Friday, July 26, 2013

Denver, Colorado

I recently returned from a four day trip to Denver, Colorado. I few out Monday in advance of a two-day conference I was attended for work and returned Thursday night. Since the conference was all day Tuesday and Wednesday, this gave me a little time to see the sights.

Monday I had only one evening conference event to attend. I arrived around lunch time in high altitude city of Denver. The first surprise was how flat everything was. I was expecting the mountains, but Denver, and the area north east of the city where the airport is located was very flat and arid looking. The foothills were barely visible in the distance.

I arrived at my hotel and checked into my room at the Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel.

I had been sitting for so long between the airplane and the trips to and from the airport, I decided to head down to the fitness center for a run. The fitness center was amazing -- a really full gym. I was extra delighted that they had foam rollers for my exercises for my tendonitis.

I quickly discovered that what they say about it being more difficult to exercise at altitude is 100% true. I had a 4.5 mile run scheduled for Monday. I normally take a run that length at around 9:50 to 10:00 miles. That Monday in Denver I slogged through 10:30 minute miles and felt it. Whew!

I decided to relax by floating around in the pool for a while. The pool, like the fitness center, was very nice. It was situated outside on a roof between two parts of the building, but still seemed to get good sun in the afternoon while I was out there.

After a quick shower, I decided to head out and look around the local area. The hotel was located on the 16th Street Mall, which seems to be the main commercial street in Denver.

I was quite hungry even though it was only 3:30 p.m. Mountain Time because it was 5:30 p.m. to me (as I was still on Eastern Time). I decided to check out a restaurant, Marlowe's.

There I had an amazing salad with local greens and arugula, goat cheese, roasted almonds, dates, grilled pear, and shrimp with a wine vinaigrette. (I followed this up with a bubble tea at a small tea place on the 16th Street Mall. The tea was less than satisfying and didn't compete with LimeRed in Amherst at all.)

I then walked around the LoDo, Denver's lower downtown and most historic district.

I especially loved a really awesome indie bookstore, Tattered Cover.

I headed back to the hotel around 5:00 p.m. for a conference event and then collapsed into bed.

Tuesday was mostly taken up with conference events, however, in the evening, the conference sponsored an event -- a trip to Coors Field to see the Colorado Rockies play the Miami Marlins.

While the game featured some less than stellar baseball, I had a blast. I kept a score card (also badly -- I hadn't done it since I was a kid and kind of forgot). Colorado lost, but it was still great to see a new baseball stadium and enjoy a major league baseball game. I got slightly lost on the walk home, but fortunately was helped by a policeman. After that, I ran into someone from my conference (who also happened to be from Colorado) and was able to successfully get back to the hotel on foot.

Wednesday was the last day of the conference. After spending all day in sessions, I enjoyed a nice dinner with colleagues and then decided to head out for a walk. I wandered over to the Denver Civic Center.

At the heart of the Civic Center, through the Voorhies Memorial gateway, was a lovely park!

On the other side of the park, at the exit, was the also beautiful Greek Theater.

Also off the park, was the Denver City and County Building.

Thursday morning I woke up to a lot of free time for exploring. I was finished with my conference responsibilities and had until 2:45 p.m. when I had to go to the airport. I had a quick breakfast at the hotel. My first hotel room had gotten a huge leak in the bathroom (coming from the floor above). They had needed to move me, but only had one very small free room left. As a result, they gave me access to the 22nd floor special club (aka. place for rich guests). I was able to go up there and get a very nice free breakfast before heading out for the day.

On an earlier exploratory walk, I had noticed that Denver offered a free museum at the Federal Reserve called The Money Museum. I decided to check it out.

The museum was very small, but it was pretty cool to get to see $30,000,000 in $100 bills and learn some history of our currency. For example, the government stopped producing $500 and $1,000 bills, so $100 bills are the most you can get. I also got a free bag of shredded money. Apparently they misprint a lot of money and then shred it for souvenirs and compost -- we're talking millions of dollars in misprints a week.

I knew that in the afternoon I wanted to go over to the art museum, but it was still very early, so I walked around the downtown more. I came upon the performing center where the opera, ballet, musical theatre, and symphony all perform.

On the other side of the theatre there was a cool sculpture garden.

I then headed back to the hotel to check out. I had wanted a quick lunch, so I checked out a restaurant that is apparently a chain out west, Noodles & Company. I'm usually not a fan of chains, but I wanted to be quick and cheap, plus they reported all their calories per item on their menu. The meal was less than stellar, but I was in an out.

