The Art of Walking

I had a pleasant walk/jog while it was snowing today.

I had a pleasant walk/jog while it was snowing today.

In all seriousness, I am truly amazed by people who can walk a marathon.  26.2 miles is a looooooong way to walk.  It takes a very loooooooong time.  I am the most impatient person I know.  I wouldn’t be able to walk for that long without going nutty.  I find it very difficult to run with someone who needs to stop to walk.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against walking AT ALL, but I have such a terrible urge to start running. I am a very bad walking buddy.  I am totally enthralled by those folks who can walk freakin’ fast.  For the life of me, I can’t walk that fast.  I just have to break into a jog in order to keep up with them.

So, I know I have mentioned this January competition before.  We will soon find out who has completed the most workouts for the month of January.  My only goal is to at least beat last year’s winning number.  That doesn’t mean that I will be the winner this year, but I figure that is a good goal to shoot for.  Well, after my swim and ride today I knew that I had to squeeze in another workout.  I thought about doing a weight training session because that is what I usually do when I just need to add on a workout.  Then I thought about walking to pick up my daughter from school.  Usually I take the little ones and I don’t count that as walking because it is more like shuffling your feet and stopping every minute to say “come on or hurry up”!  Today I had the opportunity to walk alone.

I knew it would actually be a workout because our neighborhood is all hills.  I never considered doing a walk as one of my workouts because I don’t really consider it a workout (I know it is a workout to speed walkers and people who don’t run… but not to me because I am a purebred runner).  The hills are the only thing that made it more of a workout so I figured that was good enough.  Of course it started snowing as soon as I put my shoes on.  That never stops me and I actually welcomed it this time because it made the walk more challenging.

Up the hill I went.  I was passing other parents who were walking to school.  I even sped by the sidewalk that leads to the school because I had an additional 10 minutes and I needed to make sure I would get a full 30 minute workout.  I couldn’t count on my daughter to walk home fast.  After climbing uphill for quite some time, I started going down.  It was too much for me.  I couldn’t walk down the hill.  I started jogging down the hill.  So, there I was in my jeans and puffy jacket jogging to the school.  It felt more natural to jog.  It was EASIER to jog.

I don’t think I get the art of walking.  I am terrible at it.  I drive my kids (and husband) crazy  with my impatience during our walks together.  I don’t know why I always feel the need to run, but at least I resist the urge when I am in the mall.

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My favorite core exercises

If you want to strengthen your core, then you need to know how to do a plank.  To put it simply, rest your elbows on the floor beneath your shoulders while raising yourself up on your toes.  Your back must remain flat.  Do not stick your rear up into the air and do not sag your tummy!  If you need to modify, then do it on your knees.

Once you have the basic plank down then you can try:

1.  Putting your feet up on a BOSU ball or step.

2.  Rocking front to back on your toes.

3.  Lifting up one leg at a time.

4.  Raising your elbows up off the floor with your palms flat on the ground (keep your arms straight, but don’t lock your elbows.

5.  Lateral plank walks (with your arms straight): Move your left foot out sideways and then your left arm.  Repeat with your right side.  Do this for 10 steps and then return to the starting spot.

Side plank

Side plank

6.  Plank on your side.  Lie on your left side and then bring your body up onto your elbow (it should rest directly below your shoulder).  Keep your body (back and legs) straight! You can rest your feet on top of each other or one in front of the other.  Hold as long as you can and then repeat on the other side.

Once you have the hang of the plank, then you can try my favorite core exercise.  It is my favorite because I find it challenging and I can really FEEL it working!

Swiss Ball Jackknife

Swiss Ball Jackknife

Swiss Ball Jackknife:  Get into a plank position with your shins on the ball (remember to keep that back straight throughout the entire exercise)!  Roll the ball toward your arms by bringing your knees to your chest.  Then return to the starting position.  The challenge is keeping your back straight!

I also like the Swiss Ball Mountain Climber:  Place your hands on the ball like you are preparing to do a push-up.  Keep your back straight (of course).  Lift your left foot off the ground and bring your knee up to your chest.  Repeat with your right foot.  Maintaining stability during this exercise is challenging!  But the more you challenge your stability, the more you are strengthening that core!

