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.


So You Want Your Kids to Be Runners

Two great things in my life. First and most exciting to me is that I am a new grandpa! I have a brand new grandson and number two grandson is also on the way. Life is good! Second is I am a runner. I have been a runner for 50 years now and still love it. My daughter is as addicted to running as I am, and my son has dabbled in it off and on. How cool would it be to have my grandchildren become runners, too? I’m sure many of you feel the same way and hope your kids and grandkids find the same joy in running that you do. Last September, I saw an acquaintance bring his grandkids to the Castle Run (I am the race director for this race) and sign them up for their very first race. He was acting calm about it, but I know inside he was beaming with pride and excitement to introduce them to his lifelong passion.

How can you make this happen? Well, there is good news and bad news here. The bad news is that no matter what you do, you can’t make kids love running. You can’t force anyone love anything. The good news is that kids are already runners. From the moment they are able to run, you can’t stop them from running. Each Sunday immediately after services at the church I attend, the sanctuary quickly turns into a race track where the kids who have suffered through what they feel was a horribly long sermon chase each other around the building while the parents chit chat with each other for a few minutes before leaving. These are mostly 3 or 4 year olds as the older they get, they quickly learn to restrain themselves and unfortunately start acting more like adults. I think it would be so awesome to see all the adults suddenly burst into a game of tag after church. Attendance might skyrocket. Instead we are lured in by doughnuts offered once a month.

This little girl is a runner, and nobody needed to tell her to run!

Okay, how do we translate that into becoming runners in the more formal sense of wanting to do races and go out for runs with their parents or friends or join the track and cross country teams when they are old enough? Again, you can’t make them, you have to let them. There is a huge difference. I suppose you can make them. But that will last only as long as you are standing there with punishment for non-compliance. The goal is to get them to want to run when you aren’t there. What do kids want to do? Fun things. Pure and simple it has to be fun. Make it a task on the job list and you have successfully sucked all the fun out of it. Remember that 2-year old who you couldn’t get to stop running? It’s still in there. They ran at 2 because it was fun. Running is fun. Let it remain so. My recommendations follow.

Can’t play soccer without running.

  1. Play games with the kids that involve running.
  2. Let them see you run.
  3. Take them to your races.
  4. Let them join the kids fun runs at your races, but it has to be their idea.
  5. Never, ever let them hear you complain about having to go for a run.
  6. Don’t push but be agreeable to help them take advantage of any running opportunities they express an interest in.


Happy kids at a race, no special workout clothes needed, just fun.

Remember, little kids love their parents more than anything else on earth and want to be just like them. So, the most important thing here is to model a running lifestyle. The benefits of becoming runners are too numerous for this writing. We will get into that another time. If you truly love running and let yourself enjoy it instead of just checking it off the list of chores you have to do, you are half way to turning your kids into lifelong runners without even trying. Good luck with this. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to your kids.

Keep running my friends.

Patience in Measuring Progress

Throughout life, we tend to measure our progress whether in athletics or business or anything else in increments of improvement from the day, the week, the month before.  Then there are times in life when it’s literally impossible to make forward progress on those levels.  Sometimes for days at a time, sometimes for weeks, and sometimes for months at a stretch, we have to watch while the best we can do is a little less awesome than the best we used to be able to do.

What to do?  I guess we adjust our expectations and either a) keep them there if we’re anticipating a permanent change or b) look at the more distant horizon to start planning for a time when we can start to make forward progress again.  And then we exercise patience.  My least favorite virtue.

In my case, as I’ve mentioned countless times, the year started great with more miles than I’d ever routinely run for a first half-year.  However, as the year unfolded and I found myself trying to cut back to treat an injury and then due to pregnancy, I’m definitely adjusting my expectations.  I had wanted to keep getting faster, to keep running more miles, more races.  Not possible right this moment.  So I’ve had to settle for what is realistic and possible.  I’ve had to ask myself, “What is the most I can reasonably expect myself to do that will give me the greatest likelihood of picking up where I left off when I’m able to give running my full effort again?”

Yesterday, that was twenty minutes of treadmill running at 11 minute mile pace followed by some inclined walking.  It’s a workout that I wouldn’t have counted as a workout a year ago.  Today though?  It was actually an accomplishment.  In a month when some workouts were characterized by ten minute treadmill runs, twenty minutes actually felt like I was moving forward.

