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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Taking it Up a Notch

The end of the week and weekend got a little hectic and I wasn’t able to complete my review of last week’s workouts, namely my second set of weight training last week.  So before I move into this week, I wanted to briefly recap my last Monday and Friday sessions.  Partly this is because this was the session that really gave my strength training the jolt of life it had been desperately crying out for.  But also because I took the pictures, might as well post them!

For Monday, I focused on my lower body, with a little bit of core and arm work thrown in.  I had anticipated repeating this routine Wednesday.  But my plan to switch things up and challenge my muscles paid off- between this and my Tuesday morning spin class when I put in an above average effort, my quads were the most sore they have been in a very long time.  It hurt a bit to walk! So I decided it would be better to wait a few more days, and actually took Wednesday off all together for reasons I don’t really recall.  By Friday my legs felt good again, so I managed to squeeze in a repeat in the midst of a very eventful workday. 

So after a brief warm up and a plank to start, here were the exercises:

Stationary Lunge, starting position

Stationary Lunge, end position- front thigh should be more parallel to the floor

Hamstring Curls, start position

Hamstring Curls, end position

Side Plank, start position

Side Plank with Shoulder Press, end position

Now all of these exercises have been a part of my routine in other forms, but I changed them to give my muscles something to think about.  So instead of just alternating lunges, I did it all on one leg before switching and with 10 lbs dumbells in each hand.  I think this was the exercise that really got my quads burning- I had initially planned to incorporate bicep curls, but man this was much harder than anticipated on its own! I also added the chest press with 5 lbs dumbells to my hamstring curls, and the shoulder press with a 5 lbs weight to my side plank.  The last one was a move I haven’t done since last spring.  It’s a little easier now- but not much! My shoulders were also a little tender.

So these exercises really worked my body and totally reinvigorated my dedication to my strength training.  I’m going to post these in my strength training tab soon (hopefully).  I really recommend trying these for a great 30 minute or less work out.

In addition to this, my upper body work out and Tuesday spinning, I also managed to squeeze in a Power Hour yoga session on Monday, two short 3 mile runs and a Pilates class on Saturday, which I’m going to blog about later this week (again, hopefully).  I’m really getting back into the swing of things and seeking out new challenges for my body. Go me!

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Regaining My Strength

Yesterday I discussed a bit how I’m re-committing to my fitness routine with a new outlook- to push myself.  To challenge myself.  To make my body feel sore and tired again and really reap the benefits of working out instead of just doing it for the sake of doing it.  This new mindset will of course be balanced with adequate rest and recovery to avoid injury, otherwise what would be the point? But I’ve been erring a bit too much on the ‘safe’ side for a while, and it’s time to challenge that.

Strength training is the first area I am tackling with this, because I feel like it has suffered the most.  As I got closer to my half marathon in March, I didn’t want to overtax my muscles and backed off my efforts in the office gym, which is where I do my weight work. Work also got very busy, and I was skipping many of my afternoon sessions because there was too much work I ‘had’ to do.  If I did manage to squeeze it in, I just went to my go to exercises and was over and done with in 20 minutes.

These were actually just excuses, which deep down I knew.  I was bored with my routine.  Not only was I not trying out new moves, I wasn’t upping the intensity.  So I didn’t want to do it.  I also no longer saw changes in my body. Yet another cautionary tale about the need for variety in your fitness regime.

At first, I started looking into group classes like Body Pump or CrossFit that so many people rave about.  Since I do most of my working out on my own, the class mentality is appealing to me.  But ultimately, it’s too much money and I couldn’t consistently find times early enough in the day for me to know that I would keep up a steady commitment. And the more I thought about it, since I have a free office gym, it just seemed silly to pay for such things that honestly I can do myself.

So, the new game plan: Each week, change the routine. There are so many great moves and ideas out there to keep things interesting!  This means both new moves and upping the intensity of current ones.  I will aim for four solid sessions in the office gym of at least 25-30 minutes.  I will have two routines that alternate days and focus on different muscle groups, although my core will get a workout each day.  I will keep integrating planks and push-ups on a regular basis, because I like these and they’re good exercises to maintain.

This plan began this week in earnest.  Monday’s routine was the real tough one, but I’m not repeating it until tomorrow, so I’ll discuss Tuesday’s and today’s routine, which focused on core, lower back and the arms.

After a quick warm up, I did a plank for at least a minute (please forgive the picture quality!):

Then I did three sets of the following:

Leg Raises, 8 reps

Push-ups, 10 reps

Torso Twists, 8 reps, 5 lbs weight

Bicep Curls

10 reps, 10 lbs dumbells

The leg raises and twists were the truly new additions- I did both when I began strength training last year but dropped them for the more efficient plank.  My core muscles were a tad sore the next day- which means my plan is working.

