Timber City Adventure Race Challenge - It's Almost Here!

So here it is. Just days before the big race. I have learned so much getting ready. I will be writing a column on the race for Saturday’s paper, but I wanted to update you on some of the coolest workouts I learned from Erica Barker, my awesome trainer at the Maquoketa YMCA.


The bosu ball is a challenging but fun way to put a new twist on some tried and true exercises. If you don’t know what a bosu ball is, you’ll have to Google it to get a good picture. You stand on a curved, bouncy ball set into a platform. You can use hand weights or a resistance band, for example, and the extra effort of doing routine exercises while also trying to keep your balance on the ball helps with core strength and balance. It’s also a way to add variety to your workout. One of my favorite things to do is stand on it and play catch with Erica using a six pound weighted ball. She throws it straight at me, to my left and to my right – it really helps develop more coordination.


I’ve written about the TRX straps before, and while the workouts about kill me, I find I keep wanting more of this one. The exercise system was developed for the Navy SEALS. The straps are located in the corner of the cardio room at the YMCA. They are pretty simple looking but they are brutal. You basically use your own body weight while suspending yourself by hanging onto the strap handles. You can do planks, squats, lunges, chest flys, chest presses, tricep curls and so much more. There are some posters on the wall behind the straps that show you how to do the exercises, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask Erica or another Y staff member to demonstrate. They feel awkward to use at first, but give them a time or two and you’ll get comfortable. They will make you sore in muscles you didn’t know you had. They also will raise the bar on form. You have to really focus on correct form to keep your balance. You will get major results from this workout. I am pledging to do it at least once a week after the race is over.


Intervals, we all hate them. However, as I did a 17-mile bike ride last week (including the 14-mile Timber City course), I thanked Erica in my mind over and over again for making me do them on a stationary bike. For weeks she’s been having me do a series on the bike where I warm up a few minutes, pedal at the highest resistance I can handle for two minutes, go right into a one minute sprint at a middle resistance, and then a two-minute recovery. Then I do it all over again two more times. The biking portion of the race is the part I’m most worried about because I’m terrible at hills. Like I sometimes get off the bike and walk terrible. So, I was so pleasantly surprised when I did the trial ride outside and didn’t have to stop once. Special thanks to Erica for her training and to Dena Ochoa who rode the route with me and encouraged me along the way.


Last week Erica emailed me and said she had a surprise workout for me. She didn’t tell me what it was so I couldn’t look it up. The element of surprise! It’s called “Spartacus,” and it was the hardest workout I have done yet in my race preparation. My legs felt like Jell-O, my arms like noodles and my heart was pumping. I was drenched in sweat and several times I gritted my teeth and reached way down into that well of resolve I didn’t know I had. What was interesting about this workout was it looked pretty simple on paper. I underestimated it though. You do a series of 10 exercises ranging from lunges to squats and curls and pushups. I used a 10-pound hand weight for some of the exercises. What makes it challenging is you do each exercise for one minute with only a 15 second break in between exercises. So, while you are building strength, you are also getting cardio because your heart rate really gets going. One of the hardest exercises, which didn’t use a weight, was mountain climbers. A minute of them seemed an eternity. A few months ago, I honestly would not have made it halfway through this workout. Last week I did it twice with bosu ball work between the two sets. It hurt. I was drenched in sweat. A few times I was ready to say, “I can’t.” But I did. And it felt great. Thanks Erica!


I’ll post again after the race and let you know how it went. Thanks for reading!










I’m back!

It’s been three weeks since I’ve posted on here, and it’s been a whirlwind of activity You all know what I’m talking about – life as usual. We’ve bought a house, made some weekend trips with friends or to visit family and are working long hours.  But despite the busyness, I have been working out regularly. I think I have formed a HABIT. Yay!

Some major milestones have occurred the past few weeks. The Big One: I planked for two whole minutes!! Erica gets credit for this because just as I was about to put my knees down she said, “No, no, no! Don’t put your knees down. Press through your fists, strong core. You can do it! And I did!  She was telling me about when she was training to be a CX instructor how she had to hold a plank an entire song. That’s pretty crazy. I loved what she said next: “If you can do that, you can do anything.”

So true. The mental strength I’ve gained from working out has been one of the benefits I didn’t anticipate. The workouts I do with Erica are challenging, and I’ll admit there I times I think I’d like to just collapse on the floor and tell her “No more.” But each time I finish one, I gain some resolve. I know that will help me in the race.

