10 thoughts from a really hard barre class

I am a huge fan of barre. Tonight’s class was one of the hardest I have ever done and this I what I was thinking. 

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1) I wonder if anyone has ever cried in class before. 

2)  I suspect I might be having a seizure there’s so much shaking.

3) I hope that defibrillator is charged. 

F@$&!

4) I am pretty sure my hamstrings don’t do that.

5) I didn’t know I had muscles down there but I guess I do. 

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6) I guess I do have abs under this mommy belly after all.

Oh F@$&!

7) I could go all Xenia from Goldeneye  and choke a man with my thighs. 

8) I should be ready to start my second career as an ass model tomorrow. 

9) I hope I won’t have to use these arms to operate, or drive, or even hold a pen tomorrow. 

Holy F@$&!

10) I should have bought a ranch style home. 

Damn, that was a good class

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On Spring Running and 3 Races in 30 Days

The first day of summer has finally arrived. I am making plans to stay fit for the coming months so that I can head into fall half marathon season both motivated and rested. 

You see, after a long, hard winter it ended up being a glorious spring for this aspiring runner.

Between Christmas Day and April 4th I never stepped foot outside in my running gear near my home base. A total of 120 inches of snow had accumulated out side my front door. The roads were too narrowed by eyeball height piles of white fluff that lingered into the early days of April. Thankfully, a few work trips to Vegas, Chicago, and Orlando allowed me to squeeze in 7 short runs. That was it. I ran the Disney half on January 10th and only ran seven more times during the rest of Jan, Feb, and Mar. 

It was a long, hard winter.

When the roads and sidewalks finally emerged in early April the pressure was on. I had signed up for a Ragnar Relay months before and it was less than 5 weeks away. I didn’t feel pressure to train for distances (my 3 relay legs were supposed to range in distance from 3.2 miles to 7.6 miles and I was confident that my untrained body could pull that off based on past experience) but I did feel urgency to become comfortable running in the dark (something that I had tried once and it had freaked me out) and running on little or no sleep (I had previously never run post call; it turns out that the post-call runs are perfect for Ragnar training).

And so it began. Random runs of random distances at random hours. #RagnarPrep

Meanwhile, there was Ironhorse half marathon on the horizon. The event that had become an annual tradition for me and my best friend from residency. She moved just two hours south of me and a really lovely half course was just an hour between each of us in Simsbury CT; and, it did not occur on a prime weekend thus making it easy for me to get the time off to run. In years past, we (I run with my husband too) had loosely adhered to a 8-10 week half training plan on the Runner’s World app. Loosely because until recently getting my act together to get in the weekday runs was impossible; it would have required waking up sufficiently early enough to actually run. (Thankfully, I have pretty much turned that around with my detox.) This year, we had to get through Ragnar before before we could wrap our heads around training for a half.

And then the May call schedule came out. I cannot remember the last time since graduating medical school 15 years ago that I had all 3 days of the Memorial Day long weekend off. Since my first half a few years ago (the half that started this blog and the half which I did on a crazy whim with just 3 weeks to go having never run more than 6 miles in a row), I was always envious of my running friends who ran the Boston Run to Remember that weekend. I never could. I was either on call, pre-call (and thus needed to be available as back-up), or post-call (there’s no way to get to a 7am gun let alone run 13.1 miles after being up all night). So, when the May schedule gave me the gift of the weekend off, I was delirious to find out that the race was not sold out.

And there it was. My 30 Day Race Plan. From May 8th, the day the vans pulled up for Ragnar, to June 7th I ran an overnight relay with 3 legs that ended up ranging from 3.2 to 9.0 and two half marathons–one urban with a huge field with thousands of runners and the other through the Connecticut countryside along with just over 1500 other runners. 
And now my plan for the summer. 

  
I am in no hurry to pack in the miles. I am ready for a break from distances for a few weeks but I do want to keep up the running momentum. This is something I have struggled to do in the past with our humid summers. But I am a different person now, capable of getting in run in the wee hours before it warms up if needed. I have trained my body to do distances on very little prep. Now, I want to get a little faster (and hopefully drop the 7lbs I gained during the sedentary winter–one craves comfort food when snowed in and please don’t ask about the high quality cardio equipment I house in my basement gym). 

My goal is to run 3 miles 3 times a week no matter what. There are lots of hills in my area. Though I managed to run my first leg of 3.2 miles at Ragnar at a 9:59 pace running a 10 min/mile has never been within my capacity. I hope to turn that around too by the end of the summer. While running for has never been about speed for me, I do feel that I will be much more consistent getting in quick running workouts in the future if in can do three miles in 30 minutes. Along with the weekly running goal, I also plan to hit my local studio for Pilates, Barre, Zumba, or HIIT at least three times per week for additional strength building, core work, toning, and cardio (with different muscle groups than running) that will all make me a better runner. 

