September 15 – Metabolic Legs

I had a couple of exercise goals this weekend to get back into my workout routine as well as trying to break through my plateau. Plateaus are just depressing and they can really kill any motivation if you let them.

In the hopes of bringing something new and challenging to the table, I opted to try a metabolic workout this weekend. I’m new to metabolic training as a whole, only having done a couple of metabolic workouts before, but the general goal is to do short but strong whole body cardio movements (burpees, weight squats, rowing, sprinting, box/sled pushes, etc.) so that the whole body is engaged. With metabolic workouts, you’re trying to keep a high intensity in your routine, so you should be sweaty with a high heart rate well before the end of a set. If you aren’t, you’re not pushing hard enough.

That’s part of the reason I tend to balk at metabolic workouts. I don’t mind getting sweaty, but when my heart rate increases rapidly or through movements where my arms are engaged (holding weights up during cardio, burpees, etc.), I have a very difficult time breathing. I suffer from a case of exercise-induced asthma which pretty much stops me in my tracks after not too long. I’ll save that discussion for another time, but suffice to say, metabolic workouts are the bane of my asthma where weight or resistance training is not. It took a lot more mentally to push through this workout than it does most just in light of my fear of suffocation or passing out. Yes, you do push yourself as hard as you can, but no one really benefits from passing out, do they? I decided I wouldn’t let my fear of collapsing stop me from trying my hardest.

For breaks, I took 5-10 minutes (usually around 5-8 minutes) between sets for recovery. That’s a long time, but the reality is, recovery is key so that you’re able to complete the next set. With resistance training, 1-2 minutes at most is what you’re looking for between sets, but with a metabolic workout, you would not be in good shape to complete the following set if you did that short a break.

Also, I always made two slow-paced laps around the workout room before stopping for water or sitting down to stretch. It helped to bring my heart rate down, allowing me to breathe consistently again, as well as kept the blood flowing in my legs. If I had sat or laid down right away for a period of time, my legs would have seized up (more than they were already doing) and that would have made any further sets even harder. As much as it feels like you just want to lay down for 5-10 minutes, you have to try to walk it off for the first bit. It really does make a difference.

Metabolic Workout – 4 sets (timed) with 5-10 minute walking breaks between each

Bench Jumps: 20 reps – you want to land as softly as possible on the bench, avoiding a loud ‘slam!’ sound on landing. I often have mental challenges with these due to a fear of tripping or falling off the bench. Putting them at the start really helps to prevent it from psyching me out through the rest of the work out. As always, remember to contract the core (abs) when jumping.
Jumping Lunges: 20 reps – even though you’re doing these in fast succession, remember to get into a full lunge position and land on both feet at the same time. I’m prone to landing one and then the other which can not only put too much weight on one leg and knee, it can throw off your balance. Be sure to avoid leaning forward by keeping a pelvic tilt and a straight back in your lunge position.
Burpees: 20 reps – you have to contract the abs while doing these and that is something with which I still struggle. Unlike the video, I add a jump when coming up each time, for extra leg engagement and cardio. I find the key for getting through these is to pace myself. While I am doing this routine for time, by not going as fast as possible in the start, I have enough energy to get through the full 20 reps. If I went all out at the start, I would maybe get 5 done before I had to stop and catch my breath.
Squats: 20 reps – form is key with squats. Avoid leaning forward or shifting your weight to the front part of your foot. You want your chest to be up and facing forward with your butt back (as if you’re about to sit on a chair). If you’ve done deadlifts before, it’s similar to the form in terms of keeping your butt out behind you with your back up. The goal is to get to at least 90 degrees on your squats every time.
Jumping Squats: 10 reps – form is just as important but you will be coming onto the fore-foot a bit in order to push-off for the jumps. You want to get as close to 90 degrees as possible, still, and don’t let your upper body tilt forward (facing towards the ground).
Box Push: 2 passes @ 45 pounds – a pass is along one whole side of the gym, for me, so the distance can vary if you have a smaller space. When pushing the box or sled, you want to remember to keep the hips down (you don’t want your but high in the air or your back to be curved inward). Remember to push from the glutes and to sprint as hard as you can for both pushes.

When I did these for time, I had negative splits which really encouraged me but I found I almost became too focussed on the time as each set passed. If you have someone who can time you, it may be best to have them record it without telling you so you don’t feel pressured to keep up or beat your previous time. Some might like that pressure, but I found it distracting in the last few sets.

