Sky Runs

Taking the long way round

Category: Training (page 2 of 2)

Another Work Out Recovery Week

It’s hard for high-strung ultrarunners to let go and rest (See, I’m not the only one). I’ve been anxious about running and not running, and waiting to rest and recover and find out about the Team USA selection. There’s too much time for negative self-talk to creep in, about what I could have done better and how I should have trained smarter. I’m tired of my own excuses and want to get started on something fierce. But not yet. First, I have a few more new things to try.

JCC Ride

The cycling class taught by Sue Hitzmann at the JCC was definitely more my style than the SoulCycle class I took last week. For one thing, the bikes had computers! And for another, I was able to get my feet in and out of the clips easily.

But seriously, the computer display was a big thing for me, and the class was structured around RPMs and power output, which made it easier to figure out what I was doing. There were no weird oblique crunches or weights to lift until my forearms wanted to fall off, just straight up riding with intervals of hills and speed. It was 45-minutes, just right, and afterwards I went for Sue’s MELT Strength class to cool down.

Revolution in Motion

My personal training session at RevInMo got me to do some of the weirdest and most uncomfortable moves ever. But I mean that in a good way.

Now, I am not the private gym/personal trainer type at all, because it’s expensive, yo. But once again, my running team got me into this. After reading about my teammate Kelsey’s experience at RevInMo, which she credited with getting her out of orthotics and into speedier and stronger running, I thought I should find out more.  Over the past year, I’ve gotten away with an awful lot of running on a bad hip, but the nagging aches are a real downer in my training, and I feel it’s only a matter of time before it leads to potentially more serious injury. Chiro, massage and acupuncture have kept me going so far, but I really need to stop being lazy and get this sorted out from the inside.

I chatted with Kelsey, who also works at RevInMo, and she suggested that I meet with a trainer before enrolling in any classes, and offered a discount for the first session. Okay, I’m in! I showed up at their sparkling clean new studio in running shoes and with a pair of shorts in my bag in case there would be any running involved, but there wasn’t. Instead, my friendly trainer Alex assessed my walking and left-right coordination with a series of fast finger exercises. Then it was on to the fun stuff.

I have zero coordination. I’ve never played any kind of sport and suck at anything that involves more than repeating a single movement over and over again (like running, walking, swimming or riding a stationary bike). If I have to vary that movement a bit, like in trail running or riding an actual bike outside, then I will suck some more.

RevInMo is laid bare all of my weaknesses in this area while making them feel surmountable. It could have been like the junior high gym classes where we played volleyball and I’d get conked in the head, except instead of wanting to cry, I could feel myself getting just a tiny bit stronger with each exercise.

RevInMo uses some very specific exercises to strengthen the mind-body connection and the neurological pathways that keep us moving efficiently. While hard for me to describe in words, the exercises all incorporated aspects of balance, stability, coordination and stretching, using equipment such as the stability ball, Bosu ball, twisty plate boards, slanted board, small medicine balls and kettlebells—sometimes two pieces were used in one exercise. There were times when it felt like torture (hello, kettlebell strapped to my foot as I lean way back in a bridge over the stability ball), there were times when I wondered, “who comes up with this crazy sh*t?!,” and there were times when I went from falling on my face to finally grasping a move and thinking there may be some hope for me after all. Despite my lack of coordination, I managed to catch most of the medicine balls that Alex tossed my way while I was doing other things like twisting on plates or balancing on the Bosu. RevInMo felt really really hard yet empowering, and I’m looking forward to taking some of the classes to further strengthen my weak spots.

Mile High Run Club

Mile High has been the talk of the NYC running community over the past month or two, fueled by a New York Times article on the treadmill gym trend, not to mention the catchy name.

After pacing the NYC Marathon last month, I stopped by the Lululemon recovery party in Bryant Park, where I got stretched by  Debora Warner, the founder of Mile High, who gave me a card with a code for a free class trial. In addition, Mile High offered a free first class to the members of my running team, so quite a few people I know have been already and gave good reviews. They also hosted a charity day last month featuring classes with Scott Jurek last month, which was popular with the NYC ultra crowd.