I am honestly relieved not to have a high pressure race goal this summer. Instead of focusing on a date and location I am focusing on myself and looking forward to a fun running summer which will leave me well rested but fit and energized for a couple of fall half marathons that I am eying depending on the call schedule. 

Happy Summer Solstice running friends. 

Not-A-Morning-Person Detox

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I suck at mornings. I always have. It’s genetic (just ask my dad).

My past efforts at transforming myself into a morning person have all failed miserably.  There were occasionally times where there was a burst of morning joy (yes, I even made a top 10 list about why I should do this yet still failed) but inevitably the joy turned to despair and I returned to my usual ways of barely waking up on time for the latest I could possibly be where I needed to be. My mornings are typically a flurry of being in a rush and arriving at wherever I need to be totally cranky. People in my current job have seriously asked me when they first see me in the morning why I am so angry.

In college my worst grades were in the classes that started at 8:30 or 9:00am.  Luckily by junior year such classes could be avoided. My choice of medicine was quite a challenge in this regard as medical education is decidely not 9-5. Thankfully the labs were you had to be present were all after lunch and the rest…well I will leave that to my lab partners to divulge (this was before ever class was recorded and notes available online thus precluding any necessity to be present for didactic portions of medical education). And residency/fellowship…. oh well, I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it was for me to show up at 5:45 every day but I had a spouse who has since the day we married (and is a morning person) been able to supply me with the requisite amount of caffeine in hand and boot my ass out the door in time to make it to rounds (but I did deliberately place at #1 on my rank list a general surgery program that did not require its interns to preround; yes, I am such a bad morning person that I chose a pivotal part of my surgical training to get out of that extra 30-60 minutes of work before 6am rounds).

While I have chosen a career where being on your A-game in the middle of the night is perfectly fine (in-house overnight call as an acute care surgeon; most grants, manuscripts, and data analytics can be done when my second wind hits in the evenings or overnight), figuring out how to fit working out into the mix of a busy surgical career and life as a wife/mother has been a challenge. Excluding mornings from this has made the challenge that much harder. Every day I say to myself, “No problem, I will just exercise after work.” Turns out I am great at lying to myself. Most days, I am just to tired or cranky or hungry after 11 or more hours at work (yes, even when not taking care of patients, it is a rare day that I am working fewer than 11 hours; I have tried to fix this and I am convinced that it is just not possible with a surgeon’s schedule) and find myself crawling to bed, face half-covered in drool, after having fallen asleep on the couch at some point with just 4-5 hours to spare until I have to be back a work.

A few weeks ago, emerging from a long, snowy winter some 7lbs heavier than the fall, I knew I needed to change my behaviors once and for all since saving workouts for the evening has not been successful was clearly not the solution when morning workouts failed to stick in the past.

Somehow though, when I travel for work (or for vacations for that matter) I am able to fit in morning workouts even on very little sleep. So with this current effort at conquering my not-a-morning-personitis, I analyzed my successes while away from home to try to make a major change in my at home routine.

  • First, travel requires forethought and organization that I don’t typically apply in every day life since every day life just happens whether or not I am trying. Part of that forethought is making sure I have my workout gear and that I set my alarm clock to be able to fit in a 30-60 minute workout.
  • Second, when I travel, there typically isn’t a couch to accidentally fall asleep on (note: stay away from suites for this reason) in a big heap due to physical or mental exhaustion the night before. So, on my pre-workout evenings while traveling I get under the covers, read or blog for a bit (I do more pleasure reading or blogging on a trip than ever at home), and let myself fall asleep in the proper place.
  • Third, away work meetings, though still painfully early, usually start an hour later than any of my work obligations while at home. (Bonus: west coast meetings give this east coaster’s not-a-morning-person ass the illusion of extra time in the morning no matter what time the clock says that meeting starts. Yah!)
  • Fourth, because I am a totally technological loser, I can never figure out hotel alarm clocks so I just set my iPhone to wake me when I travel. For some reason being able to wake up to a fake choo choo train sound works better for me than the shrill of a typical alarm clock.
  • Fifth, I typically don’t have the patience to find the local NPR station when I travel (yes, I know there’s an app but remember this is still the morning and we’re still talking about me conquering said morning so finding the screen with that app is an almost insurmountable challenge). Without a great NPR news story followed by another (since this is commercial free radio) and so on and so forth, without the familiar voices of NPR’s Morning Edition emanating from the clock radio, it’s just easier for me to abandon the hotel bed.
  • Finally, when morning arrives (even if it is at 5am),  I am able to rise, brush my teeth, have my caffeine, and get dressed to workout over the leisurely course of 30 minutes or so before heading out to workout.

