Adventures in European exercising

Please forgive the radio silence for the past few weeks — I was out of the country and respecting my travel partner’s request that I not publicize it on social media. And after all, there is something to be said for occupying yourself more with your surroundings and being in the moment instead of sharing it with everyone the moment it’s happening.

That said, I was in Scotland and Ireland. While there, I did — big surprise! — quite a bit of walking.

Just a few of the 287 steps in the Scott Monument in Edinburgh

Just a few of the 287 steps in the Scott Monument in Edinburgh

One day in particular in Edinburgh, Scotland, I got in some great leg work by (after a day of sightseeing on foot) climbing to the top of the Scott Monument: 287 steps to the top (and back down, for a grand total of … 574). From there I went to Calton Hill, a park on a bluff overlooking the city. I definitely worked the hamstrings and quads that day.

When our trip landed us in Dublin, Ireland, for a few days, I took some early morning walks. It was a great way to see some neighborhoods in quieter moments before the hubbub of people and traffic. (It’s always important to look both ways before crossing the street, but walking in Europe gives it extra importance, as the cars aren’t coming from the direction you expect!)

On the Eastern edge of Sandymount Village: Dublin Bay

On the Eastern edge of Sandymount Village: Dublin Bay in the early morning

One day, I took a route that brought me to a wide beach. Another day, I happened upon a long, canopied street, with ambassador residences behind ivy-covered walls.

One of several embassies or ambassador residences I encountered on my walk

One of several embassies or ambassador residences I encountered on my walk

Our hotel in Galway, Ireland, had a gym. Woo-hoo! I was ready for some bonafide strength-training. Early that morning, I hit the gym, going first to the treadmill for a quick warm-up. I punched the speed numbers up to my usual, mid-3 mph starting range, but the treadmill seemed awfully sluggish. “Did I choose a bum machine?” I wondered. I kept jabbing the speed button until I was at a pace that would normally have me starting to jog: mid-4 mph range, now 5 mph… Aha! I realized that the treadmill speed must be set at kilometers per hour, not miles per hour! That woke me up.

After my treadmill warm-up, I moved over to the weight area to do some dumbbell work. The dumbbells were in kilograms, not pounds. So, as a starting point, I had to eye them for approximate size compared to weights at home.

Same story with the weight machines. Just where to put the pin? That involved a bit more trial and error to find the right weight.

What can I say? We Americans have gotten away with not really learning the metric system! I know a 5K = 3.1 miles, and I know about how much a liter of soda is, but ask me to convert kilograms to pounds or kilometers to miles and I’m gonna need a cheat sheet. (I did get a silly thrill out of driving 100 and being under the speed limit!)

A couple more observations about exercising in the Emerald Isle vs. the U.S. of A.: The majority of people I saw walking along roads were wearing neon green safety vests with reflective strips. They weren’t always walking against traffic, which is advised in most cases, but at least they were highly visible.

Motorcyclists and bicyclists wore the vests, too, for the most part. Smart.

I worked out in two hotel gyms (one of which was open to the public) and did some walking in city neighborhoods, and very few of the exercisers I saw, both indoors and out, were wearing headphones/earbuds. On the flip side, nearly every exerciser I see here at home has them.

Exercising on vacation sometimes falls by the wayside. It’s easy to feel like you want to relax as much as possible … drop the usual routines and schedules … sleep in … take it easy. But don’t miss out on the chance to really explore your destination with a walk or jog, and revel in the little differences that bring energy all on their own.

Today’s walk

The need to do some higher mileage as I train for a half marathon, plus sunshine and nonfreezing temperatures, finally got me walking outside today.

If you read my last post, it might help shed some light on why it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve gone to the gym but hadn’t been able to bring myself to brave the cold outdoors for longer than house to car/car to gym.

About 2.5 miles into an 8-mile walk, just me and my shadow.

About 2.5 miles into an 8-mile walk, just me and my shadow.

As a half marathon on May 3 looms, though, thankfully the weather coincided with my need to do about 8 miles of walking. I’ve done that distance on the treadmill before (and did 6.5 on it a few weeks ago, thanks to the theater room at my gym — watching a movie makes the miles zoom by), but knew I really needed to get in some outdoor mileage.

After several months on the treadmill, it’s important to get re-conditioned and ready for a race without the assistance the machine gives me, on the unyielding surface of pavement. And to be sure, my speed was noticeably slower outdoors than in.

But that’s OK — I know it won’t take long to get back up to true speed.

I did an almost-8-mile loop from my town into the next and back. I love walking early in the morning, when traffic is light and most of the world is still waking up. I left the earbuds at home so I could enjoy the sound of birds — just that and my thoughts for almost 2 hours.

One thing I forgot about taking a walk outdoors: The near heart attack you get when a dog comes out of nowhere, charging up full bark on the other side of a fence you’re walking alongside. (What’s even scarier is when it’s one of those invisible fences, and you’re not sure until the last second if there’s any barrier between you and dog!)

As my walk progressed, I was waiting for the rewarding vibration of my FitBit, notifying me I’d reached my 10,000 step goal. Nada.

When I got home, I logged in and saw that it had just 8,500-and-change steps listed. Seems low for nearly 8 miles! But what was worse was my “active minutes” — just 11? Seriously? Sometimes I think that only something like jumping-jacks or burpees counts as “active minutes” where FitBit is concerned.

In my book? 2 hours of walking counts!

Today’s walk

With wind chills in the single digits this morning, I opted to join my husband at the gym instead of layering on the cold weather gear and braving the outdoors.

So, bring on the dreadmill! (That’s not a typo, even though my computer keeps wanting to correct it. It’s a nickname for the treadmill, most commonly used this time of year.)

I chose one on the second floor of the gym, so I could at least distract myself by watching other people work out (which actually was more motivating than I expected). I dialed up my iPod’s hour-long walking playlist, which I set up to correspond to certain walking speeds, and got started.

One hour, 4 miles and 300 calories later, amen for those feel-good endorphins brought on by exercise!

Coming soon: A post on maintaining an exercise plan through the doldrums of winter. In the meantime, here was my morning view.