On the Rocks

There are a couple tenets of my workout policy that I’d thought were non-negotiables: always hydrate before a run, carry a $20 in case of emergencies, think heavily about stretching (though don’t actually do it) and wear a hat when the sun’s shining bright:

Keira says: “Haven’t you used this photo before? If only there were other dogs in your life you could photograph for blog usage…”

But the most sacrosanct principle of my fitness routine was always this: Permanently keep one foot on the ground. Or in other words, no aerial yoga, no box jumps, no aerobatics, no hang gliding. You heard me: Nothing that has this height-adverse athlete working against gravity, because, my god, up-high things are terrifying. (Kind of like opening my news app every morning to see what monstrosities I missed overnight. But I digress.)

So it must have been a bout of temporary insanity — or fine, the love of a good deal — when on Black Friday I signed up for a half-price 10-pack of visits at a local rock climbing gym. I assumed I’d never actually climb, but the gym also offered yoga classes at convenient times, and I’ve been aiming to freshen up my practice.

And for the first five visits, that’s all I did – downward dog (with two feet on the ground), upward dog (with two feet on the ground), talk about getting a dog (with two feet on the ground.)

But as I walked by the climbers each visit on the way to the yoga studio, I started to get envious. They all looked so cool and so calm and so collected and so badass. Even more important: a lot of them looked like me. I’d thought climbers would be all muscle with clear superiority in the upper body strength department, but many of the men and women I saw making their way up the walls looked, well, kind of normal. At least, as normal as you can look doing something so freakishly unnatural as the human body moving vertically.

Or vertically and semi-upside-down. I mean, seriously?

So I suppressed my fears and signed up for an intro climbing class, bringing a friend along to witness what I expected would be a 50-foot drop to my death. And you know what?

IT WAS TERRIFYING! But also super exhilarating. After we learned to tie ourselves into our harnesses and belay for our friends with two feet firmly on the ground, we hit the climbing walls. Most of the climbs, I — shaking with fear — asked to repel down only halfway up the wall, but a few times, I made it all the way to the top, and that was the Coolest. Feeling. Ever. So I went back last night and did it all over again.

And wore this sweet harness.

I didn’t know what kind of workout rock-climbing would be, especially for someone as cautious as me, but it was definitely a sweat-inducing! Today, my upper back and forearms ache that way muscles only do after they haven’t been used in years. I’ve since done some googling, and it seems rock-climbing can burn as many calories as jogging per hour, plus it tones all kinds of muscles from your forearms to your calves to your obliques. Believe me when I say my typing muscles feel particularly warmed up this morning after gripping at tiny handholds for 60 minutes last night.

The best thing about rock climbing? Unless you like the auto-belay, which is a terrifying experiment in throwing yourself from a great height and hoping a machine catches you, you do most of your climbing with a belay partner — a cool experience for a solo runner like me who’s almost always working out in an isolated state. I befriended a couple in the intro class and convinced them to go with me again last night, and — Horray! — none of us dropped each other to our violent ends! Success!

I don’t think climbing will ultimately take the place of running in my heart — it’s too expensive long-term, requires too much gear and demands a bit more planning than just lacing up and running, but having another sport in my repertoire? It rocks.

Have you ever exercised against gravity? Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, I’m talking to you. #2013moviejokes #Ican’tbelievethatmovieisalreadysoold

Running Training

Heavy Weights

I’ve done a lot of reading on the inception of running, and while the etymology of the word jog is reportedly unknown, this much I know to be true:

When distance running came into fashion in the 1970s, much conventional wisdom surrounding the sport was misguided, sexist or downright wrong.

Take a quick glance back through the past five decades of casual and competitive road racing—fine, I’ll do it for you—and it becomes painfully clear that in the 70s, sports science related to my favorite pastime was still in its infancy. Also in their infancy in 1970? Current forty-three year olds, if my math serves me, the odds of which, uh, requires more math.

Take, for example, the following popular misconceptions of the early running boom. These since-refuted claims—while not held by everyone—were oft repeated nonetheless in the literature of the time, or so this non-time-traveling 1985 baby has read:

  • Marathon running causes sterility in women.
  • It’s best not to hydrate at all during a 26.2-mile race.
  • Weight lifting has no place in a runner’s training schedule.

The first two have been overwhelmingly refuted in both scientific study and anecdotal evidence in the generation since, but the third—that weight training and running are mutually exclusive—has somehow persisted.

