Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Running Away

Normally, I love running in new places.  I've run in almost every city I've visited.  I love it as a way of taking in the scenery, getting to know my surroundings, soaking in the local life.  In some places, locals stare at me like I'm a lunatic (in rural Italy, certain parts of Cyprus or even when I asked the valet at a hotel in Marina Del Mar which way to head to run to Santa Monica... She kept trying to convince me to drive there!)

However, for whatever reason, ever since I moved to Tunisia four months ago, I've been terrified of running here.  Well, I can list a few reasons.  For one thing, there aren't any courses nearby that I can get to without driving and given that I'm still nursing a little baby, my windows for running don't really include enough time to drive somewhere and then run.  Normally, that wouldn't stop me though, since I love just heading out the door and running in whatever neighborhood I'm staying.  Here however, there aren't really any sidewalks and people drive like maniacs.  Even the sidewalks that do exist are fraught with danger:  just a week or so ago, my mother-in-law who was visiting went out for a walk and tripped on some rebar sticking up out of the sidewalk and fell into the street, breaking her arm in three places.  Not optimal pedestrian conditions.

In addition to the running conditions, there were the social conditions: People here, mainly men, stare and catcall (that wouldn't have stopped me normally, but given my lack of sleep and general exhaustion, it's more daunting than usual) and also, I've been bit injured and out of shape due to the aforementioned baby (Again, weak excuse, I'd already been running back in SF before moving here.)

So plenty of excuses to avoid outdoor running and I turned to the treadmill in our fancy new gym, Arena.  In order to get over the boredom of treadmill running, I've been listening to podcasts (RadioLab and Serial) and occasionally doing treadmill interval workouts (I have a great 10k training one by Jay Blahnik that I got when I signed up for the Nike+ virtual human race 10k years ago.  Hey Nike+, why aren't you doing those any more?? That was awesome!)

But as I've just signed up for an upcoming 10k, my mileage is pushing beyond the 3ish miles I've been doing on the treadmill and this morning, a lovely sunny (abnormally warm) Sunday, I decided to take my 4 mile run outside.  Gasp!  I had seen a little path a few blocks away and figured I could deal with the traffic and street running until I got there.

So I head out of the house, fully prepared for a somewhat frustrating run.  My first surprise was hearing what sounded like a loudspeaker on this very quiet Sunday morning.  I decided on a whim to follow the noise and found, to my utmost surprise, a bike race getting started!  I've never seen one here and certainly not in this part of town.

The bikes were all lining up at the start, the man on the loud speaker was telling them about the course and telling them to get ready and to me, it felt just like the start of a Sunday run in Golden Gate Park.  Just like that, my apprehension about heading out for a run was gone and I felt amazing!

I continued down the road, hugging the side of the street (since the sidewalks were treacherous or non-existent) and decided this wasn't so bad really, on a quiet Sunday when there wasn't much traffic.  I wasn't sure about other times of the week though.

And then lo!  What is this?  A pretty little trail broke off to the side of the road!  It didn't go for all
that long, it was about three blocks worth, but they were very enjoyable blocks.   The trees on either side dimmed the noise of the cars on the freeway and the trail was soft underfoot.

When the path ended, I wasn't sure if I should continue trekking on the side or cut back to the streets I knew, so I opted for the second, since I knew for sure that they'd get me to where I was headed and these streets were in a very quiet residential neighborhood.  Next time, however, I might try to see if the trail continues.

A few blocks of running through this quiet neighborhood, with nothing but a few stray cats on my path, I then cut through a little shopping center and head to the running path I know exists.  I have one busy intersection to deal with (a four way stop-light with anxious aggressive drivers revving their engines and ready to launch into the intersection)  so I very carefully sprint across each segment of the crossing (no crosswalk really.)

And I've made it to the runner's path.  Here, I encounter a runner or two and quite a few walkers and
it's marvelous!  I feel 100% in my element and totally mock myself for not having done this sooner.

The path is fairly long, and has little tiled benches on either side.  A row of trees separate it from the road.  There is freshly mown grass on either side and the air smells green and wonderful. There are a couple of areas where the path disappears and the pedestrians are left fending for themselves at another crazy intersection but otherwise, it is a quite lovely promenade.

Eventually however, the inevitable happens.  The path ends, abruptly, in what can only be described as a trash heap.  The tiles disappear under overgrown grass and weeds and piles of trash.  This was what I had expected initially.  The pleasant surprise was that it didn't happen until after I'd already run 1.75 miles, so I only had a quarter mile to go before I had to turn around.

