Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lets Get Sweaty

M and I decided to kick our yoga game up a notch or three this year and, for the first time ever, I've found myself going to yoga class two or even three times a week AND IT'S HARD. Total surprise. This is a complete departure from my long-held contention that yoga is not exercise.

This change of pace came rather by accident; our gym offers free yoga classes and we got hooked on this one instructor, Yogi Greg. But all good things must come to an end, and Yogi Greg's tenure at Cabrillo Fitness expired when the Highway 1 evening commute became too soul-sucking for our pop-culture-savvy, sometimes-foul-mouthed Zen guru.

So we did what any fan does: we followed our yogi to a studio that specializes in hot vinyasa yoga and pilates. Although I only make it to one of Yogi Greg's classes a week, I've found a couple other instructors I enjoy taking classes from.

M and I had been all-stars in the front row of Tuesday classes at the gym. Turns out that class was bush league. Three weeks into my four-week trial, I'm a hot mess almost every class. High planks, vinyasa after vinyasa, balance poses for days -- you would never know if I'm crying because sweat is dripping from every part of my body. Some classes, the pace and the heat combine to make my heart pound and my head woozy. That's when child's pose is my favorite. Other days I think I'm killing it, but then I look around at all of the rail-thin Lululemon-wearing yoga chicks pushing up into crow pose like it's completely
normal to balance your legs on your arms and realize I have so far to go -- in my yoga practice and my wardrobe.

I think the classes would be difficult without the added heat and humidity, which makes me think that maybe sometimes yoga can be strength-building and — wait for it — even exercise. Yeah, I said it.

For now, though, I'm going to reserve any major judgements on these classes. I love the noodle-y feeling I have after yoga and my hips feel amazing when I run. But I'm waiting to see if regular practice leads to a stronger core and arms, or if I can ever master crow pose. If I apply what I know about running — it takes three weeks to benefit from a workout — to yoga, I might see some gains soon. I'll probably sign up for more time at this studio when my trial month is complete (M already pulled the trigger on a six-month membership, right after he got us the fancy yoga mat towels) and see how things go. Plus doing more yoga gives me a great reason to buy new workout tanks from Athleta … on sale, of course.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Awakening My Inner Morning Runner

Running in the morning offers many advantages: avoiding scheduling conflicts, kick-starting metabolism, an inspiring sunrise view.

But then there's the waking up part.

For me (and a lot of people), that's the hardest part. It's soooooo dark in Santa Cruz in the winter. I know pretty much everyone everywhere else has it worse, but it was brutal running in 36-degree weather one morning last month. Hitting snooze means staying in a warm bed, dog at my feet, with the promise of fresh coffee and a hot shower when I get up. Getting up to run before work sets off a domino-effect of time-keeping, strategy and stress. If I run from the house, I can sneak in a quick rinse before heading to the office, but if I meet the running group, it means bringing work clothes and wet wipes. Last week I forgot my lunch.

Getting creative with the route on a recent morning run.
Of course, as we all know, you never regret getting up and going for the run. You love it. You relish that run all day. I get a little smug sitting in meetings after a morning run: I watched the sunrise over Monterey Bay got to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee with friends before all of this. And at the end of the work day, there's to pressure to run stairs in the dark or pound out miles on a treadmill at the gym.

Aside from the obvious benefits of exercising (d'oh), I love morning runs because they feel goofy. Yes, let's run concentric circles today to see what the Garmin map looks like later. Military crawl under a fence so we can get to the peak of this hill? Absolutely.

And then there's the sunrise. It's pretty awesome pretty much all the time.
Seacliff Beach sunrise
Scotts Valley sunrise
(photo by John)

Runners World has lots of tips about how to become a pre-dawn runner, including a checklist of how to prep the night before. I would add: sign up for a race. There's nothing more motivating than the prospect of online race results attached to your name. I just registered for the Across the Bay 12K in San Francisco this April.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ride Report: Clubbin'

Saturdays often are reserved for cycling with my sweetie but we hang out and exercise together A LOT so last weekend we decided to get our spin on separately. While he took off with some dudes to summit  the Eureka Canyon climb, I joined the Santa Cruz Triathlon Association for the club's weekly group ride.

Technically, I'm an employee of the club because I serve as Race Director for the Santa Cruz Triathlon, a nonprofit Olympic-distance race that's in its 33rd year this year (it's just my second as RD). But even though I work hard to put on the race, I haven't spent a lot of time with club members. The group ride seemed like a good way to connect with my people and a nice change of pace from chasing the boys all over South County.

We met at Natural Bridge State Beach at 8:30. Instead of driving into town, I decided to ride the 11-ish miles from home. Serendipitously, so did a handful of other Aptosians in the club and they picked me up on the way in. We zoomed into Natural Bridges nice and warmed up for our Highway 1 ride.

About 30 people showed up for the ride, which even had pop-up bike support courtesy of Wade from the Spokesman (also a sponsor of the race!). Many of the cyclists are in Nu2Tri, a training support program for newbies to the sport. They were going up to Davenport on Highway 1, essentially the bike course for the race, while more experienced riders set their sights on Swanton Loop.

Unwittingly, I got in with a fast group right at the start and we flew up the highway at something like 20 mph. We took turns leading and I managed to stay with the pack until almost Davenport. By then, the front group had spaced out quite a bit, with people stopping for bathroom breaks or snacks, and others cruising in twos and threes. I rode solo through Swanton, an idyllic coastal valley dotted with herb (like rosemary) fields, apple orchards, farmhouses and timberland. It's one of my favorite stretches of rural road in the county and I was happy to have it to myself.

Swanton ends with a one-mile, 500-foot climb that feels awesome: enough to make you sweat but doesn't zap all of your energy for the ride back to town. I spotted a pack of guys in front of me and geared down to chase after them. Two of the club's badass guys had already made the climb and were circling back down to pick up the rest of us. They rode with me for bit and helped me reel in the other guys. I won't lie — it felt amazing to finish the hill with the lead pack.

We stopped at the top of the hill to snack and chat while others caught up with us. The women I had ridden out with arrived, along with a few other club members I had yet to meet. Then I floated down the other side of Swanton, toward Highway 1, with the guys for a quick turn-around and another climb to the top. The hill is actually easier from the highway side, and I'm all for avoiding the highway when possible. Plus doing the "Swanton Double" just sounds cool.

I'd like to say the ride home was just as enjoyable but man, was I whipped. I'm not sure if we hit a notorious Highway 1 headwind or if I just overdid it on the outbound ride (probably the later). I rode back with a girl in the club I had yet to meet and we hit it off, chatting about our jobs and Santa Cruz as we swapped leads the whole way to Natural Bridges. She shared some cookies with me and we traded phone numbers before I pedaled back toward Mid-County.

I logged about 57 miles on the ride and 3,100 feet of elevation (there was a little GPS snafu when I forgot to restart after the cookie stop and I lost a mile). The boyfriend was impressed — and got a little competitive. He had a great, fast, hill-climbing ride that totaled out at 50 miles, a little shy of my mileage.

So my weekend rides in January were 38 - 55 - 40 - 57 miles, with varying elevation gains. It's a good base to get fit for a metric century (100K) ride in April or early May, and then a century (100 miles) in late May. With some more work on hill climbing, I may even attempt the torturous Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge in the summer and get redemption on Jamison Creek Road.

What are you searching for?

"So be prepared to quit. Do it willingly and with honest resolve. You'll be back. The marvelous thing about running is that you will never become jaded by it. Boredom, injury or anguish may overtake you from time to time, but the reward that first drew you to begin logging the miles remain untarnished and available -- always. Just put on your shoes and head out the door."