a race dressed like a reindeer/elf!), but today I’ll sum up the highlights of the past few weeks:

1. I took a boot camp class and almost karate chopped a lady in the throat on purpose.

Allow me to explain. The boot camp was GREAT, but there was this one lady in the class who insisted on doing everything *better*. I’m sure you know the type: the one who’s done the class before and does all the moves before the instructor starts, exaggerates each motion, does jumping jacks and runs up and down the length of the room while the rest of the class takes a water break… WELL. In the beginning of the class, the instructor asked if anyone was new to class, so my workout buddy and I raised our hands. He welcomed us and told us to take some water or a breather when we needed it. Awesome. Class starts. It’s great! Sweat is pouring, the moves are challenging, but not so hard that I had to huff or puff or stop to catch my breath. 50 minutes later class is over, and as we’re packing the weights away, Miss Congeniality comes over to me and makes a big show of patting my shoulder and saying, “You survived your first boot camp! YAY!”

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“I run thirteen miles FOR FUN lady, so I suggest you take that patronizing hand OFF my shoulder before I bite it off and spit it out.” WAS WHAT I WANTED TO SAY. But didn’t. Instead I just smiled and nodded and added 15 minutes of angry abs to the end of my workout just to show her I can survive more than a 50 minute low-impact boot camp.

I know I may have been a little sensitive (Thanksgiving weight gain is a very real thing and bouncing around a room lined with mirrors isn’t the best self-esteem booster), but come on.

2. It’s been RIDICULOUSLY warm here in NJ. Like, 68-70 degrees some days, which means I get to run in shorts and tank tops past inflatable Santas on people’s lawns. It’s kinda weird.

3. I went swimming again! For the first time since my disastrous OWS during the One More Tri in September!

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The credit for this one goes to Workout Buddy Kevin (TM) once again – I was content to hang out and prepare for Christmas by eating cookies hand over fist, but Kevin, the voice of fitness-minded reason suggested we go for a swim at the gym. 300 meters later, I was back in love with swimming (in a pool, at least) and looking forward to adding it back into the workout rotation!

4. Christmas was a blast! In addition to fun stuff like a record player (so I can finally listen to my old record collection), Santa brought me a bunch of running swag that I’ve already started breaking in.

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How about you? Have your days been merry and bright lately? Dish in the comments!

Want to Run Faster? Run LESS.

Do you remember when you were a kid and all the adults around you just loved to tell you what to do? Brush your teeth! Wear that bike helmet! Stop diving headfirst off the couch!

fresh-princeYa movin’ with ya Auntie & Uncle in Bel Air!

However, now that we’re older, hindsight has proven that they were really just looking out for us. When you think about it, those shrill commands ultimately prevented our teeth from rotting out of our heads, saved us from high speed bike accidents, and kept us from breaking our necks on the living room floor.

But isn’t it funny how even as adults we sometimes tend to ignore similar good advice, even though deep down we know that it’ll ultimately help us in the long run? Take, for example, cross training.

Back when I first started my fitness journey in 2004, I did a little bit of everything to avoid the workout rut. Whenever I stopped seeing results I’d move on to yoga, strength training, kickboxing, cardio dance, step classes, spinning, everything! Thanks to the gym we lived around the corner from, I did it all, and coupled with running, these activities saw my average mile time go from 13:00 to around 10:30.

Fast Forward to 2012: my husband and I moved to a different town (and away from the gym where all these wonderful activities could be found). Slowly my routine morphed into doing the occasional workout DVD in the living room with lots and lots of running. Then I tore my ACL and things really went downhill.

Picture 859That creepy ice bath machine in physical therapy was the first sign of trouble.

Once I was well enough to run again in 2013, that’s all I did. Mile after mile I clocked, stuck in the 13-12 minute range. For almost 2 years I plodded along, wondering if I hit my peak pre-surgery and if I was destined to stay slow. I couldn’t understand: Sure, I wasn’t doing much (ahem, ANY) of those other cross training activities anymore, but I was running sooo much! Don’t they say “Run More to Run Better”? All that running made me so tired and achy! “Those magazines are nuts anyway,” I’d think. “Who has time to do ALL THE THINGS while ALSO running too? They don’t know my life, they don’t know what’s best for me. But why am I not getting faster??”

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The answer was right in front of me the whole time: I was ONLY running. I was in a classic workout rut, stuck on a plateau and unable to move the fitness needle because running wasn’t challenging anymore.