Now I have to admit that I have a soft spot for the treadmill, because –like track practice or cross-country for some– it’s really where I got my start as a runner. Maybe the pollution in New York City was much worse when I was in my late teens, but I distinctly remember trying to run outside and barely making a mile before my lungs burned up and face turned red. So I took it inside, where I still couldn’t really run and mostly walked at a fast pace on treadmills. A dozen or so years later, when I decided to start running for real and signed up for my first race, the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Half Marathon, I began my training on a treadmill, and running outside was what was novel and full of surprises, like the lack of a steady water supply and a towel to wipe the sweat with! Since then, the treadmill has kept me going whenever I couldn’t run outside: during the incredibly hot and humid summers of Hong Kong, during the Polar Vortex of 2014, and all the time when I lived in ultra-polluted Beijing.

So naturally I was keen to check out Mile High, but I had a dilemma: I wanted to get the most out of the class and haven’t been up for any type of hard training over the last 6+ weeks. The combined efforts of pacing NYCM, running my first 24-hour race a week later, and running the Quad Dipsea and North Face 50-Miler on consecutive weekends at the end of a long year of racing, plus a few sniffles along the way, have left time for a handful of easy recovery runs in between.

Finally this week, after running only 5 easy miles on Monday, I felt ready to push a little for an hour: to remember what training feels like, to see where I’m at, and to get some motivation for the coming year. Post-California, I’ve designated the month up until January 5 as my “off-season,” with no real races or even any running unless I absolutely feel like it Still, there are times when I really miss being on a plan, and not running has left me with too much energy to fret over whether or not I will make the US team for the World 24-Hour Championships.

So on Thursday I finally made my way downtown to try a class, wound up delayed by the subways and getting a bit of an unplanned warm-up to as I ran to make it to the class on time. I got in and there was no fuss to the set up—peel off my layers, stash my stuff in a locker, and hop on my reserved treadmill, push start.

The studio houses 30 Woodway 4Front treadmills, which are like normal treadmills but with an improved running surface of rubberized slats instead of a flat belt. I had actually been somewhat stressed about the treadmills because I’d heard they were Woodways and that company was best known to me as the maker of those curved-belt, non-motorized, eco-friendly and entirely self-propelled machines that make running really hard. I don’t think I’ve every lasted more than 10 minutes on one of those. Phew.

Mile High currently offers two types of classes: Dash 28, an all-levels class that combines 28 minutes of running with some strength training, and The Distance, an hour-long running-only class for more advanced runners. I’m an ultrarunner, so guess which one I picked?

We started with a five minute warm-up, and then moved on to some meaty interval work: two to three minutes of effort with two to three minute recovery in between. We did a few hills early in the class but mostly focused on speed as we worked our way up the various levels through an ever changing light show on the walls. Each treadmill had a handy laminated card on it, outlining the recommended speeds for each level (i.e. “Level 1: 5.5-7.5” and so on). I started at the lower end of each level, feeling a bit like a blob after not really running for a while, and ended up topping out at “10”-speed for our final one-minute all-out interval, feeling like a lean mean running machine again! With mirrors on the studio walls, I could literally see my body perception changing over the course of the hour, from flabby to fit, it’s all in the mind.

During class, the instructor, Luke, said a lot of the kinds of things I tell myself when I’m on a treadmill, including plenty of countdowns, which was reassuring to hear out loud, and the music was the kind of sporty Top 40 hits that make up some of my running playlists, so even when I was pushing hard, dripping sweat, it felt oddly comfortable and made me nostalgic for the old training habits. Exactly what I needed!

Now, I want to go and spend all weekend running and playing with friends, but I have to stick to my guns and my promise to take it easy. I will go out, for fun, but I need to keep it comfortable and not wear myself out for no good reason.

Week in Review (M-F)

Monday: Easy 5-mile run

Tuesday: 5-mile walk, acupuncture

Wednesday: 45-minute spin class, 1-hour MELT Strength class, 1-hour Revolution in Motion training session, 3-mile walk

Thursday: 1-hour Distance class at Mile High Run Club, 2-mile walk

Friday: Rest and stretch

Work Out Recovery

Capped off a week of recovery with a team party. Photo: Tom Flanagan

Capped off a week of active recovery with a team party. Photo: Tom Flanagan

Post-TNF, with the cold coming back and my mind blasted from running, I took three days off. All rest, no running, no anything, just my butt on the sofa.

By midweek, I was trying to balance the need for continued deep rest and a reset with the ants in my pants feeling that comes quickly whenever I take a break. What can I do? How about try something new? So, in the spirit of active recovery, I’m running around town to explore some new-to-me fitness trends. I’ve recently realized that apart from going running or swimming, it’s very difficult for me to motivate myself to do anything else on my own. I mean, I know I should be using the little free weights in my bedroom and doing core work and stretching on the mat in my living room, but I really struggle to do so. I’m lazy. It’s best if I go to a class and do as I’m told. So this week I set a new PR and went to three!