So here is how the detox happened. It started three weeks ago chosen deliberately due to an odd stretch of time where I was neither traveling nor on call (because being up all night tends to ruin multiple subsequent mornings for me).

First, I had to make my body understand that it was okay to be up much earlier than I need to be anywhere officially. So I started setting my iPhone to wake me up in the mornings since clearly I have no capacity to respond to my actually alarm clock. I just woke up, maybe had my coffee, and then stayed in bed while awake. This was it. Five mornings in a row I just got up early and did pretty much nothing. I just needed to get my body to get used to being up early and not rushing anywhere.

The following week, I actually got out of bed when the iPhone rang, brushed my teeth, had a cup of coffee, and got ready to work out (all without rushing). And then, I actually did work out. That week I focused on indoors in the home gym. No travel time. No pressure. No one to impress. I also conned my husband into joining me (I mean, I needed the coffee after all) and made sure there was something totally sinful to keep up with on the DVR. And you know what, it worked. Each morning for 7 consecutive days we worked out in the basement (and we blew through Newsroom, which I high recommend and moved on to Bloodline, equally compelling to get one up in the morning to see what happens next). On days that we did not time the alarms perfectly or pressed snooze a few too many times, we adjusted our run times to 30 or 45 minutes but 4 of those days we got in an hour long workout.

Each of those seven days was a great day for me. More energy when I got to work. No one asking why I was in a venomous rage when are arrived at my place of employment since I had worked all of that “I would rather be in bed” anger out of my body already. The evenings without pressure to try to work out only to be angry at myself for having not done it were so much easier. And, no more messing up my back by falling asleep on the couch in a contorted position. I would get myself upstairs and to my proper sleep location because I knew I had a morning workout I needed to be up for. I slept so much better. (It’s not that I didn’t know all of this already but transforming such knowledge into action was always the hard part.)

After two weeks of not-a-morning-person detox, I was feeling pretty good. The following week, however, had a few challenges. On Monday of that week, we were nervous for a family member and needed to be at a far away hospital pretty early and we blew it. But we got back on track the next day and it was getting to the point when I really wanted to work out in the mornings. But alas, some mornings are rough, especially those that require me to be at work before 7am. However, I was determined not to slide back to my old ways. So, on the days when even a quick 25 minute jaunt on a machine in my own home was out of the question we turned to the 7 minute workout. Yes, I am partial to the New York Times version of it. My husband turned me onto it. It’s what he did at the hotel when, during his last trip, every treadmill and elliptical in the crappy gym was taken by 5am. Sure, the workout can be repeated over and over for a great cross-training workout but even just seven minutes will get the muscles sore and the heart pumping so on the morning when the alarms just weren’t timed right to be at work for 6:30 and on the day that I had to leave at 5:45 to get my kid to her field hockey tournament on time, I worked out for exactly 7 minutes. But, hey it was better than no workout and it allowed me to stay on the wagon of morning workouts.

So, is this it? Is my detox process complete? Am I finally cured of my not-a-morning-personitis? Will I relapse? I am not sure.

But, this morning was the start of the fourth week and I got up and out for a quick 3 mile run and it felt good. I am hoping that my slow, calculated effort this time based on analysis past successes (as opposed to taking advantage of jetlag after a bout of traveling) will be the secret of life-long success in the days, months, years to follow. I give you permission as followers of the blog to hold me accountable. And please share your stories on how you make mornings work. I need all the help I can get to keep this up.

Holy $#!% That Barre Class Was Waaaay Harder Than Running 10 Miles

It’s no secret that the traumamamas love trading in our heels and our kicks for grippy socks. sock_lrg_1

While I am no veteran Pure Barre client like @surgeoninkicks who is already well past her first 100 classes, I do have her to, ummm, thank for introducing me Pure Barre and I have returned time and time again (having tested out some of the competition) whenever I can.

So today, my barre hopping brought me back to PB River North in Chicago.

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I felt good heading into today’s class. I was joined by a friend who lives nearby (and was originally inspired to try Pure Barre by this very blog); I always enjoy workouts with friends better than solo endeavors. I was still on an endorphin high from the two road races I ran over the weekend. And, though I sometimes go months between Pure Barre classes, I had squeezed in a class at PB Boston just one week earlier during yet another work trip. You see, the moves and the music change about every 4-6 weeks or so (the flow of the class from warmup to abs, to upper body, to seat and thigh, back to abs, and then finally to cool down, back work, and stretching stays the same); so I find that having been to a recent class (even if it is in a totally different part of the country) prepares me to be a much better Pure Barre pupil.

