The First Spring Run

Happy Spring Forward Day!!

Yeah, turning the clocks ahead is kind of awful, but it signifies something wonderful.  It tells us that spring is really coming.  Even if it snows, ices, hails, even if it’s windy and cloudy and miserable, we know spring is just around the corner if we can only hang in there.

And that makes me think of one of favorite things about spring – the first spring run!  How do we define this?  I guess I think of my first spring run as the first run of the season that requires neither hat nor gloves nor jacket.  If I can run in cropped leggings with a long-sleeved tech shirt, then it feels like we’ve turned a corner.  Running without all the winter gear suddenly makes you feel so light on your feet!  You feel like you’re flying without being weighed down by all that baggage!

The First Run of Spring

Other signs of spring make me feel hopeful too. For example, seeing flowers starting to peek up through the dirt and buds on the trees – they remind us of how beautiful our surroundings once were and how beautiful they’ll be again this year!  Sometimes in the dull gray of winter, it’s easy to forget what the summer world looks like, but the much-needed reminders automatically brighten my day.

Then, of course, there are the other runners!  Of course, there are a select few who’ve been out hitting the streets all winter long.  The loyal purists who didn’t retreat to the treadmill, they’ll always be there.  But when spring comes, you can always tell by skyrocketing pedestrian traffic!  Some of them are new runners who have been sedentary all winter and just needed an excuse to get outside on a pleasant day.  Some of them are seasoned runners who just don’t prefer to run in the cold, and they’re returning to reclaim their little piece of the road.  Either way, the camaraderie of feeling part of a community of runners enjoying their Sunday mornings can’t be beat!

And then there’s the evening running!  Once the clocks have changed, the extra hour of daylight seems like an eternity!  It feels like you’ve gained another whole day at the end of your day!  It’s like you left work early!  What will you do with all this extra time?  Why not go for a little run?  Even though I don’t profess to be an evening runner, when I do occasionally work up the energy to get out there for a later run, the satisfaction of having completed it is literally the most perfect way to end the day.

So enjoy turning the clock ahead for all the promise it brings with it… even if you are a little sleepy on Monday morning.  That’ll go away eventually 🙂  Try coffee.


Permission to Enjoy Time Off

We all enjoy our running on some level, or we wouldn’t have continued to do it and found ourselves reading or writing a running blog.  I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I can say that in my case, however, I’ve had plenty of days when running felt like a chore.  Plenty of days when the run on my schedule was something I just needed to cross off my list.  And the truth is that on plenty of those days, I ended up skipping a run that I had intended to do.  Sometimes I skipped a run because I didn’t prioritize it highly enough, and it didn’t end up fitting into my schedule.  Sometimes I skipped a run because I was feeling a little tired and having a hard time peeling myself off the couch.  Regardless of why, if there wasn’t a truly noble reason, I generally felt guilty afterwards.  I did not have permission to enjoy the rest, I was breaking the rules.

I find myself at a point most recently where it’s likely that I’ll skip lots of runs coming up.  In my final month of pregnancy, with sciatic pain flaring up to make even walking painful, I have come to terms with the reality that running… it’s just not going to happen for a few weeks here.  Normally, if I’ve made the decision to skip a run, my thoughts go to one of two places.  I can a) feel guilty about it and try to move on or b) try to substitute something else like cross-training if possible and still feel kind of guilty.

For example, when I was complaining about my Achilles pain recently, I still recognized that there were plenty of cross-training exercises available to me.  I knew that if I chose not to run, it wasn’t an excuse to skip my entire workout and sit around.  If I ended up being sedentary, I wasn’t able to enjoy it because I knew I hadn’t really done my best.

For once, however, I’m giving myself an option (c).  I’m giving myself permission to enjoy the rest time.  During the coming month, if things continue as they are, there will likely be few opportunities to cross-train without causing further discomfort.  In addition to that, after struggling to sleep most nights, my energy level isn’t exactly screaming “Let’s Go Run!!”  So maybe, after having explored all the options, the only thing left to do… is rest.  And maybe that means I’ve done my best, and I’m finally allowed to be satisfied with that (temporarily) for the time being.