In order to prevent myself from dwelling, I have taken to making certain other adjustments.  During the past two weeks as running has become even more challenging due to my bizarrely distended abdomen and the tiny person bouncing on my bladder, I’ve tried to make other healthy choices.  I added more weight lifting.  I cut back on sugar.  I’m trying to do things that will make me feel healthier even without the number of miles I’d normally put in.  In addition, I had to make a mental shift.  Instead of focusing on how many miles I’ll run until my due date, I’m trying to focus on how I can stay as ready as possible to resume my normal running schedule once the little guy gets out of there.  In other words, I’m choosing Option B – looking at the more distant horizon and planning a bigger picture.  And trying really hard to be patient.  I know that I probably won’t make quick progress afterwards.  (I’m not one for being diligent about my workouts when I haven’t gotten enough sleep… )  However, I’m just hoping that my progress will start to point in the right direction again.

I may not make forward progress every day, and there may even be weeks when I seem to take steps backwards again, but hopefully over the course of the ensuing months, I’ll see a trend in the right direction.  As with the rest of life’s events and goals, a little patience goes a long way.  If I had to look at my progress in the form of a chart, and if I looked at it just within the span of the past six to nine months, it would look like a plunging line of miles dropping off and speed decreasing.  If I can just wait and look at my chart again in another six to nine to twelve or more months, that dip will start to look more like what it really is – a dip.  It will be a blip on the radar and part of my running story.  And I’ll try not to get lost in the details for the time being.


Running Naked

Total freedom. The pure exhilaration of running unencumbered by any of society’s expectations. Doing exactly as you please. Going …. wait…. what?????? Oh, I see what you are thinking. You’re thinking of streaking. Running with no clothes on is streaking. A brief fad that I witnessed in the spring in the early 70’s on the Ohio State campus and swept the nation then quickly fizzled out for obvious reasons.


No, running naked has nothing to do with your clothing. Running naked means running without a watch. Or to be exact, it means running without a measuring device of any kind, no watch, no GPS, no computer chip on your shoe, no phone with a tracking option, no fitbit, no heart rate monitor, etc.

GPS and Heart Rate Monitor

Going for a naked run is the best of all. You step out the door and go. That’s all. You just go. Go anywhere your fancy takes you. Go for as long as you want. Go at any pace you want. Go for the sheer joy of putting one foot in front of the other and enjoy. Your run is whatever you feel like doing.

Some people can’t handle a naked run. They just have to measure it. If you want to cheat but still want to get the feeling, try it on a route you already know or on a route you can measure later. But while doing the run just lose yourself in the moment and enjoy it. This isn’t part of a structured training plan. It’s for you to do something for yourself for pure fun. We all need that. In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it’s sometimes necessary to just step away from it all and go for a run. Clear your head and forget life’s problems. Amazingly enough, once in a while life’s problems are solved on a run when you aren’t expecting a solution to pop into your head. That opportunity is less likely if you are busy checking your watch to see what your current pace is, how far you have gone or have yet to go or if your heart rate is in your target zone.

People have asked me many times over the years, why I run. We all have our reasons, some the same, some totally unique. Some of us like to compete. Some of us are in it purely for our health. Some want to look good, lose weight or even just like the way it makes you feel. One of my favorite reasons to run is that I like knowing that I can step out the door and run without stopping all the way to anything I can see in the distance. Luckily, I don’t live in Colorado where there might be a mountain visible from 50 miles away. But I do like to just get out and go. Don’t get me wrong, I do more than my share of measuring and timing. I have tracked my total mileage every year for the last 25 years and I wish I would have done it for the 25 that came before that. But in the end, it’s really all about the person you become from running. Medals and ribbons (well maybe not ribbons so much) are nice but they disappear into a box somewhere so your kids can throw them out after your funeral someday. The person you become from running is a confident, capable person, less reliant on others for help. Runners are more likely to be self-sufficient or they quit running. And nothing provides more confidence than just stepping out the door and going where you please for as long as you want. Try it once in a while. I guarantee you will like it.

Who doesn’t want to run here and leave the world behind?

Keep running my friends!

Lessons from Coach – Using a Little Discipline in Restraint

I’ve learned many things in the 25ish years since I’ve begun to think of my dad as my official running coach.  Often those are things he’s told me directly, but in many other cases, they are things I’ve learned by example (sometimes the best way to learn).

Most recently, I’ve been taking my cues from his lessons in discipline and restraint during training.  Certainly we’re all aware that it takes a great deal of discipline to log all the miles and put in all the training.  It’s usually easier to sit back and enjoy an evening on the couch rather than head to the gym, the track, or the trail.

