Guest Post · holidays

It’s easy to get lazy! Return to training during or after a cold? (Guest post)

Over the holidays I was hit by a pretty bad cold. 7 days straight of very high fever, sore throat, congestion, and coughing. My immune system is hyper-reactive and the nukes were out to destroy the bug. But it did not work this time. It lasted its full 10 days. And now beyond the 10 days I still feel somewhat congested.
Despite all signs, I went out running on day 5. Admittedly, I did not have any fever that morning and thought “That’s it, I am winning this!” This was a very slow run even if I felt like I was pushing. And at the end of the day I could tell by how I was feeling that it had been a mistake to go out. Did it extend my cold? Who knows. This is hard to say. And advice out there on whether one should run or train with a cold is sometimes contradictory. Most will say if you have fever, don’t. But unless one has a working and reliable thermometer (I don’t) it can be hard to tell (add to the mix the occasional hot flashes induced by peri-menopause and, voilà! Is it fever? Is it a hot flash?)
So after that 5th day outing, I waited another 4 days before engaging in any training. During that time, one wonders: am I just being lazy? Surely I could (should?) push myself and do it. When I did train, it was indoors because I was still somewhat feverish and did not feel like running outside in the wet cold. So I did weight training and leg exercises. I thought: “good plan! This won’t go against my less than optimal oxygen intake because of my congestion.” That was without thinking about muscular weakness caused by the cold. I don’t think I have ached like this in a very long time! I went out for a run the next day and pulled something in my thigh. Good job! But again, I was questioning whether I was just being lazy. It is so easy to get lazy, right? Stay warm inside and lounge on the couch, reading stuff and watching some TV (and doing work on the computer). One gets maybe too comfortable? So out I went to run a 7km!
But there are times when your body just needs to be lazy. It needs you to rest and fight what it has to fight. While you are reading, watching TV, killing time on Facebook, your body is hard at work fixing itself. It may be easy to get lazy but it may be necessary at times. This was one such time and I did not listen to my body.
Training is fun and exciting. I know I like it. But I have to learn to be patient with myself when I am sick and need my energy to fight whatever is assaulting me. Mostly, I have to shut up that narrative that makes me think I am just being lazy and should suck it up. I have to go back to working out in a way that does not throw me back into illness. This means a gradual return, testing the waters so to speak. So I need to be more patient with myself. Oh! And I also need to get myself a proper thermometer!

fitness · Guest Post · racing · running

Back to running! (Guest post)

Only one year and a half ago I could not run. I had been injured in my right hip for a little more than one year causing me to limp from time to time. This limited the type of exercise I could do. If outdoors, I had to walk or cycle (which I love) and if indoors, I would use an elliptical or stairmaster. But I really missed running. I find it fun and meditative. I started running again in January 2014. I signed up as a client volunteer for a kinesiology class on personal training for people with injuries (I have blogged about my experiences before). My training team was big on interval training and they started me on a program in which we would alternate a few running laps on the 200m track with different types of exercises (core, weights, stability). The first time we did it, I ran and walked only 9 laps, i.e. 1.8km. But I made it and without pain the next day.

Before continuing on my progress, let me mention the shoes. At the beginning of the training sessions I bought myself a new pair of shoes. And this is where I realized what had caused my injury. I found that out when I went shopping in a proper store with someone who knew about the difference between supination, neutral pronation and over-pronation. It turns out that the shoes I had used before getting injured were for over-pronators while I have a neutral foot. I had no idea about such distinctions. I purchased the right kind of shoe: Asics Cumulus is my shoe. It is interesting because I had had that model a few years before and was entirely comfortable with them. Then I had decided to go for a cheaper and different brand for some reason and running with a shoe for over-pronator had injured me. Proper shoes are essential.

So with proper shoes and a patient approach to increasing my running capacity, I slowly brought myself to run 3.2 km. We did intervals up until April. Intervals were a mixture of walking, running slow and sprinting for each lap. I continued with this approach over the summer and fall, attempting long stretches a few times. The first time I was able to run 5km I was so happy with myself. I had been back to running for a little over 6 months. And I felt good about it and felt no pain whatsoever. In the fall, I attempted something new: running down and up the Niagara escarpment at Brock University. The total run was 6km. I was amazed at myself. This was accomplished a little less than a year back into running. Progress has continued over the fall and winter and I managed to run 8.5 km including the escarpment climb the other day. I have said this before: YAY me!

The things I have learned and that have allowed me to progress are really important:

Proper shoes: see above!

