Monday, July 23, 2007

San Diego (Convention &) Trip Report: Fit, Dip and.... Strip???

A number of people have asked for a trip report in addition to a summary of the fitness information gained from my annual attendance to the IDEA World fitness convention. So without further ado....


So where do I start? Well considering I'd recently had my car vandalized (baseball bat shattered my driver's side window and dented the door) and burglarized, then experienced a disastrous 10K race (long story), I was even more excited to take this trip than before, if only to help put that final punctuation mark at the end of two unenjoyable (to put it nicely) sentences.

Ride 'em, chauffeur!

At the last minute, I had decided that I didn't feel comfortable leaving my Jeep in remote parking for so long. With my husband unable to get off work to play chauffeur, we arranged for a limo to take me to the airport. It was supposed to be a regular Town Car or some such, so imagine my startle when a long stretch limo appeared on our tiny dead-end street! I guess they were out of regular limos at the moment. I still don't know how the guy managed to maneuver it, considering the narrowness of the street and the short driveways lining it. I took it as a positive omen, though conversation with the driver was definitely out as I would have needed a megaphone in order to even attempt it!

The flight was pleasant and uneventful. I slept a great deal as I often do while flying, but managed to wake up in time to look down on the mountains and watch us approach San Diego. As the mountains gave way to a sea of homes and then a sea of...well, the sea, at least a healthy view of the Pacific Ocean, I was so excited, that as I looked out at the buildings -- one of which I immediately recognized as the convention center, my eyes teared up! It's just that the whole city literally was sparkling. We must have been landing at a time of the day when the
sun was striking the building windows just right. Maybe it was the trauma of the previous week's car break-in finally leaving my body at last, but my heart was literally pounding in anticipation of the days ahead. What would the conference be like? What new sights would
I be seeing? I could hardly wait.

Not to let the wind out of the above sails, but as a strange aside, during my stay, a man and a woman were murdered (shot) just seven floors below mine (I was on the 14th floor). And given this is San Diego's famed Marriott Hotel and Marina and not some obscure motel, you can imagine the local media frenzy this stirred up. You couldn't avoid the cameras, they were everywhere! I was in my room when it happened, but didn't learn of it until the next day. They think it was a murder/suicide. So sad.


Otherwise, all went great. "Grand" would probably be the better word, actually, right down to the sheer size of the event. For five days, a total of about 7,000 fitness professionals swarmed the conference center and its immediate radius of hotels. Quoth the master of ceremonies at the opening gala: "It's a lousy week to be a bellhop!"

Upon my arrival, I unpacked and stood by the window to survey my view. From my room I could see Coronado Island and the famed bridge (whose supports I would describe as "long legs") that leads there, as well as the marina and crystalline pool below. I have always had an affinity for walking around boats in a harbor, so I wasted no time rushing down to go for a walk along the ports and get a feel for the area. I was immediately hit by the fragrances; a mixture of ocean and fish giving way to blasts of sweet perfume coming off of flowering plants, with that unmistakable plume of "fudge meets fried foods" you get with touristy strips everywhere. If it were a glass of wine, it might be described as "a curious intersection of unctuous and floral notes, with a breezy finish that wipes the palette clean." Stimulating, cloying, yet calming at the same time. How is that?

The swimming pool was stunning if kitschy. Yeah, it had a bit of a cheesy "Tiki" theme to it, but I have to confess, I love Tiki (insert your cringe here), so this was quite okay with me. The sound of the waterfalls added a nice ambiance, and I spent plenty of time studying my notes there.

To those who kindly offered me a plethora of dining recommendations, thank you, as this was all very welcome information. But the truth is, even after chatting it up with a few locals for further direction, it was difficult to reliably hone in on a place to go to eat, especially with all the fitness activities going on. So at lunchtime on day two, I took a long walk downtown, culminating with a trip to the local market to load my arms with fruit, bottled water, some chilled shrimp and this interesting Italian yogurt. The one thing I try to do, if I must go the "grocery store" route when traveling, is to at least attempt to eat something at least slightly outside of my norm. This yogurt fit the bill nicely; it was packed in little glass containers, and had a delightfully grainy and fresh taste not found in the supermarket varieties, with fruit-on-the-bottom flavors that included apricot and honey-ginger (!!). A good choice for the wallet too, as the food in San Diego was otherwise quite budget busting. My hotel room had a fridge, so this gave me the base from which I made my meals for much of the trip. And while my menus may not have been all that adventuresome, my mealtime ambiance was, for I always took my meal outdoors -- either by the pool or at the marina or at a nearby park, with a silent promise to myself to make sure I return to the area at some future point, for a more exploratory sampling of the local cuisine!

