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My name is John Jaramillo, and I finished the 2018 Chicago Marathon. In other words, I did something that I once deemed impossible to ever accomplish. Let me give you some context around the lack of believability in that endeavor: I grew up the oldest of five children raised by a single mother in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. Exercise and eating healthy were certainly not aspects of focus. Most days it was mere survival.

Some months my mom had to choose between paying the rent and buying groceries, so it didn’t matter what was on the table or in the fridge; most times it was the food that was the most affordable and had the longevity to last more than one day in an environment of five hungry kids. Chips and brownies were prevalent; frozen pizza was a constant.

Growing up - how FFC helped member John finish the Chicago MarathonThe frozen food aisle, not the fresh produce section, was the most visited part of the grocery store. Eating out also became a regular venture as we got older; a couple of jumbo pizzas or trips to got us through when we didn’t know the next time we’d eat. When we did have groceries, our mom made some favorites: tacos, pierogis, tamales, kugela or dishes that warranted seconds. Or, in my case, thirds. Again, uncertainty over the next meal called for padding the plate while I could.

Being a Chicago Public Schools student also didn’t equate to access to the most nutritious meals (at least not in the late ‘80s through the ‘90s). I remember the prepackaged donuts offered at school breakfast that were touted as nutritious. Even the simplest and most basic need was often ignored for filler. Soda was a favorite in our household, and it was more natural for us to go through a few three-liter bottles of RC Cola than remember to hydrate with water.

Exercise? That was usually the walk to school and back. But, with the Bulls in their dynasty years and the Bears garnering significant interest during my youth, I participated more and more in pickup basketball and street football games.

However, most of my prolonged physical activity occurred running from manhole cover to manhole cover, aka the designated end zone lines, to catch passes while dodging parked cars and oncoming traffic. That running was rare, as I preferred catching the shorter passes, requiring a short little “sprint” (or whatever that was called when I attempted it). It was no wonder I was 200 pounds, without the height to carry such weight, in the middle of my teenage years.

Continuing into College

This context carried into my college days. While I gained more interest in walking in order to get around Champaign-Urbana with no car at my disposal, I still didn’t have the most nutritious diet. Pizza and burgers were a constant. My eating got a little better as I took more of an interest in weight training as a junior and senior, but I still had the mindset that cheaper food = a more convenient choice. Cooking beyond pushing buttons on a microwave was still a mystery to me.

Those aspects remained status quo post-college, as my seemingly non-stop work schedule in a college athletic department made me think that I had limited time to work out and eat nutritious meals. Free pizza at basketball games? Count me in. All the weight I lost in college, almost 50 pounds or so, was gained right back. While the weight gain affected my confidence, it was not my biggest concern, as I tried to make an impression with my work ethic and move up the ranks.

Before the change - how FFC helped member John finish the Chicago MarathonCatastrophe to Change

Then something catastrophic happened. One day I arrived home and my mom was not feeling very well. She refused to see a doctor, which was another stubborn trait we all had, and tried to rest off the discomfort. Later that night she stood up and fell to the ground, convulsing right in front of me and my three brothers. I frantically called 911, and paramedics arrived and attempted to resuscitate her as we all stood feeling so helpless.

Our mother suffered a massive heart attack that night, an event that caused her to lay in a coma for more than two weeks before she passed away. I saw her every day during those excruciating weeks, wondering how life changed so suddenly, so brutally. Our mom constantly made difficult choices, like either having to pay rent or feed her kids, at the detriment of her own health.

The context of poor eating continued even after we lost our mom. I was 25 years old, still tentative when turning on a stove. The easier route remained to eat out. Managing everything in the aftermath of that loss felt like another full-time job, so the easier route for eating was traveled with frequency.

Things started to change about a year after our devastating loss. I felt more cognizant of my body and when things felt off, especially with my chest, I didn’t take any chances. I scheduled doctor appointments regularly, especially due to pain. High cholesterol and another internal issue were discovered.

Taking the First Steps to Exercise

My first step toward feeling better was exercise. I became interested in running and started to try out various distances, from 5Ks to the Soldier Field 10 Mile. Friends who shared a similar interest in running would sign up for races, and I would do the same with their encouragement. Running was easy; just put one foot in front of the other. It even helped burn off some of the pizza in my regular meal rotation. I even completed a few half marathons, swearing that was the longest distance I would ever run. A person of my build, with my diet, could never do anything longer than that, I thought.

I moved to Oak Park in 2012, around the time of my running rut. I had been running races during the previous four years, and it became clear that I was not getting any faster or feeling any better as a result of all that running. After researching nearby gyms and hearing from two friends about the FFC on Lake Street, I signed up and gave it a try. I was even given four free personal training sessions with the trainer my friends had seen and highly recommended: Steve Malok.

My first session with Steve was memorable in that I couldn’t finish it. I was huffing and puffing, unable to continue. It was pretty embarrassing for me, yet Steve was calm and understanding. He did not make me feel like I was a failure, even though I felt like it. I had been running all these years and completed a few lifting plans torn from the pages of Muscle and Fitness before; how could I not get through this?