Proper breathing: in winter 2014 one of my trainers noted I was not breathing properly. I worked on correcting that by running on a threadmill and focusing on my breathing only for about 2 weeks. Now I do it right without a thought.

Puffer: I suffer from stress-induced asthma and stubbornness. This is a bad combination as it led me to want to run without using my puffer. I foolishly thought that the day I could go through a whole run without using my puffer would be the day I would be in shape. That was ignoring a physiological fact about breathing and my asthmatic lungs. I was unnecessarily putting myself in a situation of respiratory distress with the hope of accomplishing something my body could not. I refused to follow my physician’s advice and use my puffer before the run. This was stupid. Now that I do use it before, breathing is easy. And so is the running.

Patience: there is really no point to try to go back to running by overdoing it. The 1.8km initial runs may appear insignificant but they were not. They were what allowed me to slowly but surely get back into it. The gradual increase in distance and the interval training incorporating slower and faster running have increased my running capacity both in terms of endurance and speed.

One year and a half later, I am strong, fast, efficient and can go as long as 8.5 km. Wow! Patience paid out as did listening to my body’s needs. My goal for the summer is drawing nearer every time I go out, for a short or longer run: 10 km here I come!

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Guest Post

Still learning! – On breathing and focusing (Guest post)

cdI have blogged before on what I have learned from my personal trainers. Once the term was over I was left to myself and felt somewhat like an abandoned puppy. True enough, my trainers have left me with a program and a wealth of information but it is not the same training on my own. Continuing to workout the way I did with them is a challenge: stretch enough, focus, push myself. If no one is there to remind me, it is tempting to go straight to workout without the stretching and as tempting to just hop in the shower once done (I talked about what I have learned about stretching here).

One thing I have learned from my trainers has been to focus: pay attention to my body when I set it in motion and work it out. The first time I went to the gym for a workout on my own, I had my iPod with me. There was no reason not to listen to music since I was by myself. Before training with my personal trainers, I had always used my iPod. But something interesting happened as I was returning to this old habit: a few minutes into my weight lifting, I noticed that I was doing it all wrong: mindlessly moving the weights around and not focusing on the strength and movement and what my body was feeling. I was also losing count and being distracted by the music. I simply unplugged! I have not used my iPod since then for my workout sessions, be they cardio or weight lifting. I find that I can concentrate more on what I am doing and feel I am getting better results this way.

Another very important thing I have learned in the last weeks of my training program was proper breathing while running. One of my trainers noticed that I was not breathing properly while we were running around the track. The running was always done with intervals: two thirds of the track jogging, 1 third sprinting. The sprints would put me out of breath completely and it was very hard to do multiple laps. I thought my stress-induced asthma was the sole culprit. Thanks to my trainer’s observation I found out that I was in the habit of breathing as fast as my running pace. This worked kind of ok while jogging but the sprints were a killer: try hyperventilating while running! He advised me to take longer, deeper breaths. I had to learn to dissociate the breathing pace with the running pace. Every running sessions after that I would just focus on my breathing, making sure to get the air way down into my belly and then completely out. I am also learning to breathe in through my nose and exhale through the mouth. I am getting better at it, every time I go out and run. It is making my jogging/running much easier, even if I still need my puffer to get me going (this asthma won’t cure itself).

I continue to apply what I have learned with my trainers, especially to be focused and to breathe properly. It feels great and I feel more powerful!

aging · fitness · Guest Post · health · injury · training

Stretch or bust! (Guest post)

One other important thing I have learned working with personal trainers (see my post Rediscovering my Body: Personal Training) is the importance of stretching. I used to never stretch. Unless you count stretching for 30 seconds overall proper stretching. I used to go straight from doing nothing to exercise, and from exercise to shower. Heck, I am a busy girl and who has time for stretching, right?

Sometimes I feel like a Formula 1 but this is not because I feel high performance. Rather, I feel like I need a whole pit crew to keep me going and take care of my frailty (yes, Formula 1 cars are very fragile). I have a crew of massage therapist, chiropractor, and osteopath to keep the vehicle going and fix it when it needs it. But I have been forgetting the role of the driver in taking care of her vehicle. Stretching!!!

When I was a little girl, I used to really enjoy my grandparents’ yearly visits. Every summer, they came to stay with us for two weeks. For those two weeks, every morning I would do my exercises with my grandfather. He would turn on the TV to some American channel where women wearing leotards and their best smile would make us do various stretching and other light exercises for 30 minutes. Grandpa and I would do them together. Once we were done, grandma would bring us breakfast (an orange, a toast and a cheddar cheese sun for me) and we would watch The Price is Right.

