Outdoor Fitness Lifts Spirits and Elevates Heart Rates
Interval and endurance training classes offered with Ellen Miller at the Vail Vitality Center
By Kim Fuller
For the last several years, accomplished athlete and endurance coach Ellen Miller has been working against her own reputation.
“I want people to know that I am very supportive,” she explained after an early-June Thursday morning outdoor endurance session. “I like to meet people where they are at, and I like to encourage people to achieve their dreams through very positive and uplifting methods.”
Ellen is a Vail Valley resident of over 20 years, and is the only American women that has summited Mount Everest from both Nepal and Tibet — one of five women in the world — which is one of her numerous mountaineering and athletic triumphs. What is hard to believe is that Ellen has had a bilateral hip replacement, proving her strength of mind and body, and encouraging aging athletes to keep their bodies active.
It’s easy to understand why some people might find the idea of a workout with Ellen Miller intimidating, but that misconception only inhibits an ideal way to start any day.
“Obviously my office is incredibly beautiful,” Ellen said as she looked out from the Vitality Center and referenced Vail Mountain — the platform for mountainous single track trails and moderate service roads where she brings her group interval and endurance classes, as well as private sessions by request. “But it’s the energy of the groups; the energy of the people who have come to the classes is very supportive and positive.”
Pick up the pace
Outdoor Intervals are held every Tuesday morning, beginning at 7 a.m. The group leaves from the Vitality Center and begins short bouts of interval work at the base of Vail Mountain. Early season sessions include only 12 minutes of total work — often with one, two and three minute bouts — and as the season progresses, bouts will add up to a total of 20 minutes at the most.
“The interval training is an important session,” she said. “It gives people, locals and visitors, the opportunity to do intervals — which are stressful, high-intensity exercise —in a safe and uplifting environment.”
Interval training, once known as “speed work” and only used by elite athletes, has been proven to improve athletic performance, heart health, and specifically targets visceral fat tissue, which lives around the gut.
“This is a very efficient way to exercise,” Ellen explained. “It’s a big ol’ calorie burner, with a big ol’ after burn, which means that for three to four hours after your done with an interval session, your metabolism is still revved up.”
Ellen said she has had people who have expressed that they come to the sessions just to get mentally lifted up.
“Intervals are stressful, and not always pleasant work,” she said. “So it’s a nice way to do it with the group, and I try to be very thoughtful about the programs that I plan for my groups — from a physiological perspective, and also from a biomechanical perspective.”
The work Ellen moderates is always done on dirt, she says, to protect the joints, and she uses a lot of uphill terrain to accommodate non-runners. Ultimately, the intervals, as well as the Thursday morning endurance sessions (also starting at 7 a.m.), are meant to increase health and help people connect with their surroundings.
“I try to just bathe them in the beauty of nature,” Ellen said.
Put on the brakes
Thursday’s endurance groups keep participants in heart rate zones one and two, which allows for a more slower, conversational pace.
“I always say the hardest part of my job is slowing people down on some days in order to make them faster in the big picture,” she said. “What we are finding in the world of coaching is that everybody likes to go out and do the same thing, every time they exercise; they go out for the same amount of time, run the same distance, the same kind of terrain, and their sweat rate is probably even the same.
“What happens,” she continued, “is that your body gets used to that. Your body has it wired, and becomes very efficient, so there’s nothing new happening — your not losing weight and your not getting faster. It’s a term these days we are calling ‘junk mileage,’ because the athlete is really not accomplishing anything.”
Ellen said that if people can slow down on some of their days, stay in that zone two, conversational level heart rate area, they will find increased overall endurance and create more cardio benefits.
In July, the Thursday morning class becomes Outdoor Cardio and Yoga, so participants can get their their stretch on after a little endurance action.
“If a person is looking at pillars of the wellness foundation in their life,” Ellen explained, “I would say yoga should be one of those pillars.”
Ellen said she wants people to come out and enjoy the healing properties of nature, making it a joy-producing class for people.
“This is a time to get your heart rate up a little bit, sweat just a little bit, and then go stretch it out,” she explained. “I want to attract more yoga enthusiasts, because I want them to know that they can come and hike, walk, jog … we don’t care — just come and and breathe deeply and enjoy.
“My purpose is to elevate people,” Ellen added, “and I take that responsibility seriously.
Kim Fuller is a freelance journalist and yoga instructor based in Vail.