Pilates for Runners

For several years after having my two oldest children, I was plagued by chronic lower back pain and SI joint dysfunction that would come and go (and sometimes completely stop me in my tracks) and hips that always felt out of whack. Maybe it was from carrying my kids around on my left hip all the time (while simultaneously doing everyday tasks like making meals, carrying laundry or groceries, talking on the phone, emptying the dishwasher, etc.)… Maybe it was just from bad postural habits that took their toll over time.

Whatever the cause, it wasn’t good and it wasn’t heading me in the direction I wanted to be headed in.

I wasn’t mindful at all about how I moved and I didn’t have the self awareness – or the perspective – that I do now.

It was during one of my particularly tough back spasms that my sister Jodi (an awesome runner, coach, Pilates guru and owner of my favorite studio, Reston Pilates) encouraged me to try Pilates. It had helped her tremendously after her back surgery (so much so that despite doctors telling her she would likely never run again, she has since run multiple marathons and ultras!) and she believed it would help me, too. She began to teach me and it didn’t take long for me to begin to realize the amazing benefits. Not long after that I began pursuing a teaching education in Pilates so that I could help others heal and live pain free through this wonderful movement system.

Pilates literally changed my life. It helped me connect with and develop an inner strength that had in fact always been there. I became intentional with how I moved my body and with how I stood, cultivating better habits and healthier movement patterns. With a dedication to regular Pilates and mindful movement, I discovered that I am so much stronger than I ever thought possible. Continue reading

Making the most of the off season – a talk with Dr. Aleck Wong

‘Tis the season! This phrase is heard ringing throughout our lives day-in and day-out this time of year. And while everyone is bustling about with the busy-ness of juggling life and preparing for the holidays, runners and endurance athletes are also typically finding themselves in the midst of another kind of season – the off season. I think of it more as a “reboot season” – unplugging for a bit and starting back up again after sufficient rest. It’s a crucial time for a runner, truly. A rich opportunity to let go of the rigors of training and racing in order to reap the benefits of and learn from the prior cycle or to address issues that have lingered from it. It’s a time to recharge our batteries on all levels – physical, mental and emotional.

This season can be welcomed and embraced by any level of runner, but it also oftentimes leaves us feeling a little bit lost and anxious to get back to the rhythms of training and racing. I have been wondering lately – what is the BEST way to approach this in-between time, to prime our bodies and minds for goals we have ahead of us?

How do we make the most of our time off from training? As a coach and an athlete myself, I have a lot of ideas and opinions about this. But I wanted to ask someone whose expertise and opinions I have always valued, to get a little more insight into it and to pass that wisdom along to you.

Continue reading

time to leap – Peak Pilates

When it comes to following a dream, I tend to think it’s the littlest things that make the biggest difference in our lives.  It’s all about the journey – the steps we take along the way and the moments we feel at the end of our rope and want to give up, but don’t.  That’s where the magic is.  Every action we take moves us forward in some way, sometimes a teeny tiny almost imperceivable way, but forward nonetheless.  Everything we do, every experience we have, holds meaning and helps shape us into the person we are at this moment.  Sometimes though we have to take bigger steps – leaps – in the pursuit of our dreams.

The other day when I was reading books to my three year old son Gus, he asked me what I want to be when I grow up.  My lips curled instantly at the thought of it, a smile beaming its way across my face.  I hugged him so close and kissed him on his sweet little head.  My first thought was that I don’t ever want to really fully “grow up” … but rather it is my intent to forever be growing up – always learning, always dreaming and believing in possibility, and ever open to new things, experiences and adventures.

And before I could answer him he said “I think you should be an ELEPHANT when you grow up, Mommy.”  Ok then.  There’s that.  My gosh, I love him.

When I was in college I really didn’t have much of an idea of what I wanted to “be” after I earned my degree.  I majored in English Literature because I loved books, plain and simple.  The vision and drive for a career simply didn’t exist for me at the time.  I eventually found my way into business-to-business sales though and it was a great fit for me on a professional level.  I’m a goal-oriented and very social person, attributes that are quite useful when you need to sell things to people.  I enjoyed it because I got out of it what I put into it and while there was a lot of independence working from home I also got to interact with all different kinds of people every day.  There was always something missing for me in it though, a level of passion that I just wasn’t tapping into in that line of work.

