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.  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 between ages 40 … 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

The Heat is On!

During the past week, I ran two races in 80+ degree temps, with high humidity under sunny skies. It was hot! In July we might, and perhaps should, expect that. Coincidentally I’ve been reading Alex Hutchinson’s Endure in which he probes various conditions elite athletes overcame to achieve new heights. Or if they miscalibrated, went over the edge.   This book is a winner – Hutchinson has done his homework along with first-hand experience as a top middle distance runner. He was also an inside journalist on Nike’s attempt to break the 2-hour marathon in May 2017. Considering the recent heat spell, the chapter on heat was relevant. I’ll paraphrase how Hutchinson describes it. When core temperature rises, blood shunts to the skin as a way of dissipating heat and cooling the body. This mechanism works up to a point but there’s a tradeoff – this shunting steals blood from internal organs. At the extreme, heatstroke makes an appearance. This is dangerous stuff. When core temperature rises above 106° the self-regulation process breaks down and external cooling (ice baths!) is needed immediately to avoid long-term damage. I thought back on an experience with my first car — a ’56 Chevy. It … Continue reading

Keeping Track

Runners often have what might be called a love-hate relationship with the track. Many of us had our first taste of running there – anyone who ran in high school certainly did their share of track intervals. As the years have passed, I’ve continued to see the track as something of a haven – a place that feels like “home,” predictable and safe, regardless of where it is and whether it’s indoors or outside. And while doing a track workout this week, I started a mental list of why I feel that way: The track cuts no slack. It provides honest feedback. You know after a workout what your fitness level is. Such feedback is constant. Whether it’s a 400M, 200M, or 10th of a mile track, you calibrate with each lap – a good nudge if the pace is falling off! Workouts are easily scaled for speed or distance. In fact, it’s best to mix it up week-to-week or even within a workout. In that vein, it’s a natural place to change speeds, which is good for varying muscle recruitment