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!
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 http://exceedphysicalculture.com/ 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.
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