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May Markers

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Given my inspiration to elevate my fitness regime and that we’re starting a new month, I felt it would be a good time to take all that energy and give it direction.  I have some goals for this month that I hope to achieve to keep my motivation, and to increase my body’s strength and endurance. Since April was pretty hectic for me, I didn’t really set any goals, but I feel like now is a good time to remedy that.

One caveat: I’m about to transition to a new job.  That’s partly why the end of March and April were so hectic- in addition to my first half marathon, my spring break and some other stuff, I was interviewing and then getting a security clearance for my new position (it’s with the federal government, nothing super fancy, clearances are pretty routine in this area).  I’m planning to go into this more later, but I’m anticipating longer work days, and definitely a longer commute, which may throw my work-out schedule off for a bit while I figure everything out.

Still, I want to have some goals to gauge potential progress.  I just won’t beat myself up if some of it is a casualty of the new lifestyle.  So, here’s my May Markers:

RunningRebuild my running base.  I want to build my endurance so that I’m regularly running 4-6 mile runs about 3 days a week, and then a longer run on the weekend of 7-8 miles.  Don’t ask me why I’ve settled on these numbers.  I just know I want to move beyond the 3-3.6 miles I’ve been trekking lately.  I also think running these distances regularly will help make training for my next half easier.

Strength Training: Keep mixing it up.  I’ve talked about this a lot the last few days, so I’ll just say that I plan to keep my muscles on their toes by changing my routine every week, and upping the intensity.  There are so many studies that say it’s good to modify your routine, otherwise your muscles adapt and don’t improve anymore. Also, you don’t get bored, which means you’re more likely to keep doing it.

Strength Training: Take core strengthening classes. My core is the one area of my body that I’m struggling to really improve.  I’m upping my planks, and adding new exercises, but I just don’t feel or see it.  I did really feel it in Pilates and at the end of my spin class today with some of the strengthening exercises we did.  I think it’s an area that I just do better when I have someone else telling me what to do and ‘watching’ me, making sure I don’t slack off on it.  I don’t do it purposely, but I do think I sometimes don’t hold proper form.  So I’m going to try to work this in more.

Cross-training:Expand my spinning and yoga class repertoire.Last weekend, I took a Pilates class.  This morning, I had a different spin instructor who incorporated new moves and some strength training in the end.  I’m finally ready (and brave enough) to try a full Vinyasa class.  I had been hunting around for new studios and classes to join in the spirit of keeping things fresh, but have been turned off by the addition fees.  I then realized that I have plenty of variety in the classes I already pay for- I just need to take advantage of them.

Personally: Just keep enjoying life.  It’s been a good last few months.  I’m planning to keep it that way.

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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!

Falling by the Wayside

Once again, another unpredictable week.  And once again, challenges for my fitness regime.

Strength training is the victim this week. I’ve brought my gym bag with me every day this week, fully intending to get some training in at lunch.

And yet… it hasn’t happened.

Monday it was because I was feeling totally drained.  My knee had been a little agitated after my run on Sunday, so I took Tylenol PM Sunday night.  The good news is that the pain has vanished.  The bad news is that the medicine didn’t sit well with me, so I felt really out of it all day.  And hungry! That happens to me sometimes when medicine is messing with my system.  So anyway, I just couldn’t summon the will or discipline.

Tuesday, the weather got the better of me. I love the summer temperatures without the oppressive humidity.  Well, yesterday was a touch humid, but still superior to July or August around these parts.  So I traded in gym time for a nice lunch time walk.  That may have ended in an unplanned visit to Anne Taylor Loft.  I’m pleased to report that my wallet was not damaged in any way…yet…but there are items still calling my name…. At any rate, I don’t feel too bad about that missed session.  I think I can justify it.