So I slowly began integrating all of that “other stuff” back into the rotation in early 2015. A zumba class. Biking once a week. Strength training – even a little bit! – each day. Yoga & stretching. Swimming. It took a lot of time, believe me. But after 3-4 solid months of adding these things heavily into the rotation – and yes, cutting back from the super long hours of running – I can say without a doubt that I’m finally starting to see results.

IMG_6675Example A: last night’s 9:37 mile (!!!)

This did not happen overnight, and rest assured that I still have those 12 and 13 minute miles here and there. But I’ve seen consistently lower times in the past month or two, and the only reason I can find for it is that I’m simply running LESS.

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I know, I know. I sound insane. But hear me out. I’m not saying don’t run. What I’m saying here is to focus not just on the running, but on your whole body. Now you see what I was getting at with all that “nagging parent” stuff in the beginning of this post.

Remember all that advice you’ve heard about the importance of cross training? Yeah, it’s true! You really do need to work out your whole body to improve. But it takes sacrifice and prioritization. Those hour+ long runs I’d do every other day are now a half hour, and I kind of hate that. But ultimately I love it because that other half hour+ is spent on cross training which will improve my next run!

This is not news, I know. But once you start seeing results you realize the truth. Whether you hate brushing your teeth or biking for an hour instead of running, you can’t deny the awesome feeling you get from clean teeth or a faster mile time.

What do you think? Have you ever had a lightbulb moment like mine? What’s your favorite kind of cross training? What kind of improvement have you seen in your fitness? Share in the comments!

Kicking Off Spring in a Healthy Way

Happy Monday everyone! I hope you had a great weekend – I know I did! It was my first weekend without “having to” train, and I lived it up by doing what I wanted and when, and I loved every minute. It started on Thursday afternoon when I followed up my 3×3@3 workout with 40 minutes of cardio hell on the Arc trainer and 40 minutes of Runners Love Yoga‘s new Hip routine.

IMG_4737It’s a great 14 day Instagram program where they post a pose a day that focuses on opening up those tight runners’ hips. I started on Monday and in just 6 days, boy do I feel a difference! Hell – in my run yesterday I was easily able to start right up and fly from the start. I felt loose as a rubber band!

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I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of this program will take me! By the time I got home Thursday night my head started to throb with a migraine – I get one once a month (ladies, you know what I’m talking about) and I ended up having to take off of work on Friday to stay in a dark room and sleep it off. I finally started feeling better after dinner so we went to Shop Rite to restock the kitchen with healthy staples and cook-ahead meal supplies. Once we were done with that, I listened to my body – and my body was screaming “Bedtime at 10pm please!”

I woke up 11 hours later on Saturday, 100% better and ready to run as far as I damn well pleased! It was a gorgeous, sunny morning, and I decided to layer up my Skirt Sports Marathon Girl skirt with a pair of my favorite capris (because this booty + that skirt = a running peep show) and created the perfect spring running combo. PS: they’re having a major Sale on clearance stuff over at Skirt Sports, so go check it out! And if you find any full priced-items you like, be sure to use my discount code SSJRH20 for 20% off (code only applies to full-priced items, not on sale stuff).

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I set out towards the park and just went by feel – and I felt great! The first mile clicked by without me even realizing it, at 10:43 pace, and I ran like I was light as a feather. If only I moved this well a week ago for my race! Ah, such is life.

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It was an absolutely gorgeous day down the park, the breeze was light and the sun was shining, and that runners high was in full effect. After a miserable winter like the one we had, I’m truly treating every nice day as a gift and taking full advantage of it by getting outdoors and being active!

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I breezed through the park and back towards home around mile 3.7, and coasted through the next few blocks for 4.05 and walked a nice cool down the rest of the way home.

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The rest of the day was spent helping my mom & dad move furniture and bringing a new mattress set from the store up to their 2nd floor (another workout entirely!), and then we had an awesome seafood dinner at The Barge in Perth Amboy. Highly recommended!

Sunday morning I had a date with my dad to head down to the flea market in Collingwood for some good old-fashioned daddy/daughter treasure hunting!

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We had a blast! My dad has always been super supportive of everything I do, including running, and we spent the whole time wandering the flea market aisles talking about training and sneakers and life and music and everything in between. I even found some awesome treasures too: a shelf-sitting mermaid (who looks like she’s doing a sit-up when you lay her on a flat surface!) and a copy of Circus magazine with my favorite band on the cover: The Smashing Pumpkins! I remember buying two copies of this when it came out in 1996 – one to read and the other to cut up and hang all over my bedroom walls. Today I got to take a trip down memory lane with the same issue for just 50 cents!!

