Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sluglike symptoms, da shirt, and bingo for the win

My new spirit animal
I've been hearing a lot of fall marathoners/triathletes lamenting the post-race blues right now. Even though I didn't have any big spotlight goal races this fall for which I spent months training, I am feeling like a total slug.

Call it sympathy lethargy, perhaps?

Daylight Saving Time ends this weekend, which always signals the unofficial start of winter to me. It really is tough to get motivated when the sun sets at about 12:31 PM every afternoon. I am already battling the constant urge to do nothing but bundle up in amorphous blob fashion, partake in nightly soirees with the couch and TV, and consume my weight in deep dish pizza.

On that note...

Race of the Dead (and the Cold)
I'm scheduled to run the Carrera de los Muertos ("Race of the Dead") this Saturday morning. We've had a few recent days with temps in the 70s in Chicago. But current race-time weather forecasts are predicting a possible wintry mix of precipitation, with temperatures in the 30s!

I had a great time when I ran this race last year, but admittedly I'm not embracing yet another round of plummeting cold.

Runfession: My biggest motivation for running this race was because of the awesome race shirt. (Here is last year's recap, which includes a picture of the shirt.) Therefore, the thought has crossed my mind this year that perhaps I would just grab my shirt and run. Figuratively. Not literally.

Thankfully, I've got some forces of nature working to get me off of my tush. Namely...

The Bingo game is underway!
The staff at my company's fitness center is hosting a "Hold the Stuffing Fitness Bingo" challenge over the next several weeks. The Bingo board includes 25 fitness activities that we can complete and check off. Each Bingo that we earn gives us an entry into a prize drawing.

I am bound and determined to cross off as many of the squares as possible. There are a few workouts on the board that are Michael-Jordan-tomahawk-slam-dunks for me, e.g. "Run/Walk 5K" or "Attend Yoga." Then, there are some other specially-designed workouts. Today I did what they call the "Gobble Challenge." This includes four sets each of the following:
  • 0.5 mile run/walk
  • 15 push-ups
  • 15 lunges per leg
  • 15 pull-ups (I took the liberty of doing these on the pull-up assist machine)
When I first read this workout "itinerary," if you will, I thought it would be cake. (E.g. Four half-mile intervals? I have to run at least three miles to even feel like I'm warmed up. Four sets of 15 push-ups? Most workout classes I attend have made me do at least 20 push-ups at a time. Yadda yadda yadda.)

This workout ended up being way more challenging than I anticipated. I think it had a lot to do with the constant switching from one activity to another. I find it easy to fall into the rhythm when I'm running, especially over longer distances. Having to constantly stop and start felt like I kept having to rebuild my momentum and heave the inertia.

Flashback to high school physics.

The Law of Inertia is much stronger during the Chicago wintertime!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Comparing barre studios

I recently completed my 30-day trial ClassPass membership that I won from Katie. During this time, I took a total of 17 classes, of which 16 were barre classes.

Feeling the burn with the deceptively simple-looking barre exercises

I wanted to share my experiences on the studios that I visited. Before I begin, here are some overall thoughts that applied to every barre studio:
  • There wasn't any single barre studio whose workouts consistently challenged me more than any other studio. At each studio, there might be more emphasis on working a certain body area one day versus the next. Every barre studio had times where the class felt more or less difficult on a day-by-day basis.
  • While some of the studios had general class formats (e.g. warm-up followed by arm-work, then thigh-work, then ab-work, etc.), no two classes were ever alike.

Now, here are my thoughts/reviews on each studio. I've listed them in alphabetical order by studio name.

The Bar Method
Visits: 4*, all of them at the Loop location
Pros: Roomy facilities with an ample locker room and shower facilities/supplies; friendly, welcoming staff and instructors; very detailed emphasis on form; the instructors were unscripted in a good way; the Loop studio is SUPER convenient for me
Cons: The instructors call you out on your form in front of the whole class. E.g. "Emily, square your hips. Mary, lift your arm more. Jane, relax your shoulders." This could be embarrassing for some. Also, there was no transition time scheduled in between classes (e.g. one class ended at 6:30 while the next one started at 6:30), which could make things a little hectic.
Summary: After I got used to how the instructors corrected everyone's form, I appreciated the strong attention to detail. I found the atmosphere and ambience to be comfortable. From what I can tell, Bar Method offers the lowest-priced "new-client" price ($75 for the first month, compared to $100 elsewhere). Because of this and the great location, I would be interested in getting a Bar Method membership in the future.

