Wednesday, January 30, 2019

#WellnessWednesday - Introducing Dawn

On a dreary January day in 2017 I grew tired of the negativity in American news, so I went to the BBC News - UK website to see what else was happening in the world.  One of the top stories that day was about a woman named Dawn, a runner from the Greater Manchester area who finished last in a Parkrun, but was completely filled with joy at the finish line.

As I read the article I felt like I was suddenly reading my own story, only a much better-written version.  Once I got to the end of the article, I had to find Dawn on Facebook and reach out to her.  I wanted to tell her how inspiring her story was and that I wanted to follow her running journey as it progressed.

Within a few days, I received a response back from her just as her story started to spread more and more in the UK.  Dawn was being interviewed by bloggers and even BBC One North West.  Her amazing story was everywhere, yet she still took the time to answer a few of my questions.  Since I wasn't blogging as frequently when I first contacted Dawn, I recently re-sent her the same questions to see how her running journey has changed since I first started following her.  Her original answers are in black and her updated answers are in purple.

Why did you decide to start running?
My stepmum was diagnosed with cancer in march of 2016. At that point I did no exercise of any kind restricted by my weight and size. I signed up for the Race for Life which is a 5k event to raise money for Cancer Research. I felt this was my way of showing my support and helping in some small way. I started training, mostly walking and under the cover of dark. Somewhere along the way I started to enjoy running and thought if I did the race and then stopped my life would return to being sedentary and feeling a failure. So the weekend after the race I did my first Parkrun. A 5 km race on a Saturday morning in park across the country. I have now completed 15 Parkruns and can truly say I love it. I still can't run the whole thing and I'm never quick but I love it, something I never thought I'd say about exercise.

Now I’ve been running for a while, the reasons why I run have changed.  It’s a  part of my life now and a lot of the friends I have made are through running, so it feels more like time with friends than a run sometimes.  Also I love how it makes me feel about myself – I now see the strong and determined I can be if I set my mind to it.

Did you join other friends or co-workers who were running, did you join a group, start a training program, or did you just start your journey on your own?
My journey was very much my own as I was so ashamed of how unfit I was and how hard it was. My cousins started training with me but I was always the slowest and the sweatiest.

Now running and Parkrun feel like family – the support you get no matter how fast or slow is amazing – and I in turn now look out for those that are struggling or look like they might appreciate some company.

What set-backs, if any, did you experience and how did you overcome them?
Each time I see a picture of me running I come crashing down. I love how well I am doing and how empowered i feel running. The reality of the pictures shows a person I don't want to be anymore. I shows a body I am running to improve. Every so often it all feels a little hard, when I'm tired and all my body aches but I remind myself I can do it, I already have done it and the reason my body aches is because I am working it so hard to improve my now and my future.

Right now I am injured and that has taken some getting used to – I can’t do what I love so after a bit of a sulk and realizing I needed to be a bit kinder to myself I now volunteer most weeks at Parkrun and cheer others along.  My friend did her first half-marathon at the weekend in training for London marathon in 2019, so I went along and stood in the cold and rain to be there and cheer her along the way and tell her how proud I am.  I would still much rather be out there running myself but this is a close second.

What does your typical training week look like as far as running and training?
I get up at 6 a.m. to walk my 2 dogs before my kids wake up and before I got to work. 2 nights a week I run between 3.5 and 4 km once the kids are in bed. 2 nights a week I go to the gym. One work day lunchtime I run along the canal with a personal trainer. Saturday morning I get up for the 5 km Parkrun. Sunday morning I go horse riding. All of this is what I couldn't have done last year. This year I want to cover 500 km between running and horse riding. I see the 500 km as my gift as it is 500 km I could not have done before. My photo and story went viral and I want to show from many small things something great can happen. I asked anyone who saw my story and was inspired do donate £2. Cancer was the starting blocks of my story and it makes sense cancer research is the benefactor. I set up a just giving page for donating.