I headed back through the Civic Center towards the Denver Museum of Art. I passed the public library.

The Denver Art Museum was an amazing modern structure.

They had some neat sculptures outside.

I had come to the museum to check out a special exhibit called, Spun: Adventures in Textiles. Since I'm such a fiber arts fan, this really appealed (even though I'm not usually one for visual art and art museums -- I really should have had more art appreciation education).

The Denver Art Museum turned out to be amazing. They have a modern collection and a traditional collection houses in two different (but connected) buildings.

To my surprise, I very much preferred the modern collection. The Spun exhibit was really integrated throughout all the other exhibits in the museum, so I got to see the entire place. Here are some of the cool things I saw.

My favorite exhibit was part of Spun called, Material World, which was largely pulled together from the museum's collection. I loved how it featured surprising materials as art. A lot of the exhibits were also ones that you experienced.

One of my favorite pieces of all was called, Walking in Venus blue cave. You got to walk inside.


The entire cave was very tactile and smoochy as it's made with nylon and styrofoam beads. The light was amazingly soothing. You couldn't take anything in with you, which was fine, since it was just something to experience -- very evocative. The pictures I've posted of Walking in Venus blue cave are from the Denver Art Museum's website.

Another interesting piece of art was from the traditional collection and had nothing to do with the Spun exhibit. It is said to be the most controversial painting in the museum, The Cutting Scene by George Catlin.

Catlin's works, such as The Cutting Scene which shows the Mandan O-Kee-Pa ceremony, are sometimes thought to be explorations of Native Americans and other times thought to be important historical record of lost traditions. The Cutting Scene is one in a series of four paintings Catlin pained detailing the O-Kee-Pa ceremony. The members of this ceremony are willing participants in this ceremony which was held to insure their community's success. Many of Catlin's paintings have an unfinished look as he painted quickly wanting to capture details of these ceremonies as quickly as possible. Whatever your take on the art and Catlin's motivations, it was very interesting to learn about these traditions and Catlin's documentary work through painting.

After spending several hours in the museum, I began to head back to the hotel. I found the Civic Center Park to be very busy. Apparently on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the summer, they put on an event Civic Center EATS where local food trucks come.

I will be honest, I am a little wary of eating food off a truck, but I felt okay about having a beverage. I checked out the Green Giraffe.

I ended up getting a drink called the Leanergizer which had fresh lemon, baby spinach, kale, wheatgrass, and green apple. It basically just tasted like lemons though.

Finishing up this final adventure, I headed back to the hotel and caught the shuttle to the airport. I am now back in Amherst and happy to be home with Seth and our fuzzy lady cat!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Focus T25: Lower Focus and Ab Intervals

This morning, I got to see Seth do the final workouts from the Alpha cycle of T25 that I have left to review, Lower Focus and Ab Intervals.

Today, he was doing a double workout. The calendar for Focus T25 had you working out five days a week. Four of these days (Monday - Thursday) you do one 25 minute workout, but on the fifth day (Friday), you do two 25 minute workouts back to back for a total of 50 minutes (plus around another ten for the stretches). Saturday is an off day for the program, where you take your measurements and track your progress -- they call it Stat-urday. Sunday you do the Stretch workout. Because of the intense heat on Friday, Seth had intelligently moved his Friday workouts to Sunday.

This morning Seth started out with the Lower Focus DVD. I have to say this one looked hard. There were tons of squats and lunges. The moves definitely worked all parts of the legs.

The workout started in the standard way with some knee lifts, jogging, and high knees. There was then a jumping jack progression, which I am sure really got the heart rate up nice and fast.

Shaun T then quickly moved into the first (of many) sets of squats. Again, everything was done in progression. There were basic squats, basic squats with your arms held up, then pulses, and finally controlled jump squats. The moves were very traditional -- just the sort of thing that I do in my twice weekly aerobics class. But these moves are traditional classics because they work

The next section of exercises were focused on the calves and done on the left then right. You started with simple one-legged calf raises and then moved into one-legged calf hops. This is definitely a tricky balance move and requires you to stay, well, focused. 

