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Though a love for red wine could potentially improve one’s heart health, the latest global studies have shown that no amount of alcohol is safe for consumption. While there are some benefits to certain types, they do not outweigh the risks, and the report is actually urging government officials to change alcohol consumption guidelines. Whether you’re hoping to improve your health, energy levels, or just improve your quality of life, it is probably a good idea to limit your alcohol consumption. On way to do that? Mocktail recipes! Below are a few RD-approved tips on how to do that without sacrificing taste or fun, plus a few different recipes to try.

Mocktail Hour: 3 Recipes to Try

By using the same flavors as your favorite cocktail (without the alcohol), you can enjoy the change of pace from water all day, and even get some health benefits from the ingredients themselves!

Mocktail #1:

  • Mix ginger kombucha + juice of 1/2 orange or grapefruit + ice.
  • Stir, garnish with fruit slices.
  • *Kombucha is fermented tea, which means it’s packed with probiotics. These live ‘good bacteria’ can improve gut health and immunity.

Mocktail #2:

  • Blend 4 cups chopped cucumbers + 1/2 cup fresh lime juice + 1/3 cup packed mint leaves + 4 cups water + pinch of salt.
  • Strain through a mesh strainer, and serve over ice.
  • Add honey or pure maple syrup to taste.
  • *Cucumbers are super hydrating, helping your skin stay soft all winter.

Mocktail #3:

  • Stir 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk + 1/4 teaspoon turmeric + 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/8 teaspoon dried ginger + a pinch of black pepper.
  • Heat for 1-2 minutes until warm.
  • *Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory agent. It needs black pepper to be absorbed by our body, which is why the black pepper is added to this ‘golden milk’ recipe.

Related: matcha is having a moment. Try this superfood mix in in your next beverage creation! Read all about the benefits (and a few recipes) here.

Other Tips:

  • Invite your friends to a different activity. Weekend activities don’t have to revolve around alcohol (I know, this can be surprising to some). Invite your friends to a group exercise class at FFC, try out a sushi-making class, check out a new museum, or go bowling. You’ll still enjoy quality time together, and the next day you’ll actually be able to be productive!
  • Focus on the benefits of not drinking. With so many things in life, we tend to focus on what we’re missing out on. Instead, change your mindset to think about how much better you feel when you don’t drink. Some people experience higher energy the next day, less depression, healthier relationships, and better performance in their workouts.

Post written by FFC Oak Park registered dietitian and nutrition coordinator Amy Silver.

 

FFC Oak Park spa manager Jason VonGerichten shares the effects of stress on the body and stress management tips, including strategies like massage for stress relief, among others. Check out the research and tips below!

When discussing the stress response, I would often tell my students that their bodies are like the Starship Enterprise.

Stay with me.

When the Enterprise was in a battle and they were taking some hits, Captain Kirk would inevitably say:

“Scotty, put. all. power. to. the. forward. shields!”

And Scotty would unplug the microwave (or whatever) in order to divert all extra power to their forward shields so they could get that final photon torpedo into the Klingons.

Our bodies do something similar.

Effects of Stress On The Body

When we’re faced with stressful conditions our sympathetic nervous system – the “fight or flight” response – is activated, and all power is diverted away from any unnecessary functions. Due to the effects of stress, blood flow is diverted away from our digestive system so we can get more oxygen to the muscles needed to run, many maintenance hormones and mucus production stop secreting, our immune system shuts down, and adrenaline and cortisol are dumped into the bloodstream to give us an extra boost of energy and strength.

And all of this is great… if we are indeed faced with a physical threat. But how often are we actually facing off with a bear in the woods? What do we usually get stressed about?

Office politics. Income taxes. Mortgage rates. Personal relationships.

Can we defend ourselves against these emotional things with a physical response?

We cannot. And in fact, we end up damaging our bodies from this response, because we don’t feel the effects of stress about the next election for five minutes, we feel it every day for the next two years, and our physical bodies have yet to find a pre-programmed response to this type of emotional stressor.

So, we divert blood flow from our digestive system and we get constipated or diuretic. We stop secreting growth hormone and we don’t repair damaged tissue as quickly. Less mucus in our stomachs means there’s no protection from stomach acid (hello ulcers!). We get sick easier without an immune system functioning, and a constant drip of adrenaline and cortisol means damage to our circulatory system and higher levels of glucose in the blood. You can stress yourself into type 2 diabetes!

So what do we do?

It’s easy to tell someone to just relax to combat the effects of stress, but unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. In fact, I don’t know if you know this, but telling somebody who is upset to calm down often has the opposite effect, and all of that person’s non-calmness then gets directed at the person offering advice.

Related: mindfulness could help! Here’s some best tips for practicing mindfulness.

Luckily, our bodies have two built-in systems we can manipulate to activate our parasympathetic nervous system – our “rest and digest” functions.

One of those systems? Breathing. You do not have to get in touch with the divine. You don’t even have to meditate. Just breathe, and breathe deeply. By activating your diaphragm, that big muscle under your lungs, your body gets the signal that you are in a restive state, even if you’re not, and then the rest of the body follows suit. It’s been said you can add years to your life by just breathing deeply a few minutes every day.