Having said all of that, I'd be remiss if I didn't confess to succumbing to, of all things, the call of soft pretzel. Darn it if they didn't have a pretzel stand at the convention center, conveniently located in the main conference room corridor. Not exactly fitness food, but it didn't stop a number of us refugees from Planet Fitness from bashfully queuing up for some hot baked carbs. And much to my disappointment, my mind's rationalization that all my fitness activities would surely stave off cravings for more.....failed to ring true, as much of the next day was spent convincing myself that I'd be much happier (and in the end I was) with Italian yogurt and fresh plums.

While my schedule allowed precious little opportunity for cruising San Diego at large, I did explore my immediate surroundings to my heart's content. I walked up and down the Gaslamp district, darted in and around tourists at the Seaport Village, and strode purposefully up and down the downtown streets, energized by the hum of commerce in progress. And though I didn't participate gastronomically, I managed to reconnoiter the many eateries regaled by my dear informants, my nose feasting on the intoxicating aroma of hot breads and herbs, char-grilled meats and simmering sauces, accompanied by the collective sound of jostling silverware and heavy plates being tossed about. Al fresco dining is definitely alive and well there, and I enjoyed watching the various restaurateurs meticulously arranging white tablecloths and gleaming glasses in anticipation of the dinner rush.

Of course, being this WAS a fitness conference after all, I ran plentifully as well. I took runs around the marina and nearby parks, along the shipyards and ports, where little shops and cafes give way to docked tour and cruise ships, which then give way to the enormous and stunning aircraft carrier, the USS Midway (now a museum), as well the base of the Coast Guard. This seaside path eventually takes you back to the airport, which made for a satisfying turnaround point.

I ran at all times of the day, both when the city was still quiet and waking up (and the only souls out are workers and other runners, which provided a gratifying camaraderie), and during the bustling day and evening hours, zipping in and around the locals and tourists and navymen and the homeless vagabonds, many of whom were either sleeping or talking gibberish to themselves. A bizarre yet interesting co-mingling of so many walks of life and ethnicities.

Weather report, Turkish fitness program

The weather is stunning; fresh, clean, yet curiously "hot" in the sun despite it only being in the low 70's. It is clear that everyone here loves the outdoors and lives the lifestyle that reflects it. Very active and fit bodies everywhere, including my cab driver, a handsome Turk who swims two hours every morning before heading to work. Sensing my curiosity, he was only too excited to show me his lunch -- the freshest, most colorful and most lovingly chopped vegetables I have ever seen, along with rice and grilled chicken, and his carafe of this delightfully fragrant spice tea -- his "other" beverage when he's not drinking Turkish coffee. (Note to self: Look up Turkish cooking.) He's originally from Detroit, owned a successful Arabic food market there, yet took one look at SD and phoned his brother to put the business up for sale. That was 17 years ago! I can understand the allure.

More like, the waves catch YOU

This report would surely be incomplete if I didn't at least touch upon my two field trips: surfing and kayaking. First, the surfing. We stepped on the bus at 6:00am, about 20 of us surfers-to-be with about 20 triathletes, chattering away like an aviary at PetSmart. The surf lessons were at Del Mar beach, with an average of just two students per instructor. I felt both scared yet giddy at the same time. So intoxicating was the duality that I really began to wonder if I'm not on some level addicted to this curious cocktail of adrenaline, considering how often I put myself into situations that render it. Whatever the case, I began my experience quite laughably and rather inauspiciously, having struggled into my wetsuit only to discover I had put it on backwards! But after peeling it off and tugging it on correctly, we were each fitted to a board and leash and given a quick briefing on the basic techniques. And suddenly we were off, almost before my mind could digest what was about to happen. The main instructor had commented that any of us wanting to venture "far out" into "the deep" could do so with him, otherwise we would primarily stay in waters around chest high. Well, I had no intentions to take him up on this, but after about 15 minutes of trying the techniques out for size, I was invited to get out and try for deeper waters (where the surf was higher and more rolling that day). There was a mild rip current about 300 feet out, so we had to paddle towards the shore and due south periodically. It's a strange feeling being pummeled with such strong water so far from shore. I immediately appreciated the need to stay calm and not panic, and boy was I glad to be a strong swimmer!

