Category Archives: Challenges

My Love and Hate Relationship with the Barre

My hands grip the barre until my knuckles start to pale; my rings dig into my fingers from the pressure. I am clinging to the slender wood for dear life as my entire body threatens to tremble into a puddle on the thin carpet.

“Rise onto your highest pair of heels, and sink you seat an inch lower,” the instructor says as she paces methodically around the room. Her tone is soothing, yet her words abrate my mind as my muscles beg me to stop in an ascending burn.

I roll onto my toes, pressing and arching my foot until I feel my calf muscle ball up behind the back of my knee. As I ease my hips lower, awkwardly squatting above my elevated heels, my legs behind to vibrate. It’s a subtle tremble at first, just a quiver on the edge of my skin, sending waves through the acid beginning to team on my muscles. I breathe through pursed lips and hold tighter to the barre.

“Now tuck to tempo. Tuck, tuck, tuck.”

I dig deep and gather the muscles of my abdomen in towards my spine, tilting my pelvis up into my torso. The muscles that still feel so distended from two babies. With each tuck, fire licks the tops of my thighs. My heels press against each other, desperate to stay lifted. I feel the weakness trickle down, pouring over my legs down into my perched toes.

“Lower your hips down an inch, up an inch. Little down, little up.”

My muscles practically cackle at her words they sound so outrageous. Didn’t she mean lower your heels and lock your knees? Stand like a normal, relaxed person?

I close my eyes and breathe more purposefully. I do not look in the mirror. I do not want to see the sweaty tomato of my face while my reflection wants to give up so deeply. 

“This is your last change,” she says.

Hope blossoms across my chest. I can do this. It has to be less than a minute left.

A minute of burning hell on my legs.

I lower and lift my hips against the objections of my flesh. I make the small, controlled motions even though my nerves send relentless messages indicating they cannot comply. My body moves just the same. With each lower, the shake seizes me. My heels wobble and smack together; my knees knock and tremble. I can feel the vibrations rolling up my body in waves all the way to my cheeks.

“Final 10 strong. 1, 2, 3, 4…”

The countdown inspires me. Only 10 tiny movements left. I clutch the barre harder, close my eyes tighter, focus only on her count. I drop my seat lower, tuck my hips harder. My entire body is a mess of quivering fire.

” 9 and 10.”

I made it. I lock my knees and bask in the pleasant rush of the acid receding from my muscles. I breathe out relief as the heat stops flaring beneath my face.

Then I feel it, somewhere between the endorphins and the accomplishment–the high. The pain in my body evolves into euphoria, and my mind climbs somewhere both level and calm.

 

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I believe I can safely say that I have reached addiction level with my affair with Pure Barre.

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That is what I do, after all: become addicted to things. Substances, activities, people, places. My mind will turn about anything into a drug. I live in extremes and chases excesses. If a little is good, more must be better, and a lethal dose is probably where I’ll end up.

Hence the attempt to shift addictions to “healthy” outlets. But I digress…

I started trying barre classes because an acquaintance of mine had started teaching classes and was posting about it. I was mired in my obsession to recover from my son and was trying any and all fitness options available, so I gave it a shot.

The first class absolutely annihilated me. I could scarcely perform the exercises included, and I was sore like I potentially never have been. And I rarely get sore anyway.

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I enjoyed the class, felt deeply intrigued by the challenge; however, I was married to my gym and the full schedule of classes I committed to every week. I could not afford the extra expense and more the extra time without provided child care. So barre became an occasional flirtation, once a month or so.

At some point, I started going more frequently. Perhaps when my son’s school schedule changed and gave me more unencumbered time. Then I purchased a deal on classes without actually reading the fine print. When my unused classes were about to expire, the studio owner was gracious enough to give me an extension, into which I stuffed every class I could make.

Boom. Addiction.

I actually injured my hamstring doing barre stretches. After a dance class, I was moving gently through the thigh stretch sequence. When I came down easily into the splits (which was a celebrated accomplishment), something popped, and five months later, I am still recovering. Ironically enough, the activity that injured me also seems to the best suited to my injury. With its minute, controlled movements, barre  is the perfect exercise to strengthen my hamstring without straining it further.

It is as if the class itself has trapped me.

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Now, I am a 2-3 classes a week attendee whenever I can support it. With my obsessive commitment, it is pretty often though children and work are known to pop up in the way. Barre even has me convinced me to abandon the gym, shifting to only barre, belly dance, and running. Once I found a piece of dance to complete my heart, I was sold.

I LOVE and HATE Pure Barre classes, potentially equally, definitely simultaneously.