Today, I was incredibly busy, for both work and personal reasons.  My husband and I realized that our Spring Break is only a few weeks away and we still don’t have all our lodging.  We were horrified to discover that, contrary to our (ok, my) preconceived notions, there are actually a lot of people who DO want to camp at Zion, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks the first two weeks in April and probably booked long before we did.  Huh.  More surprising- I was able to get a site at the Grand Canyon, which I thought would be the more difficult since it is generally more popular.  Never fear, we worked it out, but it still took a large chunk of the day, in addition to all the mini fires that kept popping up for clients.  My work load has definitely picked up this year, which is great, but makes it harder to sneak away in the middle of the day.

Thank goodness I’m a morning exerciser! I had a tough but fabulous spinning class yesterday that really got my heart rate going. Seriously, eight one minute interval sprints with only 15 second recoveries, followed by several steep hills- at 6 am! This morning I had the best run I’ve had in a while- my legs were tired from spin still, but otherwise felt really good.  A nice easy three, nothing that will wear me out for Saturday, of course.  I’m already signed up for Power Hour Yoga tomorrow morning.  Plus, we’ve been taking family walks in the evenings, since it’s so nice out- a pleasant 1.5 mile jaunt around the Masonic Temple is perfect post-dinner activity. I also did some foam rolling on Monday and tonight.

So it’s not as if I haven’t gotten any exercise- in fact I’m doing quite well.  Strength training is really important, however, so I need to start thinking of ways to make sure I fit it in.  I won’t sweat it too much this week, though. I figure that the extra rest will do my body good for my half.

Tomorrow, I hope to write about my visit to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Expo to pick up my registration package, as well as some of the things I’m planning to bring with me to the race.  Work is looking pretty busy again though and my sister-in-law will be in town for a visit, so it might be tough but I’ll definitely try.  I’d really love some input into what I should be prepping to have with me for the big day!

The Final Long Run

Yesterday was my last long run in the lead up to my first half marathon.  It was also the longest I have ever run.  And boy, did it feel that way!

I was a little apprehensive heading into yesterday’s run.  Mainly I was nervous about experiencing troubled tummy again after I did last week.  I have a pretty resilient stomach, not prone to upset.  So when I did have some issues for a few hours following last week’s 11 miler, I was concerned.  It was the first time I had taken two Gu’s on a run, which previously I had no issue with.  I was debating if I should try something else, but if I had been fine on previous runs with just the one, what was the likelihood that I was suddenly irritated by it? With just one more chance to really try this out before my race, I did research a bit and found some information pertaining to taking Advil before a run that can cause issues with running gels, which is what I had done.  So I decided to just try the two again and not take Advil.  I also decided to try taking it later in the run.  And I’m pleased to report I was fine.  I should be good to go for the Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The two finalists...with Espresso coming out on top!

I must say, I’ve been surprised by how much I don’t mind the Gu’s, and even like them in some cases.  Normally this is the kind of thing I don’t like- artificially flavored stuff like fruit candies make me gag more often than not.  The Gu’s have been a pleasant surprise.  Much superior to the pretzels and Gatorade combo I’d been trying out before. I think I’m going to go with two Espresso for the race.

The run itself was a tough one- my toughest to date. I think it would have gone a little easier had I not slacked off since a DISASTROUS run Thursday morning that really got to me. Plus, I was a single parent from last Wednesday until yesterday afternoon, and had some after-work commitments for a few days that just made for a more hectic schedule.  Had I been better about yoga and my regular routine, I think the physical aspects would have been better.

Just me and these two troublemakers for five days!

Basically, my hamstrings and glutes were pretty tight the entire run, and were particularly bad somewhere in the middle.  I had to stop and stretch a few times.  This I definitely mark up to not enough yoga.  I also hit a bit of a mental wall a couple of times, feeling like I wanted to walk pretty badly because the run wasn’t flowing as nicely as I’d like.  The last push up the hill that runs through Old Town to my apartment was not great- I usually pick up the pace and finish on a high, but just didn’t have it in me this time.  To sum up, this run tested my limits.