Massage for Stress Relief

Massage is the second thing we can do. Our bodies are built to be social creatures, and in the age of online communications it’s more important than ever to find ways to incorporate healthy, healing touch into our lives. Massage for stress relief is a great approach. Aside from all the benefits to your musculature, a simple sense of touch begins the release of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin in your brain. Those are all, in this case, feel-good neurotransmitters, mood elevators, and stress relievers.

Related: did you know that massage can also be a great solution to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Study after study has shown that children who are consistently given loving touch from their parents grow up to be stronger and less sickly, and elderly people whose partners have passed are less healthy because of the lack of loving touch.

Do yourself a favor. Live long and prosper by breathing deeply and getting a regular massage for stress relief.

Post written by FFC Oak Park spa manager Jason VonGerichten.

Hey, did you know FFC offers massage? Set phasers to deep tissue! Use your communicator to give us a call and book an appointment. Have more questions for Jason or want to set up a complimentary consultation? Email him at jvongerichten@ffc.com!

Jason VonGerichten is the spa manager at FFC In Oak Park. He is a husband, massage therapist, pug enthusiast, and his first book, Welcome to Uranus, is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Google Play.

FFC Oak Park member Gary shares his experience with fitness and wellness, becoming a stroke survivor and how it altered his course of life.

In the fall of 2007 I was 56 years old, tired, overweight and my back hurt. My job involved a lot of sitting, either by a desk or in a car. I was approaching 200 lbs, way too much for my frame. I would often get back spasms or sciatica down my legs. I was a wreck and the quality of my life was in decline. I had two choices, do nothing and continue down this slope or do something about it.

I chose the latter and joined FFC. My immediate goals were to lose 30 pounds, do a pull-up and run a 5k. The first month, I went to FFC almost every day while I altered my diet. Within 6 months I met all three of my goals, including my first 5k in April 2008, at a very respectable pace. Over the next six years, attending FFC three times a week or so, kept me sane and healthy. I continued to run one or two races each year.

Related: how this FFC member was able to avoid surgery with nutrition and exercise.

On June 9, 2014 I woke up, ate breakfast and read the Tribune. Then I dressed and went into my second-floor office to work. My wife had left for work and would be back mid-morning. I was sitting at my desk working on a report. It was about 10:35 AM and my head exploded.

I put my head in my hands and waited for the fireworks to stop. I could not imagine what was happening. With great difficulty I got up from my chair and stumbled through the hall to the bedroom and collapsed on the bed. “Maybe if I lay down for a while, this will go away.”

It didn’t. It was like July Fourth was going off in my head. After a few minutes, I finally realized it was serious. I struggled to get out of bed. One side wasn’t working right. I still didn’t understand what was happening. I dragged myself back to the office and flopped back down into the chair. With my right hand I found a pencil and a piece of paper and wrote: “Feeling woozy, it’s 10:35.”

The next thing I knew, my wife was shaking me and talking. She had found me slumped over my desk. She said she called the paramedics and that I had a stroke. I looked at her. It still didn’t register. “What do you mean?” I thought. “I had a stroke?” I pointed to the note with my right hand and tried to speak. My mouth wasn’t working the way it should and the words weren’t coming out correctly.

The paramedics arrived and asked if I could move my left side. ‘What a silly question,’ I thought. I tried to move my left arm and nothing happened. Same thing with my left leg. It was about this time that I realized that my head had stopped hurting but that I could be in trouble. I pointed to the note. They said good, that was just a few minutes ago.

I was put on a stretcher and was told they were taking me to Rush Oak Park. A fire truck and ambulance were outside the house. They carried me to the ambulance and I heard them speak to the hospital. We were there in a couple minutes. A doctor said I needed a CAT scan and they slid me in the device. Everything was happening very quickly.

Stroke Survivor

I was laid out on a bed in the ER, when they rolled a monitor up to me and said a doctor from Rush downtown would speak to me in a minute. She gave me the good news. Yes, I had a stroke. The CAT scan confirmed it was a clot and not a bleed and that was a very good thing. I would be put back in an ambulance and taken to the downtown Rush facility. On the way the paramedics would infuse me with the anti-clot drug TPA. Since I had reached this point so quickly, there was a good chance it could work. I waved at my wife with my good arm. I mumbled, “See you downtown.”

The paramedics connected me to the miracle drug and kept asking me if I was all right and if I felt anything. They asked me to try and move my left arm and leg. I began to have sensation and they moved. As the ride continued, the movements improved. I told the paramedics “look what I can do!”

We made it to Rush and they rolled me into Intensive Care. I saw my wife and waved my limbs; all of them. I had never seen a bigger smile. I was pretty excited too. Over the next hour or so, different doctors came in to examine me. I had two smaller TIA’s where the stroke symptoms would partially reappear. Then it was over. I was tired and finally had begun processing what had happened.

Later that afternoon, I was visited by other doctors. They put me through a number of mental and physical tests. I was able to answer all of their questions but it seemed to take me just a little bit longer. I could stand and walk but my left side was weaker. I did not have the same strength in my left arm and it shook when I lifted it. When I went to point at something or pick up an object, my aim was off. Not bad considering what could have been. They gave me some exercises and some toys to squeeze and play with.