Maybe I can use that time to do some of the things I’ve been meaning to do!  Maybe I’ll read a couple more books, maybe I’ll get a chance to finally take that photography class online.  Maybe I’ll make a time-consuming recipe.  And I’ll try to keep my sanity by planning.  If I can’t run today, then I’ll start making a plan for how to re-enter the running scene in a couple of months.  And hopefully my rest will have served me well by then.  Time will tell!  In any case, I’m trying to reflect on the fact that there have been many days in the past when I’ve craved a day or a week off.  Since I wasn’t able to enjoy those moments, I’m going to try to enjoy the coming ones with the peace of mind to recognize that this is just a phase.

Staying Young

Some people run in search of the fountain of youth. Trying to hang with the younger runners sounds like a worthy goal. At 62 that seems like something I should want. But for some reason I don’t want that. I don’t want to go back to 22, 32, 42 or even 52. I’ve been there, done that. I worked hard to get here, and I don’t have any desire to repeat it. I’m okay with 62. I just want to be a damn good 62.

I had a friend who was in her 90’s and she had spent a lifetime in the sun on the golf course. She was very wrinkled, and she assured me she had earned every one of those wrinkles. It completely turned around my way of looking at myself as the inevitable aging takes its toll. Each age spot, each wrinkle and each time a joint makes a weird noise, I can look at it as the payment I am making for all the fun I had so far.

So where does running fit in? With 50 years of running under my belt, I still get to kick a lot of younger runners’ asses in the local 5k. I will never win one but finishing in the top 30% is still fun. When that no longer happens, I will try to just enjoy seeing how I stack up in my age group. But it’s not so much about the competition as it is about how running makes me feel. I feel vibrant and alive when I am on a run. Knowing that I can run to anything I can see makes me feel very strong and capable. Not necessarily young but at least I feel good.

Some of that ability to continue has been pure luck, some has been hard work, and some has been careful and realistic planning. The luck is that my genetics has kept me from having any underlying major issues like a heart defect that would sideline me from running. The hard work has been the continuity of running on a regular basis for a long time. The consistency is the key. It’s much easier to stay in shape than to get in shape. The realistic planning is accepting that I can no longer run every day. I know I have to skip a day between each run. I can accept that it’s not a good thing for my knees to not give them more recovery time that I needed when I was younger.

So, with 72 and 82 looming in the future, how should I try to keep being a good 72 or 82 or whatever age I am? First, don’t compare myself to other people my age (maybe I should ignore those age group results). Many of them act like they are 20 years older than they are. They almost take pride in being decrepit and use their age as an excuse to be lazy. It just pisses me off when I hear a 40-year-old complain about getting old. I don’t remember who is credited with the quote “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were”. The more I think about that, the more profound it is. Research shows that we begin our physical decline in our late 20’s or even our early 30’s. But further research shows that decline should be much slower than our current culture shows. The book “Born to Run” has examples of the Mexican tribe who run amazing distances well into their later years. Nobody has ever told them they shouldn’t be able to do that.

Second, don’t grunt or groan when you get out of a chair. The first time I heard this, I realized that yes, I sometimes do that. Well, no more. Or at least I try not to do that. If you don’t sound like an old man, you are less likely to act like an old man.

Third, get out of the house. Get out and enjoy what this world has to offer. Be around people of all ages. Coaching a team of high school girls sometimes gives me more gray hair but mostly they make me laugh and help keep me young (or at least feeling young).

Fourth, laugh a lot. If you enjoy something, do it. If you like the movies, try to take in as many comedies as you can. Watch enough of the news to stay informed on what you need to know but when it just becomes depressing, turn it off and do something uplifting.

Laugh loud and often, just don’t pee yourself!

Fifth and finally, keep a purpose. I have watched many people retire through the years. Those who can’t wait to quit work, so they can sit on their fat asses and do nothing, don’t last very long. Those who can’t wait to quit work, so they can pursue other things they just haven’t had time for, do extremely well. You know they are doing well when they tell you they don’t know how they ever had time to work. Retiring to something instead of retiring from something is the way to go.

Finally, keep on running. My running will get slower and slower. It will eventually become walking. But, I have to keep moving as long as I am physically able. Never give in.