The classes themselves make me uncomfortable. Yes, I am a dancer; I was a belly dancer for eight years and still pursued hauntings of that with zumba and hip hop classes. However, that is all VERY different from ballet. The only ballet I have experienced is watching my daughter’s classes. I had the benefit of knowing how to tuck my hips, but the form and movements are all completely divergent. It throws my body out of its comfort zone, challenges its muscle memory and ingrained positions.

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Yet, beyond the physical fluency, I do not look like a ballerina. The instructors and the majority of the students look like they came up on the barre, long, lean, and svelte. I am a thicker girl with curves and things that shake when I shimmy. Never do I look larger than in a classroom full of these slender former dancers. And that unavoidable comparison tickles every tingle of body dysmorphia I have. Hating myself in a barre class mirror is what pushed me back to counting calories (which I thankfully have dropped again).

This discomfort is part of the reason I keep going back. Yes, I am a masochist at heart, but it is also the challenge that seduces me. I want to feel like I overcame the weakness of my flesh; I want to feel like I made progress battling back the crazy in my mind.

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Physically, I am enticed by not being good at it, by it always being hard no matter how much I improve. Like running, regardless of how much I train or how I often I do it, I am not able to coast. I coasted through my entire youth; I don’t want that anymore. If I somehow master one routine, it changes to a new one that wreaks havoc on my muscles. And I’m a sucker for the pain of it.

And it hurts. So much. The class is literally painful. You would think such tiny movements would be easy. Absolutely not. My muscles are on fire and trembling the entire class. I can feel tidal waves of acid blaze over my nerves. My knuckles go white clinging to that barre for dear life. I sweat as much as I do in high cardio. It hurts. Yet on the flip side of that pain is the rush after, the high, the euphoria. Which is ultimately what I am always physically chasing. Which I why I am so addicted to running.

As much as it pains me physically, the true challenge for me is mental, emotional. That goddamn echo of an eating disorder I can’t seem to shake. Mentally, I refuse to be controlled my own insecurities. I will not allow my misguided, shallow fixations and comparisons to prevent me from doing anything. I may feel gigantic and weak in these classes, out of place and incongruent with all the other participants, but that is why I have to keep going. Not to work my way into fitting in but to make myself become comfortable standing out. I will learn to love and accept myself one way or another. If I can wrangle bipolar, body distortion should be downhill from here. Even if I have to sit with my own self-loathing beating at my chest and a swarm of inappropriate comparisons buzzing in my brain for 100 classes. I will not limit myself.

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And with each class, it gets better. I feel more at home in the class; I feel more comfortable in my skin. I am wearing myself down, dulling my sensitivities, making it part of my normal. If I can accomplish that, it would be far more valuable than getting to a certain size or weight.

So I love and hate the physical challenge. I hate and need the mental challenge. The results… I just love.

My son is over two now. I have been literally beating myself up for two years trying to recover from him. Between thyroid issues and injuries, diets and different classes, nothing really worked. Or maybe did not work fast enough for me. Either way. Yet, with the recent burst of barre classes, I not only notice a different in the performance of my muscles, I actually physically see the different on my body. I think all the cross training is why my running pace continues to improve though my injury does not and training has not happened at all.

Most of all, these classes are doing amazing things for my ass (or “seat,” as they call it). It is at a height and shape it has never been in my life. My waistline, or saddlebags if you will, are also trimming way down. My back is tightening up. Muscles are starting to bulge out of my flexed quads and calves like they did when I played soccer in high school. My body is not perfect, not where the crazy part of my mind demands it be, but I am seeing the positive results. The more I see, the more fervently I devote to the classes.

So I’m in it, maybe all in it, working harder at quelling my self-abuse and finding a real acceptance for my body than anything else. If barre is the tool I need and makes my body healthier in the process, all the better. I’ll be there, obsessively shaking at the barre.

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And just to up the ante, I am also doing the Whole30 challenge as part of my new commitment to the barre. Not to lose weight, not to starve myself but because my body needs the detox and the reset. And because it does not allow any weighing or measuring. I am going all in, striving to find my strength and my balance.

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Christina Bergling

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Pregnant Running

That’s right: I did it all PREGNANT.

Finally! Finally, I can talk about and write about it. My online presence is so open and interconnected that I couldn’t go public anywhere until the kid decided to commit to 12 weeks and I could tell my bosses.

I’ve known I was pregnant since I was puking before Christmas, so it has been killing me to not include its impact on my running. Training for a half marathon with morning sickness, nausea, and exhaustion. Worrying about the safety of prenatal running. Noticing the immediate effects on my performance.

It’s also been killing me to not include it as part of my accomplishments.

So far, my baby has run:

And we still have 28 weeks to go!

It affected me far earlier and differently than I expected. I anticipated morning sickness and some fatigue–nothing I couldn’t push through, right? Aside from the morning sickness including violent vomiting this time and fatigue elevating to bone-deep exhaustion, pregnancy impacted every part of my running from the earliest weeks.