So I picked my way through the bushes to the street and then hugged the road till I made it past onto a sidewalk and run just a little bit further.   On the whole, the run was great! All day after that, I felt better than I had in months and I have made a promise to myself to get outside, at the very least, once a week on those quieter Sundays.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Nike Training Club

I (mostly) love Nike Training Club.  Mostly.  It's been around for quite a while now, but it's drastically changed since the first iteration - and for the most part, I love it.  For the past three weeks, I've been going an NTC training program, which is also, for the most part great.  And I'm super psyched to finally have a strong enough base to complete it.  (Mostly! More on that later)
So let me tell you about how awesome NTC is, but also a few issues I have with it.

The biggest winning point for NTC+ is the wide array of workout lengths, types, intensity levels, etc etc etc.  You can choose anywhere from a 12 minute intense blast to a 45 minute full body workout.  There's yoga, there's stretching, there's cardio... Given my tendency to get bored easily, there are so many options.  I can focus on just abs, just butt, just arms.  I can give my whole body a workout.

The workouts have beeps to cue the start of each exercise, a small amount of guidance throughout the move and videos you can click on (it pauses your workout) so you can figure out what the hell a Crazy Ivan is.  In general, I like the workouts but they're generally a bit tough, so I found I wasn't yet strong enough to complete them a couple of months ago, when I wrote about rebuilding the base.

But then I decided the base was there (or at least, just strong enough) and I decided to jump in.  And not just do a workout, but do a plan.

Now, I've completed an NTC plan before, but I've also failed a few of them.  While I enjoy having a workout plan feature, I have to say, I have a lot of problems with out the NTC ones work.
The plans are all 4 week plans.  To begin with, you select your focus (Get Slim, Get Toned or Get Strong).  Then your level:  Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced.  Then you decide if you want to add running and sync with Nike+ (I love this feature) and then you get your plan.

However you're then stuck with the plan based on the day you start it.  It is not in the least flexible.
This time, I selected Get Toned and Beginner and also synched with my Nike+, which adds two runs a week.  My schedule was then as follows:

  1. Monday:  30 minute Body Flexor workout:  This workout is great!  30 minutes seemed intimidating at first but after the 5 minute warm up and the 5 minutes of stretching at the end, it goes by so quickly.  The workout is an array of 1 minute workouts that cover the whole body - lunges, pushups, ab stuff and more.  I loved it, which is great, since this workout repeats every week.
  2. Tuesday:  3 mile run
  3. Wednesday: Rest
  4. Thursday:  This is the tough one.  A 45 minute workout (different one each week) - they seem to be mostly from the beginner levels of Get Toned.  They are Tighten Up, Dream Team, Body Buffer and Pump Station.  And they ALL include about 50,000 lunges (of all sorts) and lots of push ups.  Each week, this workout killed.
  5. Friday:  3 mile run
  6. Saturday:  15 minute Dynamic Yoga.  This one is also deceptive, but in the opposite way from the Monday Body Flexor.  It's tough! It's a good thing it's only 15 minutes and to be honest, to know, I still haven't been able to complete the multi-side planked series at the end (though each time I've gotten further along)
  7. Sunday:  Rest.

On the whole it's been great.  The problem with this program though is that there is zero flexibility.  You can't change a workout day, so if you miss one workout or hope to swap days of the week, you fail the workout.  It doesn't work.  This pissed me off when I first did the program several years ago.  Then I learned to (sorta kinda) cheat:  I run the app even if I'm not doing the workout.  Then I feel awfully guilty.  Then, I make sure I still get the workout done at some point that week, so I feel better.  But I still feel guilty.  It would be great if the program allowed for a grace period within each week so that you can make up a missed workout.  

All things considered though, it's a great app, and it's free.  The workouts are demanding.  They seem to post new ones pretty frequently (if you check out the Get Focussed section of the workouts, there are all kinds of new workouts of different types:  stretch guides, core strength, barre, tabata and yoga...)

I finished the program last week and it felt awesome.  I still have trouble finishing the yoga side plank section at the end, but on the whole feel pretty great.  I'll probably do an intermediate level program in a few months, but for the next few weeks, am on a holiday mini break and then in January I'll be starting the Self Challenge as well as a Nike+ coaching program for 10k.