That is not to say, however, that this was a bad run.  Not all tough runs are bad runs.  Running is often about challenging your stamina and physical abilities, and while it may be a struggle, overcoming that challenge is often the reward.  And that’s how I felt about this run.  I may not have run as fast as I would have liked- about an 11:15 minute pace- and I may not have experienced the total euphoria I usually feel with most of my long runs.  But it was the longest I had ever run, and 12 miles is far! Most people in my life, including my soccer-superstar and fitness fanatic Dad, can’t fathom running that far.  So it should be challenging, but I did it.  It has given me the confidence that if the Rock ‘n’ Roll is more of a slog than a free-flowing run, I have the mental toughness to keep going.

So, while not the best, I still chalk this up to a good run.  The weather was beautiful- I’ve sure chosen the right ‘winter’ to train for my first half- and the new parts of the Mount Vernon Trail that I explored were spectacular.  That’s a good run in my book.

Now I begin winding down.  I was in a bit of a fitness funk last week due to the jumbled schedule and some sleep issues.  I’m determined to get back on my game this week .  So aside from today, which will be a total rest day to give the muscles some relief- the hammies and glutes are still sore despite stretching and foam rolling yesterday and this morning, although much better than before either session- I’m going to really work on cross training, strength training, yoga and some easy, hopefully pleasant runs to get me in the right mindset for two weeks from now.

Planned Workout Schedule:
Monday: Rest (aside from dog walk)
Tuesday: Morning spin class, afternoon core and arms strength training
Wednesday: Four mile morning run, afternoon lower body strength training
Thursday: Morning Power Hour Yoga, afternoon core and arms strength training
Friday: Afternoon mall run, or if it rains lower body strength training
Saturday: Morning spin class
Sunday: Longish run (distance TBD, but I’m thinking 6-7 miles), evening yoga class

Counting Down

The Rock ‘n’ Roll half is getting really close! Less than a month now! I am starting to get a little nervous, especially after my less than stellar 10K this weekend.  Plus I’m a bit unsure about the portion of the course where we’re suppose to run from Dupont Circle up to Woodley Park- that’s a big hill! At least it’s in the beginning of the run, but still.  Luckily I’ve had to do some hills during long runs, usually when I run from my apartment, through Old Town and down the Mount Vernon trail.  The last two miles or so are all uphill.

I think what I have to work to get through my head is that it doesn’t matter what my time is, or if I have to walk some or even a substantial part of the run.  The point is that I’m going to finish. I know I will, there’s no doubt about that.  I’ve wanted to do a half marathon since college, but during law school when I was not running at all I figured that was a pipe dream.  Now I’m so close to achieving it, and I love when I can ‘check’ something off the life to-do list. That’s my goal, and that is what needs to be my focus.  All other aspirations are future bucket list items that can wait.

So now it’s time to zero in on the end game.  My knee is better and I’m taking better care of myself to make sure that it stays that way until the race.  I’m cross training more and integrating spinning back into my routine.  It’s tough getting up at 5:15 am for a 6 am class, but I felt so great after last week’s class. Also planning on lots of consistent yoga, stretching and FOAM ROLLING!

I’m also not going to worry about speedwork for the remainder of my training, and just focus on getting miles in.  I know not to overdo it mileage wise, but I also know it’s better to get the stamina than worry about pace.  Once the race is done and I’m back from Spring Break, I might start focusing on trying to improve my speed.  Besides, I need my first race time to have a baseline to build upon, right?

With that said, here’s the plan for the third to last week of training (gulp):

Today: Three mile run, three sets of plank, side plank and push-ups
Tuesday: Spin class, legs and core strength training
Wednesday: four or five mile morning run, core and upper body strength training in afternoon
Thursday: either yoga or self-stretch at home; lower body strength training in afternoon
Friday: Power Hour Yoga in the morning; three mile afternoon run around Mall
Saturday: Long run- goal is 11 miles!
Sunday: Rest, maybe yoga

Hope everyone had a great long weekend, have a great short week!

Fitness for the Mind: ” At some of those restaurants and at others across the country, they were in the process of changing their menus and ‘rechristening Italian spaghetti’ as ‘Liberty Noodles.'” (S0 freedom fries weren’t a 9-11 original.)