Recovery – Slow And Steady Wins the Race

I was in the hospital three days and each day I felt stronger. After I came home, I immediately wanted to see if I could still drive. My wife sat beside me as I drove through the neighborhood. She noticed I was driving slower and more carefully, but the more I drove, the better I felt.

The next day, I sat down at my desk to work. My typing, which is mediocre at best, was really bad as I struggled to get my left hand to go precisely where it needed to be. That too improved. About a month later, I went back to FFC and slowly increased my workouts. In November, I ran a 5k. It was four minutes slower than the previous spring but I completed it. My work, my workouts and my grandkids were my therapy.

 

Over the next three years I ran seven races including an 8k and a 10k. My left side would always remain a little weaker but I continued to work on it. Life returned to normal but then I had surgery for Thyroid cancer. Luckily for me, there has been no recurrence. Due to my continuing workouts my recovery from the stroke and cancer has been strong and quick.

In the past year and a half, I’ve run four more races including an 8k. I’ve reached retirement and am still stretching, running and lifting and doing my best to maintain the quality of life I desire. FFC has been there with me every step of the way and I’m not done yet.

Post written by FFC Oak Park member Gary Belenke; images courtesy of Gary Belenke & Chad Marek.

 

Try FFC for free in Chicago

Countless movies, books, and fairy tales feature magic mirrors of one kind or another. Some are portals to another world. Others have a spirit living in them, or can show the past, or reveal events far off but important to the mirror’s user. The full-length mirror in the men’s locker room at the Park District’s Rehm pool in Oak Park isn’t any of these. It can’t even work the mundane magic of a department store mirror in making clothes look better on you than they do anywhere else. But it’s where my fitness journey began.

I remember the date. It was Memorial Day weekend 2015; the pool had opened for the summer that day and I had my three kids with me. We’d all just changed into our suits and were heading out to have some splashy fun. I happened to glance in the mirror as we moved to the door.

A fat old man stared back at me from the glass. Everything that wasn’t flabby was sagging, and the lingering winter pallor and fluorescent lighting didn’t help. I was shocked. Like fork in the outlet shocked. I couldn’t move, in fact, because I couldn’t believe what I saw. After a certain age and weight, you tend to avoid mirrors unless it’s necessary.

Okay, appearance isn’t everything. But it wasn’t just how the fat old man looked, it was how he felt. Here I was with my kids just exiting the locker room, hadn’t even waded in yet, and I was already tired. The act of equipping at home, transporting, and transitioning my kids from street clothes to their pool stuff had exhausted me. I was ready to lie down on a chaise and have a nap.

I had just turned fifty a couple months previously. This was no way to enter the decade (what Spalding Gray called “the Bermuda Triangle of life” meaning that it’s the time that something tends to go wrong that’ll dog you for the rest of your years). There are still plenty of experiences I’d like to have, plus the kids to launch into life.

Right then and there I decided to change.

Now, I’d bounced around a lot in the previous twenty years, gaining twenty pounds way too often, losing ten far too rarely. That ratio needed turning around, and quick. My doc was making noises about blood pressure medication and the word pre-diabetic had been thrown into the health mix. When I went to see him the next week (he was happy to hear I wanted to turn things around) he suggested just some walking to start off and a step counter. So I went to CVS and used a coupon from one of their Legion of Honor Sash-sized receipts to buy a cheap heart rate monitor. And I was off.

Related: check out this infographic to see why it’s worth considering a heart rate monitor.

Steps to Lasting Change

I started just trying to get 10,000 steps in a day and to quit snacking at night in front of the TV. Within a week or ten days I could feel a difference in me. I started swimming laps and doing things like not using my car or parking way, way out at the edge of the lot. I lost ten pounds and hit the same plateau I always seemed to hit. The scale quit moving, no matter how many steps I had on that cheap wristwatch.

After some loin-girding I joined FFC Oak Park so I’d have more options for training to keep my body off-balance. I started a strict intermittent fasting program (I found out about that from Terry Crews – I like to read celeb workout programs now and then, like how Jason Momoa turned himself into Conan). I did a little bit of everything, types of exercise I’d never tried in my life, from ballet barre (kind of a twofer, I was researching ballet for a book anyway) and battle ropes to kickboxing.

It took time. It took steady effort. It took constant change and challenge and training from people who knew a lot more than me (most of my barbell knowledge dates to the 80s). Happily, my effort and constant shifts in my types of training paid off: the weight kept falling off, and better yet, the muscle started growing. I said “hi” to my abs for the first time in decades.

Hopefully three years of new habits means this is permanent. I’d like it to be. I feel great, and now it’s the kids who can’t keep up with me.

I keep this on my desktop. Yeah, it’s refrigerator-magnet philosophy, but it reminds me of where I was and that moment in front of the glass. Maybe it was a magic mirror after all.

Post written by FFC Oak Park member Eric Frisch.

Eric F is an author who lives with his wife and three children in Oak Park, IL.

 

Try FFC for free in Chicago

When I first joined FFC as a new Chicagoan in 2004, my kids were two and four. I remember watching people do Pilates through the studio window and thinking, they look so graceful and… healthy. Not to mention lean and strong. I said to myself, I’ll never be those things. No way can I do all that stuff on those machines. No way will I ever lose this baby weight I’ve been carrying for five years now. Fast forward to 2016, when my kids convinced me to join again. I convinced my best friends Alan and Emily to join, and Emily happened to be a devotee of Pilates and tuned into all the Pilates benefits. So I sucked it up and agreed to try it, psyching myself up to have a positive attitude and a beginner’s mind.

