Easy Peasy Lemmon Squeezy

“Have you ridden Mt. Lemmon?” If you’re a cyclist in Tucson, you will be asked. I had always answered with a resounding “No.” The challenge of going up intrigued me. Coming down, not so much. I was a skittish biker. A Cautious Carla. A white-knuckled brake squeezer. A girl who got so frustrated with herself that the phrase “poopy puppy” would spring to mind during rides. But even puppies mature, and after about two years of riding, I decided it was time to squeeze the Lemmon.

The Tucson Tri Girls have a yearly summer tradition of going a little further up the mountain every week until the whole (or half) climb is conquered. My cyclist friend Rafael was also game to join me, so I decided it was as good a time to try as any. I had missed the first few rides, and the goal for that weekend was Milepost 17.

I met Rafael at a school parking lot and we rode to Milepost 0. We checked in and got smiley stickers for our helmets (people who collected a sticker from each ride would get a special memento at the end of the series). There are certainly steeper climbs around town, but Mt. Lemmon provides a long, mostly steady incline with a few downhills. There are also a few sharper climbs mixed in. I started at a moderate, even effort and quickly shifted down to my granny gear. To my surprise, we passed a quite a few people on our way up. Rafael (who was riding a fixed-gear bike!) had to turn around early to go to work, so I continued on my own. Locally-headquartered Tri Sports was parked halfway up, and they provided hydration and snacks. I topped off my water bottle and grabbed some Gu Chomps and a sample-sized European Chamois Butter (European = menthol in this case) packet. I ended up eating my own Honey Stinger waffle and decided to save everything else for another time.

After chatting with some folks, it was time to climb again. I was now in pine country, and their sharp, clean scent hung in the air. For the most part, all you could see was the road ahead, but there were some spots with amazing views of the city below. It’s a tremendous feeling to look down and see how far you’ve climbed. There was a sign saying that the camp ground was a mile away, but somehow I missed the turnoff. I decided to keep riding and make it an even 20 miles up, and luckily I found it on the way back. The Tri Girls had provided bagels, Z Bars, fruit, cookies, coffee, and more. I took my refueling very seriously because I didn’t want them to have to lug too much food back down the mountain. I was pretty sweaty and it was cool enough up there that I started to feel a little chilly.


The way down was surprisingly enjoyable. There were some times when I rode the brakes, but I always felt in control. Some riders really push it going down, and they whizzed by me. Coasting was fine with me. I also stopped more than once to take some pictures.

Ride data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/352753406


Two weeks later, it was time for the Full Lemmon: Cookie Cabin (Milepost 25) or bust! Rafael joined me again, along with some of his other friends. I met a guy named Bill and mentioned that I was more of a triathlete than a cyclist. He asked if I knew one of the other triathletes in the group, but said that maybe I wouldn’t because she was in her thirties. I told him that I was as well, and he said that he had thought I was twenty-something (he was well into his fifties). I asked if it was because I was wearing sunglasses. He said it was the legs. Anyhow, it’s always nice when people think you look younger than you are. Thank you exercise.

The SAG stop was at Windy Point this week. It was a really hot day, and I probably guzzled a quart of water in under a minute. It’s amazing how quickly I can drink after a good sweat session Then I grabbed a banana and smeared peanut butter on it.


I hung around for a while, drank some more, and reapplied sunscreen before heading back up. The extra seven miles made a big difference, despite a long downhill toward the end. My legs quivered as I dismounted at the Cookie Cabin. It was closed, so I had to make do with one of the energy bars that I had brought. Even at the summit, there was no escaping the heat this week.


I didn’t see any Tri Girls, so I decided to head back down on my own. It had already been a very long ride. I saw a deer on the way down and got off my bike to take a picture, but a car went by and the deer leapt over the side of the mountain before I could. I also realized that I had left a water bottle at Windy Point, and thankfully it was still there on my way back. By the time I finished, my back was sore and I was stinky and starving, but still smiling.

Climbing the mountain had been unthinkable to me for so long that I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I could try to wax eloquent here, but I feel a song coming on instead…

Ride data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/360555541


A 30-Day Push

It seems I can’t turn around these days without hearing about some sort of fitness or diet challenge. 90 days, 30 days, planks, squats, shake-drinking, clean-eating, detoxing, boxing… While I am not a fan of quick-fixes or fads, short-term goals like these can help provide focus that translates into long-term habits (I think my next challenge needs to be going for a whole paragraph without using a hyphen!). Still, none of these challenges piqued my interest.