When I’m not injured, Parkrun is now the only way to start my weekend.  And then I try and get out a couple of nights in the week.  Or sometimes I go to the gym and then have a swim.  I use a PT sometimes to make me do a core workout as I hate doing those but know it is important but I need a nudge to do it.  Plus on a Sunday I go horseriding which I absolutely love.  So all in all most of my muscle groups are getting used in some form or another each week.

How many races and what distances have you now run?  
I did my first (and last) half marathon last year – I can say I’ve done one but it wasn’t my most favourite run – think 10k is where I am happiest.  I got to my 50 Parkruns milestone which was amazing. 

Any goals you want to accomplish in 2019? 

I would like to run the Great Manchester Run (10k) with my brother.  We don’t see each other very often and this year he did his first Great South Run (10 miles) and said the Manchester one sounded fun.

Where do you turn for running/fitness advice? 

Mainly friends – I have so many different running friends of different experiences and abilities – there is always someone for friendly non-judgy advice and support.

What I love about Dawn's story is that she cares less about pace and more about the friendships, being outdoors, and the physical activity.  I used to be obsessed with pace and finish times, but years of injuries have helped me realize that I shouldn't take the ability to run (at whatever pace) for granted.  I should just be happy to be healthy enough to use my feet to propel me forward! So the next time you feel down, search for a story or a new person that inspires you. Also, don't be afraid to reach out and let someone know that they have inspired you. A simple email or Facebook message can spread kindness and make you both smile.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

#WellnessWednesday - Hip and Glute Strength Workshop

This past Saturday I attended a Hip & Glute Strength for Athletes clinic at Big River Running - West County.  It was an hour long clinic led by physical therapists from Mercy and it was totally FREE!

I arrived 15 minutes early and luckily I did, because the runners just kept coming and coming until the entire store was filled.  It was an amazing sight to see!  The physical therapists greeted us as we entered and gave each runner a resistance band to use during the clinic and to take home.  I believe there were four physical therapists present at the clinic.  Two PT's discussed hip and glute anatomy as well as typical problems and weaknesses they see in runners.  They also demonstrated specific hip and glute strengthening exercises.  After they would demonstrate a couple exercises, it was our turn to try them ourselves.  All of the physical therapists then walked around to correct our form and answer questions.

The exercises we learned are pasted below, in no particular order:

As the therapists demonstrated these exercises and explained their benefits, I kept wondering if there was a way to have my running form evaluated BEFORE I experience any (more) problems.  Luckily they offer a "Running Screen."

I think I will wait until summer to schedule the screening just so that I am running more consistently when I get evaluated, but I think it sounds well worth the money!  I also plan to work through these exercises a couple times per week and have already worked through them once at home thanks to my free resistance band!  We are really lucky in St. Louis to have a running store like Big River that offers FREE clinics throughout the year.  Click here to check out their calendar of upcoming events. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 In Review

I am happy that 2018 is coming to a close, I really am.  It has been such a strange year and I remain hopeful that 2019 will be better, but I am also very grateful for every single day and every breath I take.  Here is what 2018 looked like for me.

What went well in 2018:
  • I (slowly) completed five half marathons in three different states and the District of Columbia.

  • I completed my 50th half marathon and mom was there just like she was for my first half marathon back in 2009!
  • I ran in two more states: Arizona and Tennessee! 
  • I ran three Rock 'n' Roll races, which earned me two extra medals.
  • I was a MO' Bassador again.  I hope to keep doing this until they tell me to go away (but please keep me forever)!
  • I discovered cryotherapy and compression therapy
  • I increased my flexibility thanks to Pure Barre
  • I volunteered at a couple races, which is always fun and rewarding. 
  • I really mixed up my workouts by trying different fitness studios like Orangetheory, Shred415, CycleBar, Pure Barre, and various yoga studios. 

