30-Day Squat Challenge

Yesterday, a couple of completely unrelated conversations came around to the same question: do I squat enough?

I’m not talking about the repetitive exercise of squatting, with or without weight. I’m referring to a resting squat: feet flat on the floor, knees tracking over but not beyond the toes, and buttocks against the calves (or, as some would say, “ass to grass”). In many cultures, this is a natural resting position that is even more common than sitting. I see it in the smooth, natural way my young nephews squat down to play with toys on the ground–while we, the adults, collapse down to sit on our butts, unable to hold the same position.

Think on that. Think about how much you sit and stand, and how hard it can be to fully squat and get yourself back up again. When you squat, do your heels touch the ground? I do squats as a regular exercise in my lifting routine (my favorite is goblet squat), but the idea of just hanging out in a low squat for a long time isn’t appealing to me — because I do things that cause a system of muscular imbalances, like sitting (contributes to weak abs, tight hips, weak glutes and a less flexible spine) and wearing high heels (shortens the Achilles tendon). I stopped wearing high heels almost two years ago, but other than doing a few stretches suggested by my chiropractor and generally trying to strengthen my core and improve overall flexibility, I haven’t really focused on my Achilles and tight hip flexors and psoas.

Enter: Ido Portal’s 30-day squat challenge.

We’ve all seen those challenges where you pick an exercise — push-ups, planks, burpees, whatever — and gradually increase the number you do every day, for 30 days, right? In most challenges, the goal is to do 100 repetitions of the exercise in a single day by the end of the challenge period.

This is not that.

Reminding us that a static, low squat is a natural resting position for our body, Ido challenges us to spend 30 minutes per day in a resting squat, every day for 30 days. He suggests setting a timer to 30 minutes and starting it every time you go down into the squat throughout your day. Pause it when you are coming up. Keep doing it throughout the day until you can stay in the squat position longer each time.

This is a heels-on-the-ground full squat. I can’t get my heels to the ground without putting my feet really, really wide. It’s uncomfortable.

I wonder how it will feel 30 days from now?

For more on the 30-day squat challenge:

  • The post on Ido Portal’s Facebook page, here.
  • A suggested squat and mobility/stretching routine posted by Ido to Youtube, here.
  • A dedicated FB group for all participating in the challenge, here.



Peter Odell Memorial Ride

(This is the third installation in the “All The Things I Should Have Been Blogging” series. I didn’t realize this was going to become a series; if you need to catch up, here is Part 1 and here is Part 2.)

Every year, the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia (BCP) hosts a ride in memory of a long-time club member and ride leader, Peter Odell. I had been reading the website for the ride for a few weeks, nervously going back and forth about whether or not I could do it. I got a boost of encouragement from several club members, and from the fact that I realized I had to be able to do it; I needed to be able to complete the distance if I was going to be ready for my century. While the support on the ride would be limited, just having a map and cue sheet, planned stops, and knowing there were other riders out there made it more attractive than trying to get that kind of distance solo.

I signed up for the 70-mile route, then got an email a couple weeks before the ride: there were only two of us signed up for that route. Did we still want to ride it? The organizer put the two of us in contact with each other so that we could discuss our options, and after talking about pacing and recent rides, we eventually decided to go ahead and stick it out. Neither of us felt ready for the 90-mile route, and neither really wanted to drop back to the 50-mile route; our paces sounded relatively compatible, so it seemed worth giving it a try.

On the morning of the ride, I left the house at an ungodly hour and drove to New Hope, PA, which would be the start point for the vast majority of the riders. Only a few people were leaving from downtown Philadelphia for the longer (135 miles) route; most were riding the 90 mile route. Those of us doing either of the two shorter routes left our cars in the New Hope parking lot and hopped on a tour bus that would take us to our start points. I met Chris, my ride partner for the day, for the first time that morning.