My grandfather’s morning stretching routine was not only a vacation one. He did that every morning of his life. He was right. Stretching is good for you. Getting into a relaxed state and moving every limb gently, waking them up for the day to come is the best thing one could do for oneself. If one trains or engages in more strenuous physical activity more seriously than he did, daily stretching becomes an imperative as is the pre and post workout stretching.

For years I have disregarded stretching. I am very flexible. Who needs to stretch when one can touch their knees with their nose, right? Wrong. Or so my aching body has been telling me. When I picked up running again with my personal trainers in January, my right knee started bothering me again. I mentioned that to my massage therapist (pit crew member, see above) and she offered to work on my legs rather than my back. What she uncovered was a real mess, a situation which, as she said, has been building up for a long, long time. I suspect all the bike rides I have done over the years, ranging from 30 to 120 km, without stretching either before or after, are to blame. Also to blame are all the gym workouts, elliptical, stepper and other devices used without stretching whatsoever (or just a little, once in the shower). Other culprits: the jogging sessions wrapped up with mere walking, no stretching. All of that has generated issues for me that I could easily have avoided if I had stretched properly.

I have learned many things with my personal trainers. A very important thing I have learned is to start and end every workout with stretching. Dynamic stretching to start, static stretching to end. Just get those limbs ready for the effort, you will be better at it and then relax your muscles when you are done, you will feel better after it. In short: stretch or bust!

Guest Post

Rediscovering my Body: Personal Training (Guest Post)

dumbellI am enrolled in a personal training program since January and I am loving it! I am literally rediscovering my body and learning all kinds of things about my relation to exercise, things I had forgotten, stopped paying attention to or never thought about. I will tell you what I have learned but first, some background.

Since I stopped smoking in 1997, I have picked up regular exercising. The goal, of course, was to lose the weight I had suddenly gained. I started going to a gym early 1999 and kept up with this until I was on teaching release and then on sabbatical leave, starting in 2012. When I was regularly training, I would do aerobics classes, cardio training on ellipticals, bikes, steppers, and weight lifting. During the summer, I would jog and bike (I have written about some biking experience here). Whatever I knew about training and weight lifting I had learned from the non-certified staff at the gym where I went from 1999 to 2003. I kept doing what they taught me for years.

Returning from sabbatical with a broken training routine – which had been thrown off by all the travelling I did over 1.5 years – I wanted to resume regular training and wanted to challenge myself. Even before the break in my routine I had felt that I was on a plateau and that my body was no longer responding to training, or at least not as much as it used to.

I had long been intrigued by personal trainers and what they can do for one who already “knows” how to train. I found out about a course here at Brock which was looking for volunteer clients to work with students learning to become personal trainers: PEKN 4P22 “Therapeutic Applications of Physical Activity.” I immediately signed up and have been very happy with this decision!

I have been paired with a team of 5 students in their fourth year of their Kinesiology degree, 2 young women, Al. and S., and 3 young men, An., K. and J. Their task is to design a training program that works for me and allows me to improve and reach my goals. At first, Al. and S. met with me to collect information on my health, goals, and exercising habits. I then met with An., K. and J. and they assessed and measured my strength, flexibility, cardio capacity and balance. After that, we started meeting regularly, twice a week. Other times I just go in the gym and do my cardio on my own.

Here are things I have learned about my body and exercising so far:

