Self Talk

Sports psychologists have developed various theories about what motivates athletes to train and compete at their best.  Weinberg and Gould define motivation as the “intensity and direction of effort.”   They suggest intrinsic motivation drives us to be competent, drawing from self-determination and a belief we can succeed.  In sport, that does not necessarily mean winning.  Rather it means performing to our potential.  An athlete cannot control who shows up at a race but they can control whether they show up, in top form and ready to compete. I’ve been thinking about this recently as it pertains to my own training and performance.  And from conversations with my peers, I know they think about it too.  The conundrum as we age is how much we fall off from personal bests and training volume and, most importantly, how we process that so we don’t get trapped in a spiraling sense of disappointment and failure.  I’ve concluded the “secret” is to maintain a sense of joy and optimism about our athletic endeavors.  As trite or obvious as that may seem, I recall numerous recent conversations with aging peers as they lament about their current level of fitness compared to earlier years.  And note … Continue reading

Gait Keeping!

Webster’s defines a gatekeeper as “one who controls access.”  And in a sense, this is what our gait does.  Regardless of whether we are running or walking it determines how we move through our day.  Several things come to mind when looking at gait: To walk or run we engage the entirety of our lower kinetic chain, from the hips to our tippy-toes. The muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints in that chain are intricately designed to do certain things and if those elements are not functioning properly, our gait is compromised. Gait deteriorates with age.  However, vigilance can allow us to forestall many common effects and even partially reverse some of what may have taken hold.  First, let’s underscore the importance of gait.  Aside from our ability to think, being mobile is arguably the most joyful thing we do.  It’s a rare person who has not been laid up for a time.  We go stir crazy!  And can’t wait to get moving again!!  Sometimes to our peril we come back too fast and hard.  But that’s a topic for another post. Now let’s look at gait anatomy.  Starting at the hip, which is not a separate structure, rather a ball-and-socket … Continue reading

Water Works!

Growing up I liked playing Monopoly. Most everyone wanted to buy Boardwalk, Park Place and the expensive properties hoping to put houses and a hotel on them. And collect big $ when someone landed on them. But I also liked Water Works, one of the utilities. The payback was decent – averaging about $28 and up to $48 rent (based on a roll of the dice) on a $150 investment. Chances were in the course of a couple of trips around the board someone would land there. Nothing fancy, but a dependable return. And that is what deep water running offers to runners. I was reminded of this twice in the past two weeks. The first time I had gone for a fairly hard run in the cold rain.  Came back to the gym, warmed up and thoroughly stretched, planning on a hard track workout the next day.  But that night I didn’t sleep well and woke up with some back pain.  It seemed wise to delay the track workout a day.  So I headed to the gym and since the pool schedule didn’t allow for a water run, I jumped on the StairMaster.  If anything, that made things worse … Continue reading

Smart Recovery

I wrote a blog post in 2015 entitled the Art of Recovery.  The gist of that post was to run slow, really slow, a couple days a week and particularly after a race.  Well enough, but there’s a whole lot more to consider.  Also, that post was not specifically geared to masters runners whereas this one is.  I’m drawing some points made by Peter Reaburn in his comprehensive book, The Masters Athlete. The main purpose of recovery is to avoid injury.  As masters runners, we are particularly vulnerable to injury after races and an extremely intense workout or series of workouts.  For a 5K, the recovery period is three to five days, for a half marathon a couple weeks, and several weeks for a marathon.  Research suggests one day of recovery for every mile raced.  However, this assumes the following: We went into the race sufficiently trained and rested.  If we trained long and hard up until the day or two before the race, then we likely had muscle and tissue damage lingering, which the race added to.  This means more than the standard time to fully recover. Our fundamental biomechanics are sound.  If we excessively pronate, for example, and … Continue reading

Milling It!

Many runners (including you perhaps!) emphatically declare, “I hate the treadmill.”  Some opt for the elliptical or stationary bike in lieu of stepping onto a moving belt.  To be sure, few would choose the mill over a nice outdoor run.  But adding to my prior post, Inside Out, the past couple of weeks have been unusually cold and windy in Vermont.  For both safety and comfort I’ve been spending time on Treadmill #53, a Cybex 770T at the UVM Rec Center.  It’s one of a bank of six high-end Cybex and Woodway treadmills that look over the UVM soccer/lacrosse field, where hardy UVM athletes often practice in extreme conditions. And there are clear views of Camel’s Hump, the second highest peak in Vermont some 30 miles away.  #53 is a pretty new machine with a cycling display of time, distance, pace, calories, calories/hr., watts, and METS.  Plenty to watch! Well and good.  But to be honest I do find it hard to get started.  An inner voice asks – “can I stand doing this?”  That was the case last Sunday when I was planning to do a 12-mile run.  But with outside temps at minus six and 25 mph winds … Continue reading

