Posts Tagged by strength training

Mood Enhancers

February may be the shortest month on the calendar, but for me it’s always the one that drags on the longest. The holidays are long over, I’ve been cold for as long as I can remember, there’s snow everywhere, and I’m starting to forget what the sun even feels like.

ponds after Nemo

This is the time of year when everything just seems to stand still — every day is as cold as the one before and I start to doubt that the world will ever come alive again. That I will ever feel warm again.


If there were such a thing as the “dog days of winter,” February would be it in my book.

I don’t really know what I was thinking when I told myself I would escape the winter doldrums by moving to Vermont. I hated winter in the city — the slush, the limited places to walk/run, the piles of snow with nowhere to go, the feeling of being trapped. In Vermont, at least, I have the great outdoors to keep me busy during this time. Whether I’m skiing or hiking through knee deep snow, I love being outside in fresh powder.

snow hike_dog

But that doesn’t change the fact that winter in Vermont is harsher than winter in Rhode Island. I may love every single day that I get out on the slopes, but I can’t exactly ski every day of the week. And as beautiful as the snow can be, I’m starting to long for warmer temperatures. For the growth and renewal that is spring.

upper kidderbrook_top

Lately I’ve been struggling with a case of the winter blues. Nothing especially serious (I know many individuals struggle with SAD during the winter months), but days when I feel down and completely lacking in energy for seemingly no reason. Days when all I want to do is sit on the couch in my sweats, eat carbs, and wallow. It’s these days when running is the absolute last thing that I feel like doing — and these days when I actually need the run most.

Yesterday was one of those down days. I was so tired that I had convinced myself I needed an extra day of complete and total rest. I figured I was better off wallowing in my own misery and inability to stay motivated than getting out the door and struggling through a slow jog.

You’d think I’d be smart enough by now to realize the stupidity of this logic. I’ve been running for years. I know that the best runs can happen on days when you least expect it. And I know that running can often give you the energy that you’ve been unable to find all day. I don’t really agree with the phrase “You never regret a workout” (because there have been workouts that I have regretted very much…but this is a post for another day…), but I do fully support the notion that running is a mood enhancer. And when it comes to needing a boost, running is my Mood Enhancing Drug of choice.

Fortunately I have a husband who knows this about me, and who has become an expert at giving me the tough love I need, when I need it most. In an act of what I’m sure was self-preservation (grumpy, no-run LB is not the most fun person to be around), he practically shoved me out the door yesterday afternoon, telling me not to return until I had gone for a run.

vermont winter_yard

And what do you know — not only was I able to get in a pretty decent progression run, but I also had a surge of energy that resulted in a really great strength training session afterward. It sounds so cliche, but my mood started improving after just a few minutes on that treadmill. With each step, a little more of the stress of the day melted away. By the time I started lifting, I forgot that I had spent the entire day combating exhaustion.

In a strange way, winter has also led to a greater appreciation for strength training. I don’t particularly enjoy spending time in the weight room. I’m a cardio junkie who would rather spend hours running than just a few minutes with the free weights. I resign myself to strength training only because I know it’s good for me. But in the winter, not only is it easier to motivate myself to lift after runs when I’m already at the gym (vs the summer when I’m running outdoors all the time), I’ve also been surprised by the mood enhancing benefits that lifting can provide.

When I run, my thoughts move faster than my legs. This is usually a good thing. Running gives me time to reflect, process, dream, and plan for the future. But sometimes I just need to get out of my own head. Lifting can do that for me. When I’m lifting, my thoughts don’t wander. My sole focus is on the exercise; my one thought the current number of reps I’ve completed. For someone who is a chronic over-analyzer, having something that completely quiets my racing mind can be sort of heavenly. I’m not really sure why I never appreciated this fact about lifting before.

I returned home after my workout feeling renewed. That extra energy even carried over into this morning, when I woke up after only 6.5 hours of sleep feeling completely refreshed. It sounds so cheesy to say that running is always the mood-booster that I need, but it’s true. I don’t know how something so physically demanding can leave you with extra energy, but I have to say I’m very thankful.