Another breakthrough was I did a five-mile run outside on Sunday. I haven’t been able to break the three-mile mark on a run since I started training two months ago. I know that running a 5K (3.1 miles) in the Timber City Adventure Race will be much easier if I go over that distance in my training runs sometimes. It’s a mental thing for me. Because the run is the last of the three events in the race and I’ll be tired, I know if I can tell myself, “You got this. You know you can run five miles and this is only three.”

I’ve done some really cool new workouts that I’ll write about next week. And I promise it will be next week! But now I want to share some advice from my nutrition coach Kara Moss. I asked her for some tips on healthy snacks. I know that’s a challenge for a lot of us, especially since processed bags of chips, high-sugar mixes and other highly processed, empty calorie options are tempting us.

Here’s what Kara had to say:

It’s a lot easier to make the better choice the night before when packing a lunch than when you are at the drive-thru and really hungry. She reminded me not to forget to pack some healthy snacks for between meals to tied me over if needed

Think protein and fruit ( apple + peanut butter, grapes + cheese, dried cranberries + almonds, cottage cheese + pineapple). All wonderful suggestions, and pretty easy to do.

Have a great week everyone!





What a week! I pushed my body to new limits, and despite being really sore for a few days, it feels GREAT!! Erica had a surprise for me when I arrived for my personal fitness session Wednesday. She introduced me to the TRX suspension trainers, which are the black and yellow straps hanging in the corner of the cardio room by the pool.


As many times as I’ve been in the cardio room or walked around the indoor track, I never noticed these babies. They looked pretty mild-mannered. When Erica told me they were developed and are used by the NAVY Seals, I got a little worried. My verdict after the workout? The straps are brutal if you use them right, but they are also an AWESOME workout.  


I used muscles I didn’t even know I had, and I had to concentrate hard on form. Once again, I am hear to say that Erica keeps me honest when it comes to form and effort, and I love her for it  – at least when it’s all over ;-) With TRX straps, you basically do a series of exercises that use your own body weight. I did three different arm exercises, 20 of each, no stopping in between, and I did that whole series three times. I did the same pattern with the leg exercises. The Erica had me hop on the bike for 10 minutes of interval training in the time I had left. I felt like a puddle when I was done.


On Thursday and Friday, I groaned every time I walked down stairs or had to bend my legs to sit down. But I could tell I’d taken things to a new level. Erica said it would be okay to do this workout every other day or so. I haven’t done a repeat of the workout yet, but I will in the next few days. I took it a little easier with the workouts after TRX, incorporating a zumba class with Vanessa on Friday and yoga with Nancy and Dena on Thursday and Saturday. Those were great, fun and relaxing alternatives, and my muscles were thanking me.


I hit the road again on Sunday, running intervals outside for two miles and then pushing my limits again in the CX WORX class with Brielle. The CX WORX class focuses on your core, and it’s 30 minutes of nonstop movement that makes your muscles REALLY burn. It’s a great way to get in an intense workout in a short amount of time. I’m finding that everything is easier, whether it’s exercise or just routine daily movements, if you work on building up your core strength. This is a different approach for me, and I’ve learned a lot from Erica about how core strength is the root of all good form. I used to do a ton of cardio when I was in the workout mode. Now that I’m 48, I am thinking a lot more about what I want to be able to do in the next 20 or 30 years. I want to be healthy and strong. We women hear so much about decreasing bone density and muscle loss, but there are so many things we can do to keep those things at bay and have fun while doing it. Something to think about…. 


It’s been two weeks since my last post, and I hope you are all hanging in there with me! If you haven’t signed up for the Timber City Adventure Race yet, there’s still time! I would love to hear from you if you are planning on participating in the race, or even if you’re not ;-) I got a little sidetracked from writing lately due to some visiting family and a change in my work schedule. The good news: I managed to keep up with my workouts. The bad news: My new schedule has me on the road a little bit and working longer hours. That’s the lethal combination that drives me to the drive-thru because it’s quick, easy. And when I am feeling stressed, I crave grease and unhealthy foods. I’ll be writing more about how I’m dealing with that next week. But for now, I am being kind to myself, drinking lots of water and finding some healthy snacks that are delicious, like almonds, Greek yogurt, snap peas.


Until next time!