I still had the three more sessions. Steve was willing to keep working with me. I was willing to keep working with him and unwilling to accept that the first session defined my fitness. The next three sessions went well, and Steve asked if I wanted to continue working with him. It was a big decision as, going forward, those were not free sessions. It’s the decision every human being has to make in different ways: do I invest in myself?

Related: do the things you thought you couldn’t. How TriMonster helped 70-years-young Maria finish her first triathlon.

A Valuable Investment

Running the marathon - how FFC helped member John finish the Chicago MarathonI decided this was an investment in myself, and I was not happy with where I was at physically, and I needed guidance to get me to a place where I wanted to be happy with my physical appearance and feeling. At the very least, I wanted to be happy with my effort to change my physical appearance and feeling.

So I started working with Steve once a week. That was all I did at first, and he recommended that I maximize our sessions and my membership by coming in a few times each week. He took time to construct plans, (even when he didn’t have to do it), and showed me how to perform movements on my own. Even though my work schedule was volatile, I made it my mission to maximize my sessions with Steve, my membership at FFC, and my time on this planet by coming in as much as possible. Regular gym visits became much easier to do by learning from Steve and being confident in my ability to do the exercises and proper movements.

I still ate poorly. I remember a Monday morning session with Steve after I had worked all day on Sunday, and he asked me what I ate after work. I slyly said chicken. He asked about the type of chicken dish I had, and of course I had not initially mentioned it was a fried chicken sandwich I picked up from Sonic. I didn’t even bring up the tater tots.

That moment caused me to rethink my eating habits and the barriers to healthier consumption. I knew I needed help and needed to invest in myself when it came to nutrition too. I finally mustered up the courage to ask for that help when I saw Amy Silver last summer. Steve had highly recommended Amy; and she was kind and nonjudgmental from the start.

You Can’t Out-Exercise a Poor Diet

Amy’s advice and information opened my eyes to a much healthier eating approach. I ignored nutrients beyond multivitamin pills. I never cared about the amount of sugar listed on a nutrition label or how I fueled myself before and after workouts. She taught me to think outside of the box (of cookies) and plan out my meals. Just like Steve taught me how to plan out workouts and stay consistent with exercise, Amy helped me evade my usual bag of excuses by providing critical tips on meal preparation, planning and, most importantly, the content of those foods.

I became aware of my ideal calorie intake and more interested in making my own meals. Years of hesitancy over cooking fish became a distant memory as I followed Amy’s initial plan by the letter and stepped out of my comfort zone to cook and eat foods that were foreign to my diet but, eventually, became regular staples. I have lost around 30 pounds and about seven percentage points of body fat since I started the Nutrition Solutions program with Amy. I felt stronger in my workouts and even felt proud with the resulting need to buy pants since I needed a much smaller waist size.

Now, to that marathon thing I mentioned at the start. For a long time, I never believed I would run a marathon. Too daunting. Too long to run. Too much time commitment. I couldn’t possibly run one in a decent time after all of those years of not taking care of myself. There was curiosity in the possibility as I started to run half marathons, but it still seemed unlikely.

Then last year happened.

I attended the Chicago Marathon expo and the atmosphere immersed me in the possibility. I cheered on runners at the 2017 Chicago Marathon and felt the energy all around. I watched Shalane Flanagan win the NYC Marathon and Meb Keflezighi finish his final marathon at that same race. The 26.2 elixir was swishing in my brain.

So I signed up for two race lotteries: the NYC Half and the Chicago Marathon. I ran the NYC Half in 2016, so I thought it would be cool to run it again. I figured that, if I didn’t get into Chicago, I had another race to train for and it would be a sign that I wasn’t meant to run a marathon.

I didn’t get into the NYC Half. I got into the Chicago Marathon. I was shocked, and I was ready to get ready for the biggest physical challenge of my life.

Marathon-Ready

During the race - how FFC helped member John finish the Chicago MarathonSteve and Amy could not have been more supportive. They helped me adjust my training and my nutritional intake to support my new endeavor. I stayed consistent with strength training and mixed in three runs a week, including my weekend long run, in addition to three strength workouts. I upped my calorie and carb intake appropriately. I even completed an RMR test with Amy and a VO2 Max test with Chris Navin, who was quite helpful with his explanation of my test results and providing his own marathon experience and tips.

Rain or shine, I ran. I lifted. I moved around. I ate. I made it all work for me, and I felt like I had a supportive team of experts helping me along the way. The support of the friendly FFC Oak Park staff and fellow members got me through the rigors of the training. From excellent conversations to just a simple “hello” or fist bump after running 18 miles on a hot day, so many people felt like a positive part of my marathon training experience.

Then race day came, and it all came together. I thought of all the support I was lucky to have along the way. The advice I took in. The positivity I experienced. The strength I felt. The fuel I knew I had. Throughout the race I remembered my mom, and how she made things work for her children even in very adverse conditions, and how running this race was a privilege and not even comparable to such difficulties. I felt lucky to feel healthy and in this position as I waited in Corral G. After a brief bout of anxiety as Wave 2 started to cross the starting line, I calmed myself and told myself this should be fun and all of my preparation would make this a piece of cake (not literally, Amy! I swear!).