So yes, I was feeling really ready when I headed to PB River North this morning, warming up with a brisk half mile walk from my hotel.

But you know, I still always feel pretty pathetic at Pure Barre as I compare myself to those who attend more often than I do. They hold their planks with precision while I am biting through my lower lip to keep from buckling, thinking “Ugh, my abs are sooooooo weak!.” They wield the 5lb weights while making their triceps jump while I am examining my arms lifting 2lb weights wondering “Is that my tricep?” They have just the right amount of shake without stepping away from the barre during the seat and thigh work but this is when I start audibly cursing, question myself “What the F… possessed me to do this again?!” Their abs snap back so efficiently that their gracefully straightened legs rise up to the ceiling; meanwhile my stupid tight hamstrings make my legs look like giant claws and no matter how much harder I squeeze my abs nothing seems to happen. At this point, I am praying “Dear lord please let it end.” I somehow fake my way through the floor based ab work with my legs once again entirely unable to cooperate with being straight thus exacerbating my abdominal failings. And then, finally, we get to the back work and (thanks to all the pilates I have also done) I am a back dancing queen so I start to feel good about myself again, “Woot, I rock!” But then we get to the stretching. The time has come to “bend yourself in half” says the Pure Barre teacher and all I can think of with my still nearly upright torso despite my maximally stretched legs and back is “Well at least it’s over. Bring on the disinfecting wipe.”

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I am thinking “Holy $#!% That Barre Class Was Waaaay Harder Than Running 10 Miles!” but you know what I felt great (and was soaked in like 5 times as much sweat as any run I have ever done even in warm weather). This is a fact about every Pure Barre class I have ever taken. No matter how inadequate I feel during class, no matter how much I curse through the lift, tuck, and burn, no matter how much I ache in parts of my body that I didn’t even know could ache, I always feel fantastic after the class.

I am already lamenting the fact that I may not be able to get to another Pure Barre class for quite some time. I would laugh at myself for all the self-deprecation during class except, well….., my abs still hurt too much to do that.

Relax, Recharge, Reunite: Analysis of a Girls’ Getaway

I am just heading home from a 4 day weekend with some of my college roommates. We have now known each other for longer than we hadn’t before we met in our late teens. As our 40th birthdays were approaching a couple of years ago, I suggested that we all get together to celebrate sometime this summer. After multiple Google searches for ‘girls’ weekend,’ many destinations proposed and rejected, and several ‘anonymous’ doodle polls, four of us amazingly agreed on a time and place and pulled it off.

It was the first time since graduation that we met ‘just because.’ There was no wedding or baby shower, no reunion, no conveniently timed and located work meeting. We wanted to, and in retrospect needed to, just be together for the sake of reconnecting with women we hold dear in our hearts, who will forever share a piece of our soul even if the hustle and bustle life keep us largely apart and disconnected from each others’ daily lives. We came together from different corners of the country. This is what friendship is all about.

So we friends, who have moved geographically and/or practically away from each other over the years, slipped right back into our easy friendship in a swank condo in downtown Denver. (Denver BTW is a great destination for a girls’ weekend offering a balance of outdoor adventures, culture, and urban fun but this blog post is not about that.) We laughed together. We cried together. We ran, hiked, biked, swam, and lifted/toned/burned* together. We shopped together. We relaxed together. We perused social media together. We ate and drank together.

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Mostly we just talked and talked and talked while we did all these things together. We had so much to catch up on: so much advice to seek; so many opinions to render; so many feelings to share. It’s not that none of us have equivalent friendships in our daily lives to do all this sharing, all this bearing of heart and soul; but the same challenges of life, be they work, kids, personal health, etc., that get in the way of us keeping in touch also get in the way of those local friendships.** Some of us, however, just don’t have women who are true friends close to our current homes, part of our daily lives. And for us, the reconnecting was ever so much more meaningful.

In theory, since we value each others’ friendship so much, we could call or text each other, we could Skype or Google Hangout together, and we could email or (gasp) send letters to one another to stay connected. But we don’t. We just don’t. It’s not that we don’t need or want to. We just aren’t able to execute on our friendships when everything else is a more immediate priority. So, without the rigors of daily life bearing down on us, without the distraction of some other event calling us together, we were able to just let go of all the things that keep us perpetually apart and be together this past weekend.

We all benefited. We felt unconditional love and received honest input on things that are weighing heavily on our minds. We learned more about ourselves and our relationships with others. We deduced what undergarments should and shouldn’t be worn and for what occasions. We exorcised demons of roommate fiascos of long ago. We built new memories and hatched ambitious plans for the future.