I was instantly desperately winded for the first mile, gasping and coughing my way until my body yielded and leveled out. I felt like I was running in water. No matter how hard I pushed, I did not seem to be moving; my already slow pace suffered. My hips ached–all the time. It was all over me.

I know the science; I know why all this is happening. That doesn’t change how abrupt and foreign it feels. Just like my saggy uterus already protruding.

With NOLA behind me, I have decided to abandon pace and distance aspirations for the duration of this gestation. I’m just going to run–with no time and no length, no set goals. Instead, I’m going to focus on form. I have to focus on something, and it might as well be an aspect I can refine while keeping the baby the priority.

I will always wonder how my training would have went, how I would have done in my half had I been biologically solo. Maybe I’ll find out one day. After all, post partum started this whole running adventure to begin with…


Mine to Mine CHALLENGE

The Cripple Creek Mine to Mine Challenge 9K is exactly that–a fucking challenge.

That is what I had to keep repeating to myself as I wogged up the mountain road. They call this a challenge for a reason. They call this a CHALLENGE for a REASON.

Zombie turtle in full effect.

This race was the most intimidating and hardest I have faced (to date). I worried about it for weeks, but I also never felt more accomplished than when I ran (wogged) the entire distance.

Cripple Creek is gorgeous in the fall. Christina was kind enough to accompany me for moral support to ease my nerves. We had a beautiful drive of golden aspens and snow dusted hills on the early October morning.

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Christina dropped me at the heritage center, and I spend on hour doing yoga on the floor beside a stuffed deer. Once again, I was surrounded by the hardcore Colorado runners, maybe even more so at this altitude, and feeling inferior, intimidated, out of place.

The route commenced at the Mollie Kathleen Mine (heritage center parking lot) with a steep grade down highway 67, descending into Cripple Creek. Even running downhill, at an altitude of 9,494 feet, I was instantly winded. As the professionals dusted me before the hill spilled into Cripple Creek, I wondered if I was really going to be able to do this.

But I just continued on, slow and steady.

I had done my research. I had read multiple race descriptions; I had found an account of a person who ran it the previous year. Somehow, they all neglected to mention the entire second half (or more), after looping out of Cripple Creek, was all uphill.

To say I was unprepared would be an understatement.

When the leading pack was so far ahead of me they were out of sight, I was convinced I was the last. I asked the portly man chugging beside me if we were tied for the caboose.  He said a whole mess of people were behind us, and that lightened my step a little.

Hill after hill, mountain highway serpentine after mountain highway serpentine, I just kept wogging along. I was convinced I had to be at a 15-17 minute mile pace, but I was not walking.

I gradually began to grow and gain on the stragglers. I passed the sprinters now walking red-faced. One woman continually jogged past me; then I wogged past her as she walked. We chatted and joked; she complimented my steady pace.

It was hard. The hills kept going. Around every bend, I prayed for flat, for the smallest decline. It was always another hill. Over halfway into the ascent, the road curled around the mountain again. When I crested the bend, the road curved to the left before turning into a straight, seemingly never-ending incline. I could see the entire length of the huge hill from the side, waiting for me. My heart sunk into my shoes, and I breathed, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” The woman beside me laughed.

I thought I was going to die, but I just kept going. I didn’t care how fast I was going; I just kept going.

Slow and steady. Slow and steady.

Breathing through it. Wog it out.

I tried to remind myself to look the hell around me. I was on top of the Rocky Mountains with the sun on my face and the cool air in my hair. I tried to press the pain to the sidelines of my mind and cement the moment, what I was doing.

A woman who had already finished had jogged back and was cheering us from the shoulder of the highway. She said there was only a mile and a half left; we just had to finish the hill and crossed the bridge. She chased us, reminding us, encouraging us.

I was revitalized.

I crested the hill with my legs screaming and let gravity pull my long strides down the hill. I was creating wind against my face again. I could see the bridge.

The bridge was flat. I just had to get across it. The distance exceeded my excitement; I felt my body trying to pace down, trying to give up on me. Heat bloomed in my stomach as I felt the back of my throat contract.

No. No stopping. No slowing down. Suck it the fuck up and finish it.

I gritted my teeth, breathed back against the nausea. I pushed harder on legs I was starting to not be able to feel. I could see the finish line. Up another little hill. Of course. I was squinting to see the clock through my sweat.

I could have just as easily fallen across the finish line at the Victor Gold Mining Company, but I ran across, tossed up a high five, and indulged a couple dry heaves.

My goal was :55. I finished in :59. It didn’t matter; I did it.

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This race changed me. Accomplishing it affected me in a more concentrated way. I am no longer intimidated by any run or route; I no longer question if I can do it. I now know I can zombie turtle through.