Then there is the Russian Twist (I am not sure why it has that name… you could also call it a seated twist):

Russian Twist with weight

Russian Twist with weight

Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.  Lean back so your torso is at a 45 degree angle (keep that back straight and not hunched!).  You may use a weighted ball or dumbbell (or nothing if you need to practice the technique).  Hold out your arms straight (with the weight in your hands) and twist as far as you can to the left.  Then repeat with the right side.

When is a good time to do core exercises?  Well, most people tend to do it at the end of a workout.  It is best to keep the core wide awake during most of your routine and not fatigue it until the end.  This decreases the risk of injury since (as I mentioned in my previous post) the core is VERY important in keeping you injury-free!  With that said, I will incorporate a few core exercises in between sets for my other muscle groups because I am not the kind of person who likes to sit still during a workout.  If I want to give my biceps a break between sets, then I will either do some lunges or bicycle crunches to keep my heart rate up.  However, I will save the most exhausting core work for the end.

How many types of exercises should you do?  How many sets should you do?  Well, it all depends on how long it takes for your core to catch on fire.  Sometimes I spend 10 minutes doing core work, while other times I try to spend 30 minutes.  It is always good to add variety to your workouts, so choose a few exercises to do during each session.  Then you will have other options to try during the next session.  Of course if you have favorites (like I do) then you might choose those ones more often.  I typically turn it into a circuit where I will choose 3 exercises and then rotate between each for at least 3 sets each.  Each set will consist of 12-20 reps depending on how tough the exercise is.

Anyway, these are just a few of my favorite core exercises.  If you are a beginner, then you should really have an experienced fitness guru demonstrate the exercises and then they can watch you to make sure you are doing them correctly.  It is very important to perform these exercises with a straight back.  If you are slouching or sagging, then your body is obviously fatigued and you should stop and try again later.  Happy core strengthening!

Find your inner core

As a runner, it is easy to focus on strengthening your legs, heart and lungs.  Isn’t that all that really matters when you are only trying to propel yourself forward without falling over with exhaustion?  This is a mistake made by many runners, myself included.  When I first started running I was only running.  I might have done a bit of weight training, but I was pretty intimidated by the weight room and I really had no idea what I was doing.  I avoided the elliptical and the stationary bike because I never felt like they were good enough substitutes for running.  The idea of cross-training just didn’t make any sense to me.  I assumed that I only needed to run more in order to become a better runner.

Then I couldn’t run anymore.  I could barely even walk.  My leg hurt so bad… the piercing pain radiating from my hip to my knee.  It sucked.  Not being able to run was the worst feeling in the world.  I went to the doctor because I knew that was the only way to fix the problem.  After a few tests, I learned that I had a protruding disk that was pushing on the nerve that ran down my leg.  Physical therapy was the best way to fix the problem so I did what I needed to do.  I avoided running for 3 months (well, every now and then I would make a failed attempt) and I attended my weekly therapy sessions.  The ultimate goal:  to strengthen my core in order to keep that disk in check.  That seemed easy enough.  Why didn’t I think of that before?  I would have saved myself a lot of trouble.

When most people think of their core they think of their abs.  Well, your core isn’t just your abs.  It is also your back, your hips and your cute little glutes.  All of those combined parts make up your core.  Doing crunches all day long isn’t going to help you much.  You need to focus on all components in order to get it right.

My physical therapist incorporated pilates into my sessions.  I glanced through a pilates book at the library and it had photos of old ladies doing pilates.  I wasn’t so sure about pilates, but I felt like I was working harder doing pilates than I ever was when I tried yoga.  Pilates was actually difficult when I started doing it.  My stomach felt like it was on fire.  Pilates and I are now good friends.

The plank is a very simple core exercise!

The plank is a very simple core exercise!

I remember the first time I did a plank.  I was lucky if I could hold the position for 10 seconds. After many months of hard work, I can now hold a plank for quite a long time.  Did you know that there are at least a hundred different versions of a plank?  You can do a plank with your feet on a ball or on a bench.  You can do a plank with one arm or one leg held up.  You can move sideways during a plank or rock front to back on your toes.  The list is endless.  The plank works your entire core and you don’t even need any equipment in order to do it!  You can even do it while you are watching t.v.!

I was saved when I found my inner core.  I could run again.  Now I know how VERY important it is to keep your core strong.  Core exercises are always part of my routine regardless of time constraints.  It is the only way for me to remain injury free.  My next blog post will be dedicated to a few of my favorite core exercises so stay tuned…

Minus Proper Nutrition

My daughter's homemade jelly-filled shortbread cookies!