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After that I came home for a nice lunch with hubby, and then we headed out to the park again to take advantage of this still-gorgeous weather! But this time instead of running, I brought out my trusty bike for the first time since last summer!

At first it was cold, but after a mile or so, I warmed up and fell right into the groove again while Mike walked a few laps. The park was packed with people enjoying the weather, so I had to stop a few times to get around large groups (and let’s face it, I had to stop and take pictures of the scenery!), but it was a great ride.

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I was just about to call it at 5 miles, but I couldn’t help it and powered through for another 1.2 to make it an even 10k.

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I had to laugh when I saw my final stats: my 6:49/mile pace is half the speed I ran last week’s race at, and it still wouldn’t be fast enough to keep up with the amazing athletes that led the Boston Marathon. I was cranking as hard as I could. To imagine running that fast? It’s simply unbelievable how speedy those folks are!

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When we got home I started working on dinner (and lunches for the next few days too): Ground turkey, stewed tomatoes, onion and chopped broccoli stir fry over quinoa!

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I even roasted up some chickpeas for snacking in the coming week too. The result of all that cooking meant that the whole house smelled delicious when we woke up today!

And that was it for me! How was your weekend? Did you get outside to enjoy the nice weather? Did you race? Tell me all about it, I want to know!

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Time to Rebuild

So I finished my last half marathon of the spring racing season! Hooray!

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Now that the celebratory peanut butter pie has been eaten, the Tiger Balm has soaked in, and the muscles have recovered, the inevitable question that follows the end of every race is now on my mind: What’s Next?

Well, if I’m being honest with myself – and honest with you, dear reader – I don’t know! I mean sure, I know I’m going to race again eventually, but right now I have zero races lined up in the calendar. Even for next fall.

I briefly considered the Jersey Girl Triathlon this August, but I haven’t pulled the trigger on that yet. I’ve only incorporated swimming into my cross-training plan about a half dozen times so far, and after 25 minutes and about 200 yards I’m physically unable to walk myself from the locker room to the car without my legs shaking and giving out on me. Just the thought of having to add biking and running after a workout like that makes me weak in the knees. I’d have to do some serious training to prepare for an event like that. And I just Googled “beginner triathlon training plan” and the first result that came up is a 93-page PDF. NINETY-THREE PAGES, YOU GUYS. Can anyone point me in the direction of a training plan that isn’t like a book of stereo instructions?

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OK so maybe I need to set my sights a little lower. I’m sure I’ll do some local 5K’s that I’ve always done, and I’m searching the local running club calendars for 10K’s as well. I certainly don’t want to lose the running endurance that I’ve built up these past few months, and having some slightly shorter than half distance races on the horizon could keep me moving. Do any of my local Jersey peeps have recommendations on 10K’s in the next month or two?

Lastly, I’m searching for a new fall Half Marathon to call my own. I could easily sign up once again for the Atlantic City Half Marathon and see if the third time is the charm – after all, it’s where I set my current half PR! But the fall race season is so rich and exciting, that I wonder if I’m limiting myself by just setting my sights on that one bigger race when there are so many other great events going on in September and October. Does anyone in my area have any local half plans or dream races you’d like to do in the fall?

One thing I AM sure of, however, is that I’m going to be focusing very heavily on rebuilding my strength up with weights and cross training. After the little spurts I could fit in while training for my races these past few months, I felt an immense improvement in the running workouts that followed. But just like everything else, life gets in the way and excuses get made and the time I could spend working out was spent on getting mileage in, not strengthening everything else. As a result, I notice the weakness creeping in, even with little tasks like carrying the grocery bags into the house.

funny-gif-weight-liftingNo more!

Today I kicked off this new rebuilding phase by doing something called “3 Times 3 At 3”. It’s entirely made up and in no way scientific, but it’s random and fun and sounds just easy enough to stick with for a while. Here’s how it works: at 3PM every day, I go down to my office gym and do three sets of three exercises for :45 each, with :15 of rest between them. Sounds easy, right? Well. 10 minutes of push-ups, side crunches, and squats later, I’m kind of dying.

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Alright, I’m not dying – I’m fine, I just have a fun case of jelly arms from the absolute and complete lack of work I’ve done on my upper body in the last month or so. My abs and legs feel great and strong and ready for more, which is great.

