269 miles, give or take

IMG_1620 My last post was about cross-training, and this one is too — but a whole different kind.

Early this summer, on one of the first really nice weekends, my husband and I decided to take our bikes to the Jersey Shore and go for a ride. It wouldn’t be the first time we’d wind our way through its oceanfront towns on a two-wheeler. On this particular day, we rode round-trip from Sea Bright to Asbury Park, about 21 miles all told.

It felt so great to be active and outdoors, soaking in the sunshine! And what a range of towns and types of neighborhoods we went through. From palatial homes on acres of land to taffy-colored cottages to the gritty yet hip feel of Asbury Park, the Shore varies greatly.

Midway through our first ride, on June 1

Midway through our first ride, on June 1

The following weekend, we said, “Let’s do that again!” This time, though, we went round-trip from Asbury Park to Point Pleasant (about 22 miles). Midway, we stopped for lunch at an outdoor eatery, watching boats come and go through the inlet, and just reveled in being outside after what was such a horrible winter.

On the way home, we had a thought: We should try and bike the entire Jersey Shore over the course of the summer. After all, we’d already done two sections. And fitness goals are best broken down into more manageable pieces.

So that became our summer activity goal. We couldn’t wait to spend so much time being active outdoors — and even better, at the Shore.

The following week we did what turned out to be our longest ride: from Point Pleasant Beach to the south end of Island Beach State Park — 45 miles round-trip! On that outing, we saw close-up some of the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Countless times over countless years, I’ve driven along Route 35 and dreamed about living in some of the enormous beachfront homes. In Sandy’s wake, we saw large stretches of nothingness … empty plots of sand where those homes once stood. It was hard to fathom, even with our own eyes. And not much had changed from our last ride along that route, in fall 2013.

When it comes to Island Beach State Park (and if you’ve never gone there, you must — it’s beautiful), we’d driven to the south end but hadn’t bicycled it. It’s 8 miles from the entry gate … and I will confess, it’s a somewhat monotonous slog on a bike! But we did catch a glimpse of a large fox, the biggest I ever saw, before it darted back into the dunes.

The Cape May lighthouse

The Cape May lighthouse

We celebrated the end of that day’s ride with a giant dish of ice cream — no guilt!

Our next ride, over the July 4th weekend, took us to the southern tip of the state. We rode from Wildwood Crest to Cape May Point, stopping by the Cape May lighthouse for good measure. We’d done that route before; it’s one of our favorites. Cape May is a lovely place to bike. Tally for the day: about 24 miles.

A couple of weeks later, back in the northern reaches of the Shore, we rode about 25 miles round-trip from Long Branch to Sandy Hook. We commemorated that ride with a lighthouse photo as well.

For leg number six, we went south again and rode round-trip from Wildwood Crest to the northern end of Avalon, about 27 miles.

IMG_1567As we racked up the miles and pedaled through so many of the Jersey Shore’s towns, we were able to soak it all in much better than from the window of a car. Sure, we’ve driven pretty much every mile we rode, but the view from a bicycle is much preferred.

The summer was winding down and we had just three sections left to ride. We tried not to think about the calendar turning to fall, nor how we will possibly sustain so much activity over the winter months. I certainly don’t wish to spend 3 or 4 hours on the stationary bike at the gym!


The Barnegat Lighthouse

We devoted one day to Long Beach Island. The weather was gloomy … a bit of foreshadowing to fall. But thankfully, not a drop of rain on our 38-mile journey. At the south end of the island, we watched surfers riding the somewhat stormy waves. And at the north end: another lighthouse!

That left two legs, which we decided to do in one weekend. The best part is that we had the most perfect weather imaginable. Day one, the itinerary took us round-trip from the northern end of Avalon through Sea Isle City and Strathmere (quite possibly the narrowest stretch of the whole Shore) to the northern end of Ocean City. There loomed the largest and highest bridge of the whole top-to-bottom Shore route. Originally, I’d intended that we’d do it as part of our last ride. That day, though, we realized that the MS bike ride was in progress, with riders coming over that bridge (between Longport and O.C.). We thought it might make sense to take advantage of the safer conditions — plus we had the energy — so we added the bridge to that day’s ride. That brought our total for the day to about 36 miles.

The bridge between O.C. and Longport, and the view from the top, looking toward Ocean City

The bridge between O.C. and Longport

I’m proud to say we both biked up the bridge, coming and going, without stopping or walking our bikes. I definitely chalk that up to the stamina I’ve developed from miles and miles of walking.

We stopped on the Ocean City boardwalk for slices at Manco and Manco Pizza — boy, did that hit the spot!

That left just one final ride, from the north end of Ocean City, through Longport, Margate, Ventnor and Atlantic City, to the tip of Brigantine and back. What a mix of sights and experiences that was. We decided to park by the iconic Lucy the Elephant in Margate and headed north. We were able to do several miles on the boardwalk before it got too crowded. Thankfully, it was late on a Sunday morning, so street traffic wasn’t too bad. We traveled along what we later learned is one of the worst (i.e. drug dealing dangerous) streets in town in our approach to the bridge to Brigantine. (Went a different route on the way back!)

Looking north from Brigantine

Looking north from Brigantine

And we were pleased to discover Brigantine. Because it’s an island north of A.C., it’s not a place you pass through on the way to somewhere else. If you’re there, you intend to be (or you’re lost!). At the north end, we found a two-story viewing deck with a sweeping view of grasslands, inlet waters and ocean. I’m sure it’s a somewhat unknown spot!