Do what with my what?

I went home and cried roughly the first four times I took Pilates mat class with Carl Corry. It was humiliating and hard and upsetting. He was patient but firm, as were Cameron and Charles, who also teach there. There was so much I couldn’t do.

I kept coming back, though, because I committed to my friends that I’d try it for 6 months, twice a week, at least, to take advantage of all those Pilates benefits. And I worked on my attitude by thinking about what I’d say to my kids if they came home feeling like I did. I’d say this: “You can’t expect to be good at things right away. But if you like what this is, keep going. Get better. There’s nowhere to go but up.”

It is SO HARD to take your own advice.

But I kept going.

But… there was other stuff in the way.

There were two more things holding me back: a bunch of extra weight and some health problems that left me unable to use most of my abdominal muscles. I went to PT to address the problem which was a huge first step. (I also cried the first time I felt those muscles fire.)

And the weight was literally in my way in class. I’ve been struggling with it since I had children almost twenty years ago, and I lived with severe endometriosis my whole adult life, until five years ago. I also had some disordered eating and body image issues holding me back.

So while I sorted through my ego issues about Pilates and went to PT, I also did things like buy a full length mirror and a scale for the first time. I started to tease apart how I felt about my body from what I ate every day. Not because anyone told me to — it just seemed like they were different things.

About the weight.

After almost a year of working on something as simple as walking by a mirror without grimacing or feeling guilty about what I had for lunch, I decided to talk to FFC’s registered dietitian, Amy Silver. I have a friend who was working with a nutritionist and her success made me think, maybe this is be worth trying. After all, my insurance covers it. What did I have to lose?

My friend Alan joined me. We both knew it was good to have a buddy; that whole accountability thing. We could help each other.

At our first appointment I cried (are you seeing a pattern?). As she passed me the box of Kleenex I’m certain is always ready for this moment I said, “I’m just so tired of having this relationship with food.”

So. Much. Chewing.

At first, food felt like a part time job. I had to think about it all the time. I had to learn how to plan a whole new way of eating, I had to figure out how to get the right food to my office. I had to learn how to cook vegetables — all kinds, so I wouldn’t get bored.

And the chewing. I have to eat SO MANY vegetables. I didn’t have the chance to be hungry because of all the vegetables I was constantly shoving in my face.

Related: check out this member story about how a trip to Turkey changed FFC South Loop member Oscar’s perspective and how chewing more slowly changed his life.

Within days I noticed that my blood sugar was always… fine. I was never hungry. I never felt woozy or shaky or so hungry I could eat everything in sight. My digestive system was… happy. And then… the pounds started coming off.

But… not 100% happy.

Contrary to current wisdom around feeling confident and able to “see” yourself as healthy, I didn’t believe I could lose this weight at first. I also didn’t believe all of life’s problems would be solved if I succeeded.

Mostly I just thought, I’ll try this. Maybe I’ll feel better. Maybe it will work. Maybe not. “Don’t get too excited. These pounds have been part of you for 20 years,” I said to myself.

After seven months of mostly good behavior and making the changes more and more permanent, I currently weigh only 7 pounds more than I did 20 years ago – right before I got pregnant when I was 26. (My highest recorded weight was 193 and as I type this, I’m at 163 lbs. I’m 5’2″.)

Now and then, I feel sad for former me because I waited so long, but we do what we can when we’re able. I’ve spent a long time not believing in myself and it’s like an old record with deep grooves.

And I feel conflicted about all the success I’m having because I can’t seem to believe it. But Amy keeps showing me my sheet, and it keeps showing that the weight is coming off. I can’t argue with the data, as much as something in me wants to take success away from myself.

So now I have more attitude adjustment to make. Better late than never. And I know I can conquer my own attitude because I still go to Pilates, sometimes four times a week.

Now and then, I feel sad for former me because I waited so long, but we do what we can when we’re able. I’ve spent a long time not believing in myself and it’s like an old record with deep grooves.

Putting it all together.

FFC Oak Park Pilates benefitsI’ve been taking advantage of Pilates benefits for over a year now. It’s the only exercise thing I’ve ever done that gets both harder and more fun as I get better at it – roughly every six months. It gives me more energy and focus than even yoga, swimming and running used to. My Friday 7 AM group reformer class with Carl is one of the best hours of my whole week, and I have a pretty great life. I might even get licensed to teach, if only to learn something totally different and understand how my body works.

And the weight? Well, I’m working on my attitude even as I have to replace clothes almost constantly. 30 pounds is what a huge bag of dog food weighs, after all. And when I look in the mirror now, I see someone who looks the way I believe I am “supposed to,” which sounds odd, but it’s the most accurate thing I can think of. I mean, it also feels good to appreciate my own body, don’t get me wrong. REALLY good.

I also have noticed that in life overall, since I started working on myself consistently, I’ve started to take a longer view of virtually all things. My dad tells me it’s old age. I prefer maturity.