What I can work on in 2019:
  • Listening to my body more often.  In late spring I could feel that my calf muscles were very tight.  I tried to stretch them out after a run when I thought about it, but I just didn't think about it enough.  Then I tripped going up the stairs at work and pulled a muscle in my left calf.  It was very painful and I was limping for days, which meant I had to miss sweeping the Race 13.1 course with my friends.  Moral of the story, STRETCH and LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!
  • Train for the races I "run."  This year I became obsessed with Orangetheory, which meant that I chose taking classes there on weekends over completing long runs.  I wanted those splat points!  The problem with that is that I failed to build the endurance to finish a half marathon with a decent time.  Only one of my five 2018 half marathons was completed under three hours and I pretty much walked all five of them.  Yikes!  So to remedy that, I have joined the Big River Running half marathon training group for Spring 2019 and I can't wait to start!
  • Stretch some more.  My fitness wing-woman and I plan to do an unlimited month at Pure Barre in January, I signed up for Pure Barre On Demand and I will make myself use it, and I have purchased several yoga DVD's to use at home.  No excuses in 2019!
  • Consistently track my meals.  When I was consistently running more than 15 miles per week, I justified high-calorie meals by saying "I ran today, I earned it."  The problem is that I still told myself I earned those crap meals even when I barely ran or worked out.  That's what got me right back to the same spot I was in 2009 before I started running.  No more!  I joined Weight Watchers this fall and although my weight chart looks more like a roller coaster than a perfectly downward arrow, it is still trending downward.  I love my Saturday "workshops" so much that I chose a half marathon training group that met on Sundays so that I wouldn't miss it! 

So as 2018 closes (finally) and the door to 2019 opens I look forward to working on the goals above, going on at least one mother-daughter race-cation, and celebrating the 10-year anniversary of my first half marathon (I know - it's crazy to think about). 

Have a Happy and Safe New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Shred415 - Creve Coeur Review

My fitness wing-woman (the Pure Barre enthusiast) and I recently purchased a Groupon for four classes at Shred415 - Creve Coeur, which opened earlier this year.  I first heard about Shred415 through the Class Pass app, which I discovered in October 2016.  I honestly would not have found out about Shred415 had it not been for Class Pass.

Their first location in the St. Louis area was in Brentwood, just south of the I-170 and I-64/40 interchange.  The Brentwood studio is not near my home and this area is notorious for traffic, but I had one Friday afternoon off from work that October so I decided to sign up for my first class.  Since I was able to make it to a 3 p.m. class, it was not as packed as their pre-work and post-work classes tend to be.  The instructor took plenty of time explaining the class format as well as showing me how to work the Woodway treadmills.  After that first class I was exhausted, but excited to return.  I liked it so much that I purchased the New Shredder Unlimited Month.

Fast forward to 2018 when I learned that Shred415 was opening a Creve Coeur location, which is near my home and where I work.  I was so excited!  As soon as I saw that Shred415 was offering a four pack through Groupon, my wing-woman and I each purchased one for $39.  Our first class was on Thanksgiving and little did we know that our first class was actually FREE!  We showed up early so that we could get a tour of the studio and here are some of the pictures I took:


Decks and weights

Close-up of the Woodway console - incline on the left, pace on the right
Additional equipment (used less often)
Rear locker and coat area

Ladies locker room
Ladies showers and additional lockers

What to bring:
  • A bottle of water, but you can always buy one if you forget
What to wear:
  • Clothing you feel comfortable running/walking/lifting weights in
  • Shoes that are comfortable for both running/walking and floor work
What is provided (other than a great workout):
  • Friendly staff and instructors
  • Towels
  • All the equipment you will need
  • Instructions as well as suggested modifications
  • Great music!
  • Shower towels
  • Toiletries (hair spray, lotion, mouthwash, etc.)
  • Child care (for a fee and only at certain times)

Class Format and What to Expect:

Shred415 started as four, 15-minute intervals of high intensity interval training with two intervals on the treadmills and two on the floor or "decks."  Some classes have different durations for the intervals, but all will add up to 60 minutes of work.  Your instructor will explain the duration of each interval as well as the treadmill inclines at the beginning of class so that you always know what to expect. I always try to start on the treadmills (just personal preference), but the class is split between treadmills and the decks.  The instructor leads the two groups through their workouts simultaneously.

