Staying Fit in Juneau

Heart Zones training camp keeps city residents in shape

Posted: Friday, March 29, 2002

Exercising twice a week at 5 a.m. may sound like torture to the average couch potato, but it's the choice of dozens of Juneau residents who relish a challenge.

The regimen is called Heart Zones Performance Training Camp, and it's offered by the Mendenhall Valley location of the Juneau Racquet Club. Camps are limited to 22 people, and there are two nine-week camps operating at a time, said instructor Jessica Menendez. Team A meets from 5 to 7 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday and from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Team B meets from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, and Sunday from 6:15 to 8:15 p.m.

The camp includes stability training and flexibility training. Participants also learn some training basics such as the important of hydration, how sport-specific training plays a role in the development of sport performance, and how the body responds to systematically manipulating frequency and intensity of training. The most difficult part of the exercise routine for most participants is the 50-minute indoor cycling or "spinning" session, Menendez said.

"When folks come in, they may or may not be comfortable with the cycling," she said. "But at the end of nine weeks, all participants complete a three-hour ride." That happened a week ago.

A faithful participant in Menendez's early morning Heart Zone camp this spring has been Greg Pease, executive director of Gastineau Human Services.

Pease played basketball and baseball in high school and college, continuing basketball until age 44 when he was informed he needed a hip replacement. "I was told not to do court sports, and basketball was my love," Pease said. "I had to do something to get that competitive Jones going again."

Pease just said no to a hip replacement and took to a bicycle. He competed in the Kluane bike race, and his eight-person team won in 1998 and has placed within the top five every year since.

"A few times during the class I felt like I was on the 'Survivor' TV show," Pease admitted. "I was thinking, 'Let me off this island!' I was waiting for people to come in with torches and vote me off."

Overall, however, Pease is pleased with the results of his exertions: "Jessica told me about spinning three years ago. I liked it, I got in shape and it wasn't hard on my hips. I lost 40 pounds and am down to 180." (Pease stands six foot three and a half inches.)

Menendez started the camps four years ago to "motivate newcomers to the world of heart monitor training," she said. "High-performance athletes have been using heart rate monitors for years. Since they have become more reasonably priced. I see them as a practical and needed piece of equipment for anyone who is physically active," said Menendez, who is known for participating in grueling bike-a-thons to raise money for AIDS research.

Menendez's consultant for heart monitoring is Sally Edwards, a former physical education teacher and author of "The Heart Rate Monitor Guidebook to Heart Zone Training." Edwards has competed in 16 Ironman triathlons and won the Western States 100-Miler marathon in 1980. She divides her time between Sacramento, Calif., and Seattle, Wash. She is the founder of Heart Zones, an educational company which conducts trainings and workshops on health, fitness and sports.

Everyone has a genetically determined maximum heart rate which does not change with age, Edwards said in a telephone interview, and that needs to be kept in mind during training.

"If you are preparing to run in competition, you need to work your way up to training five days a week for 30 minutes to an hour, and spend that time in Zone 3, 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate," Edwards said.

"If you are very fit, you can sustain 85 percent of your heart rate for three hours," she added. That would be a goal for spinners in excellent shape as they complete their nine week training.

Dave Ringle, a basketball coach and language arts and social studies teacher at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, has attended the camp for three years. "Basically it gives me both the structure and the motivation to get a fitness base in the spring, and taught me a lot about training techniques." Ringle said. "I know I need something like this every year to get myself in condition for cycling."

"What I like most about camp is witnessing how people improve both physically and emotionally," Menendez said. "Some report it as being 'stronger' or 'faster.' Seeing form develop is acknowledgment that the training is working. It's also great to see how people get inspired to move into training for something else. Lots of them have used the camp as base training for the local cycling season or for long-distance rides in the Lower Forty-eight. Even though we train on indoor cycles, the training can carry exercisers forward to fitness gains in running, general fitness, rehabilitation or triathlons."

"I feel better," Pease summed up. "It helps me in business and in my overall outlook on life."

Betsy Fischer, co-owner of the Foggy Mountain Shop, signed up for her second camp this spring. "I used it to give myself an aerobic base for road biking outdoors," Fischer said. "After taking the camp for the first time last year, I felt like I could start at a higher level. Besides, it's fun."

For information about the next Heart Zones camp, call Menendez at 465-4920.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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