In the end, it’s only sort of about the weight. It’s more about feeling like myself, and feeling like my body can do anything I want – including whatever Carl, Cameron and Charles can come up with in Pilates mat class. Bring it on. I’ll be able to do it really well in a decade or so.

Post written by FFC Oak Park member Shelby Bower.

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

 

 

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Sure, running on the treadmill, busting your tail on the elliptical or kettlebell swings during a PTC class will help you rack up those Myzone Effort Points (MEPs), but that’s not the only way to score them! The cool thing about the Myzone system is that it measures your effort based on your unique heart rate range and streamlines the reward system across the board. That means almost any kind of activity you can think of will earn you MEPs to track your workouts and foster friendly competition. If you’re looking for a fun and different way to rack up the MEPs, you may want to consider spiking that heart rate and fatiguing those muscles with the help of rock climbing! This adrenaline pumping, full-body workout will be sure to bring you into the yellow and red zones before you ever even leave the ground! If you are finding yourself unmotivated or exhausted by the thought of your current workout routine, try shaking things up a bit with a fresh take on physical fitness and check out indoor rock climbing in Chicago. Here are some reasons why you should strap on the MyZone, harness up, and get climbing.

Climbing is a cardiovascular workout.

Amy Brown indoor rock climbing in Chicago benefitsWhile climbing, you will feel your heart racing. It may be due to exertion. It may be due to nervousness. It may be due to both. Either way, your heart is working. A study conducted by Purdue University suggests that rock climbing performed at a moderate intensity is roughly equivalent to 244 steps per minute. This exceeds the estimated 222 steps per minute that are taken when running a 10-minute mile.

This year, I decided to join the fun and invest in a Myzone belt of my own! After a two hour, low-intensity bouldering sessions (more on bouldering versus rope climbing later!), I charted my first 229 MEPs. I also took it upon myself, my climbing buddy and my trusty stopwatch to record how much time I spent actively climbing. The breakdown estimates that I spent roughly 30 total minutes actively climbing, leaving myself with a measly 90 minutes of chatting and socializing! After all, I’m the queen of “climbing a little and chatting a lot!” Luckily for me, climbing was shown to be extraordinarily efficient when I decided to focus.

Climbing helps with strength training and muscle toning.

Thankfully, your heart is not the only muscle that will see some action during climbing. While climbing, every part of your body from your head to your toes plays a significant role in your ascent. All major muscle groups must work cohesively during your gravity-defying fun! These include your core, shoulders, back, biceps, triceps, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. After one session, my back and shoulders are already screaming for a visit to the spa! Many new climbers are also surprised to find their forearms sore due to the grip strength required to remain on the wall.

You can tailor different workouts to cardio and strength training goals.

Because climbing is so versatile, you can structure your climbing sessions to place a bit more emphasis on either one of the aforementioned fitness components. There are two common forms of climbing: rope climbing and bouldering. These two are related to one another in the same way that marathon running and sprinting are related. While both fit under the large umbrella of “running,” there are very different approaches to properly training for and performing these activities.

Rope Climbing

Think of climbing with a rope and harness as the marathon run. During these climbs, more focus is placed upon your respiratory output and endurance. The climbs take a longer amount of time to complete and are typically completed on a vertical wall, climbing upward. If a climber was interested in placing a greater emphasis on spiking his or her heart rate, it would be a great idea to spend time climbing laps on less difficult climbs.

Bouldering

Conversely, think of bouldering as the sprint. Bouldering is a different type of climbing that is done without ropes and harnesses. The routes are shorter and go nowhere near as high. Because of this, bouldering is often done with mats and padded floors. When the climber falls, they land on the mats. The movement associated with bouldering is often more powerful and technical, which calls for less respiratory output and more strength-building. Given that my first Myzone climbing session catered to strength performance, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. I can’t wait to see what happens when I strap on my belt during an endurance session!

Climbing complements other workouts.

Climbing is a wonderful thing to do, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you do! Reap the benefits of a stronger grip while maxing out on your deadlift. Squat with ease knowing that you regularly perform pistol squats while suspended 20 feet in the air on the climbing wall. Engage those back muscles to finally crank out the first of many pull ups. No matter what your fitness goals may be, just know that regularly climbing will help you get there.

Related: speaking of squats, check out these 8 great benefits of using weights in your fitness routine.

Climbing improves flexibility and mobility.

You will often find your body in very unorthodox positions while indoor rock climbing (“You want me to put my foot where?!”). Rock climbing regularly allows you to increase your overall range of motion, especially in your hips and shoulders. Many climbs call for far reaches and high foot placement. Performing these movements regularly will allow your body to adapt and strengthen accordingly.

Pairing rock climbing with regular stretching (dynamic warm-up stretching and static post-workout stretching) multiple times a week will also assist in improving your flexibility and mobility.

Climbing improves balance (and combats imbalance!).

While rock climbing, you are suddenly far more aware of your center of gravity because you are constantly shifting and moving. Determining the most efficient way to position your body and using your core to remain on the wall are of utmost importance. There will be times when there will only be one foothold for you to move from. As you ascend, you will need to stay calm and balanced while your second leg remains off the wall. This requires a great deal of balance and control!

