Happy holidays everyone! It’s been a very busy year in running, school and work, and I am quite happy 2014 is coming to an end. I’ve adjusted to my new job at Montefiore as a clinical dietitian, all my big races are behind me, and I can FINALLY see the light at the end of my never-ending grad school tunnel (i.e. May 2015). E and I are heading to Europe over the holidays for a MUCH needed break – our first real chunk of time off in a year. It will be a cold, wet and not exactly relaxing big city tour, but we’re excited to see E’s family in Amsterdam and visit some of our favorite spots in London and Paris.

My 2015 race calendar is pretty much empty, which is a strange yet refreshing feeling coming off of Spring and Fall marathon training as well as E’s late November ultra (during which I ran an impromptu almost marathon). I’m a firm believer in enjoying some unstructured no pressure runs after a training cycle – for me, that has translated into 4 mostly easy paced runs per week, including one longish run to maintain endurance. It’s still hard to get out of bed for those 6am pre-work East River runs, especially on dreary wet days like today, but with the right music and warm, reflective gear, it’s not so bad.

That said, without any big races to motivate me, I’m starting to feel a running rut come on, and that means it’s time to mix up my fitness routine. Usually I opt for cross training classes (spin, boot camp, pilates, etc), but this past week, I signed up for Ironstrength, a combined running/strength training workout led by Sports doctor Jordan Metzl that I’ve been meaning to try for ages, and “The Distance” class at Mile High Run Club (MHRC), the so-called “Soul Cycle of running” that recently opened in NYC and piqued my curiosity. Note to self – DO NOT try these classes on consecutive days. I honestly did not realize that Ironstrength involved so much running, and that the “distance” class was mostly hill repeats and intervals. Oops. I could hardly move yesterday.

Let’s start with Ironstrength. It’s a fun, usually FREE group workout that incorporates running and strength training in various outdoor and indoor locations around NYC. All you have to do is join Dr. Metzl’s email list on his Ironstrength page and you will receive information regarding upcoming classes, which occur on a fairly regular basis. As stated on Metzl’s website, Ironstrength “teaches athletes of all ages how to build strength and reduce the aches and pains of every life in the process.” Or perhaps the pain you’ll feel during and after the workout will make the rest of your life feel less painful by comparison… 🙂

My understanding/assumption is that the specific workout changes based on location (outdoor parks, indoor studios etc) and that day’s focus (i.e. yoga for runners vs the type of class that I did). I like that variety is built into the class in both location, time/day and workout, though I suppose that makes it more difficult to go regularly. For some reason, I thought our class would be mostly strength training based, even though E said he had read otherwise. Having skipped our planned Saturday long run, I convinced him that we should run the 5M from our apartment up to Central Park to squeeze in some cardio.

We met up with a large group at the Delacorte Theater, along with many regulars and other newbies like us. Dr. Metzl arrived with a gigantic Santa-like bag of Thorlo socks, which he promised we would receive if we completed the workout. Bribery with awesome free socks for finishing a grueling but awesome free class – right up my alley!

We quickly discovered that the first half of the 1hr+ workout would involve hill repeats. E gave me his best “not impressed” with me face. Oops. At least we were very warmed up! The running segment was about 30min/3M, as follows: Skip up the hill (harder than it sounds on uneven, sandy terrain), jog down; sprint up, 10 push-ups at top, jog down; skip up/jog down, sprint up/jog down x 2 with another set of push-ups; skip up/jog down, sprint up/jog down x 3 with another set of push-ups; then skip up/jog down, jog up and over to the strength training area a few minutes away. Given how cold it was, I was glad we ran beforehand – though I think 1-2M would have sufficed!

With 8M under my belt and months of being a delinquent in the strength training arena, the next part was very challenging, but Dr. Metzl made it fun. He blasted some great music, including holiday favorites while we warmed up and Baby Got Back for the jump squat sequence, which amused many passers-by. Then there were scissor lunges, planks, two variations of burpees, core exercises, and other things I must have mentally blocked out. We got very dirty as we were doing all of this on the ground – thankfully my gloves protected my hands and I wore dark clothing.

When we finished, Metzl dumped the socks into a pile on the ground and it was like dozens of brides at a sample sale swarmed in to find their size. People really wanted those socks! I don’t blame them – they’re great and quite pricey. I snagged a neon green pair in my size. In return for hooking us up with free gear, we had to take a photo with the Thorlo logo at the end showing off what we got (I’m all the way on the right). Good deal if you ask me.

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The verdict: E and I will definitely be back for another Ironstrength class, though next time after a shorter warm up so we can push ourselves harder and get more out of the class. Good vibe, adjustable to most levels, and often free (if not, it’s for charity).