Shaun T then moved into a set of lunges. This was the sequence that made me happy that I was watching rather than participating. Seth did narrow lunges, deeper lunges, pulsing lunges, and then a static lunge hold. (I was having flashbacks to the Back & 6-pack workout in Asylum where you have to hold a static lunge for about two minutes; two minutes in which I always seem to think I will collapse.) Of course, you have two legs, so Seth did this twice. 

Then it was burnout time where some of these moves were repeated at top intensity. Seth was doing great -- like a champ!

After the burnout, it was immediately back to lunges and squats, with an alternating lunge and squat sequence. Shaun T upped the difficulty but having you do a lunge and then two squat hops.

The next brief section focused on the adductors with adductor squats and then twists in the the adductor squat position. Seth actually said this felt good because he was using a slightly different part of his legs. From the adductor moves, Seth progressed to some cardio, which looked like it was fun and a nice change-up from the previous moves. He did some two knee ups (hopping while raising his knee). The move transitioned so he was doing a knee up and then cross. Again, this is a move that I recognized from aerobics class -- it's one I've always found fun, and Seth seemed to agree.

Following the brief "rest" on the legs with the cardio section, Seth moved onto some deadlifts, where he raised his knee, then brought it straight in back of him and bent down. After this was the final burnout, which incorporated most of the moves since the last burnout. 

The last minute of the workout finished up with a squat into a hip flexor stretch. There was then a three minute cool down that focused on stretching the legs, mostly the hamstrings and hip flexors.  All I could think was, "Wow!" This looked like an abbreviated version of the P90X Legs & Back workout with a better use of time. I can't wait to try this with Seth. He killed the workout and got to check off the "Nailed It!" box on his workout calendar. 

Immediately following the Lower Focus workout, Seth moved onto the second workout of the day, Ab Intervals. 

Seth reports that this is the second hardest workout in Focus T25 after Total Body Circuit. Because Seth has radial tunnel, his occupational therapist said that for push-ups and planks, he needs to modify and be on his knees -- it's bad for his forearms and wrists for him to put his full weight onto them at this point. As a result, he had to modify some of the moves in this workout. 

The workout began with a child's pose into plank sequence, which moved into a downward dog into plank. This then progressed into downward dog into spider lunge followed by downward dog into oblique knees. This was all a bit rough on Seth's wrists, so I was glad when he moved onto the next set of exercises, which were done in low hover. 

Shaun T had Seth move from low hover into a side plank where you did hip raises. Seth decided to follow Tanya for this and keep his lower knee down on the ground to keep him more supported. All of these moves were interspersed with v-holds. Seth did a great job with these. I personally have a lot of problem with keeping my legs straight when doing v-holds and often have to modify and bend my knees a little bit. I showed this to Seth for when his abs get tired. Tanya did not show any modifications for this move, so I thought it might be helpful. 

The next set of moves, alternating straight leg lifts, looked to be Pilates inspired and reminded me a lot of scissors. Finally after around 8 minutes of the 25 minute workout, we got our first interval -- a set of cardio moves to break up all the ab work, the "T" Shuffle. Seth says this is his favorite move. It is very similar to some of the more simple ladder drills I remember from Asylum 2. 

After that, Seth was back down on the floor for another set of straight legs, this time on the alternate side. This was followed by another cardio interval of hop squats. 

Following that, it was back to the floor again for more ab work -- I was getting to see why this workout was called Ab Intervals. Shaun T had everyone doing heel taps, straight leg lifts, and then alternative leg v-holds. This set was done twice with some jogging and squats to break up the intervals. 

Through most of this, Tanya was not really offering too many modification -- the only difference between what everyone else was doing and what Tanya was doing was that Tanya was more often leaving her legs grounded instead of in a hover position. This is still very hard, and I could definitely imagine people who are just getting into core work having to take frequent breaks. Better to do that than to put stress on your lower back. 

There was then another quick cardio interval with speed knee kicks. It was then back down to the floor again for some back work. Seth did superman, then superman with a lat pull down, then superman with a straight arm fly. The last move was exactly the same as swimming (coasting) in Asylum 1: Game Day. The last move was Rocketman, where you again lifted your legs but held your arms back instead of forward like in superman. Again, Tanya didn't offer modifications for these moves. In this case I understand -- there aren't really any modifications (at least that I know of) for these moves that work the back of the core. Like before, I'd recommend taking rests if you're new to this sort of thing. The last thing you want is to have all the tension pool in your lower back and cause a strain. 