For the treadmills, your first few minutes of class are spent trying to find your "ending warm up pace" which is defined as a pace you can easily sustain for 15 minutes.  You will want to remember this number because the remainder of the treadmill work builds on this pace, meaning you end up running faster than that pace or walking at a higher incline if you are a walker.

Meanwhile, the people on the decks are working their way through a dynamic warm-up and stretches before being led into their workout.  Each class totally depends on the theme of the workout: Total Body, Butt & Legs, or Arms & Abs.  I have been in classes where the treadmill inclines don't exceed 3% and others that go up to 6%, again it just depends.

After the first interval is complete, you switch.  Decks to treads and treads to decks and then you work your way through what the other group just completed.  The instructor explains and demonstrates everything again, so no need to memorize what they are doing on the decks while you are on the treadmill.  Just stay in the present and focus on yourself and listen to the instructor. Now I will admit that I can't physically do everything the instructor demonstrates during floor work, but they will always offer modifications.  Just listen to your body and don't worry about what the other people in the room are doing or how quickly they are doing it.

After you have completed your first interval on both the treads and the decks, you switch back to where you began.  The switching happens quickly and you pretty much jump right into to the second round but before you know it, class is over and it's time to stretch. Now this is just my body, but I burned at least 800 calories at each class according to my Polar heart rate monitor.  Of course I loved the calorie burn, but I also loved the variety on the treadmills and the decks.  The music was so great that I wanted to dance, but it also kept you motivated and moving.  Now that my package is up, I plan to attend classes at Shred415 through Class Pass for now and maybe purchase another package down the road.  I really enjoyed my time there and look forward to coming back soon.

Shred415 continues to expand, so you can click here to find a location near you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

#WellnessWednesday - iLoveKickboxing - Creve Coeur Review

iLoveKickboxing opened their second St. Louis area studio late this fall in Creve Coeur and as their Grand Opening approached, they offered amazing deals to draw new members in.  A co-worker and I decided to take advantage of one of their amazing deals which was five classes (a $75 value) + boxing gloves (a $45 value) for only $15.

Your orientation class is the first of your five classes, and we scheduled our orientation for Saturday, November 10.  In this class staff give you a tour of the studio, explain the class format, and really break down the basics of kickboxing.  What I LOVED about the orientation class was how they broke down the proper form and footwork for every move.  For example, I knew what an uppercut was but only because I watched my brother playing the Mortal Combat video game growing up.  I had no idea where you should be hitting the bag for a proper uppercut and that your feet were supposed to pivot as you punched the bag.  I also didn't realize that your other arm should be defending your face/head while you are throwing that uppercut.

Here are some of the pictures I took during our first tour of the studio:

First Day Fighters - That's me!

Here is what you can expect from start to finish in their own words:

The instructors will show you how to wrap your hands like a real kickboxing pro, but you’ll be hitting bags instead of people. You'll meet the squad, strap on the gloves and get right to business, calorie burning business that is.

First: The Warm Up.

Designed to get your heart rate up, the music kicks you into full gear. Each day, you’ll run a little faster, jump a little higher and even squat a little lower with the help of a variety of cardio exercises you’ll grow to love. Instructors join you on the mat and guide you to ensure good form and provide modifications if needed. Before you know it, the warm up is over and you’re anxiously waiting for whatever comes next.

Second: The Stretch.

With your muscles warmed up this is the perfect opportunity to get them nice and loose. You’ll need it to avoid cramping and get those kicks nice and high.

Third: The Bag Workout.

Did you know resistance training helps you burn more calories? Instructors teach you easy to learn punch and kick combos that real fighters use in the ring. You’ll let out the stresses of your day while learning self defense and hand eye coordination. It’s the full package of working out and all you gotta do is beat up the bag. Not bad right?