From gut busting guffaws, to smirks and smiles and frowns and tears, we had a great time. Part therapy, part fun, part vacation—girls’ getaways are an undeniable fact of life long friendships, quickly mitigating the challenges of distance and distractions of modern life. A perfect way to relax, recharge, and reunite.

*See Pure Barre

**This is why so many women who are in geographic proximity do ladies’ night out much in the way we did this weekend.

 

 

More Barre Hopping

I was back on my Pure Barre National Tour this past week while away for a much needed girls’ weekend with some of my college roommates in Denver. When I can’t go to my local Pilates studio, PB is a great way to keep the core from devolving and to offset travel related caloric indulgences.

Not all of my travel companions were interested in PB. So as to not interfere with any group bonding activities and to get the calorie burn done well before indulgent brunches, I booked three 6am classes at the Highlands studio. It’s such a treat for me that I had no problem getting up (if only I could do that more often at home).

As is always the case, the instructors were very welcoming. And, unlike past experiences, the PB Highlands instructors spent of lot of time correcting during the class. This is perhaps due to the relatively small class size (it seems that the people of Denver like to sleep in since every other studio I have been (Chicago River North, Naples FL, Memphis TN, Boston Newbury St) to has been packed or so filled that I couldn’t even get in (thanks for nothing PB Philly and DC)). Anyway, through I have done PB enough now to anticipate the next body part to go into tetany, I don’t know the exact moves so the special hands on attention was much appreciated.

I even did my first class today with these doohickeys. 20140722-125537-46537113.jpg
No my hamstrings don’t do that and yes some parts of if were definitely channeling the reformer. It was a great workout that definitely challenged my strength and flexibility while getting my heart rate up. I left feeling lean, cinched in, and powerful.

Most of all it felt good to be doing this for myself despite the late nights, indulgent eats, and outdoor activities (which some might use as an excuse to not keep up the core and seat work) of this girls’ weekend.

Feeling 40

On the morning of my 38th birthday I promised myself I would be in the best shape of my life by my 40th birthday. I gave myself 2 years, hauled my Not-A-Morning-Person ass out of bed at 5:45am, and headed for my first reformer class. So lots of core work and runs later minus lots of unnecessary carbs (though not totally paleo), I have to say, I am pretty proud of myself.

And, though I can say with confidence that I feel better and look better than I ever have–while I wholeheartedly believe that 40 is the new 20–I must admit there are some tell-tale signs that I have the physiology of a 40 year old.

1) I have grey hairs.

2) I have more chin hair than my husband (who is rockin’ a full beard these days!)

3) Worse, some of those chin hairs are grey too!

4) No amount of investment in an industrial strength push-up bra will re-orient my boobs.

5) Speaking of boobs, mammograms. Ugh.

6) I rock raccoon eye. Not just when I am post-call or have been crying. Nope, just All. The. Time.

7) I have a pooch. Not my puppy, rather a tenacious fold of abdominal skin that mimics a beer gut without any of the beer.

8) I can sense the weather in my toes (don’t blame the heels!), my knees (don’t blame the running!), and my left thumb (blame surgery!).

9) A night out is staying up past 9pm without pajamas on.

10) I have forgotten what 10 is.

Happy Birthday to Me! I’m feelin’ 40.

 

Salvation at My Local Pilates Studio

It’s my birthday week and, since blogging has been one of my work life balance joys in these last few months, I have decided to challenge myself with a blog post a day every day this week. Some are relevant to the milestone that is fast approaching, others are not, but it will be a gift to myself to reach my b-day week goal. Hope you enjoy.

 

I had a private reformer session today and boy, oh boy, did my instructor work me. She made sure she complimented me on the major strides I have made since I first sent her an email inquiry just over 24 months ago but then she worked my core, hips, and glutes like nobody’s business. And it hurt, and it felt so good, all at the same time.

Mostly, I was just proud that I took some time out of my day to make myself leaner and stronger (and hence healthier) when up until that email I was making no efforts to be well after more than a decade of ingrained self-negligence. If you’re not naturally athletic, if you weren’t raised in a home where being fit and healthy was a priority, and if you pick a life partner with basically the same wellness liabilities as you, it’s easy to use medical school, surgical training, and life as an attending surgeon as an excuse to not take care of yourself.