I want to be like these guys

Keep running my friends!

Train Like a Champion

So, you want to be the best. Well, you’ve got to train like the best. You want to be the state champ in the mile or the league cross country champion or the local 5k champion. What do the champs do? They train hard and don’t let anything get in their way. Sound like a plan yet? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Back in the 1960’s and early 70’s, the best miler in the US was Jim Ryun. One of his workouts was 20 x 400’s at 60 seconds with 60 seconds rest between each one. So, just go do that. Hmm, not so fast now. Now you see the problem. It’s nice to think about training like a champion but unless you are really special, you can’t do that particular workout. That doesn’t mean you can’t copy it. You just have to adjust it.

We all have the same basic physiology. To become better runners, we need more mitochondria and capillaries and aerobic enzymes. We also need a stronger heart, more anaerobic enzymes, better form with less wasted motion, a stronger core to help transfer those foot strikes into forward motion. The list of what we need goes way beyond the above items but that’s a good start. How do we get them? By training like a champion. We should be doing the same things champions do. The difference is in the quantity and quality of the workouts.

Champions go for long runs. You should go for a long run. Olympic caliber marathoners might have a 20-mile long run. Yours is not likely to be that long unless you are training for a marathon and you are a fairly advanced runner. If you are a beginner looking to finish your first 5k, your current long run might be 2 miles with a goal of working up to a full 3.1 miles. Now that’s not quite enough to start getting the actual benefits of a long run but it’s what the newbie can do and it’s a start. Maybe your long run (done no more than once per week) is 6 miles. That is long enough to start getting the benefits of a long run. You are building that aerobic base. As you recover from your long run, your body is getting busy building more capillaries to get more blood to your muscles. You are increasing the number of mitochondria in your muscle cells to give your muscles the energy they need to function for a long run. You are producing more of the enzymes the body uses to make aerobic energy metabolism a possibility. I can’t do a 20-mile long run. But if I was younger and had championship aspirations, I would certainly be increasing my weekend long run gradually over time to get closer to the champions’ long run.

Train Like a Champion |

Keep that long run at a level you can sustain.

Champions do tempo work. Champions do anaerobic intervals. Champions do core work. Champions eat right. Champions sleep enough. The trick is to mimic what the champs do but at your level. For example, with the high school team I coach, typically all the 3200 runners are doing the same workout but at different intensities and quantities. Let’s use an anaerobic workout here in this example. In 2016 one of our girls won both the 1600 and 3200 at the state of Ohio track championships. A phenomenal accomplishment. Four weeks before the state meet, I had her and our one other 3200 runner do the same workout. They both had the same goal going into the workout. The goal was to improve their ability to use their anaerobic metabolism and deal with the problems their bodies faced when getting to the final stages of an intense 2-mile race. The difference between them was that they each did the workout at their level. One did 10×400 at her goal 3200 pace which was 78 seconds per lap. The next rep would start 3 minutes after the previous rep started, approximately a 1:1 ratio of work to recovery. That was a beast of a workout. The other runner also did 400’s at her 3200 pace, one every 3 minutes. The difference was that her pace was 95 seconds per lap and she also did 10 of them. So, she trained like a champion, just not the same speed. Our champ didn’t start out 3 years earlier doing a workout at that level. But she worked her way up to it. Our other runner might or might not ever get to that level, but you get there in steps. A less talented runner might have only been able to do 6 or 8 reps instead of 10 but she would still have gotten some anaerobic benefits.

Train Like a Champion |

Here is what we want to achieve with an anaerobic workout.

The lesson is that it’s okay to look at what the big boys and girls are doing. But don’t think that you should copy their exact workouts. Just learn what they are trying to accomplish with each workout and maybe you can adapt it to your current level. If you are a 6-minute miler, you aren’t going to do a workout that a 4-minute miler can do. But just maybe you can take your next step to become a 5:45-minute miler and step up your workout plans from there. Those little steps are the path to Olympic dreams or just an improved 5k time. They are both worthy goals.

Train Like a Champion |

I can still dream!

Keep running my friends.