Timber City Adventure Challenge Week Three


Woohoo!  Major breakthroughs after three weeks of regular exercise and cleaning up my diet. I’m feeling the changes in my body, and I like them. My clothes are slightly looser, but more importantly I am feeling strong. It is amazing what the work on my core has done for my posture in just three weeks. I am reaping the benefits of CX WORX, step and strength, and the stability ball classes at the YMCA. I added yoga to the mix today, taking a class with Nancy. It was a great and relaxing way to end the week, especially since stretching is something I’ve sometimes cut corners on, and her class incorporated a lot of stretching. I’m becoming a big believer in adding all these elements to my cardio workouts. I have more energy than I have felt in a year and a half. For many months after surgery for breast cancer last year, I often felt exhausted after minor activities. I would find myself getting through the day sometimes only by thinking about how many more minutes it was until I could take a nap. I wondered if I would ever have pep in my step again. The pep is creeping back in, slowly but surely.


Erica’s workout for me this week did a lot to boost my confidence about being able to complete the Timber City Adventure Race in June. She had me do a mini-version of the race – rowing, biking and running consecutively for an hour. I was drenched in sweat when it was over, but it felt great mentally and physically to complete all three tasks. I warmed up on the rowing machine for five minutes. Then I alternated intense two-minute bursts of rowing with an exercise that simulated the rowing motion I would use while kayaking. Erica had me hold a 6-pound medicine ball, and while sitting on the rowing machine with my knees bent, I held the ball in front of my chest and then moved it in a figure eight pattern, dipping it down to alternating hips and coming back to the center. Then, I hoped on the bike, and did an intense interval workout. The bike still remains my biggest challenge, and I am trying hard to really push myself during the workouts. I finished with a 20-minute run at a relaxed but steady pace on the treadmill. Can’t wait to see what Erica will dream up for me next week – she is quite creative!


When I met with Kara the week before last, we went over a three-day sampling of my diet. I ended up recording a few meals in which I was very lax in what I chose to eat. The good news is I generally eat a wide variety of foods, and I always eat three meals a day plus snacks. I love vegetables of all kinds, as well as fruit. Portion control is one of my problems, especially if I have a pizza in front of me. And, since moving to Iowa, I’ve been eating out more than I normally do. While most restaurants have healthy options, willpower to order those options is an issue for me.


We talked about the importance of taking in enough calories when you are working out regularly. I think my instinct is to eat less when I’m eating healthy. But because I’ve really ratcheted up my activity level, the opposite is true. I am trying to listen to my body and not let myself get too hungry by having regular snacks – usually mid-morning and mid-afternoon. I really like plain Greek yogurt, so I buy the single-serve containers for a snack. I also really like string cheese and almonds. I have to count out the suggested serving amount for the almonds, otherwise I’d eat the whole bag.


Kara gave me some handouts from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics titled “Fueling Distance Runners” and “Fueling Cyclists.” The big takeaway after I read them – carbohydrates are our friend, contrary to some of the fad diets that get a lot of buzz.  

“People have a bad view on carbs,” Kara said. “It’s a misconception that they will be converted into fat. They are what give you energy.”

In fact, they are what provide the majority of fuel for our brain and muscles. Both handouts said that for people training for running and cycling, “Carbohydrate should make up most of your diet.”

As Kara pointed out, not all carbohydrates are created equally. Refined carbs – what I would call the sweet-tooth category  – includes cakes and cookies and things like specialty coffee drinks (mochas are my favorite). They should not be a big source of your carbohydrate intake, she said. High-quality carbs include such foods as whole grain breads and cereals, rice, pasta, starchy vegetables, whole or dried fruit and low-fat milk and yogurt, according to the Academy.

And don’t forget to include lean protein and healthy fats in your diet.

Good luck on your journey! See you next week.


Timber City Adventure Challenge Week Two Update


Week Two of training is over, and I’m feeling a little sore – but in a good way. I feel muscles that I didn’t even know I had. Thanks to Erica, I experienced two new workouts last week. For our one-on-one training session, I started with an intense workout on a stationary bike at the Y.  After a short lesson on how to increase and decrease the tension on the pedals, I did an interval workout that simulated a course with flat stretches where I pedaled at an easier rate with little tension to brutal hill climbs that required me to stand up on the pedals and give it everything I had to keep going. It was hard – like I was dying going up some of the hills – but gratifying. I really felt like I’d done something by making it through. Erica shared with me that the bike is her favorite workout.  The bike portion of the race is the part I’m most scared of, but I can see that doing this training regularly will build my confidence. I felt it the next several days in my legs and some in my arms and shoulders. After the bike workout, we hit the rowing machines and did a 15-minute series of intervals. While I’ve used the rowing machine before, I never did a workout on it in an organized way. 


The most important thing I learned last week was that using the correct form matters. When I was on the bike and using the rowing machine, Erica coached me on making adjustments to my form. When I made them, I could tell a difference in how my body felt – I could actually feel the different muscles that I was using. Proper technique lets you get the most out of the workout, and it also helps you avoid injury. I used to think doing more of an activity, like push ups, or going longer at something with sloppy form was more important than doing things the right.  Not so readers, not so.