  • I am stronger than I think! For years I had been in the habit of using weights between 5 and 10 pounds and do 16 repetitions twice. This was motivated by my desire to avoid bulking and by a belief that I did not have strength to lift more. My strength assessment and the exercises we have been doing since tells me I was seriously underestimating myself since I now use weights between 15 and 20 pounds, do fewer repetitions and more sets.
  • I can do intervals (and love them)! My personal trainers see me as someone pressed for time (and they are right). So they have designed cardio circuits that involve interval training. I never thought I could pull it off. I suffer from stress-induced asthma and getting out of breath with a sprint is a challenge. But they have made me try it and I am enjoying it a great deal. In fact, I do that on my own now.
  • I can be pushed (if gently)! The first sessions, I did not know what to think of my personal trainers’ encouragements. The various “Come on, one more!”, “5 seconds more!”, “You can do it!”, “Keep going!” and “I know you can do better!” made me skeptical. But I am truly enjoying the encouragement now. When training on my own and if challenging myself enough, I hear my trainers’ voices and it does push me. One Monday, Al. made me run faster on the track. My personal trainers record everything we do on a wiki (which I did not know). So the following Wednesday as I was lazingly jogging around the track, S. who was jogging alongside said “So, I hear that if we push you, you will go faster…” Enough said! I sped up right there! I can do it! I now use the encouragements myself with K. who has a hard time stretching. He needs to work on his flexibility. I try to push him gently, the way they do with me.
  • I like a challenge (and my trainers too)! My trainers’ approach to exercising is both serious (it is a class) and playful. The other day Al. had designed a bonus challenge. It was meant to challenge me as well as J. and herself, my trainers that day. The challenge consisted in maintaining a wall squat for the time it would take for a trainer to sprint around the track. I asked who was the fastest because I wanted to have a shorter challenge. Al. went first and then J. did. It means I did the challenge twice and they each ran a sprint lap and did a wall squat with me while the other was sprinting. We were all laughing afterwards (with them panting for breath). That was good fun. I would not have done something like this on my own, obviously. We have two other challenges going on now. I was asked by J. which team is more challenging: the Monday team (Al. and J.) or the Wednesday team (An., S. and K.). I still don’t know the answer. They are challenging each in their own way but they would like to know. The other challenge has to do with them finding core exercises that will really make me sore. 3 times now they promised I would be really sore the next day and 3 times I was rather ok. I have conveyed that to them and, knowing them by now, I am sure they will find a way to meet the challenge!
  • Less is more (really)! I used to spend up to an hour on a cardio machine and then do some weight lifting. The amount of time spent in a gym was lengthy and still I did not see much profit. I am learning with my trainers now that a shorter and more intense workout is more efficient. I have also learned that there is little value to cardio exercise which puts you at a regular pace for an extended period. I could not believe how tired I was the first time we did a cardio circuit with intervals which, in total, must have been 20 minutes. This, in addition to the other exercises we did that day, left me completely pooped but oh, so satisfied! My body was being challenged!
  • My body is powerful and able! My trainers are making me lift heavier weights and I am introduced to some weight lifting exercises that I would not have dared pick up on my own. Deadlifts are now part of my life. They are also making me skip a rope every now and then as part of a cardio circuit. When I was first told I had to do this, my response was “I can’t” to which they said “Try, and if it does not work for you, we’ll find something else.” I tried and kept trying (encouragements, see above) and now I can do it! Yay me!
  • I need to pay attention to my body! If you were to ask me what is the best thing I have learned so far I would say: I have to pay attention to my body and what it does. Everything my trainers make me do is sure to be followed by a question such as “How did that feel?” “How is that?” “Did you feel it there?”, making me aware of the importance of being self-reflective in my exercising. An. is the one who asks these questions the most, especially with regard to weight lifting. I used to train mindlessly, just setting my body in motion and then daydream or read a magazine when on a cardio machine that allowed for that. It is so much better to focus on my body’s movement and to feel its effort in accomplishing the task. I still have to learn to do it better but at least now I know I have to do it. However, I will admit I did not know how to answer Al.’s question last week: “Do you feel any different from when we started?” Now that I have thought about it for about a week, I can safely say that yes, I do feel stronger, lighter, more able, and faster.

We are creatures of habit. When we exercise on our own, it is easy to fall into a rut and do the same thing, over and over again. I used to think that my summer 50 minutes jogs were the best thing I could do. I now think differently. Same thing for the extended bike rides at a regular pace. Will I stop doing those? No, I enjoy them and it is better to do things one enjoys. But I will continue to challenge myself to do different things and pick up new things. I have now learned I can enjoy other things because I have learned I am able to do them. I am literally rediscovering my body and its strength and ability, thanks to my personal trainers and the challenges they have in stock for me.

The term is not over. I still have to meet with them a few more times and I hope to learn a few more new things. But one thing I know: I will continue to be having fun!

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Christine is a feminist continental philosopher who lives with spouse and cat in the Niagara Region. Biking and training are favorite activities as is gourmet cooking and reading gore thrillers when she travels to conferences, taking a break from writing her monograph on Nietzsche.

cycling · diets · eating · Guest Post · sports nutrition

It’s all about the fuel! (Guest post)

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I ride a Rocky Mountain hybrid and my spouse and I enjoy biking every time we can. Our minimum ride (the “quicky”) is a 30 km ride. But we often go for longer rides and have done as much as 110km in a day. We are not as serious about biking as a lot of readers of this blog are but we take it seriously enough. We have some bags for our longer runs and take what we need with us: water, snacks, tools, a spare tube, sunscreen, long sleeved t-shirt, money and a credit card. I am also fully equipped to ride to the office with a wonderful clip-on sturdy bag that can carry my books and binders.

