Monday, August 9, 2010

Are you the weakest link in your pack? Before the sled dogs, train yourself!

Early last fall, after a three week hospital stay and a three month stint on antibiotics for a massive internal infection, I emerged from the hospital anemic, weak and super atrophied. I was shocked the first time I routinely tried to hop up the three front steps to my house only to have my leg almost give out on me on the first hop. I felt defeated, frustrated, and depressed.

Because I wasn't able to even return to normal functioning until late September, I launched right into dog training, worrying more about neglecting my dogs' training - and thereby neglecting to train myself. Determined to race despite physical challenges, I completed my first race in January still winded and coughing, but somehow, thanks to my amazing canine athletes, winning 2nd place in my class. But when I ran the Jack Pine 30 in February, I was admittedly the weakest link on my team. I had spent all fall and winter focusing on training the dogs and not training myself.

Forgetting the integral part we play as team members and leaders of our packs is a crucial mistake mushers often make. Here are some basic fitness steps to get you headed in the right direction for fall training.

1. Start where you are
"Serenity comes when you trade expectations for acceptance." Unknown

Face it: rarely is a person happy with their physique or athletic prowess. Accepting where you are physically and working from that is the first step toward meeting new challenges and goals. I started training for fall two weeks ago with a simple cardio workout and some dietary changes. I walk/jog for 40 minutes, followed by a bicycle ride with my kids or some stretching/Pilates. Riding a bicycle mimics the physical activity of running dogs on a sled with short bursts of muscle use and cardio followed by brief rests, so it's a perfect training exercise for mushers.

2. Be natural
I once attended a step aerobics class with a friend. Even though I took dance as a child and adolescent, I felt uncoordinated with the fast, jerky movements and frankly felt like a dork! Why do something that feels unnatural, is a pain inconvenient? Do exercises that feel natural to you.

3. Have fun!
This follows number 2, but it's worth saying: have fun! When we were kids, we ran, jumped, hopped, biked from sun up til sundown and didn't think twice about it...because it was FUN! Find something you enjoy doing - that way you're more likely to stick with it. Some other activities I love that don't feel like exercise to me are kayaking and hiking.

4. Shake your groove thang!
In other words, get some music to pump up your steps and get you moving. I have not only several playlists on my ipod for running dogs, but also "songs for running." I find upbeat, rhythmic tunes really help me stay focused.

5. Add some strength training
Adding in free weights for a small bit of strength training is as crucial in my opinion as cardio when it comes to running dogs. Surprising muscle groups that feel the brunt of running on sleds are the triceps and biceps; therefore, wise is the musher who invests in even a small set of free weights. Otherwise you may be face down in the snow watching your team leaving you in the dust because you were too weak to hang on!

Personally, in addition to physical training, I have simultaneously cut out anything with high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients list and all partially hydrogenated oils With a little focus and determination, I hope to have my strongest season yet on the runners this coming winter. I hope you will too!


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