I had seen seen the site http://www.hundredpushups.com before, but I think I would be as challenged mentally as physically to complete it. Honestly, my mind tends to get bored with the exercise before my body gives out. Then I found this push-up challenge. You build to 50 push-ups, but five different variations are involved. That should help with the mental aspect. Plus, the variations are more challenging that the straight-up variety.

I did the first day today, which consisted of one rep of each kind. It went easily except for the diamond push-up; I barely completed the single rep. I will probably need to do kneesies on that one as the challenge progresses. I also conducted a baseline test to see how many straight push-ups I could do before failure (29). It will be interesting to see what that number is at the end of the month. Hello, September. I am prepared to PUSH myself.

Will all of these push-ups make me into a Mean Girl?

As an aside, my friends at http://weshallhavepie.com/ have started their own September Skinny Jeans Challenge. Hop on over to their site if you’d like some ideas on healthy eating (A hyphen-free paragraph! Oh, wait… Crud.).

Do you have any September goals?

ROOB Workouts

Some folks pop out of bed with a gleam in their eyes and a spring in their step. Not so me. Some days the roll out of bed (ROOB) is practically literal. Maybe I should attach a ramp to the bed so I don’t hit the floor so hard. Anyhow, due to life’s demands, sometimes AM workouts are the only option. Here are some ways to survive, if not always thrive, in the wee hours.

Injury Risk and Diminished Performance

Your core temperature runs cooler in the morning, which can increase the risk of injury. And then there’s fighting that feeling of grogginess… A longer warm-up can help counteract these factors.

My paces in the morning are slower than they are in the afternoon or evening, and I am not alone. This can be improved somewhat by making morning exercise a habit. If you happen to enjoy racing, it’s good to train in the morning at least occasionally since most events are held early in the day. The effect is much less pronounced when performing a simple and/or less strenuous activity, such as walking.

Fueling and Fat Burn

Will working out in the morning on an empty stomach help me burn more fat? I’ve read the cases both for and against it. Some physique competitors swear by it, saying that being glycogen-depleted (like you are first thing in the morning) leads to greater fat burning. However, recent research says that you won’t be able to exercise as long and/or hard on an empty stomach, which negates the benefit. Total calories burned are more important than whether they come from glycogen or fat stores.

Logistics come into play as well. If you’re already waking up long before you want to, you’ll probably don’t want to sit around waiting for your food to digest before beginning your workout. When deciding what and when to eat, the type of workout affects my decision. In general, if I am doing an shorter, easier workout, I’ll do it on an empty stomach. If it’s an intense interval workout or it’s going to last for more than an hour, I’d rather be fueled so I can perform at a higher level. I am personally a big fan of Choclate Cherry Clif Shots on days when I wake up and head right out the door to workout. They digest quickly and the caffeine helps wake me up. If I have to spend some time traveling to a gym or running route, I’ll have something quick and solid like a Luna bar*.

Getting Your Feet On The Ground

Of course, none of this matters if you stay nestled under the sheets. Here are some ideas for those mornings when it feels like Lilliputians have bound you to your mattress with invisible threads during the night.

Will Gulliver be skipping his long run this morning?

  • Move your alarm clock across the room. The first step out of bed is the hardest.
  • Make plans to meet a friend. No one wants to be the one who bailed.
  • Make a commitment on a site like http://www.stickk.com/, where you will have to pay an amount of your choosing to a self-designated beneficiary if you fail to meet your goals.
  • Register for an event. Having a set date where you will be putting your fitness on the line is great motivation. If you have a rival, even better. Picture her wide awake and getting her sweat on.
  • Think about starting the day with a feeling of accomplishment rather than regret.

While I am still a night owl at heart, I have come to appreciate the cool, freshness in the air that only exists in the morning. Speaking of which, I’d better get to bed. I have an early date with my running shoes tomorrow.

*I am not sponsored by the Clif Bar company, but I am more than willing to be 🙂

Picture Perfect?

Fitspo. I’ve only recently learned the term, even though I’ve been seeing it for a while. Pictures of super-lean women, often accompanied by a motivational saying. Fit-spiration. I have friends that post it constantly. Some Facebook pages that I subscribe to pass it along daily. I have even snagged some images to re-post on my blog’s Facebook page. Long before the social media revolution, I created my own by clipping out pictures from magazines and catalogs, saving them in a binder, and flipping through them when I wasn’t feeling motivated to exercise. But does it provide inspiration or breed dissatisfaction?

