The Right Fit

The Right Fit: If you’re feeling left behind in fitness-forward WNC. Don’t. It’s not about who wins the race or who’s the most flexible yogi. Exercise is about finding an activity that moves your body and spirit. Check out this beginners' guide to get you hooked on cycling, running, or yoga, complete with inspiration from three folks who’ve already found what they love to do.
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The Tourist

Kimberly Masters has breezed by more landscapes on the seat of her bike than most people take in through their car window. On two wheels, she’s explored Alaska, traveled up the coast of California, pedaled from North Carolina to Florida and then to Arizona, conquered the landscapes of Nepal, Italy, and the Tetons, and cruised through Martha’s Vineyard and the Finger Lakes area of New York.

For 12 years, she’s led cycling excursions for WomanTours based in Rochester, New York, though she makes her home in Asheville. On these trips, her role varies from cruise director to backcountry cook. In Alaska, Masters sets up tents, filters water, and whips up meals, taking care of the cyclists’ basic needs. Then she leads them through the wilderness on two wheels, forever altering their, and her, views on life.

“The relationships you develop after spending a week traveling with women have taught me a lot about the world, compassion, achievements, and success,” Masters says. “When exploring a new place, we often explore ourselves once we’re away from our normal everyday lives and have an opportunity to reflect, gain perspective, share, and learn from each other.”

The tours cater to riders of all abilities. While some women sign up to ride 100 miles a day, others take it easier, gliding down hills in the saddle and enjoying the scenery from the seat of a van on the tougher stretches. Masters makes it all happen, complete with encouraging words.

Of all the wondrous places she’s visited, she lives in Western North Carolina because she considers it the most magical. For her, this East Coast mecca for cyclists is also the place where people gather to create art, make music, and reconnect with the planet and themselves. It’s also a great home for her luxury, handcrafted-soap company, Essential Journeys. The name of her business and its logo, a woman lounging across the handlebars of a town bike, best describe and depict her attitude in life and appreciation for the outdoors.

“I love being outside,” Masters says. “I like being faced with decisions that you make on a daily basis for survival—having a consciousness about what you’re doing every moment.”

—Bettina Freese

Visit to sign up for an adventure.


The Rewards
Whether you shed the training wheels at age three or 73, bicycling is a heart-healthy sport that keeps giving. It increases cardiovascular health by improving circulation and keeps the heart strong. It’s a great tool for rehabilitating problem knees and hips by strengthening and balancing the surrounding muscles.

Pedaling’s gentle range of motion keeps joints lubricated without overstraining them. Aside from the scientific reasons to ride, it’s a sport that puts a smile on your face and lifts the spirit.

Conquer a Hill

Warm up for 15 minutes before any steep climb by pedaling through rolling or flatterrain. Once climbing, drop down into a gear that allows you to keep a good cadence, maintaining constant pressure on the pedals. If your hips are bouncing, gear up. Change gears as needed so you’re maximizing your effort into forward motion. For example, shift into a harder gear whenever the hill dips; momentum is your friend. Gear down again before the pedaling becomes too difficult in the next steep section. When it getsreally tough, sit on the nose of the saddle. Spin the pedals, rather than mashing them down. Stand up in the pedals in the final 100 feet of the incline.

What You’ll Need

The Right Ride: “You need a bike that fits you properly, otherwise biking is agony,” says Mike Noonan of BioWheels in Asheville. That’s why it’s wise to go to a shop for your ride, rather than buying used wheels online. Staff can help you find the correct size and make fine adjustments to suit your frame. Often, maintenance packages are available, which can save you money in the long run.

Shorts: It’s a good rule to spend more on padded cycling shorts than a jersey, especially if you plan to spend a lot of time in the saddle. Your rear end will thank you.

Helmet: Prices range from $45 to $245, but all offer the same level of protection. With pricier helmets, the extra dough goes toward snazzier styling and better ventilation.

Repair Class: The more you know about how your bike works the more comfortable you’ll be pedaling. Many bike stores offer classes on the basics of repair, so sign up.

Must Bike Spots

1 The Blue Ridge Parkway on a road bike (North Carolina for climbing and Virginia for rolling)
2 Bent Creek Recreational Area in Asheville for mountain biking
3 DuPont State Forest near Brevard for mountain biking

Chain Gangs

Asheville Pedal Punks This casual group meets up for leisurely 10-mile rides in Asheville at 3:30 p.m. the first and third Sunday of each month (4:30 p.m. beginning in spring). Visit or check the group’s Facebook page to confirm rides.