When my second child was born and the price of childcare doubled (along with the level of stress in our home), my husband and I decided we would try living on one income and I quit my job to stay home with our two children.  It was an adjustment for us on many levels, but we made it work.  A few years later when both kids were in preschool and my husband and I had decided that we were not going to have any more children, I found myself really itching to find some kind of work – a way to make money (which was a necessity for us) while doing something that I loved and still being able to be home just as much for my family.  It was at this time that I started a little business making growth charts for kids (a super fun creative outlet for me) and also became a running coach and Pilates mat teacher.  It felt like everything was coming together and I was so excited for the seeds I was planting to GROW.  I was going to be making this dream into a reality.  I felt filled with hope and inspired to go after this dream.

And then, a few days after my Pilates teacher training course was over, I discovered that I was pregnant with Mister Gus.  As grateful and excited as I was, I also felt turned upside down and freaked out a bit at first.  Wrapping my brain around how I would handle three children while also trying to build a career of sorts for myself really overwhelmed me at times.  I just kept moving forward though, doing what I do, holding onto my passions and following my heart.  I kept running.  I started coaching.  I continued to teach.

I believe that we aren’t given more than we can handle, and that everything in life happens when and how it does for a reason (even if we really can’t understand it for a long, long LONG time).

I also believe that if you’re blessed to know what lights you up inside, you owe it to yourself – and to the world – to live your life doing whatever that is.

One of the things that lights me up inside is being a Pilates teacher.  I love it with all of my heart, and feel that it is something I am meant to be doing.  Pilates literally changed my life.  Every day, it helps me connect with my inner strength, teaches me how to listen to, honor and be aware of my body and how I use and treat it, and reminds me to stay focused on the here and the now.  I love working with my students every week on the mat, watching them meet themselves where they are and find their own strength from the inside out.  The dream to teach beyond the mat – working with individuals and small groups on the other Pilates apparatuses, has been in my heart for years.  When Gus was born I really couldn’t take this on, so for the last several years I have taught mat classes and waited for the right time and opportunity to take the next step, trusting that when it was meant to be it would be.

And here it is.

This weekend I am beginning the next phase of my journey as a Pilates teacher.  Over the next three months I will be taking the Peak Pilates Level 1 Comprehensive Program at Lifetime Fitness and by the time summer rolls around I will be ready to teach individuals and small group classes at the beginner level, in addition to the mat classes I am already leading.

My first class begins tomorrow afternoon and I will be in class all weekend long basically (tomorrow from 3-7pm and both Saturday and Sunday from 8am-5pm).  It is going to be INTENSE over the next few months and my brain will be firing on all cylinders – there is so much to learn!  Balancing this with my coaching, my marathon training and the teaching I am already doing along with everything that comes with being a wife and mom of three is going to be a challenge for sure – but it will be worth it in the long run without a sliver of a doubt.

I’m ready to take the leap!

(re) learning to swim – another work in progress

Today is day two of writing every day for 30 days, and I’m sitting here at my computer screen at 5:00am with my bathing suit on under my sweatpants, my cozy boots on my feet and my pink knit hat snuggled and warm on my head … hot cup of coffee beside me.  Everyone in my house is silently sleeping upstairs except for the pup, she is looking around for me up there and I think will be curled up at my feet in a few minutes.  It was a huge accomplishment for me to crawl out of bed this morning.

Let’s just say the last thing I feel like doing is driving to the gym and jumping into the cold swimming pool for one hour of drills and laps.

By now though, I know better.  I have been swimming once a week since November, missing only one week when my son had a stomach virus.  There hasn’t been one morning yet that I have actually FELT like doing it.  Once I’m in the water (which, by the way, takes me a while … because I am a total wimp and take my time gingerly dipping my toes in before eventually just sucking it up and jumping in), I relinquish my resistant attitude and embrace the work.  Lap after lap I find myself relaxing into the water, letting go, and enjoying the swim.  Observing how I am moving my body and paying attention to the rotation of my hips, the reach of my arms, the strength of my legs, the stability of my core, the rhythm of my breathing.  It becomes therapeutic at a certain point.  I’m not moving quickly, but I’m moving with ease.  I’m not fighting myself or the water anymore.

When I was a kid I swam on my local swim team.  I remember loving it and swimming HARD in that water.  My big sister is 7 years older than I am and she was a very strong and competitive swimmer.  I wanted to be just like her, so I poured my heart into it.  Eventually though I found my love for soccer and stopped swimming.  It had been decades since I got in the pool to really swim laps.  Then one day this summer my mom was at the pool with me and my kids and offered to watch them so I could swim.  I put on my 8 year old daughter’s goggles and swam laps – butter, back, breast and free – in my J.Crew bikini.  And I loved it.  It was exhausting and exhilarating.  I told myself that after Richmond Marathon I would get a proper swimsuit and my OWN goggles and dedicate myself to a weekly swim.