Lastly: The Cool Down

Here the instructor helps you get your heart rate back to normal by guiding you through a series of stretches. You’ll close out class by giving a fitness tip to incorporate into your lifestyle outside of the studio too. Plus, as you stretch you can settle your mind and think of your battle cry for the next class!

After burning around 1000 calories by the end of the workout, you’ll be drenched in sweat, and chomping at the bit to do it all over again!

My co-worker and I completed our 5th class on December 10 and after five classes I can say that even though the format is the same, every class is different.  The only thing that really stayed the same was the fact that there was jogging around the studio during warm up.  All other warm up, bag work, and partner work moves were different.  

I enjoyed the camaraderie both during class and in the locker room after class (those conversations were the best).  We worked hard but also laughed quite a bit, especially when my co-worker and I would both get lost in the combinations, which happened multiple times per class.  I learned a lot during the orientation class and then at each class thereafter, the instructors really broke down every move: where on the bag you should punch, where the force of the punch is coming from, what your feet should be doing, how to reset for a roundhouse, etc.  Even though I had taken boxing and  kickboxing classes before, I had NEVER had the moves explained to me in this way.  I still have a tendency to get lost when there are more than a couple moves per combination, but at least I became very cognizant of my form during the combinations.  I can't remember how I even came across the package deal for iLoveKickboxing, but am really glad that we were able to take advantage of it and learn something new in the process.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Pure Barre Adventure

Adventure can be defined many ways but when I think of classes at Pure Barre, my definition would be: an exciting or remarkable experience.

Back in June I purchased a Groupon for 20 classes at Pure Barre (Ladue and Central West End) with a 20% off code.  This meant that I paid a total of $79.20 for 20 classes, or $3.96/class.  A single drop-in class at Pure Barre is $22 and the price per class could decrease by a few dollars if you purchase a package, but they will NEVER be as cheap as $3.96/class.  This was such a good deal that I also asked/made my friend purchase the 20 class pack so that we could go to some of the classes together.

We scheduled our first class for Saturday, July 14 at 9:30 a.m. and were told to arrive a few minutes early for a quick overview before class.  As you walk into the Pure Barre - Ladue studio you are greeted by staff, who check you in for class.  A small merchandise area and changing room is also in the lobby.

Pure Barre Ladue

Cute merchandise!

After checking in, the instructor gave us a tour and a brief orientation before class began.  A door separates the lobby from the actual classroom to help control noise.  Adjacent to the door are rows of cubbies for your personal items.  You remove your shoes, leave them in the cubbie, and wear sticky socks for class.  I have a pair of yoga socks that I wore for the first couple classes, then I ended up purchasing a pair of socks from Pure Barre as well.  They had so many cute options that I just could not resist!

Just past the cubbies is all the equipment you will need for class, neatly stacked and organized. 

The classroom itself is a large carpeted room with mirrors on two sides and ballet barres around the entire perimeter of the room. The instructor will display the equipment needed for class on either the front or side barre but you typically need a red ball, the red tubes, and a light set of weights.  The red mats shown in the picture below are brought to the center of the room by staff halfway through class for ab work and cool down.

 Below is information about the class types and Pure Barre Etiquette that I picked up at our first class.

What to wear:
  • Pants, leggings, or capris (no shorts) and a top that covers your midriff
  • Sticky socks

What to bring:
  • Water
  • Sweat towel (I seemed to be the only one, but I needed it)

What I love about Pure Barre is that even if some of the exercises were included in a previous class, every workout is different!  Over the course of my 20 classes I would start to guess what the instructor was doing next, and then I would be wrong.  This forces you to actually be mentally and physically present in class and I was always learning something new and working muscles that I hadn't before.