Additionally, the combination of pushing and pulling motions required from both sides of your body will help eliminate muscle imbalances. Are you a righty or a lefty? Leave your friends guessing! There’s no such thing as a strong side when you’re this balanced!

Climbing helps develop functional strength.

That jar of pickles is no match for you! Never again will you need to hand over a jar and have someone “loosen it first”. Climbing helps you to develop grip and forearm strength that will allow you to leave no jar unopened. You may not crush everything you hold into dust (I hope), but you will quickly notice a substantial difference in your hand and forearm strength.

Aside from your arms, other parts of your body will strengthen. The repetition of upward stepping will make every staircase a breeze. Your strengthened back and core will help alleviate some of the discomfort associated with poor posture. I hope you’re ready to be the talk of the town for being one lean, mean, functional machine!

Indoor rock climbing Chicago benefits

Climbing is a mental workout.

Every single route is a life-sized puzzle waiting to be solved. You must rely on your focus and problem-solving abilities to complete each climb. Assessing your personal skills and applying them to each step of your climb is extraordinarily important and thought-provoking. Additionally, every other thought and concern must be left on the ground below. For a few blissful minutes, you have no choice but to ignore the nagging voice in your head trying to convince you that you left the oven on!

Many individuals also use climbing as a creative outlet. As you become more familiar with your body, you develop an individual style of climbing. More than a few of our regular climbers embrace each climb as a form of choreography. They become very focused oh perfecting a sequence to a climb that was once difficult. We like to watch and learn from one another, embracing different styles of movement and attempting them. Climbing is a social sport by nature, and we take great pride in the community we form and the ideas we share in order to complete a climb!

But most importantly… climbing is fun!

Amy Brown Climbing Wall FFC ChicagoWhether you’re overcoming a fear of heights or experiencing the euphoria of reaching the top of the climbing wall for the first- or hundredth- time…. the excitement never gets old. You will still feel as if you are on top of the world. Rock climbing provides you with a unique sense of accomplishment that you will find nowhere else in the club. There is always a new challenge for you to conquer, leaving you engaged. Join us for some indoor rock climbing in Chicago and enjoy the smiles, chalky high fives new group of friends that are cheering for you every step of the way!

While there are an infinite number of reasons to make rock climbing a regular fixture in your health and fitness program, this list is a great place to start. We challenge you to climb right out of your comfort zone and never look back. Reach new heights (literally) and joining our climbing community! Get climbing with us at our Oak Park and Park Ridge locations. For more class and program information, email Amy Brown at abrown@ffc.com.

Post written by Amy Brown, FFC Oak Park Climbing Wall Supervisor.

Pin this for Later: Indoor Rock Climbing in Chicago Benefits

 

Best benefits for fitness indoor rock climbing Chicago FFC

Life with toddlers is always fun and exciting. And full of managing expectations. One of our biggest joys as parents is experiencing some of our own favorite childhood traditions with them. Recently, my toddlers and I carved up our pumpkins to make festively scary Halloween jack-o’-lanterns. Here’s how it went!

Managing Expectations

As with any project, it’s important to set realistic expectations both for yourself as well as for your children.

The process, according to your expectation:

Really tap deeply into your nostalgia to conjure up all the memories of fun you had with your parents carving pumpkins (at likely a much older age than those of your children). This will help to develop imagery of the activity in advance so that you can appropriately set high expectations both for their level of involvement as well as the final product.

Bonus points: another helpful activity is to monitor your social media feed for a week, enjoying the happy, smiling faces of all your friends and their kids with their jack-o’-lantern masterpieces. This also helps to set your expectations for the process and finished product.

The process, according to their expectations:

Your aforementioned nostalgia and social media feed will have led you to visit a pumpkin patch weeks in advance. Your children’s carefully selected pumpkins will have been on display since the visit so that you can continually remind them how fun it will be to carve them up closer to Halloween. ‘No, not today. Closer to Halloween.’ ‘Nope, still not today.’ Etcetera.

By the time you sit down to carve the pumpkins, they will have been lustily gazing at the pumpkins and imagining themselves clutching sharp objects and hacking away at their darling gourds for as long as you have, so that they too will have high expectations of both their level of involvement as well as the final product.

Other Really, Really, Really Helpful Tips for Pumpkin Carving Success:

  • Choosing a pumpkin: choose a really big, thick pumpkin. They’re more challenging, so you and your kids will get the most of the experience.
  • Timing: try to choose a time that works for everyone, like if they have a fever or have thrown up recently. Maybe they were even up several times the night before.

Related: it’s not you, Fitbit, it’s me. A hilarious breakup letter to a Fitbit – because sometimes your goals are bigger than the number of steps you take.

The Main Event: Actually Carving the Pumpkins

Finally, the day has come. Here’s a list of easy steps for tapping into that nostalgia, managing expectations and carving that pumpkin into a beautiful, shiny smiling holiday gourd with your children.

1. Cut lid off of pumpkin.

2. Give everyone a fair chance to refuse to touch the pumpkin guts. This will provide you with an excellent opportunity to do all that work by yourself.