My daughter’s homemade jelly-filled shortbread cookies!

My triathlon training is right on track. I am following my training plan pretty much spot on (and even adding more workouts to amuse my competitive spirit during the Jammin’ in January Workout Challenge). Already this week I have accomplished my long ride (enjoyed outdoors), my long swim, my brick workout (ride followed by a run), an interval ride on the bike trainer, an interval swim workout, and an interval run on the treadmill and 2 weight training sessions. I somehow manage to remain motivated even when I don’t want to get up early or when I don’t want to go for a ride or a run after work (especially on Mondays when I have to get up at 4:30 AM to go to work).

I’ve got this! I can do it! I might even be able to do better than finish last! Or I might run out of energy. I might hit a wall or crash and burn. Proper nutrition is not my middle name. I do find that I eat a lot more since I started training and I am pretty sure that all of my choices are not the right ones.

Today wasn’t too bad:
Breakfast: Kellogg’s cereal with a banana & almond milk
Lunch (after my swim & weight training workout): scrambled eggs with black beans, tomatoes, cheese & onions, hash browns, wheat toast and coffee.
Snack: Jalepeno chips (they say that spicy food is healthy!)
Dinner: spaghetti with tomato sauce, bell peppers, onions & spinach, 4 pieces of garlic bread (they were small slices!).
Then I insisted that my daughter bake some of her shortbread cookies. I haven’t eaten any yet, but don’t count on me allowing them to sit there uneaten.

Okay, I gave you a glimpse of one of my better days. I feel so hungry all of the time and I just want to grab something that tastes good and is very convenient. I need to rethink my strategy. I have had some serious cravings for baked goods. I can’t get them off my mind. They tempt me around every corner. Every time I take my girls to the library, I find a new baking book to glance at. I scheme my next baking night. And now I have gotten my daughter involved!

The worst part is that I haven’t gained weight. I know that isn’t a bad thing to most people, but if I were gaining weight then I would be more inclined to avoid the evil foods. But you can imagine what I would look like if I weren’t working out (just take a look at some of my old college photos). This will be the biggest challenge of my training. Eating right is one of the most important components and I am failing!

The Uglies of Fitness

My second most worn pair of shoes (after my running shoes of course).  These are stylish, right?

My second most worn pair of shoes (after my running shoes of course). These are stylish, right?

You obviously know by now that I like to run, bike, swim (well, it isn’t my favorite activity), lift weights, get my booty kicked in boot camp and enjoy a plethora of outdoor activities.  Mostly, I do these activities because they make me happy.  If I go for too long without any physical activity then I become agitated and depressed.  I also enjoy doing these activities because they open up endless possibiities for meaningful friendships.  I met most of my closest friends through running.  Fitness also helps me stay fit and healthy so I can hopefully live a longer life.  And lastly (yes, it is last on the list), I do it because I want to look good.

Looking good isn’t always the outcome, however.  Sometimes ugliness can result.  Two years ago my fourth toe on the right foot turned black.  Two months later the nail finally fell off.  Pretty much one year later the SAME toe turned black again.  Another two months later the nail fell off.  Now that SAME toe has a very ugly toenail that isn’t growing properly.  I can pretty much forget getting a pedicure EVER AGAIN.  Not only that, but the big toe on the SAME foot has been black for the past month (but that was caused by a fall down the stairs… however, I was on my way out the door to go for a run!).

So, I wear socks.  When summer comes you will probably still see me in socks unless I feel the desire to wear flip-flops and show off my ugly feet.  I guess my ugly feet would be better than my teenage face.  Not sure if it is the sweat mixed with the dry air, but I am starting to relive my high school days.  Okay, back in the day I actually didn’t have to deal with as many blackheads, pimples and zits as I do now.  It has been about 15 years since I purchased Clean & Clear lotion with the anti-zit medication.

If my face and feet aren’t enought to appall you, then you can check out my armpits where the chaffing of my tank tops on my skin has caused a red rash to breakout.  Hmmm, I should probably keep the other chaffed parts to myself…. no need to go into too much detail.