So here is how the email sent on 6/22/2012 went:

Thanks for reaching out to me by phone earlier today…To reiterate, I am a trauma/acute care surgeon with a busy schedule that I cannot sometimes control. That said, I need to be in better shape and I wanted to start pilates reformer 1:1 to improve my back pain and posture and make my overall cardiovascular endurance better. I wanted to meet with someone for a first reformer class and if we hit it off, move forward with a 10 pack but I could not commit to the same day and time every week and some weeks I could not do any session while others I could do two.  Is there someone there who might be able to work with me?
Leading up to this email, I had done some online research on other local fitness options and had done a qualitative study of sorts from my friends, neighbors, and colleagues. From the traditional gym to crossfit to bootcamps to private personal trainers, I had explored them all. For most, I was either put off by my perceived culture of the establishment or none of the offerings were going to meld with my hectic schedule. What drew me to my local pilates studio was multiple.
It was the story of the founder who wrote on her website about how her back pain dissipated when she learned pilates–I had been waking up with excruciating pain for the past 6 years (hunching awkwardly in the OR can do that to you). It was the studio interior which made my sort of frumpy suburban scene seem urban and hip–I left an amazing city to move to the burbs because it was the right thing for my family but I’m a city girl at heart. It was my research on the art and science of pilates which seemed like exactly what my body needed to become healthy from inside out–I had done the fits and spurts of diet controlled weightloss many times in the past and had failed. It was the flexibility of booking sessions the private instructors and paying with punch cards or passes that would only be charged for the sessions I signed up for–I had tried the motivation of automatic monthly fees or year long commitments only to lose money without imparting any improvement in my strength or agility.
And, so on the morning of my 38th birthday I arrived at 6am, a little fearful, a little exhilarated for my first Stott reformer class.v2max Something that I had initially viewed as a medieval torture device soon became my tool for healing my chronic pains, for gaining length and building strength. My goals was to be in the best shape of my life by the time I turned 40. That’s just 6 days away and like I was reminded today and am reminded every time I wear an awesome dress without Spanx, I have come a long  way.
Finding this studio has saved me from heading into the next decade of my life feeling tired, with a hunched, aching back, and a body shape with much to be desired. Last week was a banner week for me with a relatively light 87 hour week on service so I was able to do a lot at the studio. I took a group reformer class, zumba, and two barre classes at the studio in addition to my private which I still try to make at least twice a month (but my schedule is no better so it doesn’t always happen). Sometimes, however, weeks go by and I don’t go at all between call and travel.  But, all of the fundamentals I have gained by starting first with reformer and then adding in other offerings at the studio which fundamentally are focused on building and sustaining the core are now with me every day.
When I am too busy at work to make it to the studio, I might do a quick set of exercises on the floor of my office on call or use the edge of the OR table to do some more while waiting for the patient to get rolled into the room. When I travel, I have enough core strength and coordination to be an itinerant Pure Barre student (I surely would have died on site during my first Pure Barre class had I not already been a student of Stott Pilates method for well over a year). Finally, though it was not known to me when I wrote that email, I was also an aspiring runner. And, pilates has made me a stronger, safer, and faster runner. So when all I have is a pair of kicks and I hit the road, I am taking what I have learned at the studio with me.
There is no doubt in my mind that 40 is better if you are fit. I gave myself two years to be in the best shape of my life and today, as I start my 40th birthday week, I am. Do I have further to go? Yes, absolutely. I am just so happy that I have such a wonderful place to continue achieving my fitness goals–a true place of health and well-being salvation.

 

 

13.1 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Thought I Could Never Run a Half Marathon

I used to think I could never be a runner but yesterday I ran my 4th half marathon. I didn’t place in my age group and my official race pace was a slow and steady 11:16/mi but I am still a proud runner.  I wish I hadn’t been such a doubter for so long. So, here are a 13.1 things I wish someone had told me when I thought I could never do this.

1) You never feel good until mile 2-3, so don’t give up. I promise you, you will feel invincible by the time you hit the halfway point whether it is mile 2.5 of a five-miler or mile 6.5 of a half. Bottle that feeling and take it with you during the first few miles of every run, long or short. That’s what got me started yesterday and kept me going as the heat went up and the muscles started aching as I hit the midpoint of the figure-of-8 loop at mile 7.

Stott SPX Home Reformer

Stott SPX Home Reformer

2) But even if that feeling propels you to hit the road, the trail, or the treadmill day after day, you cannot be a runner unless you build up your core. For me, I have done this with pilates (mostly Stott reformer) and Pure Barre (whenever I get the chance). A strong core will help your stride and prevent injuries. My choice of core training also works on the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the hips, thighs, and butt all of which make for a stronger, more efficient runner.

3) Modern life is filled with distractions; running allows you to be alone with your thoughts. People ask me how I find time to write the occasional blog post with my hectic schedule. Honestly, I mentally compose many of them on my runs just like I often compose specific aims for my research or household to-do-lists while running.

4) Running with you significant other is a great alternative to high calorie, sedentary date night. Though we often run together listening to our playlists or podcasts, that time we spend together, just the two of us out there, whether or not there is conversation involved, allows us to bond and stay fit.