Now let’s turn to the Mile High Run Club (MHRC), which is on the other end of the class spectrum. It’s indoor, high end, smaller group (up to 30 runners per class) and definitely not free. Well, to be fair, I had a promo code that made my first class free, but they run $34 a pop or less if you get a 5/10 pack.

MHRC has two types of classes – “dash 28,” which includes 2-3M of running plus strength training, and “the distance,” which includes at least 5M of running. I chose the latter thinking it would involve fewer intervals/hill repeats, but I was very wrong. That was pretty much the entire class, which makes sense. No one would pay that much for an easy treadmill workout.

As a mostly outdoor runner, I was really curious about this studio when I heard about it. I once again convinced E to come with me. I’ve never tried Soul Cycle, but I often do speed-work on the treadmill and enjoy spin classes, so I understand the appeal of challenging group indoor workouts, particularly when the weather turns cold and nasty. The concept of a treadmill club is pretty brilliant, given the success of spinning studios and the lack of a running counterpart until now. Just like with spinning, you have control over how hard you push yourself on the treadmill in the context of whatever your instructor is telling you to do, thus allowing for some flexibility. I do feel, however, that there is a higher risk of injury with running classes, especially in a group (potentially competitive) setting, making it important that the coach help runners find that balance between challenging themselves and going too far.

The facilities are very new and pretty – a welcome area out front selling running books, accessories, clothes, drinks etc, small but lovely changing rooms with showers and lockers (great toiletries, towels, hair dryer etc provided), more lockers outside near the studio, a foam rolling area (which I didn’t get a chance to see) and the studio itself, with mirrors and special lighting lining the walls, a soft type of material on the ground, and 30 Woodway 4Front treadmills, which I’ve been told are the best machines out there.

I expected the studio to be packed based on when I signed up online (you can choose your treadmill and they were mostly booked), but only about 10 people showed up. The studio was dimly lit, and the music was loud. I really did feel like I was in a spin class – except I was running on a somewhat intimidating treadmill. Michael (a Lululemon ambassador and head coach of Team Lipstick in NYC) was our coach and before class started, he introduced himself to each runner, asked if it was our first time, and reviewed various effort levels/speeds (they have “jogger” and “racer” categories for levels 1-4, with each level specifying a speed range), which I thought was nice.

As a group, he started us off with about 9min of warm up, during which he explained the workout ahead, essentially hill repeats and “follow throughs” (running at high incline and then lowering slightly while speeding up), intervals at various effort levels (mostly 1-2min), and at the end, a mini “race” that simulated a 4 miler in Central park and the various ups and downs along with it. All the while, music blasted and the dim lighting shifted to the beat, but not so much that it was distracting. I really liked that Michael picked a race to tie into the workout – for me, it was a reminder that the whole purpose of treadmill running is to help me prepare for outdoor running/racing, even if that’s not true for everyone. It was a tough session in my opinion – but again, you make it as easy or as hard as you want. E took it fairly easy, I pushed myself a little but definitely not as much as I would in a true speed/hill session on fresh legs.

Our main issue with the entire experience involved the treadmills. I expected a really smooth ride based on everyone raving about them, but instead these machines bounced furiously with each step. I felt so unstable at times that I held back for fear I’d fly off (my towel and shirt kept doing so), and the added movement made my stomach uneasy. E said it hurt his feet. I was especially worried given how dark it was. E was more turned off by the treadmills than I was, but I agreed that I would not want to run on those machines again with that much bounce.

Michael and I chatted after class and he informed me that they’re replacing the soft flooring (which is causing the bounce) with a harder surface in the next few days, which will hopefully resolve the issue. I’d add to this the recommendation that they place glow tape along the edges of the treadmill to make it a bit safer. Michael and I also talked about the variation between classes, and he explained that every coach does something different, so I’m curious to go back and try someone else’s class, once the ground is fixed.

I thought Michael did a great job – good energy, good music, and he circled about the room the entire time to dole out encouragement and running tips. I’ve never taught a group class like this one, but I think I would have fun doing it – something to consider for the new year, as they said they’re still looking for coaches.

The verdict: Cool modern space and great concept that just needs a few tweaks, as you might expect from a new business. It’s pricey, but they have promotions and offer student discounts. Personally, I would probably only go on occasion, but that’s mainly because I prefer outdoor running and sometimes would rather do speed-work alone. I would love to try another class once the treadmills become less bouncy, and I may even submit my resume to become a coach at some point.

Interestingly, Metzl taught an Ironstrength class at MHRC not long ago, and I was told he would be teaching once a month next year. So perhaps that means the best of both? I’ll certainly sign up and report back!

Happy Holidays!

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