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Since returning from my Grand Tour of the Southwest 2012, I have been slowly but surely getting back into my routine. I was really eager to do so.  Before I left, I was about two weeks post my first half marathon– although it feels forever ago now- and honestly wasn’t in a great fitness place.  I just didn’t have that super strong desire or motivation.  I don’t think it was necessarily not having a race to train for anymore, although I’m sure that was part of it.  I think I was just in a mini-funk, along with having lots of other activities occupying my time.

My trip really reinvigorated my fitness motivation.  Being out in nature can do that to a girl.   I loved the endorphin rush I got from finishing a strenuous hike- ones that a couple of years ago would have been really difficult.   I just felt so inspired to start training for a race again, to build on my strength training foundation, to expand my yoga horizons, and to try new activities.

So as I refocus on my fitness goals and routine, I have a new mantra: Push myself.

That was partly why I was in such a funk.  My strength training was beyond stale, and I was using my hectic work schedule as a reason not to do it, or to only do quick easy exercises to fit it in.  My runs just weren’t meshing.  My sleep schedule was a bit off, so I was skipping yoga.  The only thing I still got a kick out of was spinning.  A class that is always different and uber challenging, each time.  I needed to push myself.

So after easing back into my routine last week, I’ve really upped the ante this week, especially in the strength training department.  My arms and quads appear to be the beneficiaries- so much so that I was too sore to run this morning and I opted to take a rest day to let my muscles breathe.  But it also feels so good to feel sore again.  It’s good to push myself!  I’ll go into depth about what I’ve been doing and my plan of attack (for now) on this front tomorrow.

My one disappointment is that I have only run twice since getting back.  A combination of freakish weather, several late nights and this week muscle soreness has prevented me from tackling the roads as much as I hope to.  Tomorrow it’s supposed to pour again so I may still have to wait until Friday.  But I do have some ideas in mind for this as well- which may include a Ragnar relay that a co-worker just spoke to me about literally a half hour ago!- and really hope to re-engage my running these next few days.  I feel focused, motivated, and ready to push myself beyond my comfort zone!

I’m so glad to be back!

The Grand Canyon

This is the last of my spring break recaps.  I promise! I hope I haven’t bored all of you too much.  I’m definitely diving back into fitness and running tomorrow and have some good ideas for new posts. But this was a very special time for me, so I wanted to share it with everyone and maybe even inspire some to get out into nature more.  Plus, seeing how happy my husband was to have all his pictures displayed publicly made this little deviation worth it.

The Grand Canyon is a spectacular ‘hole in the ground.’ It’s really a sight to see.  But now that we’ve seen it, we don’t really have a desire to go back.  We just didn’t seem to ‘connect’ with the park the same way we did with the others on our journey.  It seems less nature and more tourist.  It makes sense- this is after all one of the (if not THE) most visited national parks, with millions of visitors each year.  And with that in mind, it’s really well run- great shuttle system, lots of food options and places to stay.  The path along the rim is paved so everyone can easily access the overlooks, and the shuttle system carries you around much of the rim if you’re not up to much hiking.

But to us, it just lost a bit of the magic with all these innovations.  Plus, we were apparently visiting during one of their busiest weeks of the year- not having a family, we forgot about spring break for schools.  So we felt constantly surrounded by people, even on our more difficult hike.

Anyway- we arrived in the afternoon, and after some stress trying to figure out where to park and dealing with unexpected masses of people, we checked into the El Tovar.  This is a really cool hotel literally feet away from the rim.  It’s also a National Historic Landmark due to its age and unique structure.  It was fun to stay there for a night.

The El Tovar on the rim

We decided to keep it low-key since we were anticipating a strenuous hike into the canyon the next day.  So we rode one of the shuttles out to a viewpoint that was about two miles from the hotel and walked back along the rim.  The lighting at that time of day was really nice and the views were pretty wonderful.

 

We went to see a ranger presentation later that night.  I LOVE these programs at National Parks, they are always fascinating.  This was probably the best one I’ve ever seen. If you’re at the Grand Canyon and lucky enough to be able to see Ranger Ron give his living history on ‘Captain’ John Hance- GO.

We got up to walk out to the rim from the hotel and watch the sunrise- pretty spectacular.