Running 26.2 miles through the city for the Chicago Marathon was one of the best experiences of my life. I felt surrounded by support, people I knew, people I didn’t know but felt a connection to just by merely being on the same course. I felt this day as a culmination of effort, planning, and changes for the good of my life. I know marathon running can be cruel, but on October 7, 2018, it gave me one of the greatest feelings of my life. I wish I could bottle that feeling up and share it with you.

My goal was to finish in four hours or less, and with a mile left to go, I looked at my watch. I knew that, barring an unexpected hindrance, I was going to be within range of my goal. I pushed through, knowing I had slowed a bit but feeling invigorated that the finish line was near. I stayed steady on “Mt. Roosevelt”, that hill going east on Roosevelt Road that I had run so many times by sidewalk, and to my delight, saw the “400 Meters Left” sign.

Finishing the 2018 Chicago Marathon

I finished the 2018 Chicago Marathon in 3:55.46. After going through a running rut six years ago that brought me down, I felt a sensational high I’d never felt before after crossing that finish line. I knew I would never win this race (congrats, Sir Mo), yet I felt victorious.

I did something that I once deemed impossible for me to ever accomplish. Thanks to the help of multiple people, with special mentions to Steve Malok and Amy Silver, it eventually felt very possible. Now the next challenge awaits, and I can’t wait to make the impossible possible again.

Post written by FFC Oak Park member John Jaramillo. 

Finishing the Chicago Marathon - FFC Oak Park Member John

 

 

Try the best gym in Chicago for free!

I love data. Being in marketing, I love being able to make smart decisions based on numbers and know that the route I’m taking my work has a good likelihood of succeeding. I also am a big fan of nerdy stuff when it comes to fitness and wellness – so naturally I use BOTH my Apple watch and Myzone belt when I work out, use MyFitnessPal to track meals (though, with varying levels of consistency), and mostly stay up-to-date on new trends. So when I learned about the V02 Max test and its ability to measure aerobic ability and also calorie burn related to heart rate, etc., I was pretty excited. I created a list of V02 Max test FAQs based on what was going through my brain during my own test – check them out!

What is a V02 Max test?

According to Korr Medical Technologies, which is an industry-leading company that creates equipment for these tests, VO2 Max is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption that can be attained during the most intense exercise possible. Basically it’s how efficiently your body uses oxygen during exercise.

Who is the VO2 Max test for?

While the VO2 Max test is especially ideal for endurance athletes, marathoners or anyone training for a fitness event, the VO2 Max test is also ideal for anyone who wants to improve their fitness on any level.

Why should I get a V02 Max test?

Not seeing results despite all the work you’re putting in at the gym? This piece of the puzzle can help – for example, I learned that in order to burn fat while exercising, I have to keep my heart rate in a very specific zone and actually was over-exercising for my goals! Do less? … If you say so, data.

 

Related: another similarly surprising truth regarding fitness things you thought you knew a lot about – like your Fitbit. Check out this trainer’s hilarious breakup letter to her Fitbit.

How long does the test take and where can I get a V02 Max test done?

The whole process, from changing into workout clothes, the explanation of the process, short workout, data capture and analysis took about 45 minutes, give or take. Depending on how long you take to get ready, this could easily be done over a lunch hour (however, due to the fasting/ caffeine restrictions listed below, I recommend trying to get it done as early in the morning as possible so you can so you don’t turn into a hangry zombie).

You can get them done many places – Fitness Formula Clubs has a number of metabolic carts (which have the special machine) plus a traveling one that makes its way around to the clubs! The test is $149, and there are other kinds of add-ons and tests (like resting metabolic rate, blood lactate, etc.) you can opt into for additional cost.

Are there special dietary restrictions/fasting for the V02 Max test?

Yes – if you’re getting the basic V02 Max test done, you’ll need to plan to fast for 4 hours before, abstain from caffeine for 6 hours before and rest from any exercise or activity for 24-12 hours before. You can drink room-temperature water up until the test but nothing super cold! And there are different requirements for the other add-ons, so make sure to check with a team member well before your test.

Do I need to shower after the test?

I did, because I got up to a pretty high level of activity… I am essentially a human waterfall. Put frankly, I sweat profusely. So you may want to bring a change of clothes and plan to shower after your test.

What do you wear for the V02 Max test?

Comfortable athletic clothes should do the trick – something you’re not afraid to possibly sweat in, and shoes you can easily run on a treadmill or cycle on a stationary bike in.

Tell me about the weird, Bane-like mask.

The mask is where all the VO2 magic happens and is how the machine is able to measure your oxygen intake and usage. These are just a few questions I had about the mask.

Can I do the test without the mask on?

Nope – the mask is how you obtain the data. It’s actually super cool – it isolates both the oxygen you take in and your carbon dioxide output and then uses a machine to measure the oxygen content.

Does the mask make you feel claustrophobic?

Being honest here, as someone who doesn’t like anything on my face at all, just a little bit. But only when you first put it on – I couldn’t even notice it (aside from being able to see it occasionally when I looked down my cheeks) after the initial set up. And the staff (FFC endurance Coach Chris Navin, in my case) does an amazing job of explaining everything to you and walking you through putting it on.

Can you breathe normally?

Yep! I thought it was going to feel restricted from the looks of it, but you can breathe totally normally when you put it on and when you’re doing the treadmill or cycling portion.

What does the mask smell like?