When I first started swimming weekly (a few days after Richmond), I had the fitness to last a pretty long while in the pool.  But I had no idea what I was doing – retreating to habits learned when I was a kid, relying on muscle memory but having no clue (or really, care) whether or not it was the “right” way to do it.  I realized quickly though that there was something really WRONG with my swim.  Every time I needed to breathe, I would breathe from my right side.  This was a red flag to me – a sign of an imbalance or a bad habit.  So one day I decided to try to breathe from my left side, just to see what that was all about.

I thought I was going to die.

It astounded me how scary it felt to breathe on my left side.  I felt like I was in someone else’s body – someone who was severely physically impaired.  I swallowed water, my neck felt like it was being crunched and I thought I would sink to the bottom.  My initial reaction to this realization was to just stick with what was working and breathe on the right side.  Don’t go back to that horrifying place of left-side breathing!  Yikes!  It was awful!  In my heart though I knew that wouldn’t be okay with me.  I didn’t want to feed an imbalance or ignore it, so I would need to figure this out.

A few weeks later I joined the Masters swim class at my gym.  I spoke with the coach about my challenges and concerns and explained my goals.  She watched me swim and said there was a lot that was GOOD about what I was doing, but that we needed to bring me back to the basics.  I was fighting the water and completely out of control in my form – pushing hard and making it hard on myself.  She told me to break it all down just like I would my running form and take it piece by piece.   To not worry about the big picture just yet.  She had me doing drills every week.  Usually the workout has a mix of drills and intervals and it’s supposed to take us 1 hour to complete.  I would take my time with just the drills and that alone would take me basically a full hour at first.  It was humbling and HARD as all-get-out, but it is working.  I am breathing now on my left side just as easily as I am on my right side!!  I am finding balance and I can hardly believe it every week I get in the pool – the progress is so rewarding.  I’m slower now in the water, but a ton more efficient.  My hope and belief is that if I keep working on this, eventually the speed will come to me.

I remember with running I had to retrain myself with my form a few years ago.  Pilates helped me a lot with this – bringing awareness to how I was holding my pelvis and engaging my core, where I was planting my feet, how I was holding my arms and even my hands.  I took a course in Chi Running, read books on form and worked with the coaches at =PR= to better understand how to make myself more efficient – how to work less hard to move faster and more fluidly.  The same goes for swimming, and Pilates and really how we move in our every day lives.  This fact completely excites me in this totally geeky way but I can’t help it.  Proper movement, proper use of our bodies, is so healing and liberating.  I believe we are all works in progress in every aspect of our lives, including in the athletic passions that we pursue, and that it is ever changing and evolving as life unfolds.  We have the choice to ignore our imbalances and let them fester, or to step up to them and bring our awareness to them and work WITH not against ourselves and our bodies.  I truly believe the possibilities are endless if we approach our challenges this way.  Hooray for learning to swim again!

Can you relate to this?  Have you had to re-learn a way to move – whether with swimming or running or otherwise?

Pilates for Runners!

I would not be the runner, or the person, I am today if it were not for Pilates.  I am passionate about it because it has changed my life.  Because it has made me more self aware and stronger from the inside out.  Because dedicating myself to Pilates has allowed me to run with more efficiency, more comfort, more strength and more confidence.
 
Before being introduced to Pilates a few years ago, I would carry myself in an almost haphazard way.  Never paying any attention to my posture or to what muscles I was or wasn’t using.  I would suffer from lower back pain frequently and be sidelined from normal activity – laying on the couch with ice on my back as my children played around me.  It was terrible.  I wanted to be more fit and strong and I loved to run, but I found that when I would run long distances and get further into my training, my body would tire and my form would collapse resulting in injury and chronic pain.  My core was not strong enough and as I got tired it all just felt apart.  I would slump over and my back and shoulders would ache.  With my shoulders hunched and my chest caved in, my breathing was then compromised and everything felt like such hard work.  My pace would slow often to a walk and I just felt like giving up and often did.  It was not fun.  Something had to change if I wanted to keep running and if I wanted to improve as a runner.  I needed to commit myself to having a stronger core, to being more self aware.
 
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Pilates has made such an impact in my life that I now teach it and am so passionate about sharing it with others and helping them to live and run pain free – feeling stronger than they ever thought possible.  Teaching my class at my sister Jodi’s studio, Reston Pilates, is absolutely one of the most satisfying and rewarding things that I do each and every week.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with my students.

This coming Sunday morning, August 12th at 9:00AM, my very favorite running store Potomac River Running is hosting an awesome free event – “Pilates in the Pavilion” – a one hour outdoor Pilates class designed for runners and taught by runners – my sister Jodi and me!  I am so excited about it and hope that if you are local you will come and bring your friends!