The Barre Code
Visits: 4* (two at the Michigan Avenue location, two at the River North location)
Pros: Diverse class offerings such as Barre-dio (barre + cardio), Baryasa (barre + vinyasa yoga), Burn (barre done in a heated studio); accordingly, the classes had the most changeable format of any that I attended; convenient-to-me studio locations; stylish facilities
Cons: The instructors placed almost zero emphasis on proper form; when pushing students to work to the max, they were too over the top for my taste; none of them made any effort to personally interact with students or get to know them; the facilities got very cramped during class transition periods.
Summary: While I got a good workout during my classes at the Barre Code, the studios felt very impersonal to me. One of the reasons I go to workout classes in general is for the live interaction. If it wasn't for that, I'd just do a workout DVD at home. However, at Barre Code, I got almost no acknowledgement from anyone. I almost felt like I was just following a live workout video. For this reason, I would not want to get a Barre Code membership.

The Dailey Method
Visits: 3 (two at the Bucktown location, one at the Lincoln Park location)
Pros: The Bucktown studio is gorgeous - very spacious and zen, and everything you could ever ask for in a locker room facility is provided. Both locations have onsite childcare services, for those who need them. Both instructors I had at the Bucktown location were detailed and knowledgeable. One of the instructors I had at the Bucktown location is a Radio City Rockette, so she was incredibly inspirational!
Cons: The instructor I had at the Lincoln Park location seemed noticeably less-experienced, e.g., she would mix up left and right, her cues were off, she fumbled to explain things a few times. The Lincoln Park studio wasn't nearly as nice as the Bucktown location. Classes at the Bucktown location were very crowded.
Summary: I was surprised by how different my experience was at one location versus the other. I was focused on barre-intensive workouts, but the Dailey Method included a wide range of floor and mat exercises with a comparatively smaller portion devoted to barre. I would actually prefer a stronger focus on barre exercises. Because of this, and because the locations are not the most convenient to me, I would be 50/50 on getting a Dailey Method membership.

Pure Barre
Visits: 4* (three at the Old Town location, one at the Bucktown location)
Pros: Instructors made a strong effort to greet everyone personally and compliment you by name; they come by your side to correct your form individually with the microphone turned off; very consistent classes and instructors; the Old Town location's student population was nicely diverse. One Old Town instructor introduced me to some other students within the class, which was nice.
Cons: There were times when the music got so loud I had trouble hearing the instructor. Both locations I visited have no private changing area other than a single bathroom, and both only have open shelves to store your belongings. Neither location has lockers, locker rooms, or showers.
Summary: I'd taken classes at Pure Barre in Bucktown before, so I knew what to expect in advance. In my opinion, Pure Barre classes feel the most like a soiree versus a workout class - which is a good thing. If Pure Barre had locations that were more convenient to me, I would be interested in getting a membership.

In addition to the above, I visited Zen Yoga Garage once for a yoga barre class, and I visited Bare Feet Power Yoga once for a yoga class. It's tougher for me to evaluate these two studios given the single visit to each, but here are my thoughts on both:

Bare Feet Power Yoga - The yoga class I took here was the only non-barre class I attended during my ClassPass membership. The facilities were very small. It had only one bathroom, no changing facilities, and a miniature reception area with open shelves for students to store their belongings. The class was insanely crowded, to the point where I was very uncomfortable. I was afraid that I was going to get kicked in the face by the person in front of me, and I couldn't move freely for fear of hitting those next to me and behind me. The instructor taught the class using only yoga language without providing further explanation. If you were a beginner to yoga, you would probably be completely lost. Even though this studio is just a few blocks from my home, I would probably not visit again.