I have changed some over the years, as I have become more focused on what my body can do than striving to look like some ideal. I want to eat healthfully and be fit, but I don’t want my entire life to revolve around food, exercise, and meal planning. I have come to terms with the fact that I’ll never completely eradicate arm flab and cellulite or have a bullet-stopping butt. Still, I have to admit that I am inspired by fine physical specimens. Athletes especially. I like to see the pinnacle of genetics and hard work combined out there doing magnificent things. It spurs me on to discover what I might be capable of.

The USA 4 x 400 meter relay team brought home the Gold in London and looked great doing it.

Some people don’t like that most people featured in ads and entertainment are decidedly not the average five-foot-four, 166-pounder, and ask “Where are the ‘real women’?” I have to admit that phrase bugs me a little. Is a thin or lean woman somehow less real? Women can be each other’s worst critics: muscular women mocking thin women mocking heavier women and round and round it goes… We are all born with a predisposition to a certain shape. Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe were both beautiful and yet so different. We have different physiques that we aspire to, different activities that we enjoy. And that should be fine. Treat your body well and enjoy it for what it is, even if you’re in the process of improving it.

Photoshopping, on the other hand, does bother me. I know I’ve felt discouraged about not looking like the women in magazines, but do the women themselves even look like that? Did Britney and Faith’s bodies below really need to be digitally altered? Is anyone ever good enough? How much are men’s perceptions are affected by these media-generated ideals? Is the expectation that we should never have a  bump, bulge, or blemish?

Images are powerful things, and the line between fantasy and reality is often blurred. Do you find models, fitness, fashion, or otherwise, motivational or discouraging? Does not looking like some ideal sap the joy from your life? I know it used to for me, and I’ve come to the realization that the worrying just wasn’t worth it.

Tempe International Triathlon (Olympic Distance)

After finishing my goal 5K, it was time to start thinking about October’s Half Ironman. I had three Olympic distance tris planned leading up to it, and Tempe International was first on the list. It was only my second ever open water tri (and my first since last August). My running has been fast and consistent, but very short-distance focused. My first Olympic race was at altitude on my old bike with standard wheels in just under 2:45. My goal for this race was somewhere between 2:35 and 2:40.


1) Heat.

2) Not having swum in open water in nine months.

3) Heat!

I set my alarm early enough to have my normal Greek yogurt, berry, and granola breakfast and some hot, black tea. I was able roust my husband without too much effort, and we piled into the car. The route we had chosen had been coned off, so he let me and the bike off at the side of the road. I walked about a quarter of a mile, racked my bike, picked up my timing chip, and then realized that I had left the extra bag with my hydration and pre-race food in the car. I called my husband and asked him to bring it, but he was still looking for a place to park. Thankfully, I was able to get a bottle of water to empty into my aero bottle so I would at least have something to drink on the course. My bike handling skills still aren’t great, so I had planned on drinking my calories, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen. I was also worried that not being able to eat my pre-race food would lead to a serious bonk. Still, since my wave was scheduled to go off about an hour after the official start of the race, I was hopeful that I would be reunited with my food, uh husband, beforehand.

An announcement was made that the race would be wetsuit legal (the water temp was 77 degrees), and I was happy about that. I was a little concerned that I might get hot in my full suit, but I wanted the flotation benefits, so I was going to risk it. My husband found 942303_4167198798607_1445839812_nme and handed me my feed bag. Fuel time! The temperature was creeping up, and there was an announcement that the start of the race was going to be pushed back because the streets hadn’t been fully barricaded yet. On the plus side, there was ample time to use the facilities and I took advantage.

I got the bottom half of my wetsuit on, but left the top off until it was almost time to start because I wanted to stay as cool as possible. This was the fourth time I had worn it and I was able to slither in without too much difficulty. I saw my friend Paul from last year’s running camp and wished him well. He’s done some Ironmans, but today he was racing the sprint. It’s always fun when you bump into people at a race.

Swim  (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/315324704)

26:47 | 1500 meters | 1m 34s / 100 yards (This time includes some of the transition time. Actual time in the water 25:39)
Age Group: 1/14
Overall: 78/296

My age group was given pink caps, and I heard the announcer call the pink group. I started to head toward the starting area, but then I realized that it was only for the sprint athletes. That could have been a major mistake… The rest of the sprint waves started one by one, then there was a break as the kayakers got into place for the Olympic swimmers. After we were called, our group had a couple of minutes to bob around in the water before the start. There weren’t a crazy amount of people in my wave, so decided to move toward the front of the group. And we were off!