The class flows like this:
  • Participants are generally stretching and chatting before class while seated throughout the classroom.
  • The instructor walks in, turns on their mic, and everyone automatically stands up at attention.
  • The music starts and the instructor leads the class through a challenging warm up.  Sometimes the warm up includes more floor work than others, but it always involves planks and push ups!
  • Next is arm work with light weights.  Don't be fooled by the light weights because the arm section of class will leave your muscles burning! Before moving on you go through several stretches specifically for the muscles in your arms.  Your weights are picked up by staff as you are stretching since you won't need them for the remainder of class.
  • Up next is thigh and seat work.  Sometimes you use the tubes, sometimes the ball, sometimes just the barre.  Each class varies but once you are done with thigh and seat work, you stretch those muscles as well.
  • The red mats are brought out halfway through class for ab work and cool down.  Ab work utilizes the ball, the tubes, or just your body weight.  Sometimes participants face the instructor with their mats parallel to the front mirror, and other times all participants are facing the center of the room.  Once ab work is complete, you stretch your abs and lower back.
  • The last working section of class includes glute bridges, sometimes with the red tube and sometimes without.  The instructions for this section vary, but it's really your last chance to push yourself.
  • Then it's time to stretch!  You will notice the instructor's tone turning from energetic to quiet and calming as they lead you through a series of deep stretches.  
  • Finally, everyone claps and you wipe down everything red which includes your mat, ball, and tubes.  

The Pure Barre website is a great read if you are new to barre.  Click here to see what I mean.  You can read about some of the lingo you will hear in class by clicking here.  Your instructor will also cover the basics during your orientation. 

What I love about this section of the Pure Barre website is the "What if I am not a teeny tiny ballerina" section.  Let me explain why.  While I loved every class I took at Pure Barre, I did not feel like I fit in at first.  I was the most overweight participant in the room by far, my pants were usually from Target and not a designer brand, and I would wear a baggy t-shirt that I typically earned in exchange for volunteering at a race or an event.  I looked NOTHING like the other people in the room and I could feel that I was comparing myself to others.  At that point, I should have just told those negative thoughts to stop because no one cared what I was wearing or how far from flexible I was.  We were all there for a great workout and to improve ourselves, not judge others.  The instructors were also nothing but kind and discrete with any corrections given.  I don't know why I let myself get so worked up about not looking the part during the first couple classes, but I want to reassure you that no one is judging you and you just need to relax and enjoy the class.  I still get a little intimidated by the warm up section of class but once the class is over, I am so glad I toughed it out!

During the time we were using our 20 classes, Pure Barre - Ladue offered a special "Tuck and Glow" class that we decided not to miss.  I don't have a sufficient supply of neon clothing, but I still had an amazing time sweating under the black lights. 


My friend and I were able to use most of our classes together at the Ladue studio, which made it much more fun.  But don't let the lack of a wing-man/woman deter you.  After our package at Ladue was gone, I purchased a Groupon for five classes at the Chesterfield location.  A five pack through Groupon was $39 which makes each class $7.80....what a deal!  This studio is a bit out of the way for me, so I purchased the smallest package knowing that I would only attend class on the weekends.

The Chesterfield studio still had staff check you in and merchandise in the lobby, but the classroom itself was more rectangular and smaller.  What I really like about their layout (having previously been a space planner at an architecture firm) is that you don't have to walk through the classroom to get to the restroom, there were more cubbies for your personal items, and the hallway was more spacious which decreased congestion before and after class.  ALSO, the Chesterfield classroom has ceiling fans which is much appreciated by those of us that sweat profusely during class (I am still convinced that I am the only one that sweats buckets during class).


Both studios send informative and inspiring emails to keep you motivated and explain the benefits of the workout. 

Between both studios I have over 20 classes under my belt, but I always find the workouts challenging both physically and mentally.  I still can't make it completely through the warm-up without stopping.  I still have to stop and pause throughout class to give my shaking muscles a break.  But all of that is perfectly normal!  Pure Barre is not easy BUT it is A LOT of fun.  You won't believe how your flexibility improves, how you feel after taking a class, and how your body shakes as it improves.   Click here to find your closest studio or try Pure Barre On Demand from the comfort of your own home to see what I mean.