I can’t talk about this without thinking of Elle Woods…

I just need to remind myself of this the next time I’m struggling. There’s a big difference between actually needing extra recovery time and simply feeling too lazy to work out. I’m all about taking time off if I physically need it, as long as I make sure I’m not just letting the winter doldrums drag me down.

In the meantime, I’ll admit that I’ve started a countdown to March 1st. 17 more days. Pretty sure I can make it.

Embrace the Base

The base of the mountain.

ragnar vegas_start

The base of fresh powder.



…the base of marathon training.

base building_VCM

Also known as that wonderful time when you pretty much get to run whatever you want — however far, however fast, and however often you feel like heading out.

As much as I complain about an overall lack of motivation to get out the door these days, I don’t really have a problem once I’m out there. Despite the cold and my overall lack of endurance, running during this base building time is actually my favorite. And I kind of forgot how much I missed it.

When I started training for NYCM last summer, I jumped right into a training plan – from “0” to prescribed workouts in one week. Not really smart, and not exactly recommended for marathon success. I was still careful with the build up, but I missed out on that whole “get your endurance back phase” that’s a pretty critical cornerstone of marathon training. Without endurance, you can’t really focus on gaining speed (since you’re just focused on getting in the miles). And without speed, your sole focus becomes simply completing the race — not necessarily improving your time.

Which is fine — if completion is your goal. For a first race or a new distance PR, completion should be the #1 priority. But for your 7th marathon? Not so much.

So this time around, I’m Embracing the Base. Taking my time to build up some sort of endurance before I really need to start focused marathon training. Base building looks differently for everyone — some runners keep a great base year round. Others build up slowly to 15 – 20 miles and use that as a jumping-off point. My goal right now is to shoot for 40 miles per week at the end of January and build my marathon training from there.

I’ve put together a plan (above) but it’s just a guideline. A basic path that shows where I am now and where I want to end up. The beauty of the base building phase is that the specific workouts don’t matter. I want to shoot for running 40 miles per week at the beginning of training, but I won’t stress if I’m a few miles under or over that goal. My only plan is to run (semi)unplanned for the next few weeks.

Which means:

    • Running easy. I am happily enjoying a month with no prescribed speed workouts. While I fully believe that those workouts are essential to running a faster marathon (as opposed to just piling on the miles), I think I’ll be doing enough of them for the 16 weeks leading up to VCM. So the speed can wait.


    • Running happy. I’m also not planning on setting any sort of goal paces for the next few weeks. If I want to go slow for every single run,  I will. Just like I won’t stop myself if I’m feeling especially excited to be out running and want to throw in a few fast miles just for the heck of it. The important thing right now is to just get back into running regularly again.


    • Running naked. When I’m in the thick of training, my Garmin is like an extra appendage. Whether it’s keeping me slow on recovery runs or helping me hit goal paces during speed workouts, I rarely leave home without it. But for now I’m enjoying my ability to run naked. The time to stress about the watch will come.


    • Running free. I usually plan my routes based on the type of workout I need to complete — hills, tempo, recovery, long run — I have a different route I like to take for each of these runs. But now? I lace up my shoes, pick a direction, and go. Sometimes this means that I don’t get in quite as many miles as I had put on my base building plan, sometimes it may mean that I run more. That’s the beauty of running free.


    • Running balanced. Meaning not always running – but instead taking the time to cross train and strength train. It’s so easy to let these activities go when I’m training. Even if I technically have time to lift or cross train, I’m way less motivated to do either because of the way it might interfere with my running. Oh I can’t lift — my legs will be too sore for my speed workout tomorrow. Oh, cross training uses different muscles and I can’t really handle those muscles being sore right now. I need to run long tomorrow. See? The excuses are easy to generate. Right now I don’t really have any excuse to not lift (or ones that are legitimate, anyway…). So I’m not only dragging my butt to the gym for 30 minutes of strength training torture twice a week, but I’m also rewarding myself with lots of fun cross training activities — of the outdoor, winter sport variety (what else can you do to make the long winter in Vermont more bearable?).

gym_night shotThis is my fancy gym. It’s within walking distance of my house. It’s also little more than a glorified hotel fitness center. I bet you’re all jealous.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be enjoying stress-free, no pressure running. The kind of running that makes you fall back in love with the sport. And leaves you hungry for more.

