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. 

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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.

 

 

I lost 5 pounds…and grew half an inch

I had my annual primary care visit the other day. There are several reasons I am proud of this accomplishment.

1) I made it to the doctor. With my schedule, the first person I tend to neglect is myself. I have been known to go years at a time without seeing a physician unless I was incubating a human inside me. Given that I am heading toward that age where routine screenings begin to start, I compelled myself to make this visit. Turns out, I am in great health and added routine screenings (mammogram) are still a year away but still I felt pretty proud of myself to just getting there and having the patience to be examined.

2) Though I could still benefit from a few fewer pounds on my short frame, I have lost 5lbs since my last check-up. While I know that it is not about the numbers and the last two years have been about being fit and healthy, about shedding fat for muscle no matter what the scale shows, it was nice to be a little lighter. The total weight is 32lbs less than my highest in adulthood (10 years ago, just after having my first child) and 17lb more than my lowest in adulthood (on my wedding day, pre-babies and after 9 mos of anxious energy and weight watchers but very little in the way of fitness activities). If I can hold my own in this range give or TAKE a few while persisting in the running-pilates-zumba regimen I have crafted for myself, I will continue to be proud.

3) Speaking of short frame, turns out I am not as short as I thought. I have been 5’2 1/2″ since puberty–honestly, a pretty remarkable feat of western nutrition given that my immigrant parents are only 5’0” and 5’2”. Despite weight fluctuations as wide as 50lbs, my height has been unsurprisingly consistent because, hey, that’s what humans do. The hormones kick in and we stop growing. But it turns out that I measured in at 5’3” this year. It is a sure sign the the posture benefits of pilates have become a way of life for me. So I will continue to stand tall, stand proud and hit the reformer as often as I can.

4) I went all morning without a cup of coffee (and survived). I didn’t want the hassle of coming back for fasting blood work so I challenged my body. I did not have my typical 10 oz borne from the Keurig on my way out the door. Usually this is consumed by 7am at the latest. And, though it is my only cup of coffee of the day on a regular basis and I no longer consume other caffeinated beverages, I am addicted to my morning cup of coffee. But, for this 9am appointment, I bravely entered the outside world sans travel mug in hand. I did not have a raging headache by noon so I powered on. Lasted a whole 24 hours without caffeine. I haven’t done this in the two weeks since but I might try is again sometime. Just shedding the fear of a day without caffeine in a point of pride for me.

5) I managed to be less VitD deficient. At my last visit, I was deficient. I was told to take a ramp up supplement for 4 weeks followed by a daily supplement. Well, it took about seven weeks but I did the ramp up; however, I never managed to get onto a daily supplement. I live at the wrong latitude and so in general me and all of my neighbors are VitD deficient and so I really should be taking the supplement but I really suck at taking pills every day. I just cannot make it happen (which I might add as an aside is as good a motivation as any to work hard at being fit to avoid the diabetes, hypertension, peripheral vascular disease, and coronary artery disease that ail the majority of my adult genetic kin). So that I was less VitD deficient this year to me is representative of the many more hours of sun exposure I incurred with the running. Granted a good month for me is still only 6-8 outdoor runs but that is 6-8 more than when I last got my VitD level measured and this added sunshine in my life is also a matter of pride.

I wish there was a #6 but I was a bit displeased by my LDL/HDL situation. My LDL had plummeted dramatic between my last two visits but was creeping up this time even though the HDL was better. This, at least, is motivation for future PCP visit related pride which will tie in well with desired weight loss goals as I doubt I can get much taller, don’t plan on relocating to a sunnier latitude, and imagine I will not become a daily pill popper anytime soon.

Buh Bye Spanx

The After. Maggy London "Mad Men" color block dress. November 2013

The After. Maggy London “Mad Men” color block dress. November 2013

madmendress

The Before. Maggy London “Mad Men” color block dress. October 2011

I got a lot of compliments on my dress today. It is one of my favorite dresses. I call it my Mad Men dress.

While ordinarily the compliments alone would have been enough to make me feel good based only on fashion sense, what I really relished today was that it was my first time wearing this dress without Spanx on.

I know what they say on Fashion Police. Everyone one, including skinny megastars who workout 6 hours a day consuming only organic kale between workouts, should wear Spanx for that sleek red carpet look. But, for an ordinary day at work, are Spanx–at the expense of being able to breathe and with the added burden for peeing–necessary? Well for me, with my short frame, narrow hips, and all my excess weight crammed onto my waistline and love handles, that answer was until very recently “yes.”

I don’t remember when it started but for years now I haven’t worn a dress without Spanx on. The spare tire look was unflattering in basically every style of dress. One can only suck in so much. But now, after nearly a year and a half of Stott pilates (as irregular as I am with my workouts) with the occasional running, Zumba, and barre classes along with fits and spurts of eating well, I can wear all but my red carpet dresses without Spanx. My core feels strong and has a lot less fat enveloping it. My posture is so improved that I look at least an inch taller and taller is so much leaner even if all else is equal.