And how much fun it was, despite the constant wipe-outs! And though I'm quite sure I lived up to the image of "monkey on surfboard," I did manage, after many tumbles, to stand up and ride a full wave all the way in. Wow, what a feeling! But that was my only full ride. The rest of the time was spent trying, trying, trying to master the basics of paddling on my stomach, learning to spot a "good" swell, then lining up my surfboard and timing my attempt to first jump up to a lunge, then stand. Not easy! But it helped that my instructor was a 20-year old blond hunk named Max. By the way, it turns out you can't say the name "Max" without cracking a grin. Try it. See what I mean? Somehow I didn't mind the salt water flowing into my nose with "Max" helping me out! Heh.

(Sea) Lions and kayaks and caves, oh my!

Now kayaking. Another 6am bus departure, this time to La Jolla. We donned helmets and lifejackets and were fitted to tandem kayaks. I was the lead person, my partner this delightful 63 year old guy who lives in the area and always wanted to see the La Jolla caves "from the other side". After a debriefing on paddling basics and how to navigate the strong surf with our kayaks, we paddled out, plowed both through and up and over the vigorous waves (my partner expressing excessive glee that I got to be the one to take it in the face, thanks a lot!), then suddenly found ourselves on the relatively calm sea, about 1000 or so feet from the shore. As we quietly paddled (about 40 kayaks altogether) parallel to the coast (I found myself recalling a comment my husband had jokingly made, warning me not to go too far lest I land ashore with people speaking Japanese) and approached the caves, sea lions snoozed on the rocks, while cormorants circled above. The caves were amazing but scary at the same time (taking me back to my "cocktail adrenaline addiction" musings). We each had to go in one at a time, having to time our quick visit with when there appeared a lull in the dangerous swells, with the team before us actually getting stuck and further pummeled on the rocks in the cave. They eventually had to get out of the kayak in order to free it. But my partner and I managed to get in and out ourselves with only joy and adrenaline as our accompaniments. A truly spectacular outing! And while we managed to avoid capsizing for most of the trip, on our way back, about 30 feet from the sand, just when it seemed we had survived the surf, I made the fatal error of paddling on the wrong side, causing us to turn -- and you know what happened next! -- ensuring that we would not emerge from this outing without a good soaking! We laughed merrily at the irony -- capsizing in two feet of water! I was glad my partner had a sense of humor.

Shaken, stirred and... stripped?

OK, I debated whether to leave this part in my report, or whether leaving it in the report might merit a "closed envelope" packaging of my handout, but what the heck. Yes folks, this was my walk on the wild side (apparently the "wild side" of surfing and kayaking weren't enough). Among the group fitness offerings at this conference was....Cardio Strip Tease. There, I said it! Oh, lordy. The things I get myself into. I suspect most of this part of the report is best left vague, in the vein of "What happens in Vegas, ...." Suffice to say, though, that it was unlike any fitness session I've ever experienced. Probably what was most amusing is how quickly inhibitions came crumbling down. Blame it on lack of caffeine (it was 7:00am and I at least had not yet had my morning cuppa), but It took all of two minutes for the room of about 200 women (and about 3 men) to "get with the program" if you know what I mean. I can't even imagine what this must have looked like to the instructors standing on stage. Without question, definitely one clear way to start one's day with a bolt of lightening!

Oh yes, and that education thing. “And by the way, aren’t you…?”

On a more "cold shower" note, the rest of the seminars were also extremely helpful (I was tempted to add "though a bit anti-climatic, but that's definitely a pun best left out!). I had chosen a wide range, everything from strength training for runners and triathletes to the latest findings on foods that help cholesterol and even the physiology of controlled breathing. Lots of good information, extensive enough that I'll save the details for a separate report

Hey, how strange is this: I was recognized! I didn't realize how well known (or is it “infamous”?) I've apparently become, at least in certain circles, partly due to the national exposure from my fitness competitions. But sure enough, I had several people during the course of the convention and even at the airport approach me and ask, "Are you Evamarie?" or "Is your last name Pilipuf?" and then offer some kind words about my work or my website. Now that I was not expecting!

It's a wrap (but will it STAY a wrap?)

So that pretty much lights the high's of the trip. Now comes the interesting experiment, considering that prior to this trip, I've typically attending these conferences locally only: does the enjoyment factor of the trip affect the degree to which the newly hatched information gets absorbed by one's brain? I'm definitely steering towards a big "yes"!