My splits:
Set 1: 5:32.74
Set 2: 5:28.79
Set 3: 5:26.30
Set 4: 5:22.54

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Race Report – Inaugural Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon, June 3, 2012

2012 Inaugural Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon Medal

I just got back into town after running the Inaugural Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon this morning. Before I get to the race report though, I had share the overall punchline from my experiences both here and at the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Half Marathon last month.

The Toronto race has been around for 30 or so years. The race I ran this morning was the first time for this one. As most racers will tell you, inaugural races can have kinks, hiccups, and issues that need to get worked out and often have changes after the first time through. What would I change? Nothing. Nothing that the race organizers can control would have made this race better for me. This race was run so smoothly, you’d have never known it was inaugural. Goodlife last month was so mismanaged and poorly thought out it could have been the first time it was run (and, in my opinion, should be the last time the organizers are allowed to organize anything). Night and day, these two races were at opposite ends of the spectrum of experience and this one out-shone in every category. Now, having cleared my brain, here is my full race report:

Race Report – Inaugural Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon June 3, 2012

Niagara Falls

Canada’s side of Niagara Falls

Pre-Race: Packet pick-up was at the Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Ontario on Friday and Saturday. We arrived around 3:00 pm on Saturday, 3 hours before the pick-up was to close. The parking was free and the building was easy to locate. We had no trouble finding it from out of town and finding a spot. A greeter at the door of the resort asked us if we were here for the race, even though I had nothing on identifying me as a racer. She was very helpful in telling us where to go. Very well-informed!

When I got to the packet pick-up, it was a rather small set-up compared to a lot of races I’ve been to, but it wasn’t supposed to be an expo, so that was fine with me. The layout was perfect. As you progressed through the room, first there was a list with names and bib numbers. They weren’t sent out beforehand so everyone would need that information. Then came the bib distribution lines, which were organized by number and they had arranged safety pins in sets of 4. They looked like they had tons of extras, as well. A great sign given how close to the end of the pick-up we were. Then came tag activation and the goody bags. The team seemed to have many shirts available still, as well, so I was able to get a shirt in my size without any hassle. The bottle of wine was last and representatives from Chateau du Charmes explained a little about the product. I also got a time band from the Running Room representatives.

The goody bag contained flyers for other races as well as:

  • 1 bottle of Chateau du Charmes wine and 2-for-1 voucher for Chateau due Charmes wine-tasting.
  • 1 regular-sized bottle of 2-in-1 Finesse shampoo/conditioner
  • 24 press-on toenails (to cover your black runner’s toenails)
  • 2 bamboo make-up compacts
  • nail clippers
  • pack of teeth cleaners/flossers
  • 2-for-1 admission to Clifton Hill attractions
  • 40$ gift certificate for the Skylon Tower rotating restaurant
  • 10$ off a Shock Absorber bra from the Running Room
  • package of Werther’s Original
  • package of Campino candies
  • gift certificates for activities at Great Wolf Lodge, like mini golf
  • personalized tracker bib
  • pink, reusable bag with race logo
  • Brooks athletic t-shirt with race logo (really comfy!)

    Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon Swag Bag

    The contents of the awesome goody/swag bag for the race.

As a racer would exit, a gentleman was at the door with maps of Niagara Falls, which highlighted points of interest in the city. He would ask each racer where she was staying, and proceed to draw on the map the best directions from their specific hotel to the parking/race start line. He also advised us on which roads would be closed for the race. This is something I didn’t need, as I had looked into it already, but it was great of the organizers to think of out-of-towners!

Race Day: Since I wasn’t relying on a shuttle that may or may not have room for me, I was able to set my alarms/wake up calls for a much later, 6:00 am wake-up time. It was heaven! I had followed the weather reports closely to see that it was still set to rain this morning, up to a 50% chance of precipitation, so I put away my sunscreen and got out the running pants in place of my normal skirt. Since I had planned time into my prep for sunscreen, I was able to snuggle back under my covers for a bit to warm up before going out.

I drove to the parking lot for the race, which was a first for me. Usually, I rely on race shuttles for fear of nerves making me a terrible driver. Although I had registered for this race back in January, I hadn’t really decided to run it until yesterday due to many issues, mostly my knee injury, so the nerves hadn’t had a chance to set in. The drive and parking were both a breeze. The hotel valet brought the car up at 7:10 and I was parked at the race by 7:30. I stayed in the car for a bit, sorting out how I would carry all I wanted to carry without my handy running skirt pocket.

The race MC

Francis, the MC/bride, and her new husband.