The course was fairly simple; I just needed to make sure that I didn’t swim past the buoy or drift too far away. The water felt good, and I tried to swim smooth and217339_4167198638603_46040761_n strong, but not too fast. There was some contact, but nothing bordering on assault. As I was still on my way out, I passed some red and green caps from earlier waves, which was fun. At times I found myself going wide and had to adjust. I’m still not very good at sighting (maybe because I don’t practice…). I was able to cut close to the turnaournd buoy because it wasn’t too crowded. The water still felt cool toward the end of the swim, which was a relief. When my hands finally touched the sand, I stood and checked my watch and was happy with my time. Somehow I even ended up with the top swim time for my age group. I’ve done enough tris to know that I am not a premiere swimmer, but sometimes funny things happen with small sample sizes.

T1: 2:02

There was a long run up a hill to get to the transition area. The wetsuit came off much more easily than it had at my last open water tri. I applied some sunscreen and took off with my bike.


Making faces makes the wetsuit come off faster.

Bike  (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/315324708)

1:16:49 | 25 miles | 19.41 MPH
Age Group: 7/14
Overall: 168/296

This was my first triathlon with my new race wheels. My Cateye hadn’t read cadence since I got them, so I spent some of the bike leg thinking of “Love in an Elevator” and its 93 BPMs. I kept in the neighborhood of 20 MPH for the first bit, which made me happy. I was also able to keep in the aero position for the most part. Still, I got passed by several cyclists, including a woman wearing polka-dot tri shorts.This led to the Polka-Dot Door (a TV show from my childhood) theme song running through my head. Thankfully, this gave way to Van Halen’s “Right Now” (another 93 BPM song) and “Peaches” by the Presidents of the United States of America. Peaches sounded mighty tasty, but I had to settle for some Power Bar bites that I had put in my bento box. I was able to eat a couple of them while riding, which I had never done before (yeah, I should have practiced before race day). Small victory for me!


OK, so I didn’t stay in the aero bars during the turns…

The course was a repeat of two loops, although they weren’t really loops. There were all kinds of turns and bridges going this way and that. It was nice seeing my husband as I wound past the underpass to start the next loop. I definitely slowed down my second time through and was passed by some more people. My cycling holds up alright in local sprint tris, but seriously lags in Olympic races. It’s definitely something that I need to work on before I do my Half Ironman this fall. I hoped that I’d be able to pass a lot of them back on the run.

T2: 1:44

I took a little extra time in T2 to re-apply sunscreen. I alse grabbed a small handheld water bottle that I had brought because of the heat.


Run  (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/315324712)

51:24 | 6.2 miles | 8:16 min/mile
Age Group: 2/14
Overall: 97/296

Ah, the run. My strongest leg. Time to reel ’em in, or so I thought. I passed a few people early on and finished my first mile in 7:51. I was feeling really good about breaking 1:40 and thought maybe I’d be right around 1:35. There was a portion of the course where we had to go down a flight of stairs, which I was not used to doing in a race, and run under the overpass. I took some water from the volunteers and it was back into the sun. Around the second mile, the wheels started to fall off. Although I had run some 13-milers the past few months, my 5K-focused training had not prepared me for the distance combined with the heat. I started to feel like I had felt in the latter miles of my last marathon. Why, why, why do you do this? I asked myself. It felt like a death-trudge. I passed some more people, but some people passed me as well. Part of the course was on dirt, which made me even slower. I just wanted it to be over. Not dead, can’t quit, not dead, can’t quit… 


One thing that helped make the run bearable was the abundance of ice-cold water stops. I would have been fine without my handheld bottle at this race. The song “Fire Burning” played at one of the aid stations:

Somebody call 911!
Shawty fire burning on the dance floor

Yeah, I was burning up all right. When I had to go down the stairs again, it was a slow walk. I didn’t trust my wobbly legs. The mile splits kept getting slower and slower. I was just hoping to make it under 1:40 now. And to not walk. Boy, did I want to. Finally, the end was in sight, which meant running up a hill to the finish. I squeezed out a little more effort and finished feeling like I wanted to vomit.

I grabbed some watermelon and headed to T3 (lie down and transition from dead-tired triathlete to functional human being). When I examined my feet, I had a pretty good blister from the run. I also severely burned the back of my neck (or maybe it was wetsuit chafing?). It was a very tough race, and while I know it’s short for all of the Iron Folks out there, two-and-a-half-plus hours feels long to me.


Wake me up, before you go-go.

Overall, I was pleased with my time and know that by focusing more on longer distances, I won’t fade so badly during the run. It was good enough for 2nd in my age group, although I should mention that if I had been in the age group directly above or below, I wouldn’t have placed. You just never know who is going to show up at any given race.