We just came back from a 77 km ride and are both seriously exhausted. Why? What happened?

Yes it is 39 degrees with humidex. We left early to beat the heat but that was tough because at 10 o’clock, it was already pretty hot and the sun was shining in all its glory. But that was not the problem. The problem was: we made a rookie mistake! We did not fuel properly!

It does not matter how hot it is. It does not matter how fit you are. It does not matter what bike you ride. It does not matter how fast or slow you go. It does not matter how old you are. It’s all about the fuel!

We had plenty of water. That was not the issue. But water is not the fuel needed for such rides. Water is some kind of fuel and sufficient for a “quicky” but one needs more than that for a prolonged ride.

First step to our rookie mistake: a light breakfast low on protein. It was hot early and who feels like a hearty breakfast on days like this? I had fruits and 1/3 cup yogourt with sunflower seeds. Eric had raisin bread and fruits with one Ensure (dental surgery aftermath). We both had lots of carbs but very little protein.

Second step to our rookie mistake: we took only water with us. We had 3 litres of water between the two of us. We did not have any energizing drink with salt/sugar and other nutrients (yes, I consider salt a nutrient).

Third step to our rookie mistake: we thought we were going out for only 50 km so we did not bring snacks. We usually carry nuts and dry fruit bars when going for longer than 30 km.

Fourth step to our rookie mistake (which is connected with the previous one): we thought that 50km would take us to lunch time in Fonthill at our favorite fry truck in the area which boasts the best poutine in Southwestern Ontario. The plan was to ride 40 km to the truck, have a poutine, and ride the 10 km left back home.

At about 30 km into the ride we had a choice of turning left or right. Right was taking us back to Fonthill too quick and left was a small detour that would make the ride 50 km, what we were aiming for. The small roads in that area are populated by farms and there are no cornerstores or garages where to buy fuel. We were on our own with our water. A series of other detours (caused by us not wanting to ride on gravel roads because it hurts my wrists too much) made the ride much longer.

At about 50 km, we hit our wall: Muscles burning, slight headache, slight nausea. We were drinking water like mad but still that was not enough. I was hungry and my body was screaming for fuel. At some point I thought: “Man! I am pushing like crazy and yet riding at only 9 km/h on a flat road!!!” You should know that my normal cruising speed is between 22 and 25 km/h. Eric asked: “Are we that out of shape?? Our tires seem to stick to the road!” He even checked the tire pressure! The pressure was fine but we were not.

The problem was we ran out of fuel. Badly. No energy left, whatsoever. Well, a little I guess since we made it back. But at some point, walking my bike up a hill, I did feel like I was going to collapse, right there on the spot. We made it back to Fonthill and the fry truck after riding 56 km. We did not run out of water before getting there. But water was not enough. We were lacking proper fuel. This was remedied partly by purchasing one litre of iced tea (probably not the best but I can’t stomach energy drinks and sports drinks) and more water for the remaining 11km.

And then we did ourselves in… we had our poutine (after all, we deserved it by then, right?). Yummy as ever (did I mention it is the best poutine in Southwestern Ontario?), but poutine is what it is: it feels like a brick in your stomach once you have feasted on it. And that it did. I did have some chicken breast alongside it and Eric had a burger. But this further improper fueling just made everything worst. The last 11 km were long and hard. I normally ride 11 km without even thinking about it. Earlier today, I was thinking about every push on the pedals… and about the brick in my stomach. Improper fueling is what caused all this.

One shower later and trying to recuperate (I think it will take until tomorrow morning) I muse about this experience. Lesson learned: if it is not a “quicky” we got out for, bring proper fueling. Because a planned 40 km can morph into a much longer ride. Nobody needs to hit a wall as we did. All we have to do is plan ahead and care enough for our bodies to feed it what it needs: nutrients that will fuel it with the energy we need to enjoy whatever it is we engage in. Exercise should be fun and will be fun if we fuel properly.

It’s all about the fuel!

Christine is a feminist continental philosopher who lives with spouse and cat in the Niagara Region. Biking and training are favorite activities as is gourmet cooking and reading gore thrillers when she travels to conferences, taking a break from writing her monograph on Nietzsche.