What about my pretty hair you say?   I must have forgotten to mention that I swim in a overally chlorinated pool.  I am surprised my hair hasn’t turned green yet.  It used to back in the day when I had blonde hair.  I’m not really a blonde anymore even though I spend enough time outside to get sunburns.  Even though my hair isn’t yet green, it is very surly.  It doesn’t know what to make of the toxic water, the two showers a day and the zero percent humidity.  I have to wear it back in a pony tail or else it is statically discharged on my face or sticking out in all directions.

You already know that I have no fashion sense.  I am happy to walk around in my gym gear all day even if I haven’t taken a shower yet (well, I am pretty keen on taking a shower right after a workout these days because I will freeze my rear off if I don’t).  You can usually find me in gym clothes dropping off my kids at school or taking a trip to the grocery store.  It is not like I need to impress anyone out there.  My tennis shoes have become my only shoes.  That is the only way I can keep my back in check.  I will do what I have to do in order to keep any back pain at bay.  I don’t want that ruining my workout routine.   I did try on some cute boots at the store the other day, but then I realized they weren’t functional and I put them back on the shelf.  I bought some for my girls instead.  I can live vicariously through them.

I am not sure what is going on with my jeans these days.  I am very forunate that I can fit into my pre-preggo jeans, but that isn’t going to be the case for too much longer.  And no, I am not gaining weight.  My thighs are getting bigger thanks to that damn bike!  So my jeans are tight on my thighs, but loose on my waist.  I wonder if they have any special jeans for cyclists and runners??

Even after putting all my uglies out there for everyone to see, I am not worried about it.  I know that I am beautiful inside because of what I choose to do.  Oh, and minus the lovely stretch marks, my abs are pretty awesome these days.

The Pool

It's like a treadmill, but there is no place to put your music or magazine.

It’s like a treadmill, but there is no place to put your music or magazine.

When most people think of a pool they probably think about relaxing with a magazine on a lounge chair while soaking up warm rays from the sun.  There are some people who don’t even get into the pool.  They don’t want to get wet because it might ruin their makeup or damage their hair.  Well, I know that is not the case for any of my mommy friends with young children because when they go to the pool they have to make the committment to actually get in the pool.  Lounging is not even an option.

Well, for me, lounging is definitely not an option even when I go to the pool alone.  It does feel odd to go to the pool alone, but I do it quite often now.  My kids get jealous when I tell them that I have to go to the pool.  I use the words “have to” in order to make it clear that it will not be as fun as it sounds.  I don’t wear a fancy swimsuit, carry a cute little tote or grab magazines on my way out.  I wear my black, boring one-piece with my cheap black flip-flops and use the coarse towels that the gym provides.  As I walk into the facility, I look longingly at the mommies who are splashing around with their kids in the little pool.  Then I think about the peace and quiet I will have for the next hour.

As I get in and swim my first lap I realize that it’s a bit too peaceful and quiet for my liking.  Not only that, but it is nearly impossible to get your heart rate up when you are working out in a prone position and I am definitely not sweating.  I never feel like I am working out when I am swimming.  Yet, I know it is a necessity.  Something I have to do in order to achieve my triathlon goals.

I just wish I were good at it.  That is my challenge.  I don’t know what I am doing.  I just flop around like a fish who is missing its fins.  My head sticks up too high and my legs hang down too low.  My body zigs and zags down the lane as my mouth collects gallons of chlorinated water.  I do feel like I am getting somewhere… just very, very slowly.  I started swimming pretty regularly nearly a year ago and I still haven’t gotten the hang of it.  It didn’t take me that long to improve my running.  It is very frustrating, but I know that I need to do some research in order to get it done right.  Either that or find someone willing to teach me.

I think a lot of people like to swim because it is calm and relaxing.  I find it rather boring.  I try to daydream when I swim, but then I kind of lose focus on my already poor form.  Lately, I have been trying to make it fun by doing sprints.  I usually end up gulping down more pool water, but I do think that it helps me swim with better form.