Prepare to experience a GREAT core workout – abs, back, pelvis, hips, and shoulders.  Improve your strength and flexibility and enhance your running efficiency, speed, confidence, and prevent injury.  Pilates will help you move with ease, free from stress or strain on the muscles and joints.  Pilates teaches body awareness, mental focus, and encourages proper alignment. When we tire in the late stages of a long run or race, having a strong core and greater self awareness enables us to engage our core muscles and maintain good posture and form.
It is going to be a fantastic event!  =PR= is even going to raffle off a pair of the new Asics Gel Lyte 33 and they’re also going to throw in a few other Asics goodies!

To sign up for this free event (and to enter the raffle), just click HERE.  You have to be present to win the raffle if your name is chosen.
I hope you will come to this awesome event – whether you are new to running or have been running for a long time this will be a great opportunity for you to experience Pilates with other runners and feel the difference it can make for you.  It is going to be a beautiful morning and the Reston Town Center is such a fun place – you can go for a quick run beforehand (that’s what I plan to do!) and then after the class grab a yummy coffee or brunch with your family or friends.  I hope to see you there!

they don’t get it yet

I teach Pilates one night a week.  I love it.  It’s something I’m passionate about and something I am so grateful to be able to do.  My class is at 7:30PM on Monday evenings and the studio is only a few minutes away from home so I’m able to have dinner with my family and start the bed time routine before I walk out the door.  Usually by the time I leave the house, the baby is already asleep and the two big kids are dressed in their jammies and ready for stories with Daddy.  As far as jobs go, this one is pretty easy on my family.

Or so you would think.

My kids give me a guilt trip every single time I leave the house to teach.  Maybe it’s because they are tired after a long day and they want me to tuck them in.  It’s not a little guilt trip.  It is FULL ON water works most Monday nights by at least one of them.  I can’t stand it.

The other night, Will looked like he was possessed when I was leaving.  He was so mad at me, so upset that I would leave him to teach.  For one hour.  One night of the week.  I explained I had to go – that it is my job and other people are counting on me.  That I would be back soon – I always come back.

Things he yelled at me, while sobbing:

“It’s not your job!  Your job is taking care of ME!!!”

“You don’t HAVE to do it!  You WANT to do it!!!”

“Why do you have to go!!!!????  Don’t go!!!  I NEED YOU HERE!!!”

It broke my heart to walk away from him, but I believe some day he will understand.  I hang onto the hope that some day, in some way, this is actually good for him.  Good for him to see me doing something I love.  Good for him to have a mom who is multi-dimensional, passionate about lots of things, driven to fill her life with things she enjoys and to help others as a teacher.  I believe that though he can’t see it now, he will one day understand that as much as I love teaching and coaching and creating growth charts – I love my children and my family the MOST.  That there is room in my heart for all of my loves and passions and that nothing – and I mean NOTHING – is more important to me in this life than my role as mother to my children.  That my other jobs serve many purposes, possibly the greatest of which is to make me a happier, better more balanced mother.

I can’t explain that to him now in a way that he will understand, at least not in the moment when he is losing his cool and unable to understand anything at all.  I just have to trust that one day, he will get it and he will not only forgive me but be grateful to me for it.

I hate to think of the number of times that I have left my house on my own (whether to teach a class, to go for a run, to get a haircut or have a night out with my girlfriends) and have had to pull a screaming child off my leg, hear one or more of my kids wailing uncontrollably or worse all three of them in unison crying and yelling at me not to go.  It is awful every single time.  It doesn’t get easier.  I feel extremely guilty for it, but in my heart I know I am doing right by them.

When I got to the studio the other night, Robert sent me a text a few minutes before my class started.  He told me not to worry, that the baby was asleep and both big kids had calmed down.  Everyone was happy.  I could relax and let go of the tension in my heart.  I can’t tell you enough how thankful I am for the man I married.  When I walk out the door on nights like that or early in the morning for my runs and races, HE is the one left to deal with the distraught children who want their mommy.  He is amazing in every possible way.  He comforts them.  He cooks for them.  He engages their minds and their creativity.  He supports me – and he shows them that it is important to support the ones we love, even when it would certainly be easier for us not to.

My class was AMAZING on Monday night.  It was the largest class that I have ever taught – a full studio!  My students come from all walks of life.  Everyone has their own imbalances, their own challenges – physically, mentally, emotionally.  They are all unique individuals and I am just so honored to help them along their journey to living pain free, active lives.  To help them connect with their inner strength and do something that is SO good for their bodies, their minds and their spirits.  I left the class feeling renewed – feeling so grateful to teach Pilates.