5) Running is a great way to make new friends and stay connected with old ones. I have made new friends and mentors running while travelling for work. The race I ran yesterday has been a way to connect with my best friend from residency at least once a year in person and even more frequently has we text or phone each other on how the training is coming along. (Different specialties, different cities, surgeon schedules = little if any chance to see each other but planning a race together is a great solution, and has the added bonus of not letting our surgeon schedules be an excuse not to take care of ourselves.)

6) There is no such thing as a runner’s body. Look at yourself in the mirror. Think you’re not a runner because of your size or your shape. WRONG. Yesterday, I ran alongside, in front of, and behind other 5’3″ women who easily weighed 100lbs more than more or 40-50lbs less than me. There were men and women of all shapes and sizes. From the kind of bodybuilder physique that one would think is incompatible with running to the tall, lean supposedly quintessential runner’s body, to (and this encompassed just about everyone there above age 30 I would venture to guess) the love handles, spare tires, muffin tops, touching thighs, beer guts, and saggy arms that are a reality of middle-aged life no matter how much we run.

7) Even if it won’t transform your body, running has health benefits that you may not have thought of. Running outdoors means more VitD conversion. That alone with improve your energy levels but then there are also the endorphins that both improve energy levels and mental well-being whether you activate their secretion outdoors or on a treadmill. And (though it may gross out some of my readers) a little bit of long-run colon ischemia is a decent remedy for constipation (except when there are port-a-potties involved–eeeeww, now that grosses me out). Weekly long runs while training for a long race is what I think of as the Runner’s Cleanse–who needs kale shakes!

8) Running outside brings opportunities to glimpse the world from another perspective. There is so much architecture, so much greenery, so much wildlife that you would miss if you weren’t a runner. Yesterday, as we approached mile 10, I made eye contact with a gigantic brown bear just 4 feet away from me. As I ran by (and boy does a bear siting make you run faster!) (s)he padded across the course behind me. There were plenty more vistas of bucolic farmland and beautiful (though potentially fear-provoking) animals along the Iron Horse Half course in lovely central CT yesterday.

9) On a related note, running outside makes you feel outdoorsy even if your are not. I mean, come on, I stared deep into the eyes of a giant bear and lived to tell about it. Need I say more?! Embed from Getty Images

Newtons Distance U

Newtons Distance U

10) If you have a shoe thing (like I do), being a runner gives you a whole other category of shoes to covet. Yesterday I ran in my Newtons. Super cute pink and neon yellow…wait yes of course the lugs…awesome lugs for an easy forefoot motion made for my PR for a half. (You shouldn’t buy running shoes for aesthetics and colors but I won’t lie I sometimes do and it’s what started this running thing for me in the first place).

11) Long run days and race days are perfect justification to eat with reckless abandon. My pre-race farm to table meal with my fellow runners was one of the best meals I have ever had. In my quest to be healthy, I am often limiting how much I can indulge at these types of places. Sharing an appetizer (or skipping them altogether) or splitting an entree and definitely passing on dessert. But, on the night before a race you have have an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert and, as I did, have ice cream for lunch two days in a row.

12) With running, especially for slow, unathletic types like myself, the only competition is yourself. You set the goal (pace, distance, runs per week, etc). You achieve that and “Yah! You’ve won.” There’s no score, no one upmanship, there’s only you to improve. Yesterday, I was hoping to finish under 11:05 but a mile 4 port-a-potty break and some heat and fatigue on the back half slowed me down. Still, I was 3 sec/mile faster than my last half pace so yah!, I won. Go me!

13) Signing up for races is a great motivator, especially if you can make a weekend of it. If you are not a natural athlete (like me) and if exercising (not matter how much you blog or tweet about it) still feels like a chore, signing up for a race gives you reason to keep getting out there to train. And, if you sign up for an out of town race, book a room at an inn, find childcare for the weekend, etc. I promise you you will not just skip the race because you are not ready. You will make sure that you are ready because, quite honestly, that post-race feeling (see 13.1) and the chance to hit an amazing farm to table bistro that you might not otherwise be able to enjoy are totally worth it.

13.1) Running 13.1 miles will totally make you feel like a badass no matter how slow you ran, or how low in your age group you ranked.

 

Barre Hopping

It’s been more than 8 months since @surgeoninkicks introduced me to Pure Barre. As you may have read, I was both cursing and rejoicing in a new found love. Meanwhile, she had reached the hundred club and I had gone to four, yes only four, classes–all in different zip codes.100photo

As someone who has been working on strengthening my core, improving my posture, and just overall feeling leaner and stronger for a couple of years now, I immediately took to barre. It is a fusion of the music driven aerobic work that first drew me to group exercise classes years ago (yes, back then there were steps and grapevines involved!) and the focused core/seat work and long muscle sculpting of pilates which I started less than two years ago (yes, as gift to myself on the morning of my 38th birthday I tried reformer as an initial foray into being fit by 40).

