Measuring Up.

“How hard can it really be?”

That’s the question that I asked myself this weekend. I was thinking about boot camp.

I’ve had a hard time conveying to people how hard it really is. All I know is that it regularly kicks my ass and I consider myself to be in pretty decent shape. I have more muscle mass than most women my size and I’m a runner. I specialize in endurance.

So how hard can it really be? How does it stack up?

Is it harder than my final leg in last year’s Hood to Coast relay? No. Mostly because running 8 miles uphill in afternoon sun on little sleep and questionable nutrition is brutal (and kind of stupid, too). Is it harder than a cyclocross race? No. Not really. Although the more intense days of week four come close.

I can tell you what it IS harder than. It’s harder than running 6 miles at tempo and it’s harder than cycling 35 miles at 17mph. It’s harder in a more intense and more focused way. It’s 45 minutes of super agonizing muscle-searing burn. And it manages to kick your cardio ass all at the same time.

I’m a numbers person. I like proof. I enjoy statistics. I take measurements. I analyze data and make adjustments. I like to have evidence of what is actually going on, not just what I perceive to be going on.

So today I wore my heartrate monitor to class to see if I could get a better handle on exactly what was going on. It was a good day to do the experiment – Daniel came out swinging with what he called “a doozy”.

I’ll tell you that for the most intense 35 minute portion of class I was working at 80-85% of my max HR with short, 30-second-or-so rest periods in which I was able to recover to about 70% before ramping it back up. (Disclaimer: I’ve determined my max heartrate based on general guidelines and averages, not specific tests, so these numbers aren’t 100% accurate). At 80-85% effort I could expect to be doing a tempo run – maybe 4-6 miles at an 8:10-8:20 pace. Consider staying in that heart rate zone all while doing squats, shoulder presses, lunches, push-ups, burpees (yes, burpees! he’s insane), jump rope intervals, curls, rows, and very intense core work.

Voila. Harder and more effective (for body-shaping, fat-burning, and toning anyway) than a fairly hard run. Bringing the heart rate up and down in quick intervals is also key for building fitness and endurance. I can already tell that my recovery time is miles better than it was in January when I started this crazy program.

Now that my ankle is back in relative working order and my lungs are healed after the Monster Flu, I’m starting to hone in again to see if I can bust through this nagging fitness plateau that I’m facing. Progress, now, is going to depend very heavily on nutrition. I’ve known how to eat for a few years now and I’m always relatively good but it’s time for a push. It’s time for a concerted effort.

I started tracking my nutrition again last Saturday and already it’s been incredibly enlightening. Beyond just the basic accountability of having to write down everything I put in my mouth, I can review protein, carbs, calories, and fat at the end of each day and analyze where I need to make adjustments. It’s also pretty interesting to really get a clear view at the nutritional value of foods that I consume. Seemingly harmless things (like Clif’s Nectar Fruit and Nut bars) reveal their true colors. (Clif’s Nectar bars aren’t necessarily bad for you, they’re just high in sugar and carbs. Great for pre-workout, maybe, but not so great as a mid-day “snack” that’s not followed by any significant activity.)

More than anything else, pulling in the reigns on my nutrition has the effect of causing me to be more diligent, goal-oriented, and focused about all other aspects of my life. Re-stating goals in a setting like this, articulating them to friends and family, and reminding myself about the greater “why” help to reinforce the work I’m doing and keep me motivated.

What’s the greater Why?

Unchecked euphoria, rampant self-love, increased longevity and quality of life, better sleep, a sharper mind, increased motivation, and, well, if I’m honest? A faster mile time.

Word.

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