3. Give everyone spoons to develop a false sense of participation.

4. While you diligently take out the pumpkin guts and separate the seeds, be sure to repeat the following phrases as often as possible:

  • “No thank you, honey. We are taking the guts out of the pumpkin.”
  • “We want the seeds in the separate bowl. No thank you!”
  • “Will you please open the pumpkin back up? Take the lid back off, please.”
  • “Please get off the counter!”
  • “That’s sharp! Don’t touch, please!”

5. Allow your children to pick a carving pattern from the book without limiting the complicated nature of their choice.

6. Rely on their inherent flexibility to change the plan once you realize the pattern is way too difficult, even for you.

7. Time for a show and snack! Everyone gets their favorites. Not you, though. You can now focus on the business end of the pumpkin carving kit while the kids are otherwise distracted. Don’t panic when the single carving knife snaps in half midway through your project.

8. By this stage, you will be obsessively invested in the project. Any requests from your children will seem like interruptions, so be sure to respond to them unnecessarily harshly.

9. Urgently change the laundry so that the vomit-covered blankie of your youngest will be dry by nap time.

Ok, I’m back. Where was I? 8?

9. Allow your older child to participate in wildly concerning ways. This will make your younger child jealous and fussy, providing your children with an excellent opportunity to argue.

10. After you worked so hard to make the perfect ghost jack-o’-lantern, (resulting in a mutilated pumpkin that appears to have a jagged hole in the front), watch as your son gazes with pride at the final product.

11. Realize he would have liked anything you had done for him, no matter how terrible it turned out. You easily reach this conclusion since this really couldn’t look much worse than it does.

Post written by FFC Oak Park personal trainer Marylou Tawney.

FFC Oak Park Marylou TawnyMarylou “Mama Lou” Tawney is a personal trainer focusing on prenatal and postnatal exercise at FFC Oak Park. She is a mother of two rowdy boys, and specializes in wrestling, tackling, and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You can find her on Instagram at @mamalou_fitness – or shoot her an email at mtawney@ffc.com to set up a complimentary consultation!

I walked into my first spin class a very depressed woman. I’m not exaggerating—just a week before accepting my new position at FFC’s Oak Park location, I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. My battles for mental health are the result of genetic pre-dispositions and having grown up under the spell of a hyper-controlling and abusive father who is currently serving a prison sentence for a felony domestic assault.

I came to FFC during a major depressive episode—I almost didn’t even accept the job when Larry offered it because I didn’t believe I could thrive in a new atmosphere, especially one in the fitness industry. I, like many of my fellow depression survivors, fall into ruts of inactivity. Couple that with some bad body images, and you’ve got one very anxious couch potato in a gym full of people who are actively living their lives. Obviously, I accepted the job—with the encouragement from my husband—and I’ve loved working in Oak Park’s Local ’84, making connections, and catching that active energy from my coworkers that I couldn’t quite find within myself.

FFC Oak Park employee spotlight ChicagoIt has been about four months since I sent Larry the email to accept the open position, and I’ve experienced a change in my GAD, depression, and PTSD symptoms. I give a lot of credit to the positive working environment that FFC provides, but I also have to give credit to the first spin class I attended with Amy O’Dea. (Full disclosure: some credit must also go to my therapist and psychiatrist and their diligence in getting me on the correct mix and dose of medications.)

On a Wednesday morning in April, I walked into Studio 1 (very tired after losing many hours of sleep to anxiety over my first spin class) to fulfill my New Employee Orientation requirement to take a group fitness class, and was greeted by a highly energetic instructor, Amy. She was genuinely happy to be there and equally excited to help me set up my spin bike.

Related: how exercise helped save FFC Lincoln Park employee Nicole Achille’s life.

As members trickled in, my heart raced—I’d like to think it was because I was pedaling and I was working up a sweat, but I was also experiencing a rush of cortisol from neuron to neuron… and I was feeling quite anxious. I wish I could remember every little detail of that first 45-minute class, but the only thing I’m sure of is that my legs kept moving.

For years, every time my sister was visiting from DC, she would try to get me into a spin class with her. Every time, I turned down her offer—largely due to the anxiety triggered by trying something new. Now, I can’t go a week without fighting with that red resistance lever.

How spinning helped me overcome anxiety, depression and PTSD.In that first class, I was convinced I would fail. I truly did not have faith in my body; I didn’t believe my legs could carry me through the class. “Focus on the beat, and trust your legs,” I hear Amy repeat that affirmation several times as she leads us through various drills in the subsequent classes I’ve taken, and it’s still much easier said than done. But that day, when I finally listened and allowed a little trust of my legs, a few tears crept from my eyes. I wasn’t in pain, and my chest didn’t hurt. Yet there I was, pedaling hard against the heavy resistance and fighting even harder against the urge to cry.

“You woke up today. You made it here,” Amy likes to remind us at the beginning of most classes. To some, it might sound like cheesy “fitspo,” but for me, it’s a reminder that I’m alive, that I made an active choice to participate in life, that I can move my body, and I can trust myself.

I cried in that first class, not because the drills were too hard, but because my body had proven my brain wrong — it had proven my GAD, depression, and PTSD wrong. Every day I get to test my limits – whether it’s spinning or returning to strength training – in combination with correct medication, my heart heals a little bit more. I’ve regained a trust in myself that lessens the power that anxiety, depression, and PTSD have over me.