As you also may have read, I really struggle (and have struggled for years during which school, and work, and a growing family–not to mention lack of any inherent athletic ability– made for easy excuses to neglect myself) to make time to exercise. Getting in a 30-60 min workout is hard enough without lead time. So, I have tried to make it easy–I have a home gym with professional grade cardio equipment and a Stott reformer, I belong to the gym at work with 24 accessibility so I can sneak in exercise while on call, and I am a short 7 min drive from my local pilates studio where, if work cooperates, I can take a variety of group classes ranging from mat pilates to Zumba as well as reformer classes (oh and I own a pair of running shoes). Sadly, I live 35 min away from the nearest dedicated barre studio. And no matter how motivated I am, no matter how I try to finagle the work and life schedule, that >1 round trip plus a 55 min class is just not going to happen.

So, I do what I can with my available resources while at home–cardiovascular fitness with running, cardio equipment, or Zumba and core/seat work/toning with reformer and occasional Barre Fit or Total Barre classes at the studio. Interestingly, as much as a struggle to maintain regular fitness while at home during the my usual work schedule, for years now I have been able to make time to exercise while traveling for work. So, instead of heading to the hotel gym, nowadays I get my Pure Barre fix when I am on the road for work.  purebarre-threepics After all, I was 3000 miles away from home when I first tried barre in San Francisco. Then I took another class in DC. Then Boston. Followed by Naples. Somehow, every conference hotel I have stayed at since that first foray into barre has been within 10 minutes by foot or by car of a Pure Barre studio. And so when I travel, I pack my grippy socks and I try to get into at least one barre class. I think of it as Barre Hopping. I can’t tell you how thoroughly disappointed I was this past March when during trips to both DC and Philly with Pure Barre an easy jaunt from both hotels (and yes even some fairly well known competitors and some further out Pure Barre studios) I was denied. If you haven’t tried it yet, this workout is just that addictive, that popular, that every possible class that I could have taken was sold out and had a wait list 6 deep. Drop in classes are typically $23 per class which, for the workout you get and the fun you have compared to the hotel gym where you might have paid a $10-$15 fee anyway, is totally worth it in my opinion to get a Pure Barre fix.

I learned from the DC and Philly experiences that one must plan ahead to be Barre Hopper so I looked ahead and booked a class for each each day of my two Chicago trips. I signed up for three 6 am classes and one 4pm class. The first trip I was 5 blocks away from the studio. The second just 7 blocks. I was so psyched. With this round of Barre Hopping, I doubled my Pure Barre experience in 8 days compared to what I had been able to snag in the past 8 months. I got to take classes from three different instructors which sort of felt like Barre Hopping within Barre Hopping.sock_lrg_1

I wish I had had some company as with my first foray into Pure Barre but I got over my stranger anxiety and my fear of looking like an inflexible, jelly-cored, saggy-butted fool and just went all in. It was my first Pure Barre since January and I loved every minute of every class even though the routines were unfamiliar and the hamstrings were unforgiving. The burn still made me curse under my breath but I did it for the entire 55 minutes and felt great when it was over. Just great. Longing for the next time.

So, if you don’t have a local Pure Barre to frequent, I highly recommend Barre Hopping. I only wish they offered a pre-paid passport of sorts to road warriors to use as Barre Hopping Guests at studios nationwide for slightly less than the $23 drop in rate. I would love to get into the hundred club myself one zip code at a time.

On a side note a description of the workout and why I liked the mini Barre Hopping experience in Chicago:

I don’t know what it’s like for the regulars out there who are lucky enough to have a Pure Barre Studio nearby so that they don’t have to Barre Hop. Do they always try to stick with the same instructor or the same time of day? Do they do a class a week or 3-4x a week? So in my most recent experience, I took 4 classes with 3 different instructors. They all basically used the same set of tunes (and they are just awesome poppy remixes that just fire you up) which they would repeat or move through depending on exercise. They also adhered to the same general flow–1) a quick standing arm/leg warm-up, 2) quick “hundred” series with light weights 3) plank 4) back work 5) arm work 6) thigh work 7) seat work 8) abs, and 9) some low back work all with some quick stretching in between. So you got a sense of what was to come but it didn’t seem like same old, same old, since other than #1, #2, #8 I found that the instructors mixed up the other components just a little bit to keep it interesting. For example, they might vary how much thigh work is done at the barre vs on the floor or with the little red ball vs without. So it never felt boring or redundant. Most importantly, the tiny little muscles that I was certain could never do that again were fooled into doing it again because it wasn’t the exact same move.