The bus dropped us off on a small side street near Neshanic Station, NJ. We took a few minutes to make sure we had everything situated, and then we rolled out on sleepy, Sunday morning streets. We got our wrong turns out of the way early, but neither cost us more than about an extra mile. Before too long, we were rolling through beautiful countryside. When we had to pass through towns, we always seemed to do so on roads that kept us off the busiest streets, and we only saw real traffic a few times. We briefly followed the Raritan River, then slipped through Somerville and skirted Bridgewater. We dipped into the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, sped through Wachtung Reservation, Echo Lake and Nomahegan Parks. Even as the towns we passed through became bigger and more dense, we just seemed to sneak by the traffic on our own little streets.

As we entered Elizabeth, we met up with three other riders — and this was the perfect place to have a bigger group. Traffic was heavy, and one of the other riders was familiar with the area, knew the route well, and guided us through traffic snarls (the local mall on a holiday weekend) and onto a huge, deserted road that was lined on both sides by giant stacks of shipping containers. Next thing I knew, we were at the part of the ride I’d been worrying about: to cross the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers, we had to merge onto the Lincoln Highway. I was glad for the extra visibility that comes with a slightly larger group of riders, and also glad for the experience and confidence of the other riders, who had done this before. Traffic was flying, but we made it across the bridges without trouble. Before I knew it, we were flying through Jersey City and into Hoboken.

I will probably never forget coming down 1st Street and suddenly having the view open up: the Hudson River and, over the water, Manhattan. It was awe-inspiring and invigorating! I know my jaw dropped and my eyes got wider, and I know that I didn’t care a bit if I looked like a slack-jawed tourist. I was! It was a beautiful sight, and I drank it in as we rode up the waterfront to the 14th Street Terminal. There was a ferry pulling out when we arrived, but we only had to wait 20 minutes for the next ferry, and then we and our bikes were chugging smoothly across the Hudson River.

In Manhattan, we stuck to the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway until we reached the Brooklyn Bridge. Of all the places we rode that day, this ended up being the most harrowing! The promenade on the Brooklyn Bridge is divided by a painted line, with one side marked for pedestrians and the other marked for bicyclists — but there were plenty of people who paid no mind to those markings! Chris went ahead of me, and it was surprisingly slow going, as tourists stepped out in front of us to take pictures, or wandered down the middle without looking. Chris was announcing us as we came up the bridge, “Bikes! Bikes! Out of the bike lane!” and while most people moved out of the way, one woman just stopped in the center of our path and didn’t move. Chris was barely able to stop in time — and by “stop”, I mean that he rode into the wall to avoid her. Who knew the most stressful part of the ride would be this bridge?

It was a relief to be off the bridge and winding our way through Brooklyn; it was an even bigger relief to roll up to an intersection and realize that we were THERE: a quick left turn and we were at the final destination: Nu Hotel, where we could see our bus at the curb, and others from the club already gathering. I didn’t have to wait long before it was my turn to get a hot shower, and then a couple local friends met up with Chris and I to go to dinner nearby. It wasn’t long after that before we loaded our bikes carefully into a Ryder truck, loaded ourselves onto the buses and made our way back to New Hope.

I was home shortly after midnight, and it almost seemed unreal that I’d spent the entire day on my bike, and traveled to and through Manhattan and Brooklyn. Chris, who I’d never met before, ended up being an amazing ride buddy — we were well-matched pace-wise, and I had the benefit of a ride buddy who has traveled all over the world and had neat stories to tell (I felt like I didn’t hold up my end of the conversation particularly well, but I know I enjoyed hearing his travel tales!) The route was like magic; according to the club, Peter Odell first mapped out the route in 1993, and the ride ended in Little Italy and Chinatown. The ride was extended into Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge in 1997 and, despite increased development along the route, it has remained largely unchanged since. That is some skillful route mapping!

Overall, that day — and its total of 78 miles — will probably always be one of my favorite days of cycling.