Basically like a big ‘ole snorkeling mask. It’s fun – I started daydreaming about my next beach vacation.

Does it pinch?

Nope! It took a second to adjust the straps for my face but once we had that done, it was fine!

Do they clean it first?

For all my fellow slightly germaphobic homies out there – they definitely clean it first. Coach Chris has special disinfecting wipes and wipes down the mask/straps/etc. before you put it on.

Running on the treadmill for the VO2 Max test

So you have to run on a treadmill or cycle for how long?

In order to get your oxygen consumption measurements, you have to exercise with the mask on for a certain amount of time, at a graduated scale of intensity, while wearing a heart rate monitor, like a Myzone belt.

Do I have to run on a treadmill?

No! It’s definitely recommended, but for people with injuries or issues related to running/walking, you can also do the test on a stationary bicycle. If you don’t want to run, just let the staff member know – the point is to get you up to your max exercising ability, which may mean different things for different people.

How long do I have to exercise for?

You will be working for about 10-15 minutes, which is about the time it takes to cycle through the warm-up and increasing speeds, up to your max level of ability (by the end of my test, I was running at about 8-9 miles an hour, give or take, for a minute or two.) Like I said, this is different for everyone!

Do I have to wear a heart rate monitor? What if I don’t have one?

Yes, in order to get the right data, you’ll need to wear a heart rate monitor, like a Myzone belt. Don’t have one? Don’t worry! The team will have a belt for you and will help you put it on.

What kind of data do I get from the test?

After your test is completed, you’ll get a handy dandy readout of your data, plus some cool charts, graphs and summaries of what it all means. I got an outline for a workout plan – basically I have to keep my heart rate under 150 to ensure I burn fat during my workouts. I also got more information about how I could apply this to running races, marathons and other endurance events, if I chose to pursue one in the future.

Overall Takeaways From the VO2 Max Test

It doesn’t take a whole lot to impress me…. but holy data! This was a really cool test – and definitely changed what I thought I knew about my workout habits. You’d think running faster would be better for your fitness, right? Not necessarily – especially related to your goals. I found out through this test that I actually have to pull back on my exercise a little bit – and that I can definitely lift weights and do other types of exercise that will keep my heart rate in that specific zone and that I will still see results from it. I haven’t done a resting metabolic rate test (RMR – the one that tells you how many calories you burn at rest) yet, but I will! That, coupled with these results of the VO2 Max test, will help me work smarter, not harder. And I’m all about that!

Have more questions about the V02 Max or RMR test, or want to schedule one for yourself? Email metabolictesting@ffc.com!

Post written by FFC marketing manager, Megan Zink.

 

Try FFC for free in Chicago

I joined FFC in December last year as an early Christmas present to myself. After a successful year of racing, I was ready to head into the “off-season”. Even though I had a successful and enjoyable season, I was looking forward to taking a break from triathlon training, long runs and blistered feet. I was also looking forward to doing slightly less laundry and eating a little more chocolate. I didn’t want to let my fitness completely lapse, but I did want to give myself a mental and physical break such that I could fully recover from the stresses of competition and start next year both healthy and motivated.

Having 20 years of experience swimming competitively, I know that injury and burnout are one of the greatest threats to an athlete’s well-being. An “off-season” or, as I prefer to call it, an “alt-season” is critical to longevity in the sport. (Why do we call it an off season? Off implies a dormant state. It implies doing nothing. Training and exercise are positive experiences for me. I don’t want to stop! I just want to change focuses for a while. Hence the “alt”.)

Related: trying to recovery from fitness, work or stress burnout? Check out these 5 simple tips!

For me, FFC was the perfect place for an alt-season. With access to rock climbing, swimming and indoor CompuTrainer classes, I knew that I would be able to find lots of opportunities to keep myself happy, engaged and in-shape while I took my alt-season recovery.

Fitness is Fun

It was a GREAT alt-season. The FFC pools were lightyears better than the one I’d been training in. They were better lit, colder, better ventilated and less crowded. Even though I wasn’t specifically training my swimming for a triathlon during the months of January and February, my times got better simply because I felt better. I wanted to spend more time in the pool rather than just put in the required workout and bolt to the comforting warmth of the shower.

The same thing happened with cycling. Over the winter, I saw massive increases in my cycling power as I attended the CompuTrainer classes on a regular basis. I wanted to go to Dan’s Saturday classes and rock out to the Pandora Punk Rock station. I wanted to go to swim classes with Coach Joy because she could make me laugh. Competitions like the Indoor Time Trials or the Indoor Tri60 kept me motivated to work hard and reminded me how much I enjoyed racing and competition. By the time competition season rolled around again, I was not only energized and excited to start the season again, but I was in better shape than before! It turns out having fun leads to better training.

Crushing Goals

2016 had been a great racing year for me. I had completed my first 70.3 (ToughMan Wisconsin) and collected titles in shorter distances at Terre Haute and Wauconda. To cap the season off, I won my age group in my first-ever trip to USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals.

The next year turned out even better. Racing many of the same courses as I did the year before, I saw my bike times consistently drop by 5 MINUTES OR MORE. I broke the 5-hour mark in my 70.3 and took home the overall title. I won my age group at nationals again and ran my first-ever sub-40 10k. When I raced Chicago (consistently the single best-organized race I’ve been to and my favorite), I dropped seven minutes between the bike and the run to nail down a new PR and secure the race title.