Hickory Velo Club Beginning the week of March 11 and continuing through mid-October, this club gathers for rides at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at Rock n Road Bicycles in Hickory. Year-round rides begin at 1:30 p.m. Sundays. Memberships available.
Brushy Mountain Cyclists Club This High Country club promotes cycling through group rides but also tackles trail maintenance and advocacy. It hosts the annual 6 Hours of Warrior Creek Endurance Race on April 7.

For more clubs, visit

Backup Plan

Mike Noonan of BioWheels likes to outfit new riders with tire replacement kits. “Riding by yourself is easier when you know you have a way to get back home,” he says. This à la carte kit from the Asheville shop includes a Krieg saddle bag ($25), replacement tube ($6.50), Pedro’s tire levers ($4 for two), and RavX Design CO2 mini inflation set ($17.50). Add a Lezyne V10 Mini-tool ($35), which includes a Phillips screwdriver and Torx wrenches.


$ A new or used bike for the novice can cost $400 to $1,000.
$ $ A new or used bike for the weekly rider ranges from $800 to $2,000.
$ $ $ Top-of-the-line mountain and road bikes run as much as $11,000.

Biking 101

If you’re rusty on the rules of the road, sign up for a Biking 101 class in Asheville. Certified instructors will brush up your skills with refreshers on weaving around obstacles, handling traffic situations, and changing a tire. For class dates, e-mail

The Energizer

Run or walk, Danny Dreyer just wants you to know how good it feels to move your body

One might expect a conversation with an ultra-marathon runner to center on the best shoes and goos, course terrain, record times, and upcoming races. But Danny Dreyer would rather talk about energy. “When you feel good, it’s energy moving through your body. People try to make it more complicated, but fitness does not equal strength. Fitness equals energy moving through your body,” he explains.

That’s the theory that propels Chi Living, the company he cofounded with his wife, Katherine, to share his techniques for walking and running based on the principles of tai chi. The program, which focuses on pain-free movement, is creating new runners and giving injured or burned-out veterans a second wind. People from all over the world attend his workshops, which bounce him across the country.

What they learn is based on the idea that energy, or chi, comes from the core of the body and that proper alignment and a forward lean while in motion allow gravity to be an ally. The goal is to let your legs relax, and use the degree of lean to determine your speed. It’s a way of moving Danny developed while studying under tai chi Grandmaster George Xu in San Francisco, before moving to Asheville in 2006. Today, the business offers books and DVD training options and certifies instructors around the globe. “I’ve seen people go from absolute klutzes to beautiful runners. They just need to be shown,” says Danny. “No one shows you how to run.”

Plenty of people are ready for the lesson. Virginia Tech is considering the program to condition 1,000 pre-military cadets as well  as adding it as a class, and the Lifetime Channel is using the Chi Walk-Run teachings as part of a lifestyle makeover for four women whose stories will air on The Balancing Act in January. Danny’s latest book, Chi Marathon, comes out in March.

What Danny hopes people take away is the deeper lesson behind the techniques. “It’s about learning to listen to your body and do the right things for it. It’s the only connection to this planet that we have,” says Danny. “It’s the only way we get to experience all this.”               

—Rita Larkin

June 10-15, 2012
Highland Lake Inn | Flat Rock
This annual workshop is for walkers to advanced runners and includes instruction by Danny and Katherine Dreyer and certified instructors. $1,720-$1,990. For more details, visit


Go Clubbing

Asheville Track Club
This year, the club is hosting two 12-week sessions to prepare beginners for 5Ks. The programs are designed for newbies and those overcoming injuries and start slow, alternating walking and running to build endurance. Training for the Ramble Run 5K starts the week of February 20. Those who want to finish the Bele Chere 5K on July 25 begin workouts the week of May 7.

Four Seasons Running Club
This Hendersonville group, which welcomes runners of all ages and seeks to encourage families in the sport, hosts weekly Saturday runs at rotating locations. The beginners’ group is mentored by an experienced runner and tackles one- to two-mile routes. There are also intermediate and advanced groups. It’s $10 for individuals and $15 for families to become members, which includes discounts at local running shops.

Highlands Roadrunners Club
The Roadrunners meet at 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday during the winter and at 9 a.m. Saturdays at Town Hall for longer runs. Members range from beginners to folks who’ve conquered the Boston Marathon. Visitors are welcome.

Tryon Running Club
Runners and walkers can train for races or for fun with this group that practices in Tryon, Saluda, Columbus, and Landrum, South Carolina. Hook up with them to get ready for the Warrior Drive 5 Mile on March 17. Group strides take place on Saturdays at varying locations.

Map My Run  

You don’t have to strap on a gadget to track your miles or find your way. Map My Run allows you to plan a route in any city and look up other runners’ preferred courses for inspiration.