Final time: 2:38:48
Overall: 109 / 296
Age Group: 2 / 14

Food Tripping

We all have those tumultuous relationships that bring us joy, guilt, pleasure, and anxiety. Sweethearts, parents, bosses… I will confess that I have one with food. It’s emotional and chemical. Many of us have been conditioned to enjoy food as a reward for a job well done, or to soothe ourselves with it after a tough day. I deserve this treat. Certain foods activate the pleasure centers of our brains, and once those sensations wear off, feelings of guilt and self-loathing sometimes follow, which can lead to even more eating… A study found that rats that were constantly fed a high-calorie, high fat diet displayed decreased stimulation in their pleasure centers, began to overeat compulsively, and eventually became obese.

I never had a full-on eating disordered, but I have definitely struggled with disordered eating. I loved to eat, especially junk food. I wanted to be thinner. Since these desires are at odds, erratic behavior ensued. Periods of severe restriction alternated with binges. The day after a heavy indulgence, I was convinced my thighs felt bigger. If I didn’t hate vomiting so much. I might have become bulimic. It has been a long process for me to eat a consistent, healthy diet. I am now able to think of food as nourishment and fuel most of the time while still allowing for the occasional treat. My palate has changed, and I enjoy food that’s healthful. Give me fruits, veggies, whole grains and good fats. My regular foods. Acceptable restaurants. Dietary détente.

Last weekend I took a road trip to the San Francisco Marathon (I ran the half) with my husband and two runner friends. Between the driving and the time spent in the city itself, it was five days away from home. Lots of time sitting in a car. Stopping when it was convenient and grabbing what what was available. Going easy on the water to avoid too many pit stops. Boredom munching. I didn’t go crazy, but it was a definite deviation from the norm.

Two nights before the race, we attended a complimentary Thai dinner, courtesy of my friend Keith who is an ambassador for the race. There was a buffet, and being a vegetarian, I was very limited in my choices. I ended up having a couple of spring rolls, which I de-skinned, and some Pad Thai, where I tried to go heavy on the veggies and light on the noodles. There were a lot more noodles than veggies, though, and I didn’t want to be a hog. As I was eating, I kept thinking about the oil, the refined rice noodles, and the sugar in the sauce. It made it kind of hard for me to enjoy the food, which was good, but not outstanding (I think it’s more a reflection on my affection for Pad Thai than the restaurant itself). I also had two of the mini cupcakes for dessert. While I do indulge sometimes, my general rule is that if I am going to eat something that’s somewhat unhealthy, it had better be amazing. I had the same feelings about the veggie pizza sub the night before the race and some cheesy mushrooms (the menu said stuffed mushrooms, but they were delivered swimming in a big, melty basin) that I had at a Mexican restaurant on the trip back. Good, but worth the calories?

I started thinking about how my issues with food haven’t gone away. When I go on trips, I usually enjoy having “treat” food for a few days, then long to get back to my regular eating routine. I no longer enjoy the food, I don’t feel like myself, and start to worry about gaining weight. Also, even though I stay active when I travel, it’s usually to a lesser degree than normal. Part of me thinks that I should just relax and enjoy myself. I don’t travel that often, and I believe that what you do day in and day out far outweighs the blips here and there. On the other hand, some people come back from trips several pounds heavier, and as we all know, weight is much harder to take off than to put on. Is either view completely right or wrong? I certainly don’t want to be a person who misses out on life’s experiences because I’m completely preoccupied with what I’m eating. I’m curious to know how others eat and think while on vacation.

I was up three pounds the day after the trip. A week later, I’m back to normal or maybe plus one. Even during normal life, weight fluctuates, so it’s hard to tell. The trip and race were incredible, though, and I will focus on that in an upcoming post.

Becoming a Body Pump Instructor

You know those things that you always think about doing, but you have no idea how to go about doing them? That was me and teaching group fitness. For years I had thought that it would be fun to lead classes, but the thought of filling up an hour with an interesting and effective workout was daunting. I am also not the most coordinated person in the world, so anything I did would need to focus on simple moves.

Five years ago, I saw signs in my gym advertising an upcoming Body Pump instructor training session. I had taken a few classes and knew the basic format: during each song a muscle group is worked to exhaustion using basic gym exercises and tempo changes. Instructors are provided with music and choreography, so I didn’t need to worry about creating an interesting class. It seemed like a perfect fit, so I signed up.

Training took place over the course of three days. After we signed in and received our choreography kits, we immediately went through the latest release. Note to anyone attending a Les Mills training: bring several changes of clothes. And food. Plenty of food. We also spent time going over proper form for all of the standard exercises and talking about what makes a fitness class great.