(Today, I just snuck in one of my favourites:  Alpha Abs.  It's a super satisfying 15 minute workout for when you don't have that much time.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Building A Base

This initial month of my gettin' back in shape program is what I'm calling building a base.  I'm still way to weak to do something like P90X or even most of the N+TC workouts.

My main goal this month is to really focus on strengthening my core and protecting my back, all while starting to build up a little bit of cardio endurance.

Because of the previously mentioned back problems (aka the Babyback), the core strengthening is crucial. I have a little routine I do thanks to my lovely physical therapist Sydney that I supplement with some other stuff taken from here and there.

It varies (because I get bored with routines quickly) but here is what my week roughly looks like:

  • Day One:  Core stabilizing routine and abs plus 30 minutes elliptical
  • Day Two:  Short core stabilizing routine plus 30 minute treadmill run
  • Day Three: 30 minute Core strengthening workout
  • Day Four: Core stabilizing routine plus 30 minutes treadmill
  • Day Five: 45 Strength and Abs (probably a N+TC workout)
  • Day Six: Rest
  • Day Seven: Longer run

The short core stabilizing routine involves:
  1. Supine pelvic repositioning - 4 times 
  2. Core activation - twice with crossed arms and twice uncrossed
  3. Toe taps
  4. Bird dog - 15 seconds per side, 3 repeats
The longer version includes also:
  1. Hip Lifts
  2. Hip lifts with alternating legs lifts
  3. Bicycles
  4. Flutter kicks (still with legs pretty high up to keep back pressed against floor)
  5. Forearm planks
  6. Squats
Today was Day 3 and I supplemented the Core stabilizing routine with an ab workout from N+TC - Alpha Abs.  It was perfect for me right now.  (At some point, I'll tell you all about my love of N+TC)

I'm hoping to do this for two more weeks and then maybe move on to a specific 30 or 90 day workout block, either from N+TC or maybe PiYo...  Any favourite 30 day workout plans out there?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Where I'm Returning From (Pre to Post Natal)

Well, as mentioned before, it's been a while.  Since I last posted, I've had one kid, recovered my fitness, got back on track, then had a second kid.  Many lessons were learned in the process.  I'm not going to bother recounting that first journey, since I'll cover some of the stuff I learned when I tell you my current Back In Shape plan.

So here I am, 4 months postpartum... How to get back on track? How to get back into shape, start running again, tighten up that baby pooch?

First thing I did learn from last time was to start slowly.  Things don't work quite the same as they used to and if you don't strengthen the parts that need strengthening, when you then start running again, things get hurt.

During pregnancy:
Both times, I ran all the way through the beginning of my 8th month of pregnancy, and then swam laps for the last two.   I did this 2-3 days a week.

In addition, I did yoga and strengthening.  The three workouts I did most were:

  • Jane Austin Prenatal Yoga:  This was great and even on days when I was exhausted or felt awful (which sadly was the case for a lot of both pregnancies) I could even just do the first 30 minutes of this and it would help a lot!  I also love that it works the arms hard but then really stretches and relaxes.
  • The Perfect Pregnancy- Vol. 1-Sculpting:  I do love this - it feels like a real workout, working on strength and has three levels you can do within the workout.  As someone who was pretty fit coming into the pregnancy, this workout was satisfying.  And the Keep Up arm workout at the end burns!!!
  • Prenatal Fitness Fix with Erin O'Brien:  This workout was shorter but also satisfying in that it wasn't too easy and felt like an actual workout.  I didn't do this the first pregnancy but after doing Erin O'Brien's Postnatal Rescue, I found these and added them to the mix this time.
That was my schedule during pregnancy and I honestly do think it helped me make it through both pregnancies, both mentally and physically.

The AfterMath:
Both times, I was careful about waiting six weeks till I was cleared by my OB to workout. I did however start doing Erin O'Brien's Postnatal Rescue stretching before the 6 week mark.  

After 6 weeks, I began the following:
But this was not enough either time.  Both last time and this time, I have had severe lower back pain that made it difficult to stand up, bend over, pick up my baby... So I needed to step up my back and core rehabilitation.  That's where I'll be starting from... Next post :)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Can Fitness Be Sidelined?

You might think you know the answer to that question. Fitness can be sidelined, we say, because Crazy Job, because New Relationship, because Babies Be Babies*.

Ok, yeah. But no.