All the Things I Should Have Been Blogging: Part 2

Early in the season, I signed up for Bike MS: City to Shore, a weekend-long event with many different options (ride 25, 45, 75 or 100 miles in a day; ride one or both days). I picked the ride for several reasons; at the time I signed up, I would have ranked my reasons this way:

  1. The ride was scheduled late enough in the season — the last weekend of September — that I could be sure I’d have plenty of time to train.
  2. I knew at least a couple of my friends would be doing the ride, and many people from both cycling clubs.
  3. I have friends with MS, one who was just diagnosed last year, and I knew that the organization was one I could support.
  4. There was a better chance that it wouldn’t be brutally hot, since the ride was in late September.

Having the date marked on my calendar gave me extra determination on my weekday rides. It’s not that I was turning my rides into races or trying to do anything crazy; but I was less likely to skip a ride because I felt tired or because the skies looked threatening. If the skies looked threatening, I just crossed my fingers that we would get good miles before the rain hit. In past years, I wouldn’t even have shown up for a ride if there was rain on the radar.

Having this goal also acted as a nudge, pushing me out of my comfort zone to try rides in unfamiliar areas. I was already used to the roads in the area of the Monday night club ride; other than that, I had previously stuck to the Perkiomen Trail and the SRT. When I added the Thursday night club ride, I learned new roads, and how to handle traffic in an area where drivers weren’t as accustomed to seeing groups of cyclists on their rural and suburban roads.

I also knew that I could only take so much of the paved trails in the area before boredom would kick in — and getting bored, for me, is a sure path back to the couch. I joined more club rides on the weekends — one weekend, a group of us rode from Collegeville to St. Peter’s and back via a circuitous route of pretty, quiet, rural roads. We got 50 miles that day, and had an excellent time.

Another day, I met up with another woman from the club and we rode down the SRT to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where we met up with the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia. The plan was to ride 50 miles with them, then back out the SRT to our cars, for a total of about 76 miles. The ride was beautiful — we had an easy spin down the SRT, and then the ride from the Art Museum took us out through Fairmount Park and onto beautiful, quiet side streets, winding us out of the city towards Montgomeryville. It was great, right until we climbed a couple hills and I started feeling like I was pedaling through molasses. That’s when we realized my rear wheel was out of true … because I’d broken a spoke. We stopped at Whole Foods (the planned rest stop of the ride) and tried to make the wheel ride-able, but I ended up calling my boyfriend for a rescue. I was disappointed to only get 40 miles altogether that day.

Luckily, I had another opportunity to ride 75 miles in a single day coming up the following week, when I would join the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia again– this time, to ride my bike into Brooklyn on the Peter Odell Memorial Ride.

And that seems like a good place to pick up next time.

All the Things I Should Have Been Blogging: Part 1

After a short run with friends tonight, the conversation meandered over to one friend’s blog (Keep Smiling, Keep Moving) — particularly, why she writes about both the good and the bad workouts — and I lamented, “Man, I let my blog fall apart. This summer was the time I should have been blogging about my rides and my events, and I didn’t write a word.”

At some point, after repeatedly getting sick and backing out of races, it started to feel like being sick was all I had to talk about. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to talk about the cycles of illness, antibiotics and specialists. I didn’t want to entertain guesses about my illness or go into great detail (and I still don’t), but I felt like there was nothing else going on. My last post was almost a year ago — October 23, 2012 — and I had some new ideas for fitness, training and nutrition that I hoped would help reduce the amount of time I was sick. I set myself a few loose goals for what I wanted to do over the winter and spring. I met some of those goals, half-assed others, and wildly surpassed at least one.

You may have noticed a reference to rides in that first paragraph, rather than runs. I did succeed at my goal to spend more time on the bike, though I initially planned to use it for cross-training. However, after riding on the indoor trainer a couple times a week over the winter, by the time spring rolled around I was ready to get out and actually see movement as my wheels turned. I was done spinning in place.