The next morning, everyone would be teaching a track to the rest of the group. I got squats. Before we left for the day, I listened to the music with one of the instructors while trying to follow along in time with the notes and felt hopelessly lost. How am I going to present this tomorrow? I listened to that song all the way home and stayed up until the wee hours trying to learn it. Things finally started to click for me when I turned off the voices in the DVD and just watched the instructors move to the music while following along in the notes. I slept fitfully that night, and I drove to the training half hoping that I would get in a car crash so I wouldn’t have to present. Squats were first and I felt sick when the music started, but as I started moving and teaching, I started to enjoy myself a little bit and nailed the track. Then I got to participate while the other trainees presented their tracks.

Les Mills likes to put potential instructors through the wringer physically during training, so we got to do something called the Body Pump Challenge. We started with a couple miles of running (something up my alley), then returned to the gym to do sprints, deadlifts, squats, triceps dips, etcetera, circuit style. Sweating, huffing, and puffing ensued. We learned some more practical things about instructing, and then everyone had to teach their track again (which meant that everyone went through the whole workout… again). We were sent home that evening with a new track to learn, and I had chest this time. I was slightly less petrified the next day, and made it through my track without major mishap in both the morning and afternoon sessions. I think everyone was spent after we finished the second round. At the end of the training, everyone was given an evaluation sheet, and I passed.

I now had three months in which to learn the whole 10-track release and submit a video of myself teaching a live class for evaluation. If I passed, I would be a certified instructor. Training was a cakewalk compared with what came next. I started team teaching with different instructors. At first I would do two of the tracks, then I built up to five, which was much harder. The songs were my constant companion. When I’d heard baseball announcers say two and two or three and one during a game, I would feel an urge to stand up and start doing squats. I received feedback from the other instructors: “Don’t arch your back so much on the shoulder presses”, “Your timing is a bit off”, and “Easy on the woos”.

I was finally ready to tape, and seeing that bright, unwavering red light aimed in my direction rattled my nerves. For better or worse, my every move was being recorded for some stranger to watch and evaluate. I made it through the class with a tiny mistake in the tricep track, which I think I covered up pretty well. I gave taping one more shot, but this time I made a mistake during the warm up. I remember thinking, “I just started and it’s already ruined.” I did my best to keep a smile on and deliver a good workout to the class. I decided to send the first filming.

A month or so later, I nervously tore the envelope from Les Mills open and the dreaded word RESUBMIT jumped off the page. A potential instructor is assessed in five areas and needs proficiency in each one to pass (Choreography, Position, Execution, Timing, and Coaching). Four out of five requires a sign-off from the local team lead. Any less, and a new video must be submitted. The main issue was with my “set position,” which is used in almost every single exercise. My legs were a little too wide and my toes were turned out a bit too much, and I failed on position and execution.

I got in touch with the Body Pump team lead, and made technique and team teaching dates on Saturday mornings at the gym across town. She found a lot of flaws that the other instructors hadn’t noticed and it was hard keeping it all straight in my head. A few weeks later, I got an email saying that the RESUBMIT had been in error, and that I should have received a PASS WITHELD. The set position problem was an issue with position only, not execution. I was relieved that I didn’t have to tape again. I continued to work with the team lead. After several more weeks, she signed off on my certification, but said that the gym was not going to offer me a job. She basically said that I wasn’t motivating and that a lot of the members didn’t really care for my teaching style. This happened over the phone at work. I grabbed a friend, went into an empty conference room, and bawled.

There were other gyms in town that offered Body Pump, and I eventually landed at a small club called Better Bodies teaching Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6 AM almost a year after taking the initial training. The critiques I had gotten had helped me grow as an instructor, but it was freeing to finally be teaching for real, without waiting for someone to give me feedback after. There was a wonderful group of regulars who attended and the smaller class size made it easy to connect with them. From time to time, someone would tell me about weight loss or strength gains or just how much they enjoyed taking the class. I continued to get stronger as well. Becoming an instructor was much harder than I thought it would be when I signed up, but it as definitely worth it.



I’ve been doing track workouts for years: quarters, miles, ladders. Simple. Straightforward. Run hard, try to hit the paces, rest, and repeat. Sometimes the distances get mixed and matched, but I haven’t experienced anything revolutionary… (let the voice in your head drop an octave) until now. Recently, my coach introduced me to the V-Run. Basically, the athlete attempts to run every meter of the workout at vV02 max pace, the velocity at which V02 max (maximum volume of oxygen that your muscles can consume per minute) is achieved. Depending on the source, it’s the top, sustained pace that a runner can hold from six to eleven minutes. My coach likes to use racing mile speed, or in my case, what he thinks my mile time should be, which is six minutes (twenty seconds faster than I’ve ever run). At least it’s pretty close to what the McMillan calculator predicts.