-December 1941: Thirty One Days that Change America and Saved the World

By: Craig Shirley

Yin Yoga

I’ve been taken it easy the last few days.  Hence the lack of posts- nothing really to report. I mentioned in my last post that my left knee had been acting up- I had overdone it with the 10 miler and then a fast 5 miler a few days later, with less than stellar stretching and foam rolling.  I know exactly what I did wrong- and I had been doing so good!

So I basically took the weekend off, deciding it was wiser to save my knee and not cause too my harm before the Rock ‘n’ Roll half. Instead I focused on remedying my bad-ish behavior, and on Saturday afternoon went to Yin Yoga.  And it was awesome.

If you haven’t heard of Yin Yoga- I hadn’t either.  I had seen this class in Pure Prana’s schedule and been intrigued because it was advertised as the perfect complement to running, among other aerobic activities.  But since I usually do my long runs on Saturdays, I don’t usually have the time to devote an additional hour and a half to yoga.  That’s really not fair to my husband.

Basically, you spend the entire time on your mat- no standing.  You only do four or five poses, but you hold them for a long time- about five minutes each.  For example, we did a hip opener, several full leg stretches, and two back bends- cobra and dolphin (I think that’s one). The theory is that by hold the poses for that length of time, and not engaging in dynamic movement, you’re stretching your connective tissue, which is good for your joints.  There was more to it, but that was all I can remember.

Yup, we held plow position for five minutes!

I love yoga, but I don’t necessarily buy into a lot of the philosophy behind it.  I’m just a little too cynical.  I like yoga because I love stretching, and because I can feel how good it is for my body.  The rest of it doesn’t mean much to me- whenever the instructor asks for a dedication for our practice, mine’s just to stretch out.  I know- deep.

But I’m a bit of a believer in this.  First, I was convinced that class would be boring once the instructor explains how it works.  But low and behold, the class flew by.  I was shocked.

More importantly- my knee pain went away! We didn’t even do any knee-specific stretches, but I haven’t felt it since then.  That’s crazy in my book. I didn’t come close to breaking a sweat, yet I still feel like I gained something significant for my health.

I don’t think I’ll be able to attend this class regularly because of the time, but I’ll definitely try to fit it in after my half marathon at some point. I think it’ll help speed recovery right along

Seeing the Light

I’ve only been at this blogging thing a month, but I think it’s already clear that I am a morning exerciser.  I do my strength training and an occasional run in the afternoons, but my best and most consistent exercise is in the morning.  This won’t be the last time that I pay homage to my love of daybreak sweat-breaking.

However, winter certainly presents challenges.  Particularly in the form of darkness.  The weather doesn’t help, but I actually like cold weather running.  It’s the thought of doing it in complete darkness with no hope of sunlight for at least another two hours that can be discouraging.

That’s why I was thrilled to notice the difference in daylight between the start of my yoga classes at 6 am and their end a little after 7 am.  Here are before and after shots from Friday’s session (I’m trying to be much better about pictures and provide some excitement here):

Outside Yoga Studio- 5:55 AM

Outside Yoga Studio- 7:05 AM

That bit of weak daylight is already making a huge difference in my exercise mentality.  I felt much more alert and ready for the day.  I also felt like I made a better connection with my practice that morning and that I truly achieved an invigorating work-out with all its associated benefits.

Just a small change in sunlight did that for me.  And I’m in the habit of doing this.

So, I have some advice for anyone who wants to try to transition to a morning work-out schedule: Wait until the spring/summer, when the sun is up at a decent time.  Daylight is a trigger for your brain to wake up.  Without that trigger, I think it will be really difficult to look at getting up to exercise as anything but a chore if it’s not already ingrained in your brain, which is the exact opposite of what you want.

Sunlight will help your body better adjust to the idea that a work-out shortly after waking up is normal and actually beneficial.  By the time winter and dark mornings roll around again, your body should be in the routine that goes a long way towards providing the motivation to heed the alarm, throw on warm clothes and run through darkness.

So if you have been struggling with trying to work-out in the morning in the depth of winter, don’t be too hard on yourself.  Make it easier on yourself and try again when there’s sunlight to provide some extra support.