On Bar Method & Running: Finding my Center on the Road and at the Barre

by Amy Lamare

(this originally ran in May 2013 on a number of websites)

1502764_10151823637810885_2108691535_oI have not been a runner for long. As the New Year dawned 2012, I was looking for a way to get back in shape. A lengthy stretch of unemployment and underemployment as well as a lower back injury had taken their toll. I was 55lbs heavier than I’d been for most of my adult life.

I had always been thin and fit. Not a natural athlete, what I lacked in coordination and flexibility I made up for with energy. Every aerobics fad to hit the culture from the late 1980s to the late 2000s became a part of my life. I’ve stepped, I’ve salsaed, I’ve hip hopped—if it hit my gym, I tried it. Even the pole classes. I’ve logged more time on stair masters, elliptical, exercise bikes and treadmills than I care to count. I was fit. I was thin. But I was bored as hell. Nothing stuck. Nothing made me feel centered or inspired passion.

In January of 2012, at 42 years old and a size 14 for the first time in my life, I took a long, hard look in the mirror and decided this was not how I wanted to live or look. It just wasn’t me.  I called a friend and dared her to run the Disneyland ½ marathon with me over Labor Day weekend. I’d never run more than a 5K and that had been a decade prior. I do not have a runner’s physique, even when I am thin. Let’s just say I wear 2 or 3 sports bras at a time when I run and leave it at that, OK?

Also in January of 2012, I took my first Bar Method class. It was an eye opener. In my younger years, I was a dancer—high school drill team, dance classes, the usual teenage stuff. I was also very flexible. I am double jointed and was able to do the splits well into my 30s. Bar Method showed me just how inflexible I’d become. That first class (and many since) showed me just how far I’d let my fitness go and how very far I’d have to go to rebuild it.

Fortunately I was up for the challenge.

I started running. And boy oh boy was I slow. My first ½ marathon clocked in at 3:03. But I was hooked. I signed up for another and finished it in 2:52. Then I set a new New Year’s challenge in 2013: I was going to run three ½ marathons in a month. I signed up for the Tinker bell  ½, Pasadena Rock n Roll ½ and Surf City ½  and in all of them my time improved, but never was I faster than 2:37 (Pasadena).

Then I started working at the Bar Method. I’m running the Fitness Challenge for the West Hollywood, West Los Angeles and Brentwood studios. I’ve talked to hundreds of our clients about their fitness regimens, goals and challenges and noticed a common thread –  Bar Method gave them a spot of peace and centeredness in their day. And it struck me—Bar Method and Running are not that different.

Running is a discipline more so than it is a sport in many ways. You can be the worst runner in the world, or the slowest, but if you keep at it, you will get better. It will never be easy and there will always be new challenges, but each step forward encourages you to seek the next.

Bar Method is also a discipline. Many of us come to it after an injury. Many of us come to it hoping to be able to do pushups on our toes, become more flexible, build a leaner and stronger body. Bar Method never gets easier. There are always new challenges, ways to push yourself, tuck harder, go lower, break through to the next level.

Nine months after my first half marathon, I’ve run seven. My eighth is in two weeks. My first full marathon is in October.  Oh, and by the way, I’ve lost 73 pounds and now wear a size 4.

Last weekend, before the Orange County Half Marathon I went to bed panicking. I wasn’t getting better. I wasn’t getting faster. I was slogging through the miles (oh so many miles) with determination, but no joy. I wondered if I was insane to think I could run 26.2 miles this fall. I thought about how hard I fight time and again for just those 13.1. I thought about how my hips and hamstrings tend to lock up around mile 9, making for four very painful miles.

I woke up that Sunday morning at 3:45am to prep for the race. And instead of doing the typical runner’s stretches, I instead started running through a series of Bar Method moves and stretches.  I did arabesque, I did pretzel, I put my leg up on the counter in my hotel room and did fold over, I hit the floor for a two minute plank. I did arabesque again, leaning down into it to get two different stretches on each leg. I did all of this to a soundtrack of Beastie Boys music while taking in carbs, electrolytes, bananas and caffeine.

The Orange County Marathon and Half Marathon course is beautiful. Much of it has an ocean view. But that isn’t what I was paying attention to. No, what had grabbed my attention was my speed. I ran the first mile in 9:04. I ran the 5K in 30 minutes, the 10k in 1:01, 10 miles in 1:47. I felt strong, I felt like my legs and arms were moving not from my hips and shoulder but from my CORE.

All the work I’ve done in Bar Method classes—all that posture work and core work—all those tucks and holds –had immeasurably improved my running in a way simply slogging through the miles had not. Running from your core does many things—it improves cadence and pace, it keeps your legs fresher over long miles, and it also minimizes a runner’s chance of injury.

Obviously, when you run, you use your legs. But for many runners, we use our legs way too much—leading to shin splints, mutinous hamstrings, hip pain and more. When you run from your core, you run with your whole body. You run aware of your whole body. You learn how to relax your legs even as the miles mount and the hours of running pass.

The Bar Method helped me take the peace and centeredness of class and use it as a significant strength in a distance run. The Bar Method got my hamstrings and hips looser and more warmed up than any traditional stretching had been able to do.

I finished my Orange County ½ Marathon in 2:22. (Disclaimer: I pause my run tracking app when I am in line for the porta potty so that I am only recording Time In Motion. Sometimes those porta potty lines are 10 or more minutes long.)  I had shaved 15 minutes off my previous PR.

And I owe it all to The Bar Method and the principles the classes have taught me, the mind-body connectedness it has given me, and the strength and posture I have attained as a result.

My next ½ Marathon is on June 2nd. I am hoping to break 2:20. Before then, I have a lot of runs and a lot of Bar Method classes to take. Clearly, this combination is a winner for me. I am no longer bored with my workout. I am challenged by both practices and humbled by the discipline they’ve taught me. On a vainer note, I am also stoked by the changes the two have brought to my body.

Update:
1/2/14: I completed my 13 13.1s in 2013, set a new PR, had a ton of fun, met some new friends, and continue to seek inspiration both on the road and at the barre. In January I will be running two half marathons and a 10k as well as participating in the January Bar Method Fitness Challenge and taking 18 classes in January. I’m also doing the 30 Day Plank Challenge – by January 30th, I’ll be doing 5 minute planks.

In 2014 I am running 14 half marathons as well as a full marathon. Chase your goals, whatever they are, because nothing feels better than when you achieve them.

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