Run-Walking, Didn’t See This Coming

So… as pregnancy rolls along, I’m finding that I continue to be challenged by running for more than a few minutes at a time.  The consistent pounding that my bladder takes is usually the rate limiting factor for my running “intervals” if you can call bursts of slow jogging “intervals.”

Hence, I’ve continued to cut back and adjust while clinging for dear life to any semblance of running that I can still achieve.  At the end of the week, if I’ve covered five total miles, then I can at least say that I was still a runner this week.  With eight weeks to go until my due date, my hope is that I can at least continue this adjusted version of my workouts until the bitter end.

I’ve always been skeptical of run/walk plans.  I know that Jeff Galloway has long advocated training by run/walking, but I always thought it actually seemed like it would be harder.  It seemed like it would be a challenge to find that groove that you get into when you’re running.  I’ve adopted a different perspective now that run/walking has become a necessity.  Instead of feeling like I’m getting off track, I now anticipate my walk breaks with excitement!  And because I’m taking things so slowly, I’m fully recovered and ready to run again when my next interval is slated to begin.

I don’t see myself marrying this run/walk strategy forever though.  I remain frustrated with my new workouts because I end a 30 minute treadmill session and find myself disappointed with the distance I’ve covered.  It’s discouraging to watch my fitness appear to wane.  However, I remain optimistic that doing what I can do now will allow me to bounce back more quickly later!

On a positive note, I think it’s likely that run/walking and continuing to reduce my overall mileage has had an overall positive effect on the healing of my Achilles tendon problem.  Silver lining?  Maybe good timing?  Or maybe I’ll just try to add mileage too quickly in a few months and find myself in the physical therapist’s office anyways.  Only time will tell.

Either way, I’ll be damned if I don’t make it to a half marathon this fall.  Man, do I miss races!

Running and Weight Loss

I’m sure you have heard the arguments as often as I have. Which is more important for weight loss, diet or exercise? Well, before we get into that, let’s talk about the whole issue of weight loss. Weight loss does NOT equal good health. Cut off one of your legs and you will have instant weight loss. Are you healthier? I think not. Google pictures of anorexics. Are they healthy? What do you think? So, before you get into that perennial new years’ resolution to lose weight, first think about what your goal really is. Are you a type 2 diabetic who is trying to lose fat to improve your health? Are you trying to lower your blood pressure? Do you just want to feel better? Or is it like most people and you just want to look good? All of the above are great reasons to make a change. Just know what you want and why you want it before getting serious. You will be more successful than the average person who just thinks they should drop a quick 10 pounds.

The real key is fat loss.

So back to the beginning. What is the best way to lose weight? Is it diet or exercise. I can’t count the number of ads I have seen for the latest miracle pill for weight loss. Check the fine print and you will almost always find the words “taken regularly along with a proper diet and exercise” the results are guaranteed. So, we have a pill, a proper diet and exercise. Seems to me one of these three things is not necessary. Unless of course you sell the pills and have a car payment to make, then it becomes vital that people take your pills.

Now we are down to diet and exercise. Sorry folks, it’s both. Theoretically you can just eat less or exercise more, and it should work. There is no mystery here. If you take in fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. The laws of physics can’t be beaten. It’s that simple. The problem is your body’s ability to adapt. If you go on a severe calorie restriction, your body recognizes this and slows down your metabolism to prevent starvation. Whereas you were burning 2200 calories a day before you started and now you are only eating 1500 that should work right? Not so fast. Your body sees that tough times are ahead and with your new slower metabolism due to your body’s adaptation you are now only burning 1400 calories per day. Not only do you not lose weight, but you feel like crap and are miserable watching everyone else eat.

So, let’s try exercise instead. One pound of fat is about 3500 calories. If you burn 3500 calories exercising, you will not only lose that pound of fat, but you will also lose a pound of water attached to that fat. Where’s the catch? Running a mile only burns about 100 calories. If you are already running 35 miles a week, you probably aren’t looking to lose weight. The extra calories burnt purely due to more exercise just aren’t that much.