Inside Out

Perhaps you’ve seen the Pixar film with this title.  It was about how our emotions (the inside) affect our lives (the out.)  I’m sure the creators of the film would see that as too simplistic!  But perhaps there is a corollary to running. It’s the time of year when it can get really cold in Vermont, especially when windy.  I moved to Boston in 2005 in part to bask in the 10° warmer high and low average temps compared to Burlington.  And now I’m back in the colder clime!  When you consider that between December 21st and February 18th the daily average high temp in Burlington is below freezing, it’s not surprising there are many days between snow melts.  While streets are plowed (and increasingly the bike paths!) this can lead to treacherous conditions for runners.  I know too many who have strained muscles or broken bones by taking a hard fall.  While many “true Vermonters” run outside year round, consider the treadmill an anathema, and perhaps strap on skis in lieu of running, I regularly ran on the treadmill during the 16 winters I lived here before.  And with sub-zero temps recently, have started to do that again. Seven … Continue reading

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year when many of us determine what we want to do or change in 2019.  It’s a worthwhile and noble activity – always good to take stock! Last week I made a tentative race schedule for the year, with target times for various distances, keeping in mind the S.M.A.R.T. principles: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time bound.  It’s easy (and fun!) to plop things down on paper.  To throttle that some, I put considerable thought into what it might take to meet these targets.  I tried to incorporate the time-proven principles of progressive training, exertion-recovery cycles, and balance with other demands in life.  No doubt my optimism is at least a tad ahead of reality, which is often the case in goal setting.  And maybe I’m in denial about the effects of aging.  But I do feel excited about committing to the necessary work. All of this is fine, but I was reminded of the importance of keeping things in perspective.  We know lots can happen in the course of a year: injury, illness, accidents, job changes/pressures, family needs, etc.  And we either adapt and respond to these changes or get rolled over by them.  If … Continue reading

Aging and Performance

With 2019 almost upon us, it’s a good time to think about topics for my blog next year.  Immediately, the description of what I’ve gone back to school to study blips up: aging and performance.  Informed by what I learned last semester, let’s look at these terms. Aging.  What a huge topic!  There is muscular, bone, joint, ligament, neural, and mental aging, all drawing on changes in our cells that make up those structures.   For runners, and all athletes, these factors simultaneously affect us in varying ways and at various stages of life. First, it’s important to distinguish between chronological and biologically aging.  Many elements of aging begin to show themselves around age 40.  In Bending the Aging Curve (2011), Joseph Signorile suggests there is a huge difference in neuromuscular function (a combination of many of the above-listed things) among life-long trained athletes, who have the highest NMF, those who started training at 40, and those who have never trained.  This is good to remember and hardly a surprise.  But whatever our starting point, we do experience changes as we age.  Let’s consider three. First, Type II (fast-twitch) fibers tend to increasingly turn into Type I (slow-twitch) fibers after age … Continue reading

90 Minutes a Day!

As I move through the fall term at UVM, I’ve crossed paths with various people in the research and academic world. There is a ton of research being done in the applied sciences, much of it related to chronic conditions and disease mitigation. This is where the money is! Understandably, the NIH is not going to prioritize funding for developing interventions to maximize athletic performance into the golden years. This funding will likely come from private sources, supporting entrepreneurial researchers and practitioners looking for answers and strategies. After a conversation last week with a professor about why he has chosen to research chronic conditions, I thought about why I am interested in interventions to preserve and extend athletic performance. And it hit me straight on: I see athletics as a true celebration of life! Certainly as much as good music, art, literature, or academic achievement. Those of us fortunate to have retained our fundamental capacities have a choice to pursue athletics at a high level or dabble at physical activity here and there and lament our declining abilities. I then thought about what it takes to retain this prowess and decided in simplistic terms it takes 90 minutes a day, … Continue reading

Ignorance is Bliss?

It’s hard not be somewhat aware of the effects of aging on our running – it shows in our race and training times! We slow down and at root we grudgingly accept that.   But to be honest, my understanding of all the elements driving this was rather vague. Aside from injuries and accidents I was holding up pretty well. Something has changed, however, in the past couple years. The age grade tables suggest my per mile 5K pace should have increased a total of 11 seconds over the past three years. But I’m seeing an increase of 30-40 seconds! So what’s up? For one, I’ve spent much of the last year studying exercise physiology in preparation to return to grad school for research in aging and performance. I’ve been a sponge – absorbing anything I can find about why we slow down as we age.   Most of the constraints are explained by impacts on our muscles, bones, cardiovascular, and breathing systems. A somewhat comprehensive list I’ve compiled includes: Changes in muscular and connective tissue quantity and quality Decline in the number of neurons and a slowing of how fast nerve impulses stimulate our muscles Reduced key hormonal production such as … Continue reading