Training Twists and Turns on the Way to the Balkans

My “about me” page of this blog, which I wrote back in 2014, describes me as a “mid-50s” person. Born in 1961 and about to turn 58, I’m hoping I still qualify. But one of the things I’ve noticed as I take this journey from swamp to summit – which started when I was 50 – is the subtle or not so subtle changes in my training activities over the ages. Some due to sheer boredom. Some, unfortunately, due to years, painful as that is to admit.


When I first embarked on this journey, I was a regular yoga attendee, both Bikram and what I call “regular” yoga, two to three times a week. Then we decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2011 for my 50th birthday and it became clear yoga alone wasn’t going to get me to the top of that mountain.  Hence, my now famous office building stair climbing regime. That’s the one thing that’s remained constant, even though my office has moved to a different floor and side of the building, which mysteriously is one extra floor in height.


But the rest of it? Not so consistent. After our experience climbing Mt. Elbrus, I realized I needed way more heavy duty cardio. (See Steps on the Summit for our adventures on Europe’s highest peak.) Thus, I swallowed my disdain for running and embarked on a regime of a long (I worked my way up to 6-7 miles) run once a week, combined with a treadmill 5K at least once a week. But then my Wednesday yoga class was pushed to an earlier time and it became well nigh impossible to fit in a 5k between work and yoga. And then, after Stok Kangri, I realized I was all out so bored with running I couldn’t stand it, not to mention I was starting to obsess over my pace to the point it was becoming really stressful. Thus, my invention of the walk – run.  Letting Up the Pressure – Running and Walking Through the Holidays – memorializes this latest training technique!

Bikram fell victim to the closing of the studio (which probably wasn’t helped by Bikram’s own fall from grace). Although I still love it, and there are a few classes here and there, the times are terrible, so I rarely make it. Instead I’ve picked up Barre to accompany my yoga classes. Of course, I do it at the Y, so there’s no real barre and we have to use chairs. I can only imagine what we look like to onlookers as we plié and relevee clinging onto the backs of our chairs.

Weights have been an off and on thing. Right now they are on – I learned after Kilimanjaro that the only way to strengthen your knees is to strengthen your quads and I think there is going to be a high need for strong knees in Albania’s Accursed Mountains.

But my newest invention is a treadmill variation that I discovered while watching mountaineer and photographer Cory Richards’ training regime on Instagram. He put the treadmill on its highest 15% setting, strapped on a heavy pack, and proceeded to walk uphill for hours at about 2.8 miles an hour, not holding on. At that incline, if you tried going any faster without holding on you’d probably fall off. Now, my dirty little treadmill secret had been that I was a “holder”. I reasoned it was all about the legs, right? But when I tried Cory’s technique , sans pack, no hands, I suddenly realized I was actually using a whole different set of muscles – and they were the ones you use on a real live mountain.

So I guess the whole point of this is ebb and flow and just go with the tide, to keep the metaphor going. Training is going to change depending on your age, the boredom factor, and where you’re going. I tend to be a creature of habit; at least I’ve learned a bit of flexibility on my swamp to summit journey.


Chained To My Fitbit


It looks a bit like I’m under house arrest and am required to wear an electronic monitoring device.  A one inch band of synthetic material wrapped around my non-dominant wrist, topped with a large rectangular watch face. A few weeks ago, my firm started reimbursing everyone $100 for the cost of a Fitbit, as long as you promised to participate in one unspecified company “challenge” in a year and generally to be a healthy person. It was unclear exactly how the latter was to be implemented, but given the difficulty of enforcement, the risk of breach didn’t seem too great, and the lure of $100 quite strong.

So now a considerable number of attorneys and staff alike at my office are roaming the hallways, eyes on their devices, exchanging updates on their latest step counts. You can’t tell if they actually have a destination in mind, or are just adding to their steps.  I’ll be curious to see what the correlation is between increased steps and billable hours.

As for me, I couldn’t resist splurging on the Surge. It is the top level Fitbit, and not only counts steps and floors, but also monitors heart rate, your sleep cycle, and tracks exercise, ranging from running (it has a GPS tracker) to yoga. I tried the running tracker yesterday for a four mile run and compared it to Map My Walk – they were almost identical, so it seems the accuracy is pretty good. I also loved the fact I didn’t have to run with my phone in hand as I could glance down at any point and see my pace, time and distance.

I’m about to try the Fitbit at yoga – we’ll see. I’m not quite sure what it’s going to track. Number of sun salutations? Downward dogs?

I also wore it climbing stairs  the other day.  Every 25 floors or so I got a cheery email from the Fitbit people awarding me a new badge. At 125 floors I received the Roller Coaster. I climbed 140, so I’m guessing I need to do 150 to see what comes next. Maybe the Big Eye?

I’ve found the Fitbit at night is a little distracting. As a restless sleeper, I have woken a couple of times with the imprint of the buckle mashed into my wrist and have had to change arms. But it’s still interesting in the morning to have information like “moved 11 times” in a two hour period.

The strangest thing about my electronic bracelet is at all times to have access to information about my own body that was previously the province only of my body and not in any way the business of my brain. But now those mysteries are revealed. You can check at any given time just exactly what makes your heart beat a little stronger. Who know the effect on the dating industry.

Narcissism? Helpful for training? Increasing the scientific understanding of your own body? Maybe a little of all the above. But, as I try to figure out the next mountain summit, I figure I can use all the help I can get.