MELT Method

With winter approaching, I decided to put my regular Asphalt Green membership on hold while I take advantage of a three-month trial offer at the JCC fitness center that’s only three blocks from my apartment While the Olymoic pool and spacious gym with East River views and no music at AG can’t be beat, when it’s freezing and/or snowing, I’m much less likely to want to run the 2.5 miles to get there, or deal with the slow-ass crosstown busses.

On Wednesday, I went to check out my new gym. I was still too close to my cold to want to swim, so I spent some time on the recumbent bike (boring but gets the blood flowing, right?) and then I decided to try a class. I had read on Yelp that many JCC instructors also teach at fancy private gyms in the neighborhood like Equinox and Reebok, which sounded very cool. I had heard about something called the MELT method because it was also offered at AG, but I’d never been to a MELT class.

The concept intrigued me: A self-treatment technique to deal with chronic pain and help improve balance, stability and range of motion. The class I attended was called MELT Strength and it was packed- about 40 people and I may have been the second-youngest after the instructor. We started with an arm- and shoulder-busting set of standing exercises using a ban, then some one-legged balancing strength work before moving to the mat to treat the back, hips and core with the aid of a soft foam roller. The instructor provided some adjustments for me on the hip work (where I need the most help) and was quite soothing with her talk of opening up the pathways and developing neurological connections with various parts of the body and their movements.

It was only later, when I went to do some more online research on what this was all about, that I discovered that our instructor was none other than Sue Hitzmann, creator of the MELT method! Oh, and she may not be younger than me after all, since her bio says that she became a fitness instructor in 1988, which seems like some evidence of MELT’s claims to reverse signs of aging. The JCC offers about a dozen MELT classes a week, some with different focuses (for Beginners, with Pilates, Active Isolated Stretching, Weights, etc.) and I think it’s exactly the kind of work I need to get stronger and reduce the likelihood of injury.

Exceed Physical Culture

I was still in San Francisco when I received an invite from Mizzfit Bianca Jade to join her at her upcoming fitness event at Exceeed Physical Culture in Tribeca. I should have taken more heed of the language in her email: “The workout is SO HARD! I can’t do it alone.” Instead, I somehow convinced myself that we would be doing a light workout with some stretching and stuff, ignoring the image of a woman using TRX bands that was right on the invite (I suck at TRX!) and anyways, it was on Thursday, surely I’d be fully recovered by then…

Self-delusion may account for a large part of my success as an ultrarunner. That rooty, rocky, technical downhill at a 40% grade that nearly broke me? Well, surely there’s not gonna be anything else like that anywhere else on this course, right? I wouldn’t say my ignorance is bliss since it keeps me suffering, but it does keep me from quitting. With this class, I figured, 45 minutes, how hard can it be? I’ll just hang out in the corner, using light weights and minimal effort to get by. And wear my TNF 50-Mile shirt to display my excuse.

I did such a good job of convincing myself that it wouldn’t be too hard that I decided to run down to Tribeca. Normally, I would take the longer and stoplight-free West Side Highway to go downtown, but since it was already dark and cold and windy and I’d been out of town for a while, I decided to take the scenic and more direct route via Ninth Ave and Greenwich St., which would also allow for some mini-breaks at stoplights. Apart from little aches in the hip at the start and serious wind and cold at the end it was an easy pleasant first run back.

The studio was on the ground floor and basement of a classic loft-style building and felt very new—when we lay face down at the end, those rubberized floors still had a new-car smell. As the no-nonsense instructor Gabriel led 15 or so very fit ladies through warmup drills of high knees, butt kicks and jumping jacks, it dawned on me that this was not quite the same scene as my community center fitness classes full of senior citizens and gentle and understanding teachers. Um, this was high intensity interval training and everyone was here to work really hard. Weakly sidestepping my way through jumping jacks just wasn’t going to cut it.