Friday, June 22, 2007

"How long does it take to do a handstand like that?"

Not surprisingly I suppose, I get asked that question quite often. How long does it take to get my body to willingly curl itself like so, balancing on my hands no less?

Admittedly, the answer depends on whether it's competition season, or for that matter, on what time of the year it is. Like anyone, I tend to be tighter in winter, looser in summer. And when I'm in the middle of a training season, my flexibility is more ready-to-go at all times, versus when I'm in a lower-key "maintenance" phase in my training.

But even so, something to keep in mind is, rarely am I able to just get up off the couch and assume The Scorpion (the pose that you see pictured at the top of this blog). Like everyone, I need to warm up, then systematically stretch, gradually building up to more intense positions, allowing my body to prepare itself safely for the contorsion. In the case of The Scorpion, I usually need a good 20 minutes of limbering movements to tackle it, and that's assuming I've already done some form of exercise (i.e. I just finished a round of cardio). If you saw the stretches I must start with, you'd probably be surprised! They look pretty much like the stretches we all commonly see at the gym. But I have evolved a method and approach that enables me to get the most out of them, and to then use them as foundations on which to then go further.

Why do I mention this? To illustrate the point that flexibility training is serious business -- for all of us. Even among those of us who are already very limber, we need to take the time out to work with our body, move it through its ranges, warm it up, flex, squeeze, breathe, relax, elongate.... and to do all of this within safe boundaries so as to avoid injury or other harm.

So make sure you're not shortchanging your own stretching. Even if your goal does not include touching your feet to your head, you want to take the time and effort to give your body the stretches it needs to keep its joints and muscles healthy!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Are you "that guy who stretches for 10 seconds and calls it a day"?

You know who you are. You've just put in a rigorous hour of cardio, chest presses and squats. Your body is taught and buff, but it's also tight and in need of stretching. So you sit down, reach for your toes, painfully slouching your shoulders. And all of ten seconds later (okay....20), you're sauntering back to the locker room.

Well hold your horses, cowboy! I have a news flash for you: if that's your idea of stretching, don't even bother! Do you even know what you're trying to accomplish with that stretch? Or is it simply something you were given by your coach or workout buddies, and you've been ending your workouts with it ever since? How much has your flexibility improved with it? Hmmm?

Now don't misunderstand. Indeed, I'm assuming your muscles are on the tight side. And I'm assuming this either gets in the way of your doing the activities you enjoy, or it's just outright uncomfortable. I'm also assuming that you know that you should stretch, and that this half-hearted post-workout move of yours is your attempt at helping yourself open those tight muscles (in this case, probably your hamstrings), or at least to prevent their worsening.

Here's the problem: Effective stretching requires two key things that are missing from the above scenario. You must safely lengthen the targeted muscle to the point that it's receiving that distinct "stretch sensation" (not pain!), and you must hold that lengthened position for a minimum of 20-30 seconds while trying to relax the muscle in question. Unfortunately, the classic sit-and-slouch move so prevalent in the gym.... will usually do more to generate tension and overflex the back (our backs already are overflexed just by virtue of all the sitting we do) than it will loosen muscles that could actually use the stretch, such as the hamstrings. To stretch correctly, you need to choose more effective, targeted positions, then allocate a tad more patience in practicing them than you've invested up until now.

So think of this the next time you've finished a workout and are about to slip back into your habitual nano-stretch. Just as you know you won't get good at running with just a minute spent on the treadmill....just as you know you won't see progress in your biceps by doing 2 bicep curls holding a Coke can, you won't accomplish much in the way of increased flexibility with an "if you blink you'll miss it" stretch attempt!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Smarmy TV ad

As if there aren't enough potential barriers to getting in one's workout! This bugs me almost every time I go to the gym, since unfortunately, the odds are good that this particular ad will air on their in-house TV network during the time I'm there. I'm assuming it's for some clinic that does some kind of hair removal. I say I'm assuming because I still don't know -- I have yet to pay attention long enough to find out. Probably safe to say I'm not in their target market. Anyway, what irks me is their pitch: a woman's voiceover says something like "Such-and-such percent of the human body is covered by hair." They then show a model, discretely nude (you know what I mean by this: shot from above, as non-threatening and assexual as possible, filmed through a filter so as to remove the "blatant nakedness" feel, yet retaining just enough glamour to grab your attention) and looking smugly up to the camera. The woman's voice-over continues: "Fortunately, we can fix that."