The start area was still pretty bare just before 8:00 (start time) but I had fun listening to the MC, Francis, talk about her wedding. She had been married just last night and she was announcing the event in her wedding dress while her groom, in his tux, was on stage with her.

Start Wine

The Start “Wine” of the race.

We shuffled into the Start “Wine” area about 10 minutes before 8:00 am. Then something else happened that I had hoped for (but was disappointed) at the Toronto Half Marathon, they preformed our national anthem. A young lady from British Columbia sang it beautifully and a spectator’s husky near me was howling along. It made me proud to be there. They don’t play it in the U.S. races I do, obviously, so I was disappointed that my first Canadian race had failed to do it.

The racers were then split alongside each side of the corral while a drumming group from the local school marched down the middle. The race official start was delayed by 15 minutes as organizers wanted to give the racers still trying to park a chance to get to the start. Two racers behind me (Sour Puss A & B as I called them) were complaining about having to wait and how they shouldn’t be punished for other people’s mistakes. They also were ranting about the race organization, the MC, and pretty much everything else. I’ve never heard any racer so negative over things that have little consequence. This wasn’t an elite competition and they were stacked well behind the 2:15 pace bunny, so I don’t think 15 minutes of standing was going to kill them. I, on the other hand, was very happy to see that the organizers were waiting. I thought that was very considerate of them and demonstrated that they cared about their racers, all of them, and not just the elite runners.

The race course was an out-and-back style of racing following only a couple of roads the whole way. It was a good and bad thing because on the way back, you knew the terrain as well as the distance, but the downside is you get to see all the runners ahead of you, including the pace bunny you had lofty hopes of following. It does allow you to cheer for runners ahead and behind you which I thoroughly enjoyed doing as I’m an avid shouter/cheerer.

Course map

The course map

After the runners pass the turn off for the start area, the course is almost entirely flat. There is 1 bridge, with a Tim Hortons, but otherwise, it felt and looked flat. The first 5 kilometres or so was not so much, but it was over fast enough and it had the scenic Niagara Falls to distract you.

Niagara Falls skyline

The Niagara Falls skyline.

Once on the flat part, I encountered the two issues I had with this specific race, unrelated to my form, energy, or health issues: strong, constant headwind and bugs. The entirety of the last 14 kilometres of the course runs alongside the water, right at the edge essentially. The flat open surface allowed to strong headwinds both directions making it harder to push through near the end. The moisture also encouraged bugs and there were plenty of those. I’m a huge scaredy-cat when it comes to bugs of any kind so this was definitely also working against me.

Physically, I ran into only some minor issues, and most of that related to my calf seizing up again (as it did in Toronto last month). I’ve narrowed it down to water, or lack thereof, being the main issue. I ran out, to be blunt, and while the water stations were available, my body can’t handle Niagara tap water, so I had to make do with what I had.

Luckily, I had something even more awesome than water to save me in the last kilometres of the race: TIMBITS! We passed them going out but they were a life-saver on the way back. I was watching the horizon for when we’d cross the bridge since I knew they were waiting there for me, calling out to me. That got me to around mark 18/19 when the light rain started up. Then the mantra became: “Rain won’t stop me, I’m running the Mickey!” That got me the rest of the way to the Finish “Wine”. It made me laugh more running to it than leaving it.

Finish Wine

The Finish Wine of the race.

Post-Race: The finish area was well laid out with the chute continuing for a bit through the medal area and then around in a U-turn to the recovery chute.

First came the Aquafina water bottles (not cups!) handed out to everyone who passed through. After that was the tent that normally has food items for racers. This is another spot where the organizers shone even compared to RunDisney!

All the food goodies (apple, orange, banana, and, packaged in their own bag, 2 Tim Horton’s chocolate chip chookies) were packed inside one easily carried take-out box the style of a timbits box. Inside, the goodies were arranged in pink tissue paper. At the end of the food goody tent, racers were given a small carton of chocolate milk.

Honestly, why can’t all races have a box for my items. I’m usually walking around carrying all this stuff in my arms while trying to get photos with my medal and friends or family. This made things so much easier that I’m surprised I haven’t seen it done before!

After-race food

The food and drink items given out at the Finish ‘Wine’.
Inlay: Contents of the food box pictured in the top left.