Here’s how it works. The runner is assigned a distance (3600 meters for me), chooses a starting interval length (50-1200 meters), attempts to run it at vV02 max pace, and rests a minute before beginning again. If the interval is run too slowly, the next one must be shortened. The rest period doesn’t change, regardless of the distance run.

The benefits of this workout:

  1. The runner spends a great deal of time running at vV02 Max pace, which will help improve V02 max.
  2. It’s self-adjusting. Whether you’re having a great day or an off day, the workout will meet you where you are.
  3. It will put hair on your chest. Ladies, make sure you have extra razors on hand before attempting this workout 🙂

I’ve done the workout twice so far. The first time, I started with a hard 400 and had to drop down to 300s immediately (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/284127673). These hurt just as much, and I started hoping that I would be slow enough to shorten the interval. I ended up completing six before dropping to 200s. The next time out, I was able to run four 400s before having to drop down (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/294115776). Progress! There were some repetitions where I thought that there was no way I had finished in time, but I had. When I finally got to the 200s I was a bit faster than I needed to be, so I think I’ll try 250s the next time. Here’s hoping this translates into a blistering 5K next month.

If you’re a somewhat experienced runner looking for a tough, effective workout that’s a little different, I encourage you to give it a try. For more information on vVO2 max and some additional workout ideas, click here.

Monitoring calorie burn

Many gym goers live and die by the calories burned feature of their heart rate monitors. Call me a Cynical Cindy, but I’ve always thought that some of the numbers that I’ve heard people throwing around seemed kind of, well, high. As someone who is interested in helping other people be fit, this concerns me. Could inflated numbers lead to extra eating (I burned it all off plus some, so pass me another cookie)? Will people become discouraged when weight loss is much more meager than expected? I don’t claim to be any sort of expert, but I enjoy research and this is what I’ve learned.

The best way to estimate calorie burn is by measuring oxygen consumption, but this is cumbersome outside the laboratory (and not to mention costly), so people have sought other methods. Heart rate is relatively simple to monitor and there is a relationship between higher heart rates and increased calorie expenditure. It’s not a perfect correlation, however. Heat, dehydration, stress, and caffeine can all increase heart rate even while calorie burn remains static. Unless an exercise session is short, cardiac drift also becomes a factor. As core temperature rises, the heart works harder even if oxygen uptake remains unchanged.

Heart rate zones vary from person to person and can change drastically as someone becomes more or less fit. The old “220 minus your age” method is a wide generalization and may be flat out wrong, especially for women. At the end of a hard race, I’m pegged at about 165, while a male friend who is about seven years younger will hit the 180s on a moderate run. This leads to the question “How accurate are the resting and max heart rate values that the monitor is using to perform the calculations?”, if even uses them at all. Most companies do not publish their formulas, so we don’t know.

How does weight factor in to the equation? According to recent findings, running burns approximately .75 calories per pound per mile (± 5 calories/mile). A 135 pound person running 7 miles in an hour expends around 700 calories, while a 160 pound person would burn 840, even if their heart rates were the same. Running is a good exercise for performing comparisons, because the movement is relatively standard and it’s much easier to benchmark against a measured mile than say, 15 minutes of Zumba. People who like to experiment might want to try running a mile with their heart rate monitor and compare the calorie burn against the formula above. If the numbers are extra generous (or stingy), I would expect that trend would carry over to other forms of exercise as well.

There are a few other caveats to consider. The less vigorous the activity, the less accurate the results. The numbers are virtually useless for strength training.  One scholarly source listed the Polar’s “laboratory error” as 16.9–20%, and some other brands were worse (see Table 1 in the linked document). Heart rate zones and weight need to be kept up to date to for the most accurate readings, but it’s easy to forget to do it. 

Even if the calorie readouts are skewed, there is still value in training with a heart rate monitor. If your goal is getting the most burn for the buck, they’re good for comparing different activities. They’re useful for tracking fitness gains. They can be help detect overtraining (is your heart rate much higher than normal during a certain activity?). Many athletes use them determine training intensity. They can provide clues about why you might be having an off day. For example, during one of my marathon training long runs, I really struggled through the last couple miles. My heart rate was low, which led me to believe it was a fueling rather than a fitness issue, and I was able to fix it the next time out. Some people find seeing a calorie burn can be highly motivating and might even go the extra minutes or mile to reach the next round number. By understanding its strengths and limitations, the heart rate monitor can be a valuable instrument for helping people achieve their fitness goals.