From there, the year still got better. The highlight of the year was the opportunity to go to Rotterdam and represent Team USA in the ITU Age Group World Championships. I was so excited and nervous to go. I had never been to Europe before, much less competed on an international stage! Once again, TriMonsters had my back and the year of training paid off. I won my age group, posted a personal best 10k time and took home the title of 2017 Olympic Distance Age Group World Champion. I cried when I stood at the podium with the American flag wrapped around my shoulders. It felt so unreal. Nine months ago, when I joined FFC, I had never imagined that this was a place I could get to. I had never thought that I was capable of this.

I’m excited to see where FFC will take me from here. With a new pool at Gold Coast and a new Performance Training Center at Old Town, I’m excited to try out new toys. I’m also excited to spend time with my wonderful TriMonster training group and watch more movies on the indoor screens!

Triathlon training with TriMonster in Chicago at FFC

Post written by FFC member Jacquie Godbe. 

 

Last summer I, a thirty-something British woman, relocated from London to Chicago. I have an extensive background in marathon and ultra-marathon running, but by the time I arrived in Chicago, at the end of June 2017, my fitness was at an all-time low.

I was probably still recovering from a 156-mile ultra-marathon across the Sahara – the equivalent of running almost six marathons over seven days, which I attempted with my friend, Simon. This race, The Marathon des Sables, or Marathon of the Sands, is billed as the “toughest footrace on earth”. It usually attracts a lot of military personnel and less than 6% of the runners are female.

Unfortunately, Simon and I failed to complete the event – we became separated from the other runners and each other. I became lost in the desert, broke 8 toenails and suffered from severe shock.

On reflection, Simon and I realized that we had not appreciated the extremely technical aspect of the race and that had been reflected in both my training and preparation for the race. We decided to attempt the Marathon des Sables for a second time. This time, the organizers of the race decided to “celebrate” its 30th anniversary by increasing the distance to 166 miles!

Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. With this in mind, I decided to take a sabbatical from my business to focus on training in a different way.

Try, Try Again

As I created my new training strategy, I also decided to write a book based on the lessons I had learned from failing and then (hopefully) succeeding. The Marathon des Sables is an extremely technical race; the temperature can reach up to 132 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime, which has all sorts of implications on the foods, equipment etc. that a runner has to carry.

Marathon Du Sables Ultra Marathon

My plan was to write a book that would be part autobiographical and part technical guide, designed to help other runners so that they wouldn’t face the huge trauma I had faced and ultimately risk failing at the race altogether.

At the peak of my training, I ran 120 miles per week, while carrying a 12 lb rucksack containing my desert equipment and supplies. Unfortunately, my friend Simon developed severe injuries during training and had to pull out of the race.

I wrote the first draft of my manuscript on my iPhone, using the Evernote app. I didn’t want to go through the bureaucracy of a traditional publisher so decided to self-publish. I successfully completed the Marathon des Sables in 2015 and my book “Big Steps, Long Strides”, available through Amazon, was published in 2016.

The Marathon des Sables was mentally and physically exhausting. I needed a significant break from running. In fact, my break was so long that when I arrived in Chicago I was at least 18 lbs overweight!

Related: want more inspiration? Check out how TriMonster helped this member complete her first triathlon at 70!

Getting Back Into a Routine

In Chicago, I decided to work on several goals. The first was to shed my excess weight. The second was to redevelop my base fitness and the third was to complete my first triathlon this year. I faced quite a few challenges. The last time I rode a bike was more than 25 years ago, and I couldn’t swim… at all!

Marathons all over the worldI had a passing conversation with Mike Gorrell, the membership director, who told me, “Nisha, summer bodies are made in the winter.” This comment really stuck with me and made me even more determined to shed my excess weight, so I started attending cardio and weight classes. Personal trainers Neha Mayawala, Manny Hernandez and Torrence Givan took my body fat measurements and helped me with different types of training advice, and Kenneth Li helped me with my heart rate training using MYZONE.

I approached Austin Head before a Tread Express class and asked if he would mind recording his voice during the class, so that I could do the same class more frequently in my own time. It was pretty audacious, but to my delight, not only did he oblige, but was totally enthusiastic about doing this for me. I find Austin’s classes to be absolutely awesome. I used to hate running on the treadmill, but the enthusiasm and encouragement from Austin (“Commit to just 90 seconds of discomfort, because you can do this!) has been amazing motivation.

The combination of interval training and healthy eating meant that by the beginning of April, I’d lost almost 16 lbs of excess weight. As I began to feel more comfortable with my shape, I started going to spin classes. David Bohn has been helping me develop back strength and realigning my posture, while Erin O’Connor, Neha Mayawala and Ramiro Correa have all encouraged and supported me in incorporating weight training into my workouts, so that I can build muscle and reduce my body fat percentage.

Finding a Fitness Support Network

Nisha Harish FFC West Loop Marathon RunnerErin O’Connell is the best swim coach I’ve ever had. When I asked her whether she had done any triathlons, she replied, “No”. I challenged her to complete a triathlon with me. “How can a person train another if they have no experience themselves in the sport?”, I teased.