Make the Climb

The Chi Running technique for going vertical without expending all your energy is called e-chi. Shorten your stride, but maintain your cadence. Make sure your arms swing straight ahead, not across your chest. Let your eyes draw your energy forward by concentrating your gaze on an object at the top of the incline. “Pretend like it’s the most attractive thing in the world, whether it’s a fire hydrant, streetlight, or Volkswagen,” says Danny Dreyer. Focus is the key.


Showing up for a race unprepared is the easiest way to quash your newfound love for running. If you’re taking on your first 5K, you’ll need eight to 10 weeks of training. Invest 12 to 15 weeks for a 10K, six months for a half-marathon, and six more for a marathon.

The Rewards
The long list of benefits includes cardiovascular wellness, weight loss, improved coordination, heightened levels of good cholesterol, improved heart and lung function, and better joint health and stability. But what really gets people hooked is running’s ability to brighten your mood. “Running is a great stress reliever, a way to socialize, or spend quiet time thinking,” says Richard Betz, president of Highlands Roadrunners Club. “You never return from a run without feeling better.”

The Race is On
We’re not exaggerating when we say there’s a race every weekend in WNC. Here are just a few to enter in 2012.

Run Rutherford race Series
Keep up the pace all year with Rutherford Outdoor Coalition’s second annual series, which links 10 to 12 events in the county, and offers prizes for top point winners who participate in at least five races. The first starter’s pistol fires on February 12 for a Valentine’s Run in Forest City (ladies, you get a three-minute head start). Other races include the Leader of the Pack 5K in May, Lake Lure 10K Damn Run in August, and Elf Stampede 5K in November.

Sixth Annual Superhero 5k
You may find yourself running alongside Flash Gordon or Wonder Woman during this November race put on by Asheville Brewing Company. Some run for speed, while others aim to get one more use out of their Halloween costumes.

Half Times
The Asheville Citizen-Times Half Marathon course is known for its hills. Registration begins March 1; race day is September 15, Others include Valley of the Lilies Half & 5K in Cullowhee, March 25,; New River Marathon & Half-Marathon in Todd, May 5,; Bethel Half-Marathon in Canton, October,; and Kickin’ Asphalt Half Marathon in Murphy, November,

Start Right

If you’re just getting started, don’t pull out those Keds from 2003. The right running shoe is key and the best place to get fitted is at a shop that can analyze your stride. Specialized stores, such as FootRx and Jus’ Running in Asheville, use treadmills so staff  can determine your foot strike.

If you get your run in before dawn or after dusk, clip on a Nathan Safety Light ($6) with strobe LED lights that can be seen up to 2,500 feet away. Jus’ Running, Asheville;

The Healer

A cancer diagnosis sent Kathie Billing down a path toward enlightenment

"I go to the yoga mat to heal,” says Kathie Billing, a woman with striking blue eyes and an air of calm in her voice. The Boone-based mother, wife, and yoga instructor helps others do the same. The healing Billing shares goes beyond the typical yoga practice of improving flexibility, strengthening the body, and soothing the mind. Her experience as a registered nurse, coupled with three bouts with cancer, uniquely qualify her to work with women affected by the disease.

In 2003, Billing was diagnosed with melanoma, breast, and uterine cancers, and spent more than a year receiving treatment. The athletic mother and wife had run a marathon just a year before. Following surgery, chemotherapy, and more surgery, Billing turned to yoga as an alternative therapy. “Oncologists don’t often recommend fitness as part of cancer treatment. But from a nursing standpoint, I think it should be part of the prescription,” she says. “Medical studies show that yoga is good for helping beat cancer and other ailments.” Billing found that gentle yoga helped stretch her scar tissue while increasing mobility in her chest and arms. More importantly, the practice gave her a safe and quiet space to free her emotions and overcome fears.

She earned her teaching certification three years ago, first working with breast cancer patients, and now all women. “I wanted to offer classes to people who are shy about walking into a yoga studio, as well as people with health issues,” she says.

Billing teaches gentle and yin yoga styles (a passive practice that targets connective tissues) at Neighborhood Yoga in Boone and Westglow Resort & Spa in Blowing Rock. She also holds certifications in breast cancer Pilates, aquatic arthritis therapy, and cancer massage. She’s furthered her mission by working with the Pink Ribbon Program, which offers Pilates for breast cancer patients, and founding Soul Moving Yoga, her current wellness offering for women, which she teaches through Pilates Studio of Boone.