Yesterday was a rather interesting day at the pool.  I am not a big fan of sharing a lane with others (I know, I have lots of complaints about the pool) so I always try to go during non-peak hours.  This time I decided to try 8:30 PM because I expected it to nearly empty.  Boy, was I very wrong.  There were more people in there than I had ever seen before.  Lots of teenagers who were obviously swimming with a club or team.  After about 5 minutes of swimming alone, someone asked to share a lane with me and of course I obliged.  5 minutes later 3 people got into the lane, but they weren’t moving.  When I asked them what they were doing one woman responded and said that she was teaching the other two how to swim.  Okaaaaay… so I basically just nodded and asked the guy in the next lane over if I could share his lane.  That made 3 in one lane.  Then a fourth came over.  Now I was in a lane swimming with 3 young guys who obviously knew how to swim better and faster than me.  I was sprinting at that point.  As I turned (um, not a flip turn) in the deep end I would see them right behind me.  As I approached the shallow end I always considered stopping to let them pass, but then they would be 10 yards behind me.  I think it was because they rested at the deep end.  I don’t know, but time sure did fly by!  The next thing I know there were only 2 of us left and I think the dude was thankful to have his own side of the lane so he could cruise at the speed of lightning.

One good thing about swimming with a group: it is a more realistic training environment.  I was getting pummeled with waves and had to be very observant of where I was going, who was in front of me and who was behind me.  However, I do still enjoy being in my own lane all by myself… even if it is rather boring.

Winter Cycling

Snow or no snow?  That is the question...

Snow or no snow? That is the question…

Yesterday was the first time I had taken my bike outside with snow still visible on the ground.  If the freezing temperatures aren’t enough to scare me off, then the ice usually does.  After being on the bike trainer for a couple of weeks I was starting to get cycling cabin fever.  However, it’s one thing to gear up and go for a run… riding a bike drops the temperature another 10-20 degrees thanks to the wind chill.

Sure, I was excited about our white Christmas and I sure do love sledding on fresh snow with my girls or skiing the slopes with my husband.  Yet, part of me wants this snow stuff to go away.  I’m kind of torn.  I love snow, but I also enjoy riding my bike outside.  If I were training for a snowshoe race or a downhill skiing competition then I would obviously thrive on the snow, but a triathlon involves swimming, cycling and running.  Thinking about getting into the pool when my toes are frozen due to the walk from the car to the gym is a bit daunting.  Putting on loads of gear to head out for a quick 4-mile run just sounds like a lot of work.  Cycling into the wind and freezing your face off is just unthinkable.

Yesterday an opportunity was laid out before me.  Weather.com was predicting highs in the upper 40’s with minimal wind.  I usually take the weather report with a grain of salt, but I figured that I should at least give it a try.  I loaded up the bike in the car before heading to work at the fun hour of 4:30 AM.  Six hours later I was at the gym.   As I walked across the parking lot I felt a chill in the air.  40 degrees?  Whatever.  I only hoped that it would warm up by the time I finished my swim.  After getting out of the pool and walking into the freezing locker room, I began to wonder whether or not I would chicken out and head home to the trainer.  The hot shower changed my mind.  I proceeded to dry off completely, including my hair.  There was no way I was getting on that bike with wet hair.

A few minutes later I walked out into the bright sunshine.  It felt so good beaming down on me.  I realized that now was my chance.  I went to the car and analyzed my gear options.  Should I just wear a long-sleeve shirt or should I put on a wind resistant jacket?  Should I wear a hat?  Do I need an extra fleece?  I decided not to be too confident because the temperature always drops as soon as you start pedaling.  I opted for the long pants over my biking shorts, the long-sleeve shirt with the jacket and my gloves.  I put my hat in my pocket just in case.  I was thankful for my gear selection as soon as I started pedaling.

It didn’t take long to warm up and I felt so exhilerated to be outside on such a beautiful day!  All of the sand and rocks on the road were a bit of a bummer, but I didn’t see any patches of ice on the main roads.  It was kind of ironic to be riding past fields of snow on such a warm day.  I became so confident about not running into any ice that I had to make an abrupt stop on a neighborhood street when I came upon a large patch of ice that stretched across the entire road.  It was in the shade of a large pine tree so it wasn’t planning to melt any time soon.  I unclipped from my bike and slowly walked my bike across the patch nearly slipping as I did so.  After that I became more observant of where I was going (which I should probably do anyway).  At one point I decided to take one my old trails.  I couldn’t ride as fast as usual because I was concerned that an unexpected patch of ice would be around every corner.  I encountered one along the path and then came to a patch so large that I decided just to turn around and stick with the roads.

Now I am looking forward to my next ride, but I am not sure when the opportunity will arise again.  This weekend it is supposed to dip back down into the single digits.  I just wish this weather would make up its mind!