So I did my best and gutted it out, and still got my ass whooped. Most of the class consisted of working our way through various exercises in 45-second intervals at 4 “stations”: kettlebells, rowing machine, jump rope, and TRX. We broke up into groups of 4, worked at one of the stations for 45 seconds, took a few seconds to transition to the next station, and then another 45 seconds until the 4-part circuit was complete. Then we’d get a minute or so break to gasp for air and gulp water while Gabriel explained the exercises for the next circuit- the rowing and jump rope intervals were always the same, but we did a few different things with the kettlebells and TRX. We did some other stuff outside of the circuits as well: box jumps and burpees, more high knees and jumping jacks, plus a tiny bit of core work. And it was an hour class, not 45 minutes. It was super-tough but I felt great at the end, and I was ultra-inspired by the super-strong ladies with killer arms and butts all around me. Damn these girls can work it!


I’m not sure if I would normally go to SoulCycle since spinning is really not my thing, and I got scared off by my teammate Liz’s (unintentionally hilarious) bad experience and turned off by the club’s notorious anti-competitor policies.

However, I have taken a winter indoor cycling class (back when I thought I might have a future in triathlon) and a few months ago I thoroughly enjoyed a team-style spinning class at Swerve Fitness, also hosted by Mizzfit. But what really got me to go to SoulCycle was that they extended an invitation to my running team to attend certain classes for free throughout the month of December. I’m a total sucker for freebies.

I went to a lunchtime class on Friday, not fully accepting that I might be tired from the killer workout at Exceed on Thursday evening, or that it might affect my plans to run the Ted Corbitt 15K the following morning. It’s only spinning, how hard can it be?

Well, it really wasn’t easy for me. I ran over to the studio, just a mile, but I didn’t have enough time to get settled in before class, and I was a nervous mess trying to adjust my bike. I’m so bad on the bikes that it took me forever just to get clipped in. By the time I’d managed one foot in the instructor had to come over to help me get the other one secured, and I was already sweating up a storm.

There’s something about spinning that makes me sweat like a mofo. I took off my t-shirt as soon as I could and still managed to pour sweat all over within minutes, and it never stopped no matter how much I eased off. Unlike the other cycling classes I’ve taken, the bikes in our studio at SoulCycle didn’t have the little displays that show relevant info such as cadence/RPMs, MPH or power output, so I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew that it all felt hard, and only got harder as we were told to add a quarter turn of resistance here, a full turn there. Turn the resistance down too much, and I felt like I’d be about to spin out of control and tear my knees out of their sockets, turn it up too much and I’d practically stop moving. I tried to persuade myself that the movement of riding was a little like running on an elliptical or something, which made it feel a little less awful.

At least the music wasn’t as loud (or as bad) as I expected, and the studio even had jars full of earplugs at reception for the more sensitive riders. Our instructor chided us a couple of times for our lack of energy, so clearly it wasn’t just me. The upper body workout didn’t feel as intense as the one at Swerve, even though I had done a bit of work just about everywhere the previous evening, and the core stuff didn’t leave my abs feeling sore at all. I might have been doing it all wrong but I prefer to hurt a bit after the core work.

Of course, the next morning I was too messed up to race at Ted Corbitt. My legs felt dead on the short warmup run to the start, and I had zero desire or ability to race. Luckily enough of my fast lady teammates had come prepared to race so that my time wouldn’t be needed to score, and we also had enough masters women for the team to be counted in that category. So I ended my recovery week with a “short” long run, followed by the most partying I will do all year at the team’s year-end party, and a full day of real recovery on Sunday: lots of ramen and a bit of walking to help digest it all.

No racing but I got to run with this lady! Photo: NYRR

Hanging with this “local hero” at the Ted Corbitt 15K. Photo: NYRR

Week in review: 

Monday-Tuesday: Completely off

Wednesday: 40 minutes easy on the recumbent stationary bike and 1-hour MELT Strength class

Thursday: Very easy 5.3 mile run, 1-hour Exceed HIIT/circuit class

Friday: Very easy 3.2 mile run, 45-minute SoulCycle class

Saturday: Easy 1.7 mile warmup, moderate 9.3 mile run at 8:30  pace

Sunday: Rest and leisurely 3-mile walk, some massage

Rocking the Ridge and Cheering the Philly

View from a Rock the Ridge aid station

View from a Rock the Ridge aid station

Another weekend to get excited about. On Saturday, the folks at the Mohonk Preserve near New Paltz organized a training run and hike to promote their Spring 50-miler, Rock the Ridge. Though the morning was mega-cold and my right leg is still shaky, the sun promised to be out, Ken Posner of double-Badwater record holding fame would be hosting, and I had invited a young ultra runner who I’d met on the Long Path one day in August, so bailing was not an option. At the very least, I figured I could join the hiking group if I couldn’t keep up with the runners, or cut the run short of my 15-mile goal.