When I came home, my happiness was evident to my husband.  He asked me how class went (he always does) and then told me that Abby was waiting for me upstairs.  I went upstairs to kiss her good night and she said to me:

“Mommy, why do you have to teach on MONDAY nights!?  I mean, Monday is my library day at school, and it just really upsets me that you have to teach on MY library day.”

Am I the only one that does not see the connection between library day and me teaching?  I asked Abby what about me teaching on Monday night impacted her library day at school.  It just wasn’t clear to me…

“Library day is just really exciting to me!  And then when you teach, you RUIN that for me.”

Oh. my. goodness.  Are you kidding me?  I tried very hard not to smile.  Or drop my jaw to the floor.

I explained to Abby that I was sorry she felt that way, that my teaching ruined her exciting day.  That I hoped she could look at it differently, at least some day.  I told her how happy teaching makes me, and that I hoped she would find something some day that she loves to do the way I love to run and teach Pilates.  And that she would see that when she does, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her family more than anything in the world, not even close.

After kissing her good night, I walked into my room and took a deep breath.  WHAT a roller coaster ride this mothering thing is.  So many emotional ups and downs.

I KNOW that my kids know I love them.  Often times when I tell them that, they sigh and say “I know, Mommy.  You tell us that every day.”

I also know that my running and coaching and my teaching and my growth chart making all make me who I am, and that these things help me feel happy and balanced.  And I believe that a happy mom is a better mom.  My kids will see that one day.  One day they will understand and they may even be thankful to me for it.  I hope so, anyway.

Pancake Butt

Yep, you read that right.  Pancake Butt.  For the record, this is a nickname I gave to myself, not one I am hoping others will latch onto.  So why write a blog post about it, then?  Putting it out there for all of the internet world to read?  Well, because I’m hoping that maybe it will shed some light for you on the way that you are holding your own body.  Maybe you will have an “aha” moment the way that I did.

Let me tell you a little about my Pancake Butt.

For as long as I can remember, I have been frustrated with my flat flimsy back side.  I would watch J. Lo and Beyonce shake their booties and be totally envious.  I would literally think to myself – I want a butt!  We all know what it’s like to be perpetually on the hunt for “good butt jeans” hoping to find a pair that accentuates the positive back there (while eliminating the negative, of course), but for me there really was no pair of jeans that could do the job.  I needed to make my own good butt!  I needed to build some muscles back there.  In order to do that though I would have to take a closer look at why I didn’t have much of a butt in the first place, and the answer to that question lies in my poor postural habits.

We all have areas of imbalance and weakness and for me this resides in the good ole’ glute muscles.  Mine just aren’t that strong, but it isn’t their fault.  Part of this is genetics, sure, but a much bigger part of the problem is the way I have habitually stood and carried my body for years and years and years.  I have had a tendency to exaggerate a posterior tilt of my pelvis, tucking those gluteal muscles under and as a result putting strain on my lower back and not allowing my glute muscles to fully develop or do any of the work.  It’s not pretty …

Pancake Butt.

Do you see how horribly out of alignment this is?  Just looking at this makes me cringe.  My butt is flat as a pancake because my tailbone is tucked under as my pelvis tilts too far to the posterior.  This is how I used to stand pretty much all the time.  I never really paid much attention to the fact that my pelvis wasn’t neutral (had no idea) – until lower back pain and SI joint issues started to develop.  That was not fun, let me tell you.

Then I found Pilates and it changed my life.  The exercises themselves are incredibly helpful and have taught me to be more self-aware and to move more mindfully no matter what I am doing – whether it be standing in line at the grocery store, emptying the dishwasher, running a marathon or putting my baby down for a nap in his crib.

The way we hold our bodies matters.  It makes a difference.  Trust me.  Take it from someone who used to call herself Pancake Butt, okay?

With a little focus and self awareness and a tilt of the pelvis to neutral, my Pancake Butt disappears:

Hello there, Butt!  Nice to see you!

I still have a lot of work to do to develop my glute muscles to their full potential.  Right now I have a set of exercises I am doing every day to strengthen them and increase flexibility in my hamstrings.  My goal is to turn my Pancake Butt into a Power Butt – so I can be a stronger runner, protect my lower back from any future issues and, admittedly, fill out those jeans just a little more.

Tell me … How are you holding your body right now, as you read this?  Are your shoulders tense?  Is your tailbone tucked?  Is your pelvis tilting one way or the other?  Do you know where your imbalances are (we ALL have them!)?  What are you doing to correct them?