Zen Yoga Garage - As the name would imply, they mostly offer yoga classes. However, I had an excellent instructor for my yoga barre class. Her cues were impeccably good and her music selection was fantastic. The facilities were nice but I wasn't quite clear on whether or not you were supposed to bring all of your own equipment, or if it was provided. The website didn't specify, either. But if I had the opportunity, I'd definitely like to check out more of their class offerings in the future.

Other notes:
  • I had intended to check out Exhale Chicago and a couple of other studios that offered barre classes, but didn't make it. Location was a big factor.
  • Pure Barre was the only studio where I had an instructor more than once. At all of the other locations, I had different instructors for every visit.
  • I've read some reviews saying that barre classes are full of teeny-tiny women in their 20s who are all decked out head to toe in Lululemon attire. While I can see why people would say this, there were definitely certain locations where this was more true than others.

On a final note, I was thrilled with the results that I experienced from the barre classes. They targeted all of my areas of weakness, especially my hips and core. The barre classes gave me much quicker body changes in just a month compared to what running has done for me over several years.

This runner may have found a fitness pursuit that will give running a run for its money (pun intended)!!!

*ClassPass only allows you to take three classes per studio company per cycle; however, each cycle is 28 days and my membership was 30 days. In case anyone is wondering how I was able to take four classes at three places, my extra two membership days counted as a new cycle of classes. I took advantage of this at two places. I was able to schedule a fourth class at one other studio through what was probably a system glitch.

Monday, October 20, 2014

2014 Prairie State Half Marathon race recap

Sorry for falling off the planet again over the past few weeks. Quarter-end is an extremely busy time for me in the office, and I haven't been feeling overly motivated to blog these days, to be honest. But more about that some other time.

Before I begin, my congratulations to everyone that has run marathons over the past few weeks! Way to go and way to push through! Very special congrats go out to the first-timers, including MeghanIrina, Agnes, and Natali. Welcome to the club. =)

Two Saturdays ago, I ran the Prairie State Half Marathon for the second consecutive year.

Last year Kim paced me to a goal time (recap here), and in 2012 she also helped me achieve my best half marathon result of that year (recap here). Therefore, when I decided to sign up for Round 2 of Prairie State, I asked Kim if she'd be up for joining me again. I was thrilled when she said yes - especially given that she was running the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon the weekend prior. The woman is a powerhouse!

I planned on this race being a PR attempt. However, when it came down to it, I didn't train much beyond the minimum. In the month leading up to the race, I was much more focused on using my ClassPass trial membership to cram in as many barre classes as possible. From a running perspective, all I did was one 10-miler and one 12-miler, plus one or two shorter runs each week. Nevertheless, my long runs felt good amidst the glorious fall temperatures, and my hips and core were feeling stronger from all the barre classes. I was still feeling fairly confident.

Things were harried on the morning of the race. Last year, parking at the race was a complete disaster. This year, the race organizers banned on-site parking, instead implementing off-site race parking with a shuttle bus to/from the race site. While I appreciated the attempt to alleviate parking congestion, it didn't work very well. Basically, it just shifted the parking disaster from one location to the other. It also added undetermined wait times for the shuttle buses. Thank goodness this was a chip-timed race.

After I finally arrived onsite, I found Kim and then scurried to use the portapotties and gear-check my belongings. Apparently the organizers were asking everyone to place their stuff in clear plastic bags, and then attach a tag with our bib numbers. Gear check was pretty harrowing (and was very disorganized at post-race). Kim helped me as I was fumbling around trying to pin my bib, put on my knee straps, and adjust the layers that I was wearing. The race had already begun at that point, and we noticed that the course crossed right in front of the portapotties. That could have made for some unpleasant surprises!

We finally crossed the starting line about 8 minutes after the gun went off. I tried to settle into my pace but my Garmin was showing very different numbers than Kim's was. We decided to go with Kim's Garmin instead of mine, which turned out to be the right decision. My Garmin's numbers ended up being vastly different from hers for almost the entire race, sigh.