It’s a testament to Erin as a swim coach that she’s not a bystander who trains clients, but is supporting them every step of the way. As for my swimming, well, at the beginning of January I couldn’t swim a full length. Only six swim sessions later, I can swim almost forty lengths!

I feel extremely well supported and have made plenty of good friends at FFC West Loop, from trainers to members. I really do feel like I’m part of a community. Not only that, but I feel connected to a healthier lifestyle and it’s made my integration to Chicago just so much easier. My goal is to complete my first triathlon with Erin this year, followed by a couple of half marathons and the Chicago Marathon later this year.

The Reluctant Gym-Goer

One of the fantastic consequences of finding my own community at FFC has been that my husband,
whose idea of exercise is to binge-watch House of Cards on Netflix, has now started coming to the gym with me. Every Saturday morning, we do a yoga class and then get on the treadmills and plug in our earphones, to complete the Tread Express audio that Austin recorded for me.

After that, we do some weight training followed by 30 minutes of swimming. I even bring a bag of snacks to the gym, so that my husband, who is a non-stop grazer, doesn’t use hunger as an excuse to leave the gym prematurely!! Many of the trainers know about my plotting to get my husband’s fitness to a good level and are so super encouraging towards him and both of us.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the proverb that “It takes a village to raise a child”, but it also takes a community to raise an athlete. I’m thrilled to say that FFC has been the perfect community for us.

Post written by FFC West Loop member Nisha Harish.

Want to know more about Nisha’s journey? You can purchase her book, Big Steps, Long Strides – a complete guide to running the Marathon des Sables, here and find out more about Nisha on her website!

Nisha Harish Ultra Marathon Runner

So you’ve conquered all of the other races – 5K, 10K, half-marathon… now, it’s time for the big show: your very first marathon! First, congratulations on making the plunge into one of the most difficult and rewarding achievements for any athlete. Read on for our top 5 training tips for you as a first-time marathon runner!

After the feelings of registration elation subside, you need to make a plan. As a first-time marathon runner, you’ll need to train harder, and most of all, smarter than you ever have in your life. You can’t roll out of bed and knock out a marathon (like you did with that fun run.)  A marathon is all business.

Finally, make sure to tell your family and friends about your new goal. The marathon officially becomes a reality when you tell people, due to two things:

  1. Telling others holds you accountable for completing your marathon journey
  2. You will receive instant support which will motivate you

Read on for some other top tips that will help you as a first-time marathon runner!

Set a goal.

Simply having the goal of “just finish” is a bit broad and could lead to a training regimen that lacks focus. For instance, if you’re hoping to finish the marathon in under 4 or 5 hours, you might need a specific training program (or partner program with a charity, like Team Bright Pink with FFC Endurance) to help make that happen.

Develop a training schedule.

This is critical for preparing your body for the rigors of a 26.2 mile race. You want to make sure you don’t add too many miles too quickly, or else your body won’t properly progress. Start training for a marathon at least 5 months prior to the race and gradually increase your miles every week. You can find a variety of solid training plans online or by speaking to a running coach/club.

Related: don’t forget recovery!! Here are some tips on foam rolling & why you need it.

Mix it up.

Marathon training doesn’t have to exclusively be about the running. Most trainers encourage including a combination of cross-training and strength training to your schedule a few days a week. Rowing and swimming are two good aerobic conditioning exercises. Hitting the weight room or doing yoga once or twice a week will strengthen your muscles and help you in the long run.

Rest.

Training for a marathon is… well… a marathon – not a sprint. As a first-time marathon runner, you definitely, 100% need to rest properly during your training. You’ll need to accept that you’ll have some bad runs and that’s probably because you are very sore. If that happens, take a day off. Maybe even two days. Always allow at least one day per week where you don’t train at all. If you’re having a hard week physically, take two days off. Your body will thank you.

Simulate the marathon ahead of time.

This is where some solid research ahead of time will make you more comfortable during the race on the big day. Become familiar with the route of the course. Maybe there are a few sections of the course that have hills. You’ll want to mentally prepare for those sections of the race so they don’t cause you any stress during the race.

Have a favorite race tip we forgot? Share it with us in the comments!

As an operations consultant, I provide information to my clients about doing things faster, more efficiently with less wasted time or money and repeatedly. If you are in business and want to grow, you really want to establish the least costly methods early on and then scale up as you expand. The same principles are applied to race car driving pits, when every second counts. When tires need to be changed during a race, every move is scripted and efficient with no loss of time or movement. This is how the pit crew assures that not only are the new tires installed correctly, but the minimum loss of time occurs for the change. As a triathlete, I have applied my profession and expertise in efficiency to races in order to perfect and reduce time for more efficient triathlon transitions.

These days, my transitions are slow only if I decide I’m not worried about the time and am using my race for training instead of competing. On racing days, however, I apply all my planning and motion analysis skills to reduce the time for each transition to optimize for my best times on the courses.

What You’ll Get Out of This Post

In this post, you will learn how to achieve good triathlon transitions no matter what equipment you feel you must have for each leg of the race. Additionally, at the end of this blog you will find a list of items you may want for your transitions- both my personal list of essentials, as well as a list of extras.