It's been about 5 years since I contributed to this blog, mainly because I stopped contributing to my fitness. After a series of really annoying injuries and issues (at one point I had a tweaky right knee and a painful left shoulder, which pretty much put me out of any game) I decided to hit the pause button. 

Damn that pause button. It's sneaky - it says Pause then changes to Stop, and life doesn't have a helpful transitional screen saver. Eventually I stopped feeling the need to work out, lost the giddiness of a personal best, misplaced the delicious habit of knowing my own metrics by heart. My V02, heart rate zones, target rpms and pace per mile, almost as dead as the dodo. 

Almost. Because the real answer to the question is this: No, your fitness cannot be sidelined.

Once you have a sense of your own fitness, once that is stamped onto your DNA, injected into your bloodstream, embedded under your skin or tattooed on the back of your neck, that sense doesn't leave you. Your fitness habit will slip next to you in the soft gentle light some dawn and like a delicate kiss, whisper "You're going to age really badly and that's not what I had planned..."

Then it will taunt you when you rise from a good night's sleep and don't feel rested, stand accusingly when you notice your gut popping over your jeans and laugh like an ass when you face plant on the sidewalk.

When we interpret fitness as physical beauty, sculpted abs or Perfect-Butt-in-30-Days! we miss a crucial point. Fitness is feeling incomparable. Fitness is being energized. Fitness is balance, flexibility, grace in handling life's weird twists. Fitness is us: happy.

After a frustrating and stressful job, never feeling quite rested, massaging my waist fat like it was bread dough and quite literally falling flat on my face on Howard Street to great humiliation (Hi guys across the street at Kate O'Brien's, drinking beer and watching me bleed) and expense (emergency room, ambulance, stitches), it finally dawned on me during that delicate dawn kiss that I really missed being fit.

So I'm back at it. New personal metrics, adjusted zones, different targets. My former personal best will stand, but not quite as high on the scale as the simple act of taking my fit self off pause.

*My Tiny90 blog partner, Sara, just had her second baby. She kept running until a month before her due date and will likely start running again the very minute she can. Babies be Babies, but Mom Needs a 3-Mile Run, Dammit :-)

Monday, March 1, 2010

WorkTravel Boot Camp

I'm on the road again, and this time I've decided to be even more structured about my workout plan. I've come a long way since my first few trips over a year ago, and have since realized that while I'm here in Cyprus editing I don't have any of the normal every day distractions that I do back home: no errands to run, no shopping to do, no cooking for myself, no house cleaning, no social distractions (well, hardly any)... You get my drift. It's just working, eating and taking care of myself.

I realized that while I could force myself to just plow through entire days of work, I am much more productive when I take breaks mentally and take care of myself physically. In fact, this work-travel scenario is ideal for a boot camp: I can make myself workout twice a day! As I mentioned in the past, I've been limiting myself to workouts that don't involve any equipment. So I loaded up my laptop with my P90X videos (the ones that didn't call for weights), Podcasts and my running buddy, the Nike+ enhanced iPod.

Here I am one third of the way through my trip and so far, it's going swimmingly:

Day 1:

  • Woke up far too early (jetlag)
  • Morning (pre-breakfast): Did 24 minute pilates routine from a podcast (Fit for Duty: Pilates is the podcast) - Verdict: could feel it wake up my body, could feel my core working, not my favourite workout though... Will keep searching for another good pilates podcast. Suggestions greatly appreciated!!
  • Evening (pre-Dinner): Did Yogamazing podcast: 25 minutes of Yoga for Back and Shoulders. It was a decent one, not brutally hard but made for a first day of jetlagged working out.
Day 2:
  • Woke up far too early (still jetlagged!)
  • Morning (pre-breakfast): Yogamazing Podcast: 25 minutes of Yoga for Abs. This was good, could feel the results, that super satisfying ab burn. whoo!
  • Evening: Kenpo X (from P90X). Good tiring sweat-producing workout. YAH!
Day 3:
  • Still woke up a bit on the early side despite having stayed out till 1am. Soooo tired :(
  • Morning (pre-breakfast): 15 minutes of Yogamazing Podcast: Heart Openers. Just going for stretching here. Since it was Sunday, I decided it would be my day off from working out since it's usually our most productive edit day (what with my director being stuck with me all day) but felt I needed a bit of a stretch from my many hours spent at the computer.
Day 4:
  • Early morning: Back on track! Got to bed a bit earlier and had a pretty solid night sleep.
  • Morning (Pre-breakfast): Cardio X (from P90X). I was FIRED UP! I love this workout! I felt all worked out and awesome afterwards and absolutely scarfed down my breakfast. (which by the way is the typical Cypriot Breakfast: tomato, halloumi cheese, olives first, then a slice of toast with some homemade fruit preserves and a slice of Anari* cheese on top. Yum!)
  • Midday (pre-lunch) - 8 minute Office Stress Relief yoga session from Yoga Today Podcast. Feels good... My neck, shoulders and back were getting a bit pissy from all this editing.
  • Evening (pre-dinner) - Yogamazing 17 minute yoga for neck and shoulders & Yoga Today Deep Core Strengthening for 10 minutes.
My plan for tomorrow is to go for a run (ideally about 40 minutes) in the morning and do yoga workout (this time with an upper body strength focus) in the evening.