“Your mind will give up before your body does,” so I choose not to believe my struggling mind when she tries to convince me I can’t keep going. Instead, I keep pedaling, keep breathing, keep living.

Post written by Rebekah Frese, FFC Oak Park local ’84 Cafe attendant.

About Rebekah

Rebekah is an Iowa native who has found a home in Chicagoland. Her hobbies include swinging kettlebells, trying to take her pet bunny on walks, and playing logic games. While on breaks at FFC, she’s preparing for the LSAT in hopes of starting law school next fall. You can find her on Instagram: @freser_.

 

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FFC employee spotlight: how spinning helped Rebekah overcome anxiety, depression and PTSD

For more than 10 years, the idea of trekking in Europe had been on my mind – it only needed a focus to actually come to life. I soon found it: a 100-mile trek around the largest massif in Europe called the Tour du Mont Blanc.

I have been an avid backpacker most of my life, hiking in the Rockies, the Southwest, the Southeast, and especially in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I looked for every possible opportunity to be on a trail, even volunteering for a few years to lead high school kids from a church camp on week-long backpacking trips.

Throughout my life, time for such adventures was mostly hard to come by. For example, if I played golf, I could play every week – however, as my thing was backpacking, I needed more than 3 or 4 hours a week. During a good year, I might be able to slip away for an entire 7-day stretch. But as I assumed more and more responsibility, time became more and more precious, and increasingly hard to find.

Though fitting hiking into my schedule was difficult, I committed myself to always being ready and fit for trekking. Wherever my work took me, I joined a gym. And if I wasn’t in the gym, I was pacing the streets – often walking 4 or 5 miles before sunrise. When I retired in 2010, I made it a point to hike more often – so far I’ve completed The Apostle Islands, Sleeping Bear National Seashore, Big Bend National Park, Yellowstone, the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin, the River to River Trail in Shawnee National Forest, the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia — and especially the Smokies, where I would go again and again.

Tour du Mont Blanc trek

Making the Commitment

It was shortly after I retired that I connected with REI Adventure Tours and decided that I would trek the Tour du Mont Blanc – it became number one on my bucket list. I was accustomed to planning my own treks. The planning and mapping was as much a part of the adventure as the trip itself.

Trek Tour du Mont Blanc mountains

However, I found it very convenient, when I was exploring new grounds, to let REI do the planning for me.

My first adventure with REI was a week-long winter snowshoe trek through the woods in Vermont. I never dreamed how exhausting it might be to trek in the snow! After that, I let REI plan a trip to Yellowstone. I was so pleased with the service I decided I would trek Mont Blanc using their service.

I must admit, it was the Cadillac version of trekking. I only carried a day pack, slept in a bed and had a hot meal and shower every night. Still, the Tour du Mont Blanc was challenging.

Related: read how member Nisha ran the Marathon des Sables, billed one of the toughest in the world, took a break from fitness and found her groove again with FFC.

Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc

The trek began in Geneva, Switzerland. It was there that I discovered that I was a part of an unusually small group of three and a guide, who met us at the airport, making a fourth. We also had a porter who provisioned us and moved our luggage from inn to inn at the trail’s end each day.

Over the course of 13 days, we crossed the border from France into Italy, into Switzerland, and back into France, trekking from Chamonix (the home of the first winter Olympics) to Courmayeur in Italy, to iconic ski villages, to the tiny Swiss mountain village of La Fouly, and many places in between. We trekked about 97 miles, mostly above the tree line, often gaining 3,000 to 4,000 feet in elevation on the trail each day, many times before noon! The scenery was idyllic and truly pastoral – we walked amid ubiquitous herds of grazing cows, goats, and sheep with their iconic bells, often heard over great distances.

Swiss village near Tour du Mont BlancWe were welcomed by dairy farmers in France who proudly displayed their caves of aging cheese. We trekked on sacred ground where the French Resistance had fought valiantly during WW2. We crossed the border into Italy and found shade in the ruins of Italian battle bulwarks where we caught our breath.

We were greeted with bonjour and buona giornata by salvos of international trekkers and locals alike. We trekked old Roman-built roads and visited an ancient church isolated in the mountains, gilded in gold. We trekked through the narrow streets of picturesque Swiss villages, sometimes beginning or ending our days on gondolas, which rose high above the crisscrossing ski slopes of the area.

Toward the end of our trip, we found ourselves serendipitously caught up in the local celebration of Swiss National Day (to commemorate the founding of the Swiss Confederacy), amongst a marching band, a parade of flag-waving children, and fireworks. Needless to say, I came home with much more than a t-shirt bragging I’d trekked Mont Blanc – I returned with memories that will never be erased.

Training for the Trek at FFC

I joined FFC more than two years ago and am forever grateful for their warm welcome into the club. In comparison to Midtown, FFC Oak Park was the Cadillac version which I needed for the Cadillac trek on which I had my sights set. And once I had committed, last January, to the Tour du Mont Blanc, I was even more serious about being fit for the trek. Through the winter I especially focused on a well-rounded fitness program that included cardio, strength, flexibility and balance.

My next big adventure will be to trek southeastern Idaho, near Yellowstone. Until then, I’ll be in the club keeping my tone and my mountain legs in shape!

Trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc

Post written by FFC Oak Park member Michael Winters.

 

 

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