I don’t recommend using every item, but it’s a comprehensive list so you can consider what items you need versus want (a very important consideration!) At the top of the list you’ll find what is essential and what you absolutely must have to start.

Under that, you’ll find a second list of extra equipment. This will allow you to practice your timing with only what is needed to get your baseline down. That way you can factor in additional seconds or even minutes to your transition based on every item you add.

The Bare Essentials

Transition 1(T1): Swim to Bike

Take off wetsuit, goggles and cap, put on biking shoes, helmet and sunglasses.

This is really all you need to ride your bike. Protection for your eyes, head and feet. How fast can you get these things on? Start by timing yourself as you put each item on. What motions are wasted? Does it help to have your helmet on the handlebars with your sunglasses inside? I say yes because I put my sunglasses on first, then my helmet and snap it over the earpieces. Shoes go on next and I’m off.

Can you get this to 30 seconds or less?

Transition 2 (T2): Bike to Run

Take off biking shoes and helmet, put on running shoes, bib and cap.

This is really all you need to run if you use nutrition on the course. Can you save time by wearing your bib on the bike? You can, but only if you pin it on before the swim. If you use a race belt, you can put that inside your cap and put both on as you run out of T2 to save time.

Can you get this to 30 seconds or less?

Arrangements: put stuff in the order you will need it.

There is a factory system called 5S. It basically means “everything has a place, and everything should be in its place” Thus, it makes sense to put things in the order you will need them and then return them there when you get back. Minimalism helps a great deal here. I use the following arrangement:

  • I put down a towel or my mini Tatami mat and put my bike shoes in front with sunscreen and nutrition inside.
  • My bike helmet and sunglasses are on the handlebars.
  • On the mat, behind my bike shoes, are my running shoes, extra water bottle, and my race belt stuck inside my cap in one shoe.
  • I use my sunscreen pre-bike and put it into the open running shoe as a reminder to use it again pre-run.
  • I always throw my goggles and cap into the bag and hang my wetsuit next to my bike on the rack during the race.

Travel Time: plan, plan, plan.

As you plan your transition, consider how far you must travel from the swim to T1, from the biking dismount to T2 and the distances out of both. These can result in minutes. Some swim outs to T2 are nearly .25 miles long and your running speed is a factor. Plan for this time so you don’t get flustered if you see you are taking longer than expected.

Related: click here to try TriMonster! Sign up for a free visit & more info.

The Extra Stuff

Now that you’ve got the basic necessities down, you can start to factor in some extra equipment and how you might arrange it for the most efficient usage during your triathlon transitions.

Transition 1 Extras: bike socks, sunscreen, nutrition, water to wash your feet, towel to dry feet, other misc.

If you are a person who must have socks, you may need to wash your feet and dry them to get your socks on quickly. Once you have mastered the essentials of T1, add the socks and practice. Ask yourself, is it more efficient to put your socks in your shoes pre-rolled or are you better off if you put both socks on first then both shoes?

Place items you need in order on your mat and practice each in order to see what works. Normally it is better to do the same motion twice rather than changing motions, e.g. put both socks on first then both shoes so that you do one motion twice. However, you may find your mind works better with a sock-shoe-sock-shoe order.

If you did not put sunscreen on pre-swim, you will want to put some on now. Some races have sunscreen volunteers but personally I prefer the spray on stuff because I make sure to get my ears, that “tramp stamp” area and my shoulders and nose. Plan your method and stick to it.

Finally, you may want to start your nutrition in transition. I use a Gu packet pre-opened and just stick it in my mouth as I put on my shoes and helmet. I can suck on it in small doses as I’m getting all my stuff on.

Transition 2: running socks, sunscreen, nutrition, water belt/bottle, towel, other misc.

Same thing here – when you run into transition, you may want to dry your feet and put on dry socks. Personally, I don’t use socks ever, but I know many who must have them. Once again, plan your order and practice it. If you like to carry water, you only need your bib on the run (usually), so you might have a water belt that has the bib on it. Put this on as you run out of transition. Maybe reapply sunscreen to make sure you don’t get burnt shoulders or a burnt nose on the run.

Related: anyone can be a triathlete! Check out this amazing story of how member Maria finished her first triathlon at 70!

Getting in and out: visualize it.

Before the race begins, practice your swim transition by “walking in” from the swim and looking for milestones to remember so you can find your bike and transition area quickly. Visualize yourself running in, tired and excited, past others ahead of you to your spot. Imagine how you will take off your cap and goggles on the run in, when you will remove your wetsuit and how you will put on your bike attire. See yourself doing this calmly, yet fast and efficiently.

Then, walk to bike out. Walk to bike in and back to your transition area, again looking for milestones or landmarks that will help you find your spot quickly. Visualize yourself jogging with your bike to your spot quickly and efficiently, staging your bike (“Will you hook with handlebars or seat? Did you come in on the right side to do that?) and removing your bike attire, calmly and quickly putting on your running gear. Walk to run out. Plan the route you will use to avoid those coming in with their bikes and those still leaving with their bikes. Find a wide row that will allow passing.

Cleaning up and keeping all your stuff.

If you are efficient with your gear up process, you will also have time to put your things into your bag as you remove them, or stack them neatly on the towel. I use my wetsuit as a locator for bike in. I remove it, hang it over my bike slot on the rack and when I return I look for it to find my rack slot.