I have ridden in the past with a great local cycling club, Suburban Cyclists Unlimited, so I re-joined the club, paid my first annual dues in a couple years, and started riding with them in April, the “official start” of their ride season. (There are club members who lead rides year round. I’m not that crazy … yet.) I initially started riding with the group every Monday after work, and eventually added the Thursday night club ride as well. On the weekends, I would do longer solo rides, mainly utilizing the Perkiomen and Schuylkill River trail networks. Eventually, I also joined another cycling club — the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia, and started joining them for some of their weekend rides from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

All this was great fun, but I like having goals. They help me focus, help me reach beyond what I did yesterday and push myself to do more tomorrow. They help me BEAT THE BLERCH or, as my friends have often said, “beat the couch”.

All of which is to say that, after putting myself on a running restriction … I signed up for my first-ever century ride.

(To be continued.)

Confessions of a First-time Coach

Today, I demonstrated some core exercises for my running group, and some of the group tried them along with me. I’ve been a little nervous about this presentation all week, for a number of reasons (aside from the typical mild stage fright).

I started focusing more on core strength and the way it affects my running during last season. As I did more research, the organizer of our group asked me if I’d share some of what I was learning with the group. I did a really basic seminar, giving some explanations from the research I’d done, then demonstrating four simple core exercises that were easy to modify for beginners or for more advanced individuals  One of our runners, who is much more solid than me (both in core strength and in running speed!) chimed in with some of her personal variations to make the exercises even more challenging, and the whole seminar seemed to go over really well.

As we were gearing up for the 2012 season, the group organizer asked if I would consider being the “Core Coach” for the season—helping maintain that focus on the core throughout the season, writing some articles and tips, sharing my research and helping people find answers to their questions. I said yes without any real hesitation – I knew that being responsible to the group would help motivate me and keep me more disciplined with my own workouts. I also knew that I would learn what it means to be a coach as I go – and I hoped that enthusiasm and diligence would make up for a general lack of experience.

However, not all things go as planned. After having a great winter of training, developing both my strength and speed, this year has included injury and a recurring mystery illness that has knocked me down a number of times (no, I will not be discussing details here, or in comments). I am definitely feeling the effects of all the doctor-mandated downtime; even when I’m not actively ill, I simply don’t feel as strong. I haven’t gained any weight, but I’ve lost speed and have definitely lost some of the definition I was just beginning to see, and my clothing fits differently than it did last year—my waistline has changed from the lack of hard-hitting core workouts. I’m struggling with motivation this year; it feels like every time I start seeing progress, I get knocked down again and have to rest and take it easy.

I have never been skinny, and never will be – it’s not even a goal. I don’t even want to be one of the super-cut people baring six-pack abs (at least in part because I will always be too modest to bare much of anything!)– I just want to be solid, and want that confidence in my body that I have been developing for the past couple of years. Right now, I feel like my body has become a somewhat untrustworthy partner, and I view it with some measure of suspicion and apprehension—what’s going to go wrong next?

I wanted to come into this core demonstration with strength and confidence, not worrying about how long I can hold plank in front of 50 people, or wondering if they’re all looking at my poochy midsection and mentally dismissing everything I say, since I certainly don’t look the part of a Core Coach.

I said to a friend on Friday, “I’ve got my information down. I have my outline. I think I’m just going to have to fake the “strength and confidence” part.”

Of course, one of the things I failed to plan for was the buoying effect of the group. One of the reasons I’m a part of this group for the third year in a row is the way the group comes together, supporting everyone’s efforts. It’s a very engaged group of people, quick to cheer each other’s accomplishments, share motivation and encourage others. Once you’re around them, you can’t help but feel a little more confident and ready to go.

Overall, I think the core demonstration went well. I ran through it twice, since some people had to leave early and couldn’t wait for those runners and walkers who were still out on the course. There was good participation, and some good questions and suggestions for challenges and variations.

I posted descriptions of the exercises I reviewed in a Google document, which you can check out here.