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Finding balance and getting to the core

Greetings from a morning in Zürich where it again feels like winter. I’m wrapping up an easy week — designed for recovery and catching up with long-time friends who are visiting from the U.S. It’s all about creating balance, in the body and in life, so this is my balance week. Leading up to this weekend I’ve only done 2.5 hours of running this week — and I only have a 1-hour run on the weekend schedule. I think it’s wild that a marathon’s worth of running throughout a week makes me feel like I’m slacking off! The rest time is a smart move though as next weekend I have 3 back-to-back days of long-runs (12 hours of running over 3 days). During this recovery window I sense that my body is energizing and building the reserves back up from weeks and weeks of intensive training.

I decided to focus this week’s blog on an element of my program that I never would have pursued without a coach — core and strength training. In prior years, when I trained for a marathon, I just ran a lot. When I trained for a triathlon, I biked and ran a lot — and made a few cameos at the pool. Visiting a gym was something I did during the off-season and it usually consisted more of doing bench press and curls than stability and back/abs work. As I mentioned in a prior post, Coach Lisa got me started with core work about a year ago when I started my Inferno training. I quickly learned that I was pathetically weak in my core (I could barely make it through even 20 of the 50-rep sit-up sets she called for!). I committed to the core work back then and it really paid off during my long running and cycling sessions and especially during the race. When I moved to Switzerland and started my MDS training, I joined a fitness center and began to work with a local trainer, Ivo. Ivo designed an excellent core and strength program that fits into Lisa’s overall plan, offers a lot of creativity, and certainly challenges me. We meet monthly to review the plan and adjust it with new exercises for the month ahead. Once or twice a week I hit the gym before sunrise to do some cardio cross-training and then I complete a combined strength and core session. As for the cardio cross-training work, it usually consists of cycling, elliptical or stair machine, and rowing. The rowing has been new for me in the past year and I find it a great cross-training addition to the program. I’m not sure why, but 5 minutes into a rowing session and I always become very competitive with the rowing machine display that tells me my pace and distance covered. Any way, at 6:30 AM at the gym, it becomes fun and definitely wakes me up!

My targeted core work hits my abs, back, and obliques and consists of medicine ball crunches on a Bosu ball (above) and several other drills using Swiss balls and other items from the gym’s assortment of squishy steps, ramps, and torture-looking devices! The variety is wonderful though and really holds my interest. Oh yeah, and it’s rarely torturous!

Swiss balls offer endless opportunities for imaginative exercises. Here I’m working my back, chest, and arms like a traditional push-up, but I’m having to engage stabilizer muscles and my entire core to balance over the two balls (and prevent falling flat on my face!). We’ve recently made one adjustment to this drill– my feet have moved up to a Swiss ball as well. With the recent addition though, I’ve had a sudden encounter with the floor on more than a few occasions!

I do all of my strength training with added elements of core and stability training. That is, it’s all combined. In this exercise, I’m doing a one-legged balance on a squishy Bosu ball. The balancing part is great for developing ankle and knee strength and it gives my quads a good burn too. My core is also engaged as it’s fighting to keep me from toppling over. And finally, I’m doing lateral raises with dumbbells of unequal weight. This exercise requires a lot of focus on different parts of your body all at once – especially balance. It also targets your shoulders and triceps. It’s great fun and forces me “into the now” as there’s no chance for the mind to wander!

I attribute this focus on core and strength training as a key reason that my body feels reasonably good 4 hours into a run with a backpack and that I’ve avoided injury during many long trail runs on uneven, rocky and often wintry-terrain. I’m a believer!

Next week is intense and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll plan to capture some video during my back-to-back long runs to capture the experience. This much running over 3 days will be a new experience for me, so I’m anxious to see how the ole’ bod responds.

Thanks for your notes and encouragement, and as always, thanks for reading!

Cheers from the land of chocolate,

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