This never fails to startle me, mainly, because as she starts to say "Fortunately, we can....", my mind expects to hear, "...change that." But fix? Fix that? Huh. I didn't know that the presence of hair automatically warrants a fix. Call me old-fashioned, but I actually like having, oh, eyebrows, eyelashes, hair on the top of my head, and yes, even those fine, soft, blond hairs on my forearm. Sure, there are some choice topographical zones in which hair is best kept missing, but given that these are somewhat in the minority, percentage-wise, to the total surface area of skin, it seems a tad....oh I don't know, OCD? suggest that hair in of itself is a bad thing worthy of elimination, which to me is what happens when you use the word, "fix." Yes, I "get" that the writers are trying to create some kind of an urgency ("Oh my gosh, you have all this hair! Hurry!"), but I still think they went a bit overboard and thus missed the boat on this one.

And now, I can free up what clearly has been way too much brain real estate dedicated to analysing this one topic!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

When stretching, the third time is the charm

You may not believe this, but even those of us who can put our foot behind our head will encounter post-workout body tightness -- you know the feeling, that sensation that hastens your breath and renders all sorts of grunts and facial contortions as you gingerly attempt to untangle stubbornly knotted muscles. For me, this especially happens after I've finished a run, the result of my hamstrings and calf muscles firing a bit too enthusiastically. To counter this effect (and to avoid feeling like Frankenstein the next morning), over the years I have developed a series of post-run stretches that elongate the back of my legs quite nicely. Even so, there's just no avoiding the plain fact that the first couple of stretches after the run will be a bit agonizing, as the muscles are still in "contracting" mode, where all I can do is try to calm my breathing and concentrate on relaxing. For this reason, I always start out with lighter, more cautious stretches, then progress gradually to the more extreme positions. And like magic, ten minutes later I feel great, having returned to my high-kicking full mobility.

Now, while high kicks may not be in the cards for you, you can still successfully apply this same principle to your stretching. All too often, people cut off their stretching session when their muscles haven't even begun to open up, and then wonder why they're not seeing any changes in their flexibility! The key is to perform each stretch a minimum of three times. The first time is essentially just a warm-up; you're introducing your muscle to the position, getting a feel for how tight it is, and beginning the process of breathing through the stretch. The second time around is when you start to improve upon the quality of the stretch, and increase the duration of it. You should start to see a little improvement from the first time you assumed the stretch, but you're still not finished. The THIRD time is when the real benefit kicks in. This is when you want to extend the stretch -- both time-wise and position-wise -- to the maximum point your body is capable of comfortably holding. THIS is how you make progress with your stretching, and this is how to best encourage a swift recovery from your workouts.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

A little yoga....and then a smoking break???

What a strange thing to see. I went to the gym to do some running and strength training, and managed to stumble upon the same person -- a tall, blond young woman -- three times during the course of my visit. The first was in in the locker room; our lockers happened to be in close proximity. I noticed she was carrying a yoga mat, and with my brilliant powers of deduction (being a yoga teacher gives you all kinds of special talents), assumed she was probably on her way to one of the yoga classes there. Indeed she was, for about an hour later, I happened to glance inside the group fitness classroom as I walked past, and there she was, one of the throngs of mind-body revelers.

But the celebration of posture-meets-deep-breathing would not be long lived, for I then showered and changed, glanced at my watch and scurried to my car, but not without noticing the same tall, blond young yogette, standing on the sidewalk -- yes, that's the sidewalk right in front of the fitness center building, slouching, and casually smoking a cigarette as she chatted vacantly with a friend, her yoga mat still slung over her shoulder.

I'm going to hazard a guess that "Because I heard it gives you a good butt" is the more likely reason this one is enrolled in the class, versus "To improve my health and well-being."

Do you suppose her lungs appreciate irony?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

How I Do It: The Splits

People are always asking, "How do you do that?" when they see me stretching or contorting. So I thought I'd offer a basic explanation on one of the more common stretches, the splits. Basically, it's a matter of being able to fuse two other stretches together:

The Dancer.....

.....and Seated Hand to Foot (or "Archer 2"):

Once you get comfortable doing these stretches independently, you then try to perform them (in essence) simultaneously, which voila! results in the splits -- your one leg is being extended 90 degrees behind you, your other leg 90 degrees in front of you. Easier said than done, but that's how it works!