“The diagnosis of cancer was a big, life-changing moment,” she says. “It opened up so many doors of opportunity. It truly was a blessing—not one I ever wish for anyone—but every day I see more and more why that card was dealt to me.”
—Melissa C. Smith


The Rewards

Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, and for good reasons. Benefits such as improved strength, circulation, flexibility in the muscles, joints, and connective tissues, organ detoxification, and boosted oxygen levels merely scratch the surface. Yoga and meditation also bring about balance by lowering and raising various hormone levels to help reduce stress, develop focus, and elevate a person’s mood. Medically speaking, ailments such as back pain, arthritis, and high blood pressure can be relieved through yoga. “But the best thing is that you can practice until you are 100,” says Vicki Vanderlinden from Yoga with an Edge in Hickory. “The learning is infinite.”

Choose the Right Class

With more than 20 styles of yoga and loads of classes locally, it can be challenging to figure out where to start. The good thing is, even if you don’t find your favorite class the first time, all is not lost. As Stephanie Keach, instructor, teacher trainer, and founder of the Asheville Yoga Center, explains, “Moving and breathing is always good.” Here are points to consider before you roll out a mat.

 Ask yourself what you want to gain from yoga. Are you looking to relieve arthritis? Cross-train for a race? Lower your stress level? Increase mobility? Or perhaps you want a vigorous, strengthening workout. There are classes that address each of those needs.

 Yoga involves physical poses called asanas, breathing techniques, and often meditation, yet each style is different. So a bit of research on your part to learn the difference between restorative (passive stretches with the use of supportive props) Iyengar (alignment based), and Vinyasa (fast-paced with breath-synchronization) will go a long way.
 If you think you’re too fit for an entry-level class, think again. You won’t gain the benefits if you don’t learn proper alignment for the poses. Beginner classes take you through the basics at a slower pace, so you can learn to breath through all the kinks and gain a greater awareness of your physical strengths and weaknesses.

 It’s a good idea to show up early for class and chat with the teacher. They can steer you in the right direction. Lighten Up Yoga in Asheville ( offers a free consultation to get you matched with the appropriate classes and instructors.

 Keach recommends attending classes by many teachers, because everyone instructs differently. Often, studios assist by offering the first class for free, discounted rates, or the occasional free weekend to welcome newcomers.

Try This at Home
Downward Facing Dog is a basic pose, but it’s harder than it looks. It lengthens the spine, stretches the hamstrings and calves, and strengthens the upper body. When done correctly, with the spine in alignment, it calms the nervous system. Try it with these instructions from Cindy Dollar, owner of One Center Yoga in Asheville and author of Yoga Your Way.

Downward Facing Dog
On a nonslip surface, begin in a tabletop position—knees directly under your hips and hands under your shoulders. Curl your toes under and lift your hips in the air. Straighten your legs, firm the thighs, and press your hands firmly into the floor to straighten your arms. Keep your head and neck relaxed. It’s OK if your heels aren’t on the floor; the stretch comes from getting your hips high in the air and creating a straight line from your heels to hips, and hips to hands. Hold the position through five long, deep breaths.

Must Haves
Stretchy, fitted clothing and a mat are your basic buys. Skid-free towels come in handy for heated classes that make you sweat. Align Ultra mat ($28); skidless towel by Yogitoes ($65) at Lululemon Athletica in Asheville. (828) 232-4393

Invented by Ashevillian Jason Scholder, Three Minute Egg is an ergonomically designed block to assist with poses. The Yogi Meal Starter Kit comes with four “egg” blocks and instructional video. $119,

Stretch Your Dollars

The going rate for a class is $10 to $15, but many studios offer donation-based or discounted classes. Here are a few:

The Asheville Community Yoga Center offers many classes, all of which are by donation.

As of January 1st, the Asheville Yoga Center has moved into a new building, and is offering even more classes, some at discount prices. And the original digs will operate as a donation based studio.

Brevard Yoga's beginner class on Thursdays, 1-2 p.m., is always free, though any donations go to local charity Bread of Life.

At Brightwater Yoga in Hendersonville, try the Anusara Beginner Series on Mondays, 5:30-7 p.m. It's designed with a focus on alignment.

Heart Center Yoga in Hickory lets you wind down after a busy week for $6 with the Yoga Oasis class, held Friday, 5:30-6:45 p.m.

Neighborhood Yoga in Boone offers a donation-based, mixed-level class from noon to 1 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

West Asheville Yoga center operates on a sliding scale. A 60-minute class costs $6 to $11.

Yoga with an Edge in Hickory offers discounted beginner classes daily except Wednesday. And Playing with Poses on Thursdays, 9-10 a.m., lets beginners explore postures in a gentle, playful manner.

Three for Free
At Asheville Yoga Center, Brightwater Yoga in Hendersonville, and Sylva Yoga, your first class is free.


(Date of Warrior Drive 5 Mile Corrected 1/5/2012)