Putting your goggles and cap into your bag can be done quickly if you plan for it in your practice and will keep your things near you as others jostle their bikes around. I’ve seen many lost goggles, wetsuits and other gear in transitions. I tend to finish later than many younger racers and could probably make a few bucks on the items that remain behind! You will be tired when you return. Having stuff neatly stacked or already in your bag makes it easy to NOT forget stuff and a relief for tired legs and back.

Bonus Tips

Remember, any time you spend in transition is part of your race time. Aim for 3 minutes for your triathlon transitions, including travel time. The pros often have VIP locations and can do transitions in less than a minute. If you can get down to 2 minutes, you are doing great. This means you are taking little time to chat, think about options or anything else but just executing your plan.

After the swim and bike, I will often sit to put on my shoes to avoid dizziness due to bending over. This actually seems to improve my transition times because I’m not stumbling around trying to put my shoes on one-legged. I’ve eliminated a lot of extras and “just in case” extras – leaving only what I really need:

Bandaids are in my bike bento box and my running belt. I do carry aspirin but only in case of dire emergency. All nutrition and water is on my bike pre-race, ready to head out. My Garmin is set to multisport and I hit the lap button at the bike mount and dismount and swim in and run out, to capture all transition times. If I forget, I hit it when I remember. The race will have your official times but it’s good to know during the race how well you executed this part of your plan.

My one final piece of advice: plan your transition and transition according to your plan.

Post written by FFC Oak Park Endurance Coach Terri Friel.

About Terri

Terri Friel is an experienced endurance coach at FFC Oak Park. Have questions, want to better your race times or even try an endurance event for the first time? Email Terri at tfriel@ffc.com!

This past year, I decided it was time to get serious about endurance – specifically in swimming. I spent a lot of time researching and clicked through many web pages reading up on FFC’s TriMonster Endurance program. “If not now, when?” I thought. This is how TriMonster helped me finish my first triathlon at 70 years young.

I began by tackling the swim portion, and went on vacation with a homework assignment of walking to build up stamina and swimming to build up endurance. Unfortunately, a few weeks into the vacation, I flew over the handlebars of my bike (which set me back a bit until I could hobble to the pool) but eventually recovered and got back on track.

Soon after I started my training, I attended a kickoff session for triathlon preparation at FFC Lincoln Park, where I learned about TriMonster.

I was not thinking about actually doing a specific race at that point, per say, but when I discovered that the Chicago Triathlon organization has a “kindergarten”-level entry, a nudge from Endurance and Swim Coach Terri Friel was all I needed to decide to go for it.

That winter, I participated in the Indoor Triathlon at FFC Lincoln Park, which for many members who biked, ran and swam regularly, was more of a warmup to the season. For me, it was a baby step. Before starting, I looked at the total and individual distances and thought, “if I can’t do that, I’m not dong much.” But I’m so glad I followed the TriMonster training program – I was skeptical at first but the endurance program did help me complete it. The fact that I survived all three parts was encouraging!

Related: try Tri! Click here to learn more about TriMonster and schedule a tour to try us out for free! 

Maria's first triathlon at 70

In preparation for the Chicago Triathlon SuperSprint event on August 27, I went to every single open water swim clinic sponsored by Lifetime. Lake Michigan is scary – and this is when you can see the shore! I struggled each time with wetsuits. But I did become adept and overcame an immense amount of trepidation about the swim portion. And this is coming from someone who swam a lot in the pool beforehand!

Andrea, my other trainer at FFC Oak Park, and Terri both worked together to come up with a plan to build strength and endurance, even when it was looking dim, to have me primed to finish the SuperSprint by walking both legs across the finish line. Andrea went to the expo with me to pick up my race packet. Of course, I joke that she was just making certain I was going to be there!

On race day, she even came to pick me up at my house, in the pouring rain, and kept pumping me up the whole way to the event. She helped me get into my wetsuit before going to the transition area and even managed to get down to the shore to jump up and down when she saw me emerge. I swear, she outdid my husband in her cheerleading. She stayed on the sidelines while I finished the on-foot leg of the race and kept up the positive energy. THAT is exceeding expectations!

“She did struggle with the swim at times, but perseverance provided her with enough force to get out of the water and onto the SuperSprint course at the Lifetime Chicago Triathlon in order to complete the whole course and cross the finish line. She finished first place in her age group and won an entry to the National Championship! We are all so very proud of her accomplishment this year!” said Coach Terri Friel.

Finishing my first triathlon at 70 years young

I don’t think I ever worked so hard physically and played so many mind games to accomplish the awesome feat of finishing my first triathlon. Even the “kindergarten”-level triathlon is scary. Fortunately, I had the support of my age group, coach, trainer and husband, who were all on hand to see me finally emerge from the lake, complete my final transition, finish the biking portion, and with much cheering and sign waving, get me through the ‘run’ (which I walked, albeit quickly!) to get both legs across the finish line. Satisfying and priceless.

Now that I’ve got one event under my belt, I plan to continue the TriMonster program in order to improve my swim endurance and bike more efficiently. Triathlon Sprint, I’m coming for you.

 

Post written by FFC Oak Park member Maria D.