December Challenge: HOTR Abs

This summer, before marathon training took over all my workouts, I was {trying to} strength train regularly. It got to the point where I was consistently lifting at least 2 times every week. I know this may not seem like much at all to people who train with weights as their main form of working out, but it was a huge improvement for this runner. And after just a few months, I realized that doing some sort of core strengthening workout 2 – 3 times a week was enough to make a difference – a difference visible enough to keep me motivated.

HTC leg1

….for a little while, at least. Sometime before Hood to Coast, I sort of lost my thunder. When it’s so much simpler (and preferable!) to just go out for a run, it’s easy to start skipping the weights more and more frequently. As marathon training continued, it only got worse. By the time I ran MCM, strength training had become a distant memory yet again.

I’ve never been great about sticking to my routine during the entire marathon training cycle. The increased mileage and need for my legs to be fresh for workouts make it easy to give it up a few months in. But since I’m now technically in the off season, I no longer have any excuse not to strength train several times per week (the fact that I don’t really love doing it doesn’t count).

Since my mileage has now gone way (way) down, I’ve been dragging my butt to the gym several times per week to focus on cross training and strengthening my core. I know that continuing to focus on building up other muscles (and not just my quads that appear to do all the work when I’m runing) will make me a better runner in the end. But since I’ve already admitted that the vanity reasons are more motivating than the running improvement reasons, I can also say that I figured December –  a month typically filled with too many cookies and cocktails – is the perfect time to focus on toning up instead of filling out.

Plus – after a year of training, I was in major need of a new non-running related challenge to keep me motivated.

So with that in mind, I have instituted the December “HOTR Abs*” Challenge. So far I am the only participant and the prizes are nonexistent, but I figure if I formally challenge myself, I’m more likely to stick with it. Right??

*yes, that play on words was intended. And no, I don’t  really think that highly of myself.

HOTR Abs Challenge

To stay motivated to lift regularly this month, and get into the habit now so that I can sustain it during marathon training, I am challenging myself to 2 – 3 days of strength training/core workouts per week. What follows is my routine.

[But before I proceedplease remember that I am not a personal trainer. Just a runner whose naturally curvy body needs regular strength training to keep it {somewhat} reigned in.]

The workout below is the one that I have found works best for me. I’ve tried other routines, but have always come back to this because:

  1. I can get it done quickly (30 minutes or less is all the time I want to devote to strength training)
  2. The quick movements get my heart rate up while I’m lifting, so I feel like I’m getting more of a workout
  3. Results are fast. And I mean fast. I’ve only been back into lifting for a few weeks and can already notice a difference. I haven’t yet found another routine that seems to do the job so well.

1.) The Core

Yes, I’ve been touting the benefits of this workout since I started the blog. I have a love/hate relationship with it, but I can’t deny that it works. So at least two days per week before running or doing any sort of cardio, I’m going to do “The Corewith a couple of modifications (yeah I know those pictures of me in my parents’ basement aren’t the best. But hopefully you get the idea).

  1. I no longer do the stiff-legged deadlifts. I have issues with my lower back and found that this exercise was only exasperating them.
  2. I use lighter weights for the initial “pre-core” warm up exercises and focus on keeping my arms straight for each one. This works out my back and shoulders much better.
  3. I do one armed dumbbell swings on each side after the HOTR-Dad dubbed “Here Comes the Bride” move (which is really just a dumbell swing with two hands). Apparently you can also do these with kettle bells, but since I’m not trained on them I stick to the old school hand weights.


2.) Super-Powered Ab Moves

The Core is good because it focuses on movements that work multiple muscles at once (legs, arms, shoulders, core) but I also like to do a couple of exercises that focus just on my abdominal muscles. So at least two days per week, after The Core, I’m going to add on these two additional moves:

a.) Standing side bend (with dumbbells). Similar to the exercise described here, but I do it with one weight and just focus on one side at a time.



 b.) Dumbbell Pullovers. This one never fails to leave my abs screaming. I do them lying sideways on the bench, as demonstrated here. To make it a little easier, you can also lie lengthwise on the bench, letting your head hang off.