Meanwhile, I’ve been on a short vacation in New Orleans. I am happy to report that I have worked out every day that I’ve been here in the small gym at my hotel. I’ve done some running, biking, elliptical machine, free weights and stability ball exercises. The fact that I give Erica a list of my activities when I see here each week motivated me to take the time to exercise.


Coming later this week, Kara gave me some tips on reading labels and some information on eating to fuel certain activities. Have a great week!

March 13, 2015

Timber City Adventure Race Challenge Week One Update

Week One of my training for the June 20 Timber City Adventure Race is complete! Have you decided to join me on this journey yet? There’s plenty of time to get ready!!


I made it through my first one-on-one training session at the Maquoketa YMCA with Erica, who is very cool and very fit. I am sore, but it went great! The personal attention is good for me because I am inherently lazy. I can’t just coast by under Erica’s watchful eye, and I feel more accountable about putting maximum effort into my workouts.


First, she had me do an endurance test, which consisted up stepping up and down on a step platform for three minutes. Then I sat down and took my pulse for a minute. When measuring your pulse, slower is better for your resting heart rate. The important thing, Erica pointed out, is that we will now have a record of my heart rate. After I train for a while, we’ll do this test again and see if there is improvement. Wednesday my resting pulse was 90 beats, which put me slightly above average for my age (which is 48).


Next was a strength test. Erica showed me the proper form to do a bent knee push up. Not that I do pushups much, but I learned I have been doing them all wrong for years. You should keep your toes on the ground – it sure makes it harder. Also, keep your eyes focused on a point on the ground a few feet ahead of you so your head isn’t bent down. I could barely, and I mean barely, do eight pushups like this. And, I was really sore the next day. I came in under average for my age group, so I have my work cut out for me.


Then we hit the treadmill, and Erica put me through a series of intervals using a concept called “perceived exertion.”  On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the easiest pace for me and 10 being the hardest (like you almost can’t keep going) pace for me, she would tell me what level to run at for a certain number of minutes at a time. I got a one-minute easy pace (2 or 3, which is a walk for most of us) break in between each faster-paced run. The runs got progressively harder, ending with a one-minute stretch where my pace was a 10. Erica walked on the treadmill beside me and coached me. I LOVED that. The 30 minutes went surprisingly quick, and I felt like I put in real effort.


In the week prior to seeing Erica on Wednesday, I had run three miles and walked one mile on two different days (once outside and once at the Y), road the stationary bike for six miles one day, took a step and strength class with Ruth at the Y, took a stability ball class with Monica at the Y, did a yoga video at home and rested two days. Erica said I was on the right track after looking at my record. She said I’ll need to focus some more on upper body strength activities, which will help with the kayaking and biking portions of the race in particular. She also suggested doing a half-hour core class (CX WORX) a couple of times a week. If I can’t make the classes at the Y, she’ll teach me the exercises during one of our sessions.

I told her I’m particularly worried about the biking part of the race. I am NOT a strong biker. I always feel like I’m working twice as hard as everyone else in a group ride just to keep up. She suggested driving the bike route so I can get a feel for the course. (Chris Nissen, the race organizer, told me the first quarter mile is an uphill climb – YIKES!) Next week, Erica is going to work with me on the bike.


Erica’s quick tip for this week: Build a couple of rest days into your weekly workout schedule. Working out hard every day will make you tired mentally and physically; plus, you’re muscles need 24 hours to recover from a workout. Resting them properly will help make you stronger.


So as for the nutrition portion of my journey, I need to get a little more serious. While I love chocolate, I don’t have too much trouble keeping dessert to an occasional indulgence. My bigger challenge is fried, fatty foods like cheese sticks, pizza and French fries. And coffee. And the occasional glass of red wine. Love them, but I really need to scale back on them. I can see that as I ramp up the exercise, I am going to have to put better fuel into my body.


Next Tuesday, I’ll meet with Kara and give her my written list of what I’ve eaten for three consecutive days. I’ll be honest, I’ve been putting this list off all week off because I’ve had a few days where I’ve been really bad about eating healthy. So, I think, “I’ll start my list tomorrow.” And I resolve to have three really healthy eating days. Time to bite the bullet as I am running out of days to record. Kara assures me she has seen it all, so my diet won’t shock her too much.