I can hardly express how much joy this brings me. For one thing, Spanx are damn expensive. For another, needing a crutch to feel good about how you look in an otherwise awesome dress is just plain demoralizing. Finally, I just enjoy breathing freely and being able to pee without a big production.

I still have a long way to go before I can go from Spanx-free to two-piece bathing suit wearing but I own that Trina Turk bikini with the tags still on (two years and counting now) and the bump up in self-esteem from this milestone is really motivating me to get my act together, be more consistent with the pilates, running, Zumba, and barre and maybe even up my intake of organic kale, maybe.

B!%#? you can take that barre and shove it!

Recently, a friend of mine convinced me to try a barre class with her. We were on a work-related trip together. Reunited after a year of not seeing each other. I was impressed by how she had reclaimed her body since I had last seen her when she was just 3 months post-partum, partly still bloated and partly still carrying the extra weight we all put on especially during our first pregnancies.

So as I admired her sheer awesomeness in getting back into shape (which she did despite taking 10 calls per month and having an under-one-year old at home), she told me about her new obsession, Pure Barre. No matter how busy she was, no matter how unbalanced her work-life situation felt, she so enjoyed these barre classes that she would make them work. It helped that her local Pure Barre had like a bazillion classes a day that gave her the kind of flexibility she needed with her schedule. But, let’s face it, if there wasn’t something to love–about the experience or the results–she obviously would not make the time in her 36 hour days to snuggle up to some barre when their was undoubtedly a hot bath, or a glass of wine, or a dvr’d episode of Homeland, or a box of sea salt dark chocolate caramels to be had.purebarre-threepics

Given the freedom from patient care and childcare and spousal interaction (see husbands I didn’t call this ‘care’!) the trip allowed, my friend had already signed up for 3 barre classes during the short 4 day meeting. I honestly hadn’t paid much attention to the barre offerings at my local pilates studio (more on that in a later blog because that place has literally changed my life) and had never heard of boutique barre studios like Pure Barre and Bar Method that it seemed to me were the Jazzercise of the 2010s. I was curious to see what this new (at least to me) fitness phenomenon, that has so engaged my friend, was all about.

The-Bar-MethodShe warned me that it would be challenging, that she had been going for months and still hadn’t perfected the individual moves that are altered for each month’s new routines. She told me how she had stumbled upon her own first Pure Barre class serendipitously during a girls’ weekend and had spent every minute of that class cursing those girls. She gave me a brief tutorial on all the very small moves that work the core and the seat before starting the class. I was confident.. I said, “Pshaw! I have been working my core, hips, and glutes with a year of Stott pilates on the mat and the reformer. I got this!”

Holy crap was I wrong. I thought I might die during the class the tetany got so severe (granted it was purposeful tetany but still…). While I could clearly see the parallels between the imprint and the in-joint movements of my dear pilates in every move at the barre or on the mat, the sustained, repetitive movements against my own body weight just detroyed me. They broke me down. I uttered every expletive I know and maybe even made up some new ones, cursing my friend under my breath (and occasionally even out loud) for a full 60 minutes. I felt like one of the interrogation victims I had seen in my most recent dvr’d episode of Homeland: defeated, ready to divulge state secrets.

Yup I loved it. It was so much fun. I wanted to wrap my sweaty, sore body around my friend in gratitude. I could totally see why she made the time to do this to herself at least a few times a week. Sure the end results were amazing as was evident by my friend’s fabulous post-baby physique, but I suspected there was something about the experience, living through it, that made it so addictive. Or, maybe it’s just the Stockholm Syndrome in effect.

I was crazy wanting to do it again. It inspired me to try the Total Barre offerings at my local studio which sadly are just 3-4 times a week and rarely mix with my schedule that I am already carving into pieces to fit in the pilates (more on why I won’t give that up on a later blog). Unfortunately, there are no dedicated barre chain outposts in my immediate vicinity. I was longing to do it again. I needed another hit.

totalbarre_header

On my next work-related trip, I was sadly without this dear, fit, barre obsessed friend. So, I sought out a Bar Method class of my own volition figuring it would be fun to compare (and, it was also walking distance whereas the Pure Barre class was not). I cursed a bit less, possibly because it’s harder to curse perfect strangers, but I still loved every torturous second of it. I am sure loyalists to one brand of barre or the other will be up in arms about this but I thought that the work outs were equally challenging and well taught.

For now, I am back to (or trying to get back to) my usual routine and sneaking in a local barre class if possible, eager for my next trip when I can hit a Bar Method or Pure Barre again, fondly remembering that first hour when I said to my friend “B!%#?, you can take that barre and shove it!”