This month our guest column is by Alix James, NK’s CEO. After practicing law in California for three years, she stepped off-track for motherhood and returned to working for NK in advertising and marketing. Eighteen years later, she’s worked in almost every department at NK and led many facets of the company’s growth. When she’s not working or traveling for NK, she can be found at home with her two teenage boys and four dogs, rowing her single or various team boats at Vesper, or on the back of one of her two horses trying to master the intricacies of dressage.
I’m guessing many of our customers face the same challenges I do in trying to maintain some semblance of fitness while also managing job, family and relationships. I don’t claim to have discovered any earth-shattering secrets, but I thought a little bit about what I do and why might be of interest to others.
A lot of what I do now to train relates to the fact that I have done a lot of different sports and fitness activities over the past 30 (!) years. I ran, cross-country skied and rode horses in high school, then was fortunate to walk on to the Yale women’s rowing team and work my way into the varsity eight my sophomore year. We had a great year, winning the Sprints and losing only one in-season race. I raced in the V8 for three years, and also learned to scull and raced the single and double at Canadian Henley, summer Sports Festivals and head races. I kept rowing and sculling for a number of years after college, finally giving it up when I moved to San Diego.
In San Diego I ran and lifted a bit, then took up cycling. I joined a local cycling club for long rides through the hills, on the weekends, and on the weekdays grabbed a quick 17 miles up and down “the Strand” which connected Coronado to the mainland. The local cycling track offered track racing lessons, so I learned to ride a fixed gear bike and competed in the Pursuit for a few years. This was my first glimpse into the power of interval training. Our cycling class was full of serious cyclists, who put in hundreds of miles on the road each week. Listening to their training regimens intimidated me, but then we’d get on the track and I was faster than many of them. It turns out that the intense interval training I’d done as a rower gave me peak power that their miles of steady state training did not. Even on my quick rides up and down the Strand, I’d always work in a few sprints (okay, I’d jump out from behind after drafting off my husband and pass him in the last quarter mile). Quality, not quantity.
Two kids later, I was up on Whidbey Island, Washington. For the next five years, my athletic efforts were focused on riding my horse, hiking the trails with a BIG kid in a backpack, and “combat gardening” - swinging a pick and digging holes in the glacial rock/dirt mix that made up my back yard. I eventually made my way back to the Philadelphia suburbs, where I continued to ride my horse and took up Ashtanga yoga. (Yes, it’s possible to hurt yourself doing yoga. My knees will tell you that.) I’ll admit, the core child-rearing years were not my fittest, but I kept moving and grabbing workouts when I could – a run, a lifting session, a swim at the Y.
About three years ago I worked my way back to the boathouse. Sculling was always my preference, and the symmetry seems kinder to my body. Whether in my single or team boats, I try to get on the water two to three times a week. That’s not much, so I do everything I can to make every minute on the water count. Over the last year I’ve been working with an excellent coach and a fun group, and that has made a huge difference to my effectiveness and focus. I highly recommend hiring a coach occasionally if it’s available to you where you row. Being back in the sport has helped me test and evaluate our products, and stay in touch with our customers’ challenges and needs of our rowing products.
Off the water, I ride my horse three or four times a week, run, and throw in the occasional CrossFit workout or yoga session for variety. I’m reading Chi Running right now as I’ve learned that I can run much more comfortably with a mid-foot strike and a focus on staying light. When I start to plod, it’s time to stop! CrossFit offers an approach that is intense, time-efficient and yields great full-body results. At least I think it does, because it sure makes my full body sore whenever I do a “WOD” (CrossFit-ese for Workout of the Day). You can get a glimpse of what CrossFit is about online, but to really learn the exercises correctly, find a local CrossFit box and go a few times a week during the winter. Most places offer a reasonable per-class pay as you go approach. With an understanding of the exercises and a minimal investment in some home equipment (kettlebells, plyobox, pull-up bar, abmat), you can get an amazing leg-toasting workout in 30 minutes. I’m also a big believer in high-intensity interval training. Even when I’m completely out of gumption, I can usually talk myself into a few “Tabata cycles” of some exercise. A Tabata cycle is generally 8 x 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, followed by a minute rest. Four times through that and you’ve worked 20 minutes at a level you just can’t sustain over a long workout. Research has shown that these workouts generate the same aerobic capacity as long steady state, plus a higher VO2 max.
You can’t explore CrossFit without also encountering people discussing “Paleo” or “Primal” eating, which I’ve also worked towards over the last year. The philosophy is to eat what our Paleolithic ancestors might have eaten. Translated – lots of lean protein, vegetables and fruits. Avoid grains and sugars of all kinds. Enjoy healthy fats (butter included). Dairy in moderation or not at all, depending on your personal makeup. For me and most most people I know who’ve tried it, eating this way helps them stay lean, build muscle, and have lots of energy throughout the day. I know all you mid-20’s four hour a day rowers out there can eat EVERYTHING that gets in your way, but believe me, that won’t always be the case.
And finally, I’m never afraid to give myself a break. I figure if I can put in five quality workouts a week, that’s far better than giving up entirely because I’ve missed some days.