HTML tutorial
For more information on heart rate monitors and other methods of tracking calorie burn, check out the following article. http://www.wired.com/playbook/2012/08/fitness-trackers/

Want to be fit and trim? We have secrets!

I like fitness magazines. They’re a great resource for new exercises and recipe ideas. They keep me up to date on fitness trends and gadgets. And yes, I find the pictures motivating. On the other hand, the covers can wax a bit hyberbolic for my taste.

Your dream body in just 2 weeks!
Bikini Ready in 7 Days!
One minute to flat abs. Our must-try move.

Color me skeptical*. One word that’s been jumping out at me lately is secrets. I get it. Eating right and working out is hard. It’s tempting to think that the reason someone else is leaner, faster, or stronger is because they’re privy to information you don’t have. Is a new pill, diet, or exercise apparatus the missing piece to the puzzle? I decided to paw through a stack of old magazines, and I’m ready to spill…

Secret Dogs

Tell me how I can lose my pooch.

Drop a Dress Size 20-Minute Secret Solution (Shape, January 2012, page 100)

A workout featuring compound exercises using a FreeMotion cable machine. Many muscles are worked during each exercise so you can get an intense, full-body workout in a short amount of time.

45 Celebrity Hot Body Secrets (Shape, March 2013, multiple pages)

I couldn’t find an article, but there were celebrity tidbits sprinkled throughout the magazine. Were there 45 secrets? I didn’t feel like counting. Here’s what I learned: Jessica Alba and Elisabeth Hasselbeck do Crossfit, Emily Blunt does pullups (it says she can do four sets of 20 reps – if that’s unassisted, I’m seriously impressed), Ashley Greene does Pilates, weights, and yoga, and Eva Mendes works with a trainer.

There was a nice feature on Laila Ali’s diet on page 102. She eats things like oatmeal, egg whites, fruits, veggies, lean meats, flax, sprouted bread, almond butter, lean meats, and homemade ice cream. When she needs to get something quick, she’ll stop at Whole Foods or a Subway, where she asks for the bread to be hollowed out in the center.

Malin Ackerman “I work hard for my body!” Her summer shape-up secrets (Shape, June 2012, page 36)

To prepare for her bikini shoot, she consumed a diet of 85 percent vegetables/15 lean protein and bumped up her workouts to five SoulCycle classes a week. She normally eats fresh food as opposed to processed and enjoys a thick steak and french fries about once a week. She also acknowledges that she has good genes.

Get Sexy Legs Fast Pro Secrets Inside (Shape, October 2012, page 58)


I’ll be back with even more secrets.

Four exercises selected by none other than Arnold Schwazenegger. They include the Arnold press, concentration curl, front squat, and deadlift. I found it interesting that only two of the exercises actually work the legs.

Flat, Sexy Abs (Even After Four Kids) Brooke Burke’s Fit Secrets (Fitness, January 2012, page 24)

Her diet secret? Never skip meals. She’ll use harissa, a Middle Eastern spice paste, as a low-calorie way to jazz up dishes. She also works out  five days a week for an hour a session, mixing Pilates, strength training, and treadmill walking with a 15% incline. During exercise she wears a Baboosh body wrap, a product she created, to “sweat out all the bloat.”

Burn calories all day long! Slim down secret (Oxygen, Sep 2012, page 78)

Another article highlighting exercises that use multiple body parts to expend energy more quicly. Most of the moves are performed using cable machines.

15 “Keep it Tight” Secrets! (Oxygen, Nov 2012, page 84)

How stretching and flexibility affects overall fitness.

Shrink Your Belly Plus More Slimming Secrets! (Oxygen, December 2012, page 96)

An elastic band workout routine. Bands allow resistance to be applied to the muscle in certain directions that can’t be mimicked with free weights. Reps can be performed at high speeds, and you lose the ability to use cheat using momentum. Bands are also cheap and portable.

So, there you have it. There are some interesting tips. I’ll have to try harissa, but I’ll pass on the Baboosh – my sweat glands are active enough, thank you. Compound moves provide a great bang for the buck. For the most part, however, I see a lot of working out and healthy eating. Nothing earth-shaking there. Sure, there are some new exercises, but push ups still haven’t gone out of style and don’t cost a dime.

Try different moves to mix things up. Use the standards that have a proven track record. Just make sure to get moving, because no matter how great the advice in the magazine might be, turning pages doesn’t burn a lot of calories – and that’s no secret.

*This says the woman who has been known to succumb to an impulse buy when a magazine promises to Banish Cellulite Forever! I haven’t achieved full banishment, but I have managed to lock it up in a tower, Rapunzel-style, and give it a crew cut.