Many runners—including this one—shy away from strength training even in today’s day and age because:

  1. We don’t want to gain bulk that will weigh us down come race day.
  2. We don’t want to injure ourselves or increase muscle and joint soreness.
  3. We don’t want to waste precious time in the weight room when general consensus says the best way to run better is to simply run more.
  4. We can’t do a push-up. Oh? What’s that you say, other runners? Huh. Well, good for you. I guess that’s just me then.

Or in other words, for the last two years of race training, every time my schedule read this:


I saw this:


(I could upgrade to Photoshop, sure, but the rebellious teenager in me would miss Paint’s spray paint tool too much.)

Skipping strength training (and, let’s be honest, stretching as well) didn’t seem to do me much harm as I trained for my first marathon, having little goal in mind except to finish. But with my race times having since plateaued, I’m starting to think running alone isn’t going to cut it for me anymore as I look to improve. Enter strength training.

Although common knowledge used to dictate strength training was detrimental to the distance runner, science now suggests the addition of some lean muscle can actually improve a runner’s VO2 max, strengthen joints and connective tissue, ward off injury and prevent muscle imbalances, particularly when it comes to the smaller stabilizer muscles that are often underutilized when logging flat mile after flat mile. With that in mind, I rolled up to a group strength training class at my gym last week, and while the bicep curls left my forearms screaming, I’m optimistic the net benefit will be well worth the strain.

Weight training scares me, sure, but just like corralling up at the Verrazano Bridge this November 3 isn’t going to make me sterile, I think pumping some light iron on a weekly basis can only serve to improve my overall fitness, making me a better runner at the end of the day. Yes, it might leave me aching, but I think given the reported benefits, I should just grin and bear it.

Grinning and bearing.

Do you supplement your running with weight training? Have you seen improvement and/or been elected California governor as a result? 

Running Training

Avoiding Cross-Training Like the Plague

There are times I’ll willingly step out of my comfort zone. Wearing electric blue pants in the light of day? Fine. Ordering the tasting menu at Manzo, complete with a petit filet of bovine tongue? No big deal. Helping my pilot friend fly a two-seater plane over the San Diego Bay last weekend? Done and done.

But when it comes to adding cross-training to my weekly workout schedule, the likelihood of me donning a pair of spin shoes or striking a child’s pose in yoga is about the same as Rick Santorum winning the popular vote in Chelsea.

My aversion to cross-training is mostly an efficiency thing: In the time it takes to pack a gym bag, walk to the YMHA, go through the metal detector (what, your gym doesn’t have airport-caliber security?), claim a locker and make my way to the 4th floor cardio studio, I know I could have already covered a mile and a half on foot if I’d forwent cross-training and opted for a good old fashioned run instead.

It doesn’t help either that the adult workout classes offered at my gym at convenient hours mostly sound excruciating – things like “Aqua Fusion” or “Total Body Groove” or “Spending Time with Cats.” Paired with a crippling fear that the instructor will use me as an example of “how not to do a pushup correctly” in front of the entire group fitness class, that’s enough to keep my exercise routine refreshingly singular.

But in the spirit of Leap Day week, I’m going to take a page from Liz Lemon’s fictionalized playbook and try something new in the weeks ahead: cross-training at least once a week.

(Confession: this should already be on my schedule, since my current 10K training plan requires 60 minutes of cross-training every Saturday. My cross-training yesterday consisted of watching my boyfriend and his roommate rearrange furniture in the morning and tapping my toes along to The Artist at night. That may or may not actually qualify as actual exercise. I can’t be sure.)

But what kind of cross-training is best for a busy New Yorker? I posed the question to one of my blog idols, and she suggested SoulCycle, the high-energy spin-sation that has claimed to have “taken the world of fitness by storm.” I’ve heard great things from everyone and their mother about these classes, but at $32 a pop, they seem a little hard to justify on top of my monthly 92Y membership fee. (Funny how I can be so frugal on some fronts and so lavish on others. Last weekend, for example, I spent significantly more than that for a butter-infused vodka cocktail and a couple rounds of Wylie Dufresne’s bacon-wrapped hotdogs w/ deep fried mayonnaise. Priorities, people.)

If I’m really trying to be economical here, my best bet is to try out some classes at my home gym. 7 p.m. is a hard target when you manage a daily newspaper, but I’m hoping if I really bust my butt, I can make it to a 7:05 cardio kickboxing session tomorrow. Other ideas: testing out my gym’s indoor pool, streaming a Pilates workout on my laptop or intentionally leaving my Metrocard in my fifth-floor walk-up. Or I could just wait three weeks until soccer season begins again.

What’s your favorite form of cross-training? And can I tag along?