In the meantime, here are some tips from Kara for battling cravings or unhealthy snacking:


1. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind – Keep unhealthy snacks out of reach and

hidden on the top shelf of the cupboard or pantry. Make healthy foods

like fruits and vegetables available at your finger tips – either cut-up,

ready-to-go in the fridge, or keep fruit on the counter in the kitchen

where you can see it.


2. Control your portions – Buy already portioned snacks or portion out

your own homemade snacks. This will help keep you from overeating and

it's easier to determine a stopping point.


3.  Remind yourself – leave the wrappers from candies or chocolate in

sight on top of the counter or desk or next to the candy dish instead of

throwing them in the garbage. Seeing the empty wrappers is a good visual

of how many you have already eaten that day.


4. Plan ahead – If you normally get cravings late at night or between

meals, think about when you had your last meal. Did you skip lunch or

have an early dinner? Eat regular meals and eat a single snack between

meals to avoid getting ravenously hungry later.


5. Don't restrict yourself – Treat yourself regularly. If we don't allow

ourselves to have dessert or snacks, we will over indulge later. Choose

healthy foods most of the time, but allow yourself to have a small treat

often to avoid having a weak moment.

Timber City Adventure Race Challenge

You’re here! Thanks for checking in for the inaugural installment of the Timber City Adventure Race Challenge blog.

I want to tell you a little bit more about the two coaches who will be helping us out on our fitness journey to get ready for the big day June 20.

My first one-on-one training session with Erica Barker is Wednesday afternoon. Until then, I am easing into working out by doing a light mix of cardio on the treadmill and stationary bike, some stretching and a weekly step and strength class. I am really excited to work with Erica. She is a certified personal trainer and the health and wellness director at the Maquoketa YMCA. She moved here in 1997 from Rhode Island to open up a dance studio, which she operated for years. She became a zumba instructor in 2010 and began teaching dance at the YMCA in 2012 before moving into her current role. She has a background in theater and music (which I hope I will get a preview of in our training sessions), and she continues to do work as a choreographer.

The YMCA has many options for people to work out, whether it’s a group class, exercising on your own in the cardio and weight rooms, walking the indoor track, taking part in group training or one-on-one training and a 5K preparation running club that’s starting up later this month among other activities. Check out the Y’s website, call or stop by to talk to with a staff member about available activities. www.maqymca.org.

Kara Moss got interested in nutrition when she ran cross country and played soccer in high school at North Scott in Eldridge. She noticed how what she ate affected her performance. She started bringing her lunch from home to school so she could eat healthier. It sparked her interest in cooking and the science of food. After studying engineering for a year at Iowa State University, she decided to switch to dietetics and nutrition. She is a registered dietician at Jackson County Health Center, where she works in diabetes education, medical nutrition therapy and nutrition assessment. She has experience in several different settings besides healthcare, including restaurants and grocery stores. Next week, I’ll be giving Kara a sample of my diet for three days so she can assess how I’m doing and make suggestions for changes. She is really interesting to talk with about food and diet. Just knowing she’s going to be looking at my list of foods is giving me a little more willpower to resist the high-fat foods I lean toward sometimes (like pizza and French fries). However, I do plan on going to a fish fry tonight!


Erica’s Quick Tip: Make a plan of attack for your workouts.
“It’s totally achievable to get ready for this race if you’re starting now. Be specific in what activities you’ll be doing to get ready for the race – running outside or on the treadmill, biking, working on upper body strength.”

Kara’s Quick Tip: Eat three meals a day plus snacks.
“It’s a struggle for some people to eat three meals a day with some snacks. Snacks aren’t bad if they are healthy choices. You want to make sure you are taking in enough calories if you are working out.”

Comments: 3 (Discussion closed)
  • #1

    Brielle Reicks (Thursday, 09 April 2015 12:55)

    Nancy, I just caught up on your blog- thanks for sharing this adventure with us! I'm excited to see how the Adventure Race goes for you, sounds like your training is going great! :)

  • #2

    Brielle (Friday, 17 April 2015 09:31)

    I love seeing the progress in your strength and endurance as the weeks go on!! Thanks for coming to CX, you rocked it; you inspired me to set up a time to try the TRX straps. :) Looking forward to your "food" post!

  • #3

    Dena Ochoa (Tuesday, 26 May 2015 21:06)

    Anxious to read about when you first experience coming off of the bike (14mi) and going right into your run. That's the part I have struggled with the most in the past with any tri/duathlon/adventure race--convincing my legs, fresh off the bike, that they are no longer in spin mode and need to stretch into strides! I usually look like I'm trying to on run on the moon or wading in thick mud at first, making that transitional movement.



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