The parking was not the nightmare I thought it would be at the end of the race, either. I was done and on my way in minutes. The route to the parking was very simple from most hotels and even a blind out-of-towner like myself would have been hard pressed to get lost. Not relying on shuttles (or having your shuttle get stuck in traffic and leave you in the middle of an unfamiliar city, ala Goodlife Fitness Toronto Half Marathon) was a blessing. I was able to get back to the hotel and up to my room before I had even found my shuttle last time. This allowed me to shower and clean up before heading to IHOP for breakfast and then checking out. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed driving to the race and having access to a car for my ride back. No losing anything on a bus or having to wait in a long line with sore legs. I was in the shower and cleaned up before many of my fellow racers were even back to the hotel.

2012 Inaugural Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon Medal

2012 Inaugural Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon Medal
Inlay: Close-up of medal detailing

Summary: Even though the weather was supposed to be bad, it held out and the climate was perfect for running. No sun to overheat us, wind to keep us refreshed, and lovely scenery made the course a dream even for a recovering, under-trained racer like me. I hit a personal best on this course, on top of it all too! My chip time was 2:20:30, just over 2 minutes and 30 seconds faster than my previous best, and over 8 minutes faster than the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Half Marathon. I would recommend this race to anyone. It was a great time and I loved it!

April 2 – Lower

This routine had less exercises (one group instead of two) but the exercises were more challenging in terms of form and control so it still took up as much time as a high rep, speedy work out like March 28’s.

Group 1 – Repeat 3 times
Sandbag Toss – 2 Squat Jump combo: 20 lb sandbag with 16 reps – note: try to keep the throw more horizontal than in the video (you don’t need that much height for this). Ideally, you should be having enough room to do two squat jumps before reaching the bag. If you have a lot of extra space, bump it up to three. Remember to focus on contracting the abs, especially in the pick up and throw movements. You’ll also want to remember to keep your chest up and butt down for the squats, you don’t want to have your chest parallel to the group.
Resistance Band Lunges: black band with 25 reps per leg – note: this is the exact same as a normal reverse lunge, so remember to keep pelvis tucked under, hip over your back knee (no leaning forward). The middle of the resistance band should be under the middle/arch of your foot, not your toe or heel. Take the handles with palms facing your thighs. When you’re ready, pull them up to the chest so your palms face away then rotate them to face your chest. The band should be on the inside of your arm (not around the outside). Starting with feet together, step back into the reverse lunge, lower, rise (through the front heel) and step back so feet are together. The band makes you want to lean forward, so be sure to focus on avoiding that. You want to move through these quickly. Even if you’re focussing on form, the goal is to get your heart rate up as well.
1-Leg Sit Squat: 12 per leg – note: like with the squate jumps, keep the chest up, no leaning forward, avoid rocking when you are coming up from the bench, and when you’re coming down, control it; don’t just plop down on the bench. There should be almost no sound as you sit. You can do this with a chair or anything else you sit on, if you want, as well. Just focus on pushing up through the heel, and keeping the knee facing forward (it may have a tendency to turn in as you push up). This is easier to track if you have a mirrored surface facing you. You also want to be sure that you’re keeping the raised leg in front of the working leg. Don’t allow it to drop behind or to the side. I usually feel it in that hip flexor area near the end, but you’re not getting as much of a challenge if you drop it down. As you get better at these, you can look for lower surfaces to try this with, but starting out, nothing lower than knee-height at most (so you’re at a 90 degree angle when sitting). Keeping your core/abs tight and using the but to push yourself up for this, is essential!

A note about resistance bands: They come in varying degrees of resistance based on their colours. Yellow is usually considered the lighter of the resistances, so I’d start with that and adjust until you find one with the right level for you.

March 28 – Lower

A lower body work out. As before, repeat each group of exercises 3 times.

Group 1
Squat Jumps: 30 reps
Calf Raises: 30 reps
Lunge Jumps: 30 reps
Box Jumps: 30 reps – note: try to land without making noise and with the whole foot on the surface.

Group 2
Step-Up – Glute Extension – Lunge: 15 reps each side. Start facing the middle of the bench and place one foot all the way on it. Step up, keeping the weight over the heel and using the glute to pull yourself up. Straighten without placing the other foot on the bench and contract the glute straight back (not to the side or turned out and avoid allowing the pelvis or torso to tip forward). Slowly lower yourself down, in a controlled manner, and continue back (with the foot you used to step up onto the bench) into a backwards lunge. Contract with your glutes to rise up out of the lunge and move right back into the next step up. At no point should both feet be stationary next to each other. The movement should be smooth from one exercise to the next.
Plank Leg Lifts: 10 reps each side
Hamstring Curls: 30 lbs with 12 reps – note: be sire to not lift your butt or lower body off the machine and avoid arching your back.