Sunrise over the Canyon

We then enjoyed a fabulous breakfast at the El Tovar with a view of the rim, providing us with adequate fuel to do the South Kaibab trail down to Cedar Ridge and back.  We were on the trail by about 8:30 out of an abundance of caution- there are PLENTY of warnings about the dangers of hiking into the canyon and what precautions you must take.  There’s even a sad story they post about a woman marathoner who ran Boston in a really fast time but then died in the Canyon after not planning properly for those rigors.  (Sorry to be a bit of a downer right now…but it was kinda a way to finally tie this blog back into running….)

It is a pretty steep 1.5 mile hike down to the first resting point.  We just wanted to get into the canyon a bit to experience that, but didn’t really have an interest in venturing further.  Plus we didn’t want to be hiking in there during the afternoon sun.  

View from Cedar Point in the Canyon

We were really glad hiking back up that we had gone early since most of it was shaded at this time of the morning.  We took the shuttle to the visitors center, and then walked the rim another 2.5 miles or so back to the hotel.  At this point, both our feet were very tired.  So, aside from setting up camp for that night’s sleep…we didn’t do much the rest of the day besides catch the sunset.

Sunset and Colorado River

The next day, we rose early again to see the sunrise and have breakfast at the El Tovar (again- it was really good!). We then drove to Las Vegas, where we spent the night before our early flight back to Cleveland the following day.  I’m not a Vegas person, but the hotel was really nice and we had a fabulous dinner at Stripsteak in the Mandalay Bay as a sort of send off for our trip.

What a great trip.  Even better? Being reunited with these knuckleheads, who were totally pampered at their grandparents but still BEYOND excited to see us:

Arches National Park

Arches National Park, located right outside of Moab (about 4 miles from the town center, actually) was the impetus for this trip.  Long ago, in my first job out of college for the National Park Foundation, it was pictures like this that instilled the desire to see this area of the country:

Obviously the goals of the trip evolved a lot since that time almost seven years ago, and parks like Zion and Bryce may have surpassed Arches as the dream destination.  But I never would have expanded my horizons to seek out those parks had it not been for Arches.

The park is aptly named due to the fact that it is the largest collection of free standing natural arches in the world.  And we did our best to see many of them.

We got started somewhat early, and it was quickly warming up.  Arches is definitely a desert park- lots of sand and very little shade.  At this time of year it didn’t get oppressively hot, but it was sufficient for me to be glad that we didn’t wait to go any later in the year.

I don’t recall the name of the first hike we did, but it was a nice four mile loop scaling lots of tall boulders.  There were two notable arches on that path.  First, and before the trail got too difficult, was the Landscape Arch:

Landscape Arch

Believe it or not, there is over 300 feet laying between the two ends of that arch, or an entire football field base to base.  It’s hard to conceptualize because you can’t get too close, but it’s beautiful regardless.

The final destination- for us anyway- was the Double O Arch.  Really cool:

Double O Arch

Me in the Little O

The trail actually continued beyond that to make a seven mile loop into ‘primitive’ trail, which I take to mean mostly sand.  We were tempted to do that since a lot of hidden gems were supposed to be there.  But we also knew we wanted to do the Delicate Arch hike around sunset which, while only three miles round trip, is supposed to be a very difficult one.

So instead we returned to the car and drove back to Moab to set up our campsite in town.  Our first two nights in Moab we stayed at the Sunflower Hill Inn, which was a wonderful find by my husband.  When we go back to Moab, we’ll definitely stay there again.

But for our third night, we camped. Nice enough campground, but I’d like to try to get in Arches or Canyonlands next time.

After we set up and relaxed a bit, we headed back to Arches to do a series of mini-hikes to several other arches and rock formations before our impending Delicate Arch hike.  It was pretty warm at this point, and I had a minor headache, so it was good to just do some easy sightseeing- and there were lots of sights to see.

The Three Gossips

The Balanced Rock

The Double Arch

After all that, around 5:15 we began our climb to the Delicate Arch.  The Delicate Arch is THE Arch- it’s Utah’s official symbol. It’s a difficult hike, but once you get there you understand why Utah is so proud of it (and Utah has a lot to be proud of, it seems unfair that one state gets so much beauty to choose from).

My husband's #1 goal of the trip was to get a Delicate Arch shot free of tourists- this is one of MANY....

In retrospect, the hike isn’t the most difficult I’ve done due to the terrain- it’s challenging, don’t get me wrong, just not as bad as the Bryce hike or even our climb up from Crater Lake after our boat tour.  But you’re in the beating sun the entire time, in addition to being at least 7,000 feet up.  Those factors combine, along with my cranky headache, made it tough.  But being able to see this is completely worth the strenuous effort.