As the day grew later, we made our way back to Lucy. Top of my mind was the thought: If you’re going to “Do AC,” don’t do it on a bike! Atlantic City is not bicycle friendly — no shoulders in many parts of town, lots of traffic and buses and shuttles to contend with. But it was really the lone negative in a summer of so many positives. Late in the afternoon, we circled back to Lucy, totaling about 31 miles for the day. And after having the ocean in our sights for the entire weekend, we made a beeline to the water’s edge, for a ceremonial and celebratory dip.

Our nine days of biking the Jersey Shore were so rewarding, so motivating, so enjoyable. Not only did we reap the endorphins of exercise but also the joy of being active in beautiful weather in the midst of lovely scenery.

Bicycling is a terrific form of cross training — it’s great cardiovascular exercise, plus it helps strengthen your legs. And you don’t have to do 20 or 30 miles in a ride. Even 30 minutes, or 8 to 10 miles at a nice steady speed, can fulfill the recommended daily amount of aerobic exercise.

Oh, and the title to this post? That’s the rough sum of all the miles we rode this summer. I’ll be the one with the icepack on my butt.

Pumping iron: Give it a try!

Walking is a terrific form of exercise, but as I note here, any walking program should be complemented by other forms of exercise, including strength training.

The CDC recommends that adults ages 18 to 64 do muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week. (That’s in addition to its advice to do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week.)

strong-310874However, the CDC has found in a new study that only 23.7 percent of us ages 45 or older meet that recommendation. Further, that group is most likely to include women, widows, people 85 or older, people who are obese, Hispanics, and those who didn’t graduate from high school.

I am a 45-year-old woman, and I have to confess that in the past, most weeks I would barely meet that two-day minimum, unless I was taking a class at my gym. I think I tended to feel that strength-training didn’t provide as intense or get-my-blood-pumping a workout, and if I were going to work out, I wanted to feel like I did, sweat rivulets as proof.

But over the past few months I’ve managed to work strength training into my routine more often, and circuit training is the means. Due to a change in my work schedule, my workout time on weekdays became more constrained — 30 minutes, firm.

Some days I do aerobic activity, sure. But on others, I do an interval workout. After warming up for a few minutes, I do one minute of activity, take 20 seconds to change moves, then do another minute of activity, and so on, for 11 or 12 sets, ending with a couple minutes of cool-down.

During those one-minute intervals, I do various strength-training moves. I use dumbbells, machines at my gym and my body weight. Ideally I’ll do combo moves, such as squats standing to a shoulder press, to work both arms and legs. Every few intervals, I throw in a minute of cardio, such as jumping rope or running the stairs at the gym.

To my surprise, this does make me feel like I got a good workout. Knowing that I have just 30 minutes makes me focus and do my best to get the most out of it.

And I can feel assured that I’ll reap the benefits of strength training — among them, higher metabolism, (hopefully) more toned body parts and an improved ability to easily do activities of daily living.

So pick up a dumbbell and give it a try, or use your body weight to do exercises in any setting you like. Your body will thank you!

It goes both ways

Today I was having quite a case of the Mondays. Didn’t sleep well at all last night, found myself easily annoyed most of the day, and had very little desire to apply myself to my to-do list at work.

And Monday evenings are when I teach an hour-long walking class. Tonight was the fifth week, and it was the first time I felt myself sort of wishing I could just go straight home from work, rather than hold class. Plus, there was a threat of thunderstorms, and although we’ve held our walking class indoors once before, I thought that might be a deterrent to attendance.

But then an awesome thing happened.

I got to the classroom, started setting up, started greeting members as they came in — and started feeling a boost in my mood. Not only was the weather not a deterrent but it was the biggest class attendance to date!

As we got underway, everyone seemed to be in a great mood and having fun. I found myself making a few light jokes and getting into the groove of teaching the class. I’d grumbled to myself earlier about how having to hold class indoors would likely cause the hour to drag by, but on the contrary it went faster than I expected.

At the end, to my surprise, there was even a smattering of “great class” applause.

I don’t say the last sentence or any of this to pat myself on the back. Instead, I relate this story as an illustration of how the class can inspire and motivate the teacher. How exercise can brighten your mood, whether you’re in the back row trying to follow along or up front leading the way.

So tonight… thanks to my class for sweeping away my case of the Mondays.

Cheer, illustrated / Photo by Chris M. Junior

Cheer, illustrated / Photo by Chris M. Junior

Welcome to the world of walking

Walking is a terrific form of exercise, and it also can lead you to rewarding personal achievements — did you know that you can participate in races, such as 5Ks, half marathons or full marathons, as a walker instead of a runner? Some walkers, in fact, have a faster pace than some runners!

But whether you wish to train for a race or just walk a few miles a few times a week for exercise, walking has all sorts of health benefits. It can help you lose weight, strengthen your bones, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, lower your risk for heart attack and stroke, fend off depression and anxiety, reduce your risk for some types of cancer, improve sleep, release “feel-good” chemicals in your brain and decrease stress hormones — in other words, any walk is good for your physical and mental health!

Few workouts are easier: Walking doesn’t require a gym membership or special equipment other than supportive shoes, and you can pretty much do it anywhere, anytime.

So… what are you waiting for?