But it’s worth noting that it also takes a great deal of discipline to limit training, especially when trying to recover from or prevent an injury.  After learning from several of his own experiences with injuries in the past, in recent years, my dad/coach has been extraordinarily careful to train with a very precise plan to be sure he never adds mileage too quickly or overdoes it.  As a result, he’s successfully completed lots of great long runs and races.

This has meant restraint even when it’s not convenient.  Yes, many times not going for the run is the easier choice.  However, like most runners, there are days when he would certainly like to add a run, but chooses not to because it’s the right thing to do and he knows that the calculated risk of adding an extra day back-to-back or too many miles this week will not be worth the fun of one extra run.  For example, say we’re on vacation in one of our favorite running destinations, Hilton Head Island.  It’s tempting to throw caution to the wind and make an exception and go for a run every day.  However, he has usually already planned his running days and distances in advance, and even if I’m heading out for an extra, he politely declines if it’s not part of the plan.

This planning and preparation doesn’t mean that there’s no room for flexibility.  Adjusting the plan is possible, but it requires thoughtful consideration of how a change today will affect the rest of rest of the week and a plan for what other changes will need to be made.

Most recently, as I try to recover from and prevent my own small injury, I’ve had to use discipline in a few different ways.  I haven’t been successful at all of them, but I noticed recently how the use of restraint factors into my plan.  My goal has been to give myself at least one rest day between all of my runs recently.  When I look at the week ahead of me, sometimes it looks like it would be easier to fit in five 20 minute runs instead of three longer runs. Sometimes I get the rare opportunity to go to the gym at lunch time, and it sure would be convenient to get one of my runs out of the way, but perhaps I just ran the day before.  Perhaps running again isn’t the single best choice.

Do I make the right choice every time?  No, not necessarily.  But I’m lucky to have a coach who has led by example and at least gave me the tools to try to make the right choice in the interest of being a healthy long-distance runner for many years to come!


Okay, so it has been a really nice fall so far until this week. Thursday, I went out for my run and it was my first below freezing run of the year. Not bad for December 7th. Time to layer up and get out there. It wasn’t so bad. But tomorrow looks like it’s going to be 21 degrees at 8:00 in the morning when I am planning to head out. In mid-January, that’s not going to seem so bad but since I’m not acclimated yet, that is going to seem like that trip to deepest Siberia I have always dreamed of or maybe not so much. I hate treadmills but the running can’t stop. So, it’s time to review the cold weather strategy, suck it up and get back out there.

Rule #1 is dressing for success. Remember the 20 degree rule. Wear enough clothing that you would be comfortable just standing around if it was 20 degrees warmer. If it’s 25 degrees, wear enough that you could just sit outside if it was 45 degrees. Layers, layers, layers! That is the key to doing it right. For me tomorrow, 21 degrees will be a 3 layer day. I’m talking about upper body layers. A long sleeved wicking shirt, then a short sleeved wicking shirt, all topped off with a running jacket of some sort will do the trick. I never wear more than 3 layers. If it’s that cold I will throw in the towel and come back another day. Time to cross train inside. Cover your head or at least your ears with a hat of some kind and cover your hands. Gloves are okay but mittens are better. Socks make great mittens. You can wipe your sweat or your snotty nose on them and just throw them in the washer with the rest of your nasty sweaty running gear. Below the waist, running tights or pants are always in style and will keep you warm. Warm legs are less likely to get injured. Socks for the feet come in different weights. I like my double layered socks made by Wright Sock. Besides being warm, they are nice for preventing blisters. How do you know if you have enough on? If you are nice and warm when you start out, you are overdressed. If you are shaking and shivering from the cold before you start, you might want a little more.

Dressed for winter success – layers, hats, gloves

Rule #2 is staying dry. Once again, layers are the key. Layers of wicking material will suck away the sweat while the air between the layers keeps you warm. If you get wet, you are in trouble. Really, I do mean potential big-time trouble like frostbite trouble or worse. So, leave the cotton shirt at home to wear after your shower while you sit in front of the fireplace having that well-deserved cup of hot chocolate. Don’t step in puddles. If there is a deep puddle, even if there is a covering of ice, stay off it. You might break through and soak your foot. Wet body parts just get cold.

Rule #3 is watch your footing. I just mentioned ice. You are way more likely to have a problem due to slipping on ice and busting your head open than you are to freeze up your lungs or watch your fingers fall off from frostbite damage. I have friends who have put screws and other homemade traction devices on the bottom of their shoes. Forget it. Just stay the hell off any ice you see. If there’s not a non-icy path you can follow, just give it up. Come back to run outside another day. Get on your exercise bike or even jump on the dreaded treadmill. Running on icy roads is just not a gamble worth taking. One more thing here. Snow and ice aren’t the same thing. You can run on snow. It gives you a little traction. If you go outside and find out once you are too far gone that the conditions are icier than you thought, try to step where there is snow and avoid any black ice spots.