Disclaimer: My abs do not look like this


Some people have asked why I lift before I run. Although lifting first makes running more difficult, I find it’s really the only way to make sure I do it. If I go through The Core first, I look at it as my primary workout instead of something that I’m just trying to squeeze in after a run. That way if I’m tired and need to cut back on something, it’s the cardio that gets cut, not the weights.

3.) Pilates or Yoga

One day a week, my goal is to get in some sort of cross training that focuses on building strength through increasing flexibilitiy and lengthening my muscles. I’m pretty tight normally, so when I throw weight training into the mix it gets even worse. I know once per week isn’t a lot of time spent doing these activities, but it’s better than nothing. Plus, I’m hoping that if I make it a habit now, I’ll actually stick with it during marathon training this winter. But we’ll see…

My sucess with this super official challenge is only going to be determined by how well I stick with it. I haven’t taken any sort of pre-measurements to track my progress. I suppose that would’ve been interesting to know, but for now, we’re just going to go with how my clothes fit. And as long as my decreased running and increased cookie intake doesn’t lead to holiday weight gain, I think we can dub the HOTR Abs challenge as a success.


About that Return to Running

…it wasn’t quite as glorious as I had imagined.

Today is Friday, and I’ve run a total of 2 days this week. I plan on bringing that number up to 3 this afternoon. Maybe.

Even though I felt all fired up about running on Sunday night, I didn’t actually run on Monday. A long day spent in the car was enough to take away any motivation that had built up over the weekend. But on Tuesday morning I got up bright and early, determined to make my triumphant return. Before running, I popped in the one workout DVD that I own. I figured that Level 3 of the 30 Day Shred* was exactly what I needed to start toning up muscles that are beginning to feel a little marshmallowy. After 30 minutes with Jillian Michaels (that nearly killed me), it was finally time to run. So I laced up my shoes, strapped on my fully charged Garmin, and was off.

I’d love to tell you that my rested legs returned effortlessly to running. That I floated along the street, so happy to be back out there. That’s what I had imagined my run would be like, anyway. But in reality, I just sort of trudged along slowly. I kept the pace really easy and wasn’t struggling, but I didn’t exactly feel excited about running in that moment. I managed 4.5 miles before knee pain drove me back home.

I attempted another run yesterday, and although that went better than Tuesday’s jog, it brings my total to a whopping 10.5 miles for the week. Maybe I’ll bring that number up to 20 by the weekend. We’ll see. Honestly, I don’t really care about numbers at the moment. My plan for the next couple of months is to just run when I feel like it. Maybe I’ll run 10 miles a week, maybe I’ll run more. I’m not going to stress.

I actually look forward to these down times in my training. They give me a chance to refocus and rebuild. Plus, I think that most of us can agree that as great as running is, it’s not the only (or even the most important) form of physical activity. I’ve talked about this before, but I’m actually in better all around shape when I run less and focus on cross training and lifting more. Partially because it uses different muscles, and partially because I no longer use my mileage as an “excuse” to eat whatever I want.

So when I say that I want to return to training, you should know that I am using that term loosely. Very loosely. I don’t really plan to get back into training until around the 1st of the year. Until then, my very unspecific, totally relaxed {don’t get completely out of shape} plan will consist of:

  • Running 3 – 4 times a week, unless I feel inspired to do more
  • Cross training another 2 – 3 days a week
  • Strength training 2 – 3 times per week

I try to focus more on strength training/lifting when I’m not in the middle of training for a race, not because I love it, but because it makes me stronger. Also, it helps keep off the extra pounds that would otherwise creep on from my reduced mileage and increased holiday food intake. A necessary evil, of sorts. I will say now that I hope to keep up my lifting routine once marathon training starts again, but I’ve never been truly successful with this in the past. So I’m not making any promises.