Me in the Delicate Arch- yup, it's that big!

After hanging out a while and chatting with other fellow hikers, we headed back down before it got dark and grabbed dinner at the Moab Brewery for the second night in a row- surprisingly good food at really good prices.  Plus they had tasty microbrews on site.

It was a great send off to the Grand Canyon, the last park on our itinerary….

Capitol Reef and Dead Horse Point

I’m combining two days of my trip in one post because we didn’t do much hiking and were only able to take a few pictures.  But there were still plenty of great memories.

After Bryce Canyon, we drove the historic Highway 12 to Moab, UT.  Well we had to take Highways 24 and 70 as well, but 12 was the main show.  My former boss and mentor insisted that we take that route on our way to Moab, and as usual she was so on the money. The highway travels through out the vast Grand Staircase Escalante (which, as an environmental policy wonk…ok… NERD…was very exciting to me).  The road winds you through amazing rock formations and steep cliffs- my husband has a small fear of heights and as the primary driver, this freaked him out a bit.  It was one of the most scenic long drives I’ve ever taken, second only to Route 1 along the West Coast- a very high standard! We also ascended a mountain, not realizing how high up we were until we saw a sign at the peak that read 9,600 feet. Wow!

Highway 24 then takes you straight through Capitol Reef National Park, one of the lesser known and populated parks.  Its deep red rocks and formations were so impressive, we wished we had left more time to spend there than just drive through.  It’s on our list of reasons why we NEED to go back to the region. 

This formation was really cool but we can't remember what it was called.

The Castle formation at Capitol Reef.

The next day, our first of two full ones in Moab, we went whitewater rafting on the Colorado river.  I have only been rafting like this once in high school up in New Hampshire and my husband never has.  We had a blast- category three and four rapids give you a serious rush.  One of the rapids is called Skull Rapid and the Room of Doom- need I say more? However, such exhilaration is not conducive to picture-taking.

When we wrapped up around 5:30 pm, our riverguide emphatically told us to jump in the car and go check out Dead Horse Point State Park for sunset.  He described it as a mini-Grand Canyon.  That is a very apt description.  In fact, we actually preferred it to the Grand Canyon for a number of reasons.  This was such a highlight of the trip, I think mainly because it’s not a main attraction.  We felt like we discovered a secret gem in the region.

Sunset from the rim of Dead Horse Point.

Moab is a great little rustic town.  Day Two proved to be just as much fun as the first….

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon is visually stunning- you don’t see anything unique until you get right up to the rim.  Then you are surrounded by thousands of enchanting hoodoos- rock spires formed from erosion.  I think this was my husband’s favorite park, if you can have such a thing, due to all the photo ops. 

It’s a small park, and you really only need a day at the most to see.  We saw it all basically in one afternoon as we undertook our most difficult hike of the trip- the 6-7 mile Figure Eight loop that combined three trails to take you past the most spectactular sites of the canyon.  It was a constant elevation change- ascending the canyon one minute, then descending back to the floor the next.  We unwisely kept predicting after each steep climb that we MUST have reached the top. The last 1/2 mile or so was a steep series of switchbacks past ‘the hoodoo’ of the park, Thor’s Hammer.  My glutes and quads were screaming at this point, so I basically charged up that last portion just to get it over with. 

Thor's Hammer!

It was the coldest place we visited- temps didn’t get out of the 50’s and it was so windy, I got wind burn that haunted me for the remainder of the trip.  It was also the most deserted park, which was great.  Most of the time we felt like we had the run of the park to ourselves.  It was awesome.

Even better was how good I felt the next day (well not my face, the wind burn did a number on it!).  No notable soreness in the legs, despite their fatigue at the end of the previous day.  I chalk this up to my somewhat rigorous and consistent fitness routine, strength training and cardio both.  In another era, I would have been pretty sore, and probably could not have done the hike in under the recommended 3-4 hour time suggestion (go me!).  But I felt great and totally up for it.  The elevation change threw a bit of a wrench into it- Bryce stands at 8,000 feet so initially I would get out of breath a little faster than normal.  But I found that if I stopped for a quick rest, I would get a second wind that would propel me up the steepiest, muddiest climbs the canyon could throw at me.  Once again, I learned to really appreciate the good I do my body every time I exercise, and how much it enables me to enjoy so many other aspects of my life.

After a very cold night- where we wisely abandoned camping plans in favor of a hotel after predictions- of low 20’s, howling winds and snow- we were off to Moab along the historic and unbelievably scenic Highways 12 and 24….