The solution in my opinion is a combination of diet and exercise. I don’t care what the calories are from, fat, carbs or protein, they are still calories. So, just keep it sensible. No gorging until you can’t stuff another Twinkie down your throat. Then get up and start moving. Burn more calories than you have been. But the real key to exercise is to rev up your calorie burning machine during that 23 hours of the day when you aren’t exercising. How? Build muscle. Muscle is a calorie burning furnace. Resistance training may do more for your weight loss than all your cardio ever did, by building up muscle. Muscle does actually weigh more than fat but also burns way more calories to stay alive than fat cells do. For those who don’t want more muscle because it weighs more than fat, go back to the beginning and remember that plain old weight loss does not equal good health. Either way, the extra weight from more muscle will be more than compensated for by the even greater weight loss due to the extra calories burnt by the new muscle.

Recently I read an article by Dr. Jason Karp who stated that diet is most important for losing the weight and exercise is more important for keeping it off. That sounds reasonable to me. The bottom line is we all need to eat properly and exercise. You will feel better, look better, and live better. The time spent exercising will be regained and then some by your increased productivity due to your newfound vigor and ability. Forget the quick weight loss schemes and focus on the lifestyle change that you may need. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Good luck and it will be worth it.

Keep running my friends.

Is Stair-Climbing the Answer to All the Questions?

My husband has an unusual hobby.  He’s super into stair climbing.  Every year there’s a stair climbing race in town, hosted by the American Lung Association.  They picked the tallest building in the city, and one at a time, they send runners or walkers up the stairs to get 44 stories off the ground as quick as they can.  The event is accompanied by a vertical mile wherein participants make about ten trips up the stairs over the span of a couple/few hours until they’ve climbed a vertical mile.

Dan is the single trip repeat champ of this event, and as such, he feels the obligation to continue training hard each year to return and defend his title.  The event is in February which means that the winter is “stair-climb season.”  It’s kind of perfect because it’s an event that can be trained for indoors and the weather is never a factor.  He found a 23 floor apartment building to use, and visits several times a week to take some laps up.

It’s painfully boring, and well, also painful.  So I usually decline his invitations to join.  However, more recently, as you know, I’ve had to make several adjustments to my workout regimen.  Stair climbing has facilitated my situation in a couple of unique ways.  First, it seems to not aggravate my Achilles for whatever reason, while at the same time giving me a great upper and lower leg workout.  So I believe it’s strengthening my legs and making me more resistant to injury in the future (with any luck).  On top of that, it’s a low impact activity unlike running (whether outside or on the treadmill) which is a little more bladder friendly for my increasing pregnant status.

Ok, so I’ve concluded that stair climbing is a good workout solution for me right now.  But is it maybe a good solution for all runners?  Dan has for a long time advocated stair climbing as an excellent workout for anyone looking to increase their fitness.  He’s also advocated adding strength training to most workout routines because, let’s be serious, many of us runners tend to let it go by the wayside, favoring one more run this week or five more minutes of running each day (whatever the case may be) instead of cutting a run short to add some strength moves.  Come on… who’s not guilty of that?

But I haven’t had perfect luck when it comes to injury avoidance… Have you?  What if I did add more strength training?  And what if it could be conveniently combined with a cardio workout a la stair climbing?  Would I get the best of both worlds?  After contemplating this question, I’m forced to ask myself, “Is there anyone who wouldn’t be better off for adding a stair climb session to their weekly (or even monthly) workouts?”  I daresay not.

Good news…   You don’t have to find a 23 floor apartment building in order to add stair climbing to your life.  In town here we are lucky to have several options like a dam with long set of steep stairs, but in almost any city or small town, you can find a gym with a stair climb machine (probably not quite the same, but better than nothing!) or a high school football stadium near the track you might already frequent with rows of bleachers to climb up and down.

More good news?  Just because you’re a runner doesn’t mean that you have to “run” up the stairs to get a “real” workout.  I often find (especially now) that after running up a few floors, I’ve already gotten way beyond the heart rate I intended and I’m slowly to a walk.  I’m still breathing hard and struggling the whole way up.  There is no compromise in the quality of my cardio workout just because I’ve slowed the pace.  You can adjust accordingly!  (And the trip back down, while continuing to stress your muscles in different ways, is a welcome break from the intensity.)

Ok, so try it or don’t … that’s just my two cents.