Let It Go, Flow


Apologies to Paul Simon for the title (“never look back, Jack”). I’ve been writing an account of our trip to Iceland in early March – a travelogue of driving adventures, Nordic history, and stunning scenery. But all good sagas need intermissions – a time to break out the mead (or whatever it is the Vikings drank), roast some lamb (or whatever they ate) – and just generally sit around the fire and stare at the sky.

And so it is with my Nordic epic. I started this blog almost a year ago because I thought it would be the simplest way to share our then upcoming trip to Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains with everyone who had expressed interest. But I rapidly discovered that I was getting something else out of it entirely – a chance to write outside of the tightly constrained boundaries of legal writing (my profession) and an opportunity to speak in what I like to think of as a more authentic voice.

Yet I can’t escape my Type A tendencies. As I faced writing this weekend about our final days in Iceland, I realized, “I really don’t feel like writing about that now.” And you know what? I don’t have to. I have to fight the impulse to turn everything into a homework assignment for myself, making this blog just one more weekly deadline to add to the numerous and all pervasive deadlines I deal with on a daily basis.

I’m a really disciplined person, in most ways. It’s what has enabled me to climb these mountains even though I started at age 50, and I’m soon to be 54. It takes a lot of will to climb up and down the world’s most boring staircase between two and four times a week almost every week since April 2010. No, I’m not kidding.

But it’s one thing to be disciplined and another thing to let it enslave you. The discipline of making myself write at least once a week here is one thing. But it’s another thing to feel I have got to write Part 4 of Iceland when I don’t feel like it, even when there’s no court or client demanding I do so. And it’s also another thing to feel compelled to publish this on a Sunday simply because I’ve arbitrarily imposed that internal deadline on myself.

So today I’m going to go with the flow. I did do my stairs today (in fact I wore my mountaineering boots and I’m sure I looked even more peculiar than usual), but I’m going to press publish tonight. Even though it’s Friday.

And how about you? How do you keep from turning things that are optional into obligations?


Training Up on the Roof


Up on the roof - with hibiscus below
Up on the roof – with hibiscus below

In passing, I’ve previously mentioned a fear of heights – in fact, it played a role in the decision not to climb the Grand Teton. I’ve downplayed it to avoid the inevitable queries about why someone with any such concern would decide mountain climbing was for them. But occasionally that fear rears its head again, like the proverbial dragon waking up in its cave. And I realize that each time I set off for a new summit, vertical drops provide their own very special form of challenge (or torture).  It goes back to kindergarten when on my way to the second floor of the building I somehow slipped between the steps of the fire escape style metal staircase, just catching myself before I fell. I was a skinny child. I didn’t say much to anyone about it, but I remember it to this day.

Year later, when I was about 13, my family made a trip to Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, where my father walked my brother and me over the swinging bridge that crosses a gorge several hundred feet below. I still have never told anyone how completely paralyzed I felt on that bridge, but one of my repeated anxiety dreams (aside from the one where you have to take an exam in a class that you forgot to attend) is of being on a high, narrow bridge with no rails, unable to move forward or back.

So, yesterday when my husband (now known as J) and I decided the time had come to clean the skylights on our house, I clambered up the ladder after him. (The roof really is a bit steeper than the photo shows.)  As soon as I put my foot down on the sloping roof every fear I’d had was triggered – what in the world would prevent me from simply sliding right back down and onto the patio below. I started to think about the angles of Cotopaxi – and, if we do it, Chimborazo – and thought, well, if you’re having a hard time on your own roof top you aren’t going to do very well there. So I took a deep breath, trusted in the grip of my tennis shoes, and bribed myself with the promise of the great view I would have of the neighborhood and everyone else’s backyards.

And it worked. By the time we were done I was skipping around on the roof – if not like a mountain goat at least like one of those mules that go up and down the Grand Canyon.

But, you know what? Last night I still dreamed about walking on a narrow ledge at the very top of a multi-level mall. I had to hold on to some sort of rope and half way along the ledge drop one rope and pick up another. I did really well on one side of the mall, but when I had to cross the ledge on the other side, I found myself saying to the anonymous, but stern, guides, I’d just prefer to do this tomorrow.

Still some work to be done before Cotopaxi!




Training to train.

Four years ago, when I started to train to climb Kilimanjaro, I encountered the same problem facing anyone who lives in Florida and hopes to climb a mountain – how do you train to go up? As I worked (and work) in a 16 floor office building the answer seemed obvious – simply climb the stairs.

I started out in a basic fashion. I simply changed my work shirt for a t shirt, found the door to the fire stairs and started up. As my office is on the 10th floor there was some calculation as to how to count floors 10 to 16 (ultimately I decided that was half a set of the building but I could count a full set if I finished with 1 to 10). I spent a long time wondering if a 16 floor building is really 15 and not 16 floors because you start at 1, not zero.

As my number of sets of the building increased so did my methods for stair climbing. First, I realized an hour on the stairs really required a full change of clothes. Second, just keeping track of how many times you went up and down was difficult. So, I started a routine I keep to this day: set 1 – every step, 2 – every other step, 3 – alternate flights of every and every other. I’m presently refining the succeeding sets so they involve flights of side steps, every other, and yes, even walking backwards.

I’ll leave for another post scintillating topics such as: adding weight as you get closer to the actual climb, “how to read and respond to work emails while climbing stairs,” and how to explain to the security guard in your building that “no you are not a homeless person with a backpack who snuck into the fire staircase.”

But now it’s time to go off for what may be one of our last super long hikes before leaving for Mt. Elbrus. Happy Saturday!