Mohonk Testimonial Gatehouse

Mohonk Testimonial Gatehouse

We met at the impressive historic-looking Mohonk Testimonial Gatehouse, which I hadn’t seen on my previous trip to Mohonk last year. The organizers kindly provided with day-use wristbands for the preserve, free of cost. After moaning about in our cars and making sure we were fully layered we stepped out for a short briefing and divided into two groups. I knew a bunch of people in the running group so I headed out with them, and then overheard something about three miles of uphill. Oh yay! Really it was more like four, but was great for keeping warm. I hadn’t run up a big hill since I was in Hong Kong, almost two months ago, so I didn’t feel too strong, but then the only way to get stronger on hills is to keep going up them, even if it means walking as needed.

Pre-run briefing

Pre-run briefing

Once we reached the top of the hill, some of the group headed back to finish the eight-mile option, and Ken took us up for a loop of a few miles around to Spring Farm, up and down, mostly on wide gravel carriage roads, with a few stretches of deep leaves covering frozen chunks of dirt. There were tiny patches of ice in a few places, a reminder to enjoy the last days of clean trails before they freeze over. When I visited Mohonk last year, I ran most of the western sections of the Rock the Ridge course, so I hadn’t seen any of this part before. It’s all lovely really.

A colorful bunch of trail runners

A colorful bunch of trail runners

At our next decision point, a few of the hardier souls opted to continue up the mountain to Skytop Tower, for a total of 20-25 miles, while I decided to head back and finish with 14 miles. I hadn’t planned to go more than 16 on this day, and was very happy that I could run pretty much the whole way with just a few short walking breaks in the later stages of the big hills. Next week, I will try to double the distance at Quad Dipsea, and then almost once more the following weekend at the North Face 50 Mile in San Francisco. Just for fun.

Oh, and I’ll be back in the Spring for the full 50 miles!

Sunday was the Philly marathon, and I decided bring my cowbell out again to cheer it on. Tons of people I know from my running team, trail and ultrarunning gang and all over were running, and I especially didn’t want to miss the chance to see Maggie and Yoshiko fun-running as Devil and Angel, and Ken Tom running his #kentomming birthday marathon.

I caught an early ride with Tiger out of the city and arrived in Philly a little past two-hours into the race and headed over to the mile 14/25 markers. We saw some of the Nike NYC crowd cheering there, but it was feeling a little chilly, so we decided to start cheer-walking north for a few miles along the side of the course before turning back and cheer-jogging back towards the finish.

Tiger Ellen to the rescue

Tiger Ellen to the rescue

Somewhere around mile 22.5, we came across a man sitting on the curb holding his calf, and after asking permission Tiger began to massage his leg cramp away. Several other runners paused to ask if he needed medical assistance, but he said he was okay and just had a cramp. One runner stopped and gave him his Clif Shot blocks for the extra sodium.

Too short for this tall girl selfie

Too short for this tall girl selfie

As we were getting ready to send him on his way to the finish, the Angel and Devil arrived, and we started running alongside them and taking some photos. It seemed that the Angel had decided to pick up the pace at the end and pass as many people as possible on the way to the finish, while the Devil was very strong, and I struggled to keep up– the hip flexors were simply not moving fast enough. I had a sense of déjà vu of running this race last year, the day after racing the 60K in Central Park—the perfect sunny fall weather was exactly the same, and those final miles were so joyous, as I decided to enjoy them and not push the pace to the finish at all for a change. But this year I was really happy to only run a few miles instead of the full marathon. After the Devil and I stopped at the portapotties by mile 24 or so, she sprinted off to catch the Angel and I gave up and took a break with the mile 25 cheering group before continuing towards the finish with my cowbell in one hand and camera in the other.

Chasing the Devils tail and Angels wings

Chasing the Devils tail and Angels wings

Come Monday I paid for my weekend fun. The right leg hurts, in the hip, flexor, quad and knee. So I took a total rest day- no swimming, no walking, no nothing. A few days ago I came across an essay on the Ultralist about running and addiction, in which the author wrote about running two miles a day even when his knee injury was at its worst. Even though I think I am probably addicted to running (I want to run every day, and get withdrawal symptoms during taper and recovery periods), I can’t stand to do it when it’s consistently unpleasant. So this week is off from running and even most walking until I start the Quad Dipsea on Saturday, and I don’t know if I’ll finish. It may be an unofficial “Double Dipsea” instead.

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