So the working out is going according to plan. Meanwhile, the eating part is pretty much going as expected: I mean clearly, it's a great thing to have a fabulous Cypriot cook (my director's mother) preparing meals for us all the time, but everything is so yummy, I seem to be eating quite a lot. At least her style of Cypriot cuisine is chock full of veggies and salads and is generally quite healthful. Or at least, that's what I keep telling myself.

*God, I wish we had Anari in the states. It's basically the leftover whey water from making Halloumi (which gets all the fat), so it's kind of like a super fresh ricotta, a bit softer with slightly bigger curds, very low fat, pretty high protein, which makes it an awesome healthy breakfast cheese.

Friday, February 26, 2010

EA Active - Over and Out!

Well, I made it through the 30-day challenge for the EA Active Wii game and... it was OK. Towards the end of the challenge, I'd primarily done workouts in the Advanced category, with only a few Intermediates snuck in when I didn't have time for a fuller workout.

The four main elements that every workout uses are:

  1. Cardio: there were several things that were slipped into this category.
    • My favorite was the boxing (no surprise here): alternating between punching targets, punching the bag and standing on the balance board and kicking the bag. Good stuff, always raises my heart rate and gets me sweating. Also good for getting out that aggressive energy.
    • Also quite good: the track running, high knees, and kick backs. The track workouts were surprisingly good for what is essentially just running in place. The high knee and kick back intervals particularly really got my heart pumping and I'd be sweating by the end. The visuals were fun and having other people run on the track actually worked to make me speed up to pass them. No interval was ever longer than 6 minutes, but as long as I don't use EA Active as my primary source of cardio workouts, that's just fine.
    • My least favorite here was the Dance. So lame. It was basically a much less exciting version of DDR (either just upper body with the Wiimotes or upper and lower using the balance board). Sorry, it was just super lame and no matter how vigorously I tried to do the moves, I still didn't feel particularly worked out.
  2. Upper body strength: a variety of the standard either isolated or combined strength moves using the band. They were pretty good, I've definitely felt a difference in my upper body but the band isn't great for all the moves. Also, I think it would have been a smart move to add some pushups or something along those lines which I feel is much better for ramping up the upper body strength. One thing I really didn't like here was that with two workouts in a row, 2 days back to back, it had me do one workout that focussed on upper body the first day, but then still had me doing upper body strength the second day, instead of resting it. Not cool.
  3. Lower body strength: decent array of squats, lunges, with some interesting challenging moves thrown in, like the jump squats, the stationary squats and stuff like that. In general, this focus felt effective. I definitely had days when I was brutally sore after a lower body focus workout.
  4. Sports: Now this part is just fun. I really enjoyed all the sports (tennis, basketball, volleyball, baseball and skating) and they typically felt like a good distraction from the focus of the workout while still doing something of a workout.
Having completed the challenge though, I don't know that I would do it again, since it doesn't seem to scale to my ability level. One of the things I liked about Maya and Yourself! Fitness (aka My Fitness Coach), was that there was a check in each workout to see how it was and if it was too easy, the program would adjust to make it harder. There were also fitness tests every certain number of workouts to gauge my improvement. With Wii Fit, while the workouts aren't as challenging as EA Active can be, I can both track my ability to do certain moves and see improvement, as well as track my weight.

In the end, that kind of interaction with the program makes it something that's worth going back to (and ultimately owning). With EA Active, I'm only likely to do one of those workouts every once in a blue moon, if I'm bored with whatever else I have going on. The awards that the program gives me aren't interesting enough for me to come back for more. The only thing that keeps me coming back is being able to track my progress.