But the whole thing was just what I needed to jump back into a post-race fitness routine and beat the “What do I do now Blues”! Now I’m nice and warmed up for the cardio I’ve still got planned after I get done with work, and I’m excited to build it up into 4 Times 4 or more. Cheers to rebuilding and growing stronger with each passing day!

Running on Island Time

Before I begin – I apologize for my silence lately! I had a nasty sinus infection at the end of March so I had to take a full week off running (UGH). As an aside: how do people run through illness like that? I had a fever of 102 and hallucinated that I was Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle; I couldn’t even sit up straight let alone run!

Anyway, after that, I set sail on a 7 day cruise to Florida and the Bahamas with my mama! Usually, I see vacation as my time to forget the rules and return to my natural state. Unfortunately my natural state is less “let’s get physical!” and more “screw the training plan, they’ve got free brownies 24/7 up in this bitch, it’s brownies-for-breakfast time”.

But with the half marathon looming ahead of me (18 days, eek!), I knew I had to stay active – and BOY did I! I’m proud to say that this was the most active vacation I’ve ever had – filled with running, open-water swimming, biking, rope climbing, capoeira, weight training, and LOTS of walking. No lie, in Florida we walked for 6 hours straight. We didn’t even stop to eat. I had a soft pretzel at 7pm and freaked out the pretzel cart woman with my obscene moans of relief after my first bite.

So I started my 2nd morning on the boat with a nice 5K, spread out between the fitness center and the jogging track on the ship’s top deck.

with a view like that I HAD to go on deck

with a view like that I HAD to go on deck

It was amazing – between the sun and warm air and new route, it was the most invigorating run I’ve had in months! I finished with a half hour of full-body strength training in the gym and then took the 8 flights of stairs back to our stateroom for good measure. And if you’re wondering – yes, I did have a brownie for breakfast. Life is all about balance.

That same day we toured the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and we ended up walking the equivalent of about 284 miles* (*I may be estimating). We spent 7 hours touring, and aside from the one hour bus ride we were on our feet. The. Whole. Day. The following day we were at Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. I planned on doing nothing (except for drinking pina coladas on the beach), but once I got in that cool, refreshing, 15-foot deep turquoise private lagoon water? I just had to swim.

wouldn't you?

wouldn’t you?

I haven’t swam in open water in more than 2 years, but I jumped right in that water and floated, kicked, dove, frolicked, and generally played mermaid for about 3 hours. I even swam around that island you see in the center of the lagoon (the water surrounded it on all sides), stopping just once on the far side beach to give my shoulders a break.

After getting a crazy sunburn from all this beach fun (the price a mermaid must pay, I suppose), I took the next day off in Atlantis, and spent most of the day in a flowy caftan in shaded areas. It was actually kind of fun, I pretended I was a Kardashian. Not a bad way to spend a day in the Bahamas.

By our last day at sea, my sunburn had finally calmed down enough for me to put sneakers on so I started with a quick 2 miles of speedwork on the treadmill, followed by 2 hard and fast miles on the bike (in 7:40, a new bike PR!!), then ran up the 4 flights of stairs to the top deck for a session on the ropes course.

ropes course (bottom), see also "terrifying workout in gale force winds and a full body harness 17 stories above the Atlantic Ocean"

ropes course (bottom), see also “terrifying workout in gale force winds and a full body harness 17 stories above the Atlantic Ocean”

Suffice it to say that I would have been content sticking with mini-golf after my time on the ropes course, but I perservered and went to a free capoeira class instead. A bucket list item of mine, capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines dancing, fighting, and games. Lots of hovering, squatting, kicking, and general break-dancing. Lots of fun.

Now, full disclosure: the class was taught by a blindingly gorgeous Brazilian man who pronounced the word “since” with a long “I” (s-eye-nce), bless his heart. And while we’re sharing and feeling religious, God bless those rocky northern Atlantic currents. Because without them, I wouldn’t have been able to cap off my last day at sea with a face-full of Brazilian man-thigh when the boat zigged and we both zagged during a particularly intense sparring session. Cue the bad-ass music and “calmly walking away from a car explosion” scene:

and when I walked off the boat, it burst into flames, too.

and when I walked off the boat, it burst into flames, too.

Cut to today: my muscles are still on FIRE from all the wild and crazy things I put them through in the past week, and I couldn’t be happier! So what do you think? When you’re on vacation, do you go for the brownies or the ropes course (or both)? What’s your favorite activity to do on vacation? Tell me a story 🙂