Notice all the dry road and this one chose to run on the icy spot.

Cold weather myths are plenty. People look at me like I’m nuts when they ask what my distance runners do in the winter since they can’t go outside. I ask them why they think the runners can’t go outside. They just stare like I’m a slave driver. I have never had a runner come back in that didn’t work up a sweat outside. Now I do draw the line at certain temperatures. I think around 8 degrees is as cold as I have run in and I don’t ask my team to go outside below 10 degrees but I know they could if they wanted to. The myth is that your lungs will freeze up. I see that all the time in the obituaries when all those young runners die from frozen solid lungs. Come to think of it, no I have not ever seen that anywhere ever. It just doesn’t happen. Frostbite, maybe. Frozen lungs, not so much. One of my favorite stories comes from my first year of coaching high school track. It was about 15 degrees and very windy. I’m sure the wind chill was about zero. I told the girls, I am not going to ask you to go outside. You can if you want but it is not a requirement today. They all looked very relieved until Kristen, our all-state 3200 runner, looked at me and said “I’m going out”. Every single one of those girls dropped their heads in shame and then followed her. Now that is leadership. The best part was that every one of them came back sweaty. No frozen lungs or frostbitten fingers.

To sum it all up, winter running is awesome. It is less dangerous than running in high heat and can be a beautiful peaceful time to run outside. Just use your common sense, dress right and watch your step.

Total breakdown in common sense is pictured above. Who is the bigger fool? I think it’s the moron who took his baby out for a winter run in the stroller in icy conditions. If gramps frostbites his nipples he can only blame himself. If the baby in the stroller gets cold, his dad is in big trouble.

Keep running my friends!

Running with my Podcasts

One of the persistent challenges I’ve experienced in my running routine over the years is exactly that… sometimes it gets a bit, well… routine.  Sometimes there are phases when it feels like I’m always running the same route for the same amount of time, same clothes, same shoes, same everything.  And even worse, sometimes there are phases when you have to make a few compromises in order to maintain your routine.  Specifically, I’ve been logging some treadmill runs lately – for a variety of reasons.  Namely, the treadmill at the gym near my office is the only reasonable place for me to log a few miles over the course of my lunch break.

If you’re one of the many runners like myself who find treadmill running to be a significant challenge simply because of the boredom factor, then you know how tedious this can be.  I’ve had other phases when I’ve logged treadmill runs with music and that got me pumped up for a while.  But eventually even the playlists get really repetitive and the same songs fail to get me excited.

My current infatuation is listening to podcasts while I log miles on the treadmill.  Instead of dreading my treadmill time, I look forward to it because I get the excuse to settle in and listen to some dialogue on my favorite topics.  The free material available feels virtually limitless – I have subscribed to podcasts on topics ranging from running itself and fitness in general to business, meditation, happiness, and cooking.  (Yes, now I not only indulge in watching other people prepare food on television, but I also listen to them talk about it on the radio.  Are we traveling back in time??)  Nonetheless, the point is that whatever you’re into, there’s probably a podcast about it.  And unlike your twenty favorite workout songs, your podcast content can vary every single time you step on the treadmill.  Maybe you like fiction – you can listen to short stories and series – drama, sci fi, mystery, whatever you like!  Or documentaries?  Biographies?  Politics?  News?  Science?  Health and wellness?  Personal improvement?  Oh my gosh, life won’t even be long enough to listen to all the good content!

I know it won’t work for everyone.  Some people just aren’t into listening to “talk.”  I thought I wasn’t either.  But now I’m so obsessed with podcasts that I haven’t even bothered to listen to music – either on the treadmill or on the commute – in literally months, maybe years.  I only use my podcasts on the treadmill.  I’m still a purist when running outside – no earbuds for me.  Maybe this is why the novelty and excitement still remain when it does come time to hop on the old mill.  Perhaps if I used podcasts during every run, whether inside or out, I’d get burnt out.  But so far, I’m still hooked.

Let’s not rule out books on tape either.  I haven’t tried this on a run yet, but a good friend of mine got a lot help from Ayn Rand while powering through a marathon last year.  (Atlas Shrugged can help you cover a LOT of miles… )

So to summarize – I’ll admit this may not be for everyone, but if you haven’t tried it yet, think it over.  Doing something new can make running exciting again when it’s starting to get dull.  And sometimes a little variety is all we need to get re-enchanted with the whole ritual!