When I ran this race last year, I was so focused on my footing, my pacing, and running the tangents that I barely noticed the course scenery and had trouble keeping up conversation with Kim. This year, that wasn't the case! We were gabbing away and I was enjoying the fall foliage against the blue sky. The weather conditions were absolutely perfect for racing. Here's a picture with some of the foliage colors in the background:

Here's another picture with some of the scenic water views that were visible along the course:

I wanted to run the first 6-7 miles at around a 10:15 per mile pace, and walk through all of the aid stations. If things felt good, then we'd speed up during the second half.

I took my first GU around Mile 4. Around Mile 5, I started feeling worn down, which wasn't a good sign. I told Kim that I didn't think it was in the cards for me to run a negative split for the day, but hopefully I could hang on and run an even split?

This race has minimal spectators other than at the start/finish and at the turnaround point. My mom was going to be at the turnaround point, so I was holding out for that moment. We saw Erica tearing it up on her way back. Then we did start seeing spectators, which perked me up. I was really happy to see my mom, and we even got to see a surprise spectator in Bobbi! So awesome!

The path got crowded along the turnaround point. I embraced the forced opportunity to slow down for a few minutes and to ham it up for some of the cameras.

I slowly started feeling better and more energized. This made me a lot more optimistic. I mused to Kim that maybe I just needed the GU to kick in? I was wearing a 2:15 pace band and our splits were indicating that we were about a minute ahead of pace. I was all set to revel in this cushion. However, both of our Garmins were also registering that the course was at least a tenth of a mile short. Kim smartly said that we should be cautious of trusting the mile markers lest we receive an an unpleasant surprise at the end. I agreed, albeit reluctantly.

Kim and I had some passing conversations with a few other folks along the course, which was fun. In between, she was telling me to pump my arms because my legs would follow, etc. Some runners asked if she was my trainer. This made me grin. Other folks mentioned that they were also taking advantage of the advice she was giving me, too. This picture probably wasn't taken during one of those exact occurrences, but I like to think that it epitomizes the spirit of Kim's advice helping everyone!

During the last few miles, my right IT band was starting to bother me. Being the flatlander that I am, I was subdued by some of the gentle hills along the course. Beyond that, though, I felt solid. I took my second GU around mile 9.

Normally I am really feeling the exertion by Mile 10 or Mile 11, and craning my neck to see the next mile marker. This day, I didn't feel much different during that stretch. At one point I actually had to ask Kim which mile marker we had just passed because I forgot what mile we were on (in a good way). It was encouraging to be feeling so much stronger overall. For once, I was actually enjoying my surroundings instead of ignoring everything to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

Obligatory race photo body spasm

As we got closer to the finish area, Kim told me that she knew I had a kick in me after running two other races with me. Though I was feeling comparatively good, I couldn't quite find it in myself to sprint. Then, I saw Adam along the course waving his Terrible Towel. What a boost it was to see him! As I passed him, I yelled, "I am going to PR today!" and he said, "Run it home!" I told Kim, "Let's do this!" and at that point I finally got myself to sprint for the last tenth of a mile.

Here's a picture of Kim and me crossing the finish line:

Just for giggles, here's a quick throwback/side-by-side comparison to last year's finish line picture with Kim:

My final time this year was 2:13:51. This was an improvement of 90 seconds over my previous PR. Yay!

Here are some post-race pictures:

Adam, Kim, and I had a great brunch afterwards to celebrate. Super fun times!!!

Speaking of which, congratulations to Erica A. for winning her age group, to Erica H. for PR-ing, and to Jennifer for completing her first half marathon! Kim also mentioned that amidst her marathon recovery period, she felt great running this race (read her recap here). It was a great day of racing for all!

Thanks again go out to Kim for helping me achieve yet another time goal! It was so much fun catching up with her, and I know that I will always be in good hands with her help. It is definitely going to have to become an annual tradition for us to run at least one half marathon together every year, and then brunch afterwards. =)

My next race: the Carrera de los Muertos on November 1