Anyway the point of this rambling post is this: I may not know everything there is to know about running, but I do know my body. And I know that I do better in the long run when I give myself the chance to rest. If you can jump right back into training after running a hard marathon, more power to you. I am not a runner that can. I don’t fear rest days or weeks when I don’t run as much because my goal is to continue running for a very long time. In the scheme of an entire lifetime, a couple of weeks isn’t going to make or break me as a runner. (If you want to read more, in the past I’ve written in detail about why I think rest is so important)

To close on a completely unrelated note, here are a couple more awesome running picture for you. So flattering. And such model form.


Please note the crazy fingers in the photo below. For whatever reason, I do weird things with my hands when I get tired. If you see me running with my fingers splayed out like that, it’s a sure sign that I’m not doing so well.



*I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t really use the DVD correctly. If you ever want to hear more about my super technical 30 Day Shred mentality, I’ll let you know. But basically – I use it more for a core strengthening/toning workout than a way to “shred” the pounds. I don’t do the workouts everyday so whenever I want to workout at home, I just put in Level 3. I’ve never actually done a workout from the other two levels. I assume they’re just okay.

The {ontherun} Guide to At-Home Workouts

For the past several weeks, I have been without a gym membership. At first, I thought this was going to be really tough. I’ve been trying to get back into lifting, and we’ve had some hot and some rainy days where having a treadmill would be really nice. I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to get in all my workouts without access to the 17,000 different machines my fancy gym had.

But it didn’t take long for me to realize that being without a gym is easier than I expected. Why? Well because of my beautiful {ontherun} home gym, of course. Designed by me, with only the best athletes in mind.

Have you been trying to break away from the gym too? Don’t fear, today I am prepared to give you an exclusive, behind-the-scenes peak at the amazingness that is my home gym set up. One look at it, and you’ll be kissing that expensive gym membership goodbye*.

The {ontherun} Home Gym

The Set-up

1.) Make sure you have enough space.

I know not everyone is fortunate enough to have a full 2 feet of space between their coffee table and TV, but you know – you’ve got to do what you can with what you were given. Just make sure there’s nothing super hard or sharp to hit as you flail about do your exercises.


2.) Use a comfortable mat to decrease impact on your joints.

I know this looks like an ordinary beach towel, but I assure you it is not. It’s extra wide, and extra plush. Pretty exclusive towel right here. The little pieces of dog toy left on it are an added bonus.


3.) Position yourself in front of large windows.

Just so you get the illusion that you’re in the gym. Added bonus: the neighbors will be thankful for the extra entertainment you provide.


The Equipment

4.) To increase the difficulty of your workout, use weights.

Okay, so hand weights are expensive. And since I seem to be using every spare dollar these days for race registrations, right now it’s an expense I can’t afford. But no worries, this is where my awesome improv skills come in.


No I’m not doing laundry, that’s my weight. To increase difficulty, wrap a 4 lb ankle weight that you got years ago at physical therapy around the handle. This works so well that I swear you won’t even miss the selection of hand weights at the gym.


Seriously. Have you ever tried shadow-boxing with a container of laundry detergent?? No? Well, you are missing out, my friend. So maybe my form isn’t perfect, but I can assure my my biceps and shoulders are screaming. This is the real deal, folks.

4.) Find extra obstacles and resistance to make your workout even more challenging.

Since dogs seem to take a person lying on the floor as the universal signal to chew their toys right on top of you, use that extra resistance to make your workout tougher. (Just please don’t kick your dog!) This is Rocky-style right here. Guaranteed results.



Bonus points if you can actually get your pup to workout with you.

DSC_0252Downward Dog

The Workout

I’m no personal trainer. So I can’t really tell you what moves you should do if you want to get buff at home. But I’ve already confessed my love for Jillian Michaels and Just Dance II. Cardio and strength at their finest.



*This post is partially written in jest (at myself) and I’m not actually recommending trying all these workouts (though it is possible to get in a good workout at home if you get a little creative). Please don’t start lifting with a container of detergent and get injured, okay?? I also don’t really think everyone needs to give up their gym membership. If you don’t have one, good for you. But I actually really like the gym.

If you must know, while I did quit the gym, it was only because my old one was too far away from my new place, and I’ve just been too lazy to go sign up for another one. And that’s the truth.

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