Shaun T took another quick break to do some standing mountain climbers. I had just done that move while doing a workout from Insanity earlier today. There was then a set of moves again in low plank. You had to walk your feet in and out so that you were in a sort of v-up position. 

It was back to standing for some sprints into a standing table top. This was a sort of balance move from yoga where you stand on one leg, bend over at the waist, and stretch your arms in front of you. You need your core to stabilize. 

The final ab move was a set of pyramid in and out abs. This was also familiar from some of Shaun T's other workouts. You dropped from standing into a plank and did an in out ab, then jumped back up, then down for two in and out abs, and so on building up to six or seven reps. This is very hard and great cardio. 

Shaun T finished it up with some light jogging, and then it was on to the cool down with some ab and back stretches. 

Seth says that this is definitely a workout that he wants to work on improving. I think he's doing great since this is his first big foray into doing intensive core work. 

All in all, this seems like a great ab workout. Shaun T is always great on working both the back and front of your core. I like how balanced this workout was in this regard. I also think the cardio intervals are a great way to mix things up. It's so easy to do a ton of ab work, get fatigued, and have it be less effective. Having the cardio intervals is a great solution. 

Those are my last reviews for the Alpha cycle. Seth has another three weeks of Alpha (after completing two) before moving onto Beta. I'm excited to see his progress -- already he's definitely getting better with a lot of his workouts. Great job!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Run or Dye and Focus T25: Stretch

This Wednesday, Seth and I celebrated our three year anniversary! On Monday, Seth sent a surprise to my office. Flowers designed to look like a red velvet cupcake. I was so surprised. 

Bonus, the flowers are carnations, my favorite. We took all day Wednesday off from work and had a wonderful day. It was super hot, and we don't have a/c at our condo, so we decided to take a trip to wander around the shops in West Hartford. We had a delicious dinner at Viva Fresh Pasta in Northampton and then headed home to look at our wedding pictures. I even, three years later, managed to post some good ones on Facebook. Here's an assortment of my favorites.

Today, we continued with the fun with a trip down to Rentschler Field in Hartford, Connecticut to take place in a color run called Run or Dye.

We arrived at 9:00 a.m. The first wave was off running at 9:00 and they would have waves heading out until 10:40. We decided not to make ourselves get up too early. However, this may have been a mistake. The registration line was packed. 

Run and Dye offered packet pick up the night before, but it was in Farmington, Connecticut, which doesn't work for people traveling like us. Most other races that I've participated in have offered early packet pick up, but check in day-of still only take a few minutes. In this case, it took 25 minutes. Very disorganized. After getting our bibs, we had to get in another line to get t-shirts. This was a short line and volunteers were doing their best, but this was still bad planning. 

Another big problem in my opinion was the lack of bag check. We had ended up parking about half a mile away. No problem, expect for after we checked in we had bags and no place to put them. We had to trek back to the car and then bag again to the start line. We had covered 1.5 miles and not moved a step.

With the long wait times and the walk from the car and to the car and from the car, it was already after 10:00 a.m., and we hadn't gone anywhere. The weather had gotten killer hot, approximately 88 degrees, humid, and very sunny. It felt much warmer; the air was heavy and oppressive. 

We lined up in the starting shoot and people started throwing around paint. Here is where the fun started. The dye that is used at this event is imported from India where it's produced for Holi. The dye is plant based and (supposedly) easy to get out of things. (Note: This is only partly true.)

We started our race with people throwing dye all over the place. Already we were slightly colorful. 

It quickly became apparent that Run or Dye should really have been called Walk or Dye. Hardly anyone was running. Normally, I would have found this really a bother, but with the heat as oppressive as it was (and having run 7 miles the previous day), I didn't want to do too much running either. I was worried about heat sickness. 

Seth and I ended up walk/running the race, doing as much running as we could. This was very limited because of the packed course. We maybe ran 1/4 of the run, and we ran way way more than most people who I think didn't run at all. Of course, I think a lot of people at the race were not regular runners, so running in this heat would have been a big stretch. 

The race had you running 5K. At every kilometer, you ran through a group of volunteers who pelted you with dye. First we ran through yellow, then blue, then pink, then green. Suspiciously, the orange group was missing, and we went 2K without any dye which was kind of disappointing. 

There were first responders (fire, police) everywhere providing medical assistance because of the heat. The weather was definitely a huge detractor for the event, especially considering how overheated we got waiting in lines. 

But we made it -- all 5K!

As you can see, we got pretty dye covered. My legs were especially colorful. My shoes got completely yellow when we ran through the yellow dye area because they had spread the dye on the ground (which was kind of fun).

Following the race we headed over to my Dad and Step-Mom's house, less than 10 minutes away. 

So how was it to get the dye off? Hard. My skin is pretty much clean now, but some purple dye is sticking it out on my back. And I scrubbed hard. My red shorts got clean, but our white shirts will never be white again. I also don't think my shoes will lose their yellow sheen. Both of these things are fine -- we wore old clothing that we didn't mind getting permanently "colorful" on purpose.

While the color portion of the run was a good time, the race was way too disorganized to have it be a great experience overall -- there was just too much frustration. The weather definitely played a factor. I was glad I got to try a color run, but I'm not sure I'd be compelled to do it again based on the experience I had. Honestly, I prefer the more standard 5K or 10K (or a good OCR). 

After the race, Seth and I decided we wanted to do something nice for our body -- a good stretch. We popped the Focus T25: Stretch DVD into the player. This is the standard Sunday workout in the Alpha cycle. (I've reviewed the Cardio, Speed 1.0, and Total Body Circuit workouts from the Alpha cycle already. I'll add my reviews about the Lower Focus and Ab Interval workouts soon.)

The Focus T25: Stretch workout is one of my favorite active stretches I've ever done. I am notoriously inflexible and really don't enjoy stretching too much. (I find it boring.) Twenty-five minutes is perfect for me for this reason. It gets me to stretch, and, since it's only 25 minutes, I don't get bored. Also, this stretch workout is very dynamic. You are moving fairly efficiently through the movements, approximately one per minute, and really need to focus. 

Most of the stretches are for the lower body. I tend to do more lower body work than upper body work because I do a fair amount of running and aerobics. I strength train my upper body two or three days a week, but that pales compared to the six days a week that my lower body gets a workout. For this reason, the emphasis on lower body with this is ideal. I also find that the stretch workout is really good for the tendinitis in my hip since you do a lot of hip stretching.

The workout starts with with alternating knee holds and transitions into alternating straight leg kicks. This works to warm you up quickly. You then move into some static calf stretches. Pretty standard. 

The next move I really like, dynamic squats into hip flexor stretches. You do the left leg first finally stopping to hold the hip flexor stretch for a minute. After that you repeat on the right leg. We then did lateral lunges left then right, stopping to do a hamstring touch-the-floor-in-the-center type stretch.

After that we moved to a balance move where you cradle one leg and balance on the other. This wasn't as much of a stretch as some other moves for me, but keeping ones balance sharp is always a good call. 

We then moved onto some stretches for the back: a torso twist and then cat-cow from yoga. This all felt fantastic. The next move was a downward dog from which you move into plank and draw your knee into your elbow. I would not necessarily consider this a stretch, but it does do a great job working your core. Following this we got to rest in child's pose before stretching our back more with an arm reach in table top. This was followed with a stretch in spider position. 

The next set of stretches were again for the leg and hip and proved my favorite part of this workout and any stretch workout I have done. All of the moves were a variation on the stretch pigeon from yoga.

We started in low pigeon, with our legs like in the picture above but our torso folded forward. Then we moved into "S" torso, which required folding the back leg in and then twisting. I felt this really opening my hips and stretching my back and quads. We then intensified the quad stretch by lifting up the back leg. This felt amazing after all the running I had done over the past few days. We finished the stretch in high pigeon. Then everything got repeated on the other side.

Shaun T then had up move on to hip-ups, which I would consider more of a strengthening move for the glutes than a stretch. The last move is a knee cross over stretch, where lay on your back, bend one knee to the ceiling, and then cross your ankle over that leg and pull up. We did this on both sides. Again, this nicely stretches the glutes and hips and felt great.

I'm not officially even doing the T25 workout, but I have done the Stretch workout with Seth twice now. Honestly, it's worth the price of admission for just this one workout. Fantastic!

I'll be back tomorrow with my thoughts on the Lower Focus and Ab Interval workouts. Seth reports that they are very hard. This will be his second time through them. I didn't get to watch the first time or participate, so hence my review for the Stretch workout coming first. I'm excited to see the leg and ab workouts though. They will be the last workouts in the Alpha cycle to review. It's then a few more week of Alpha before Seth moves onto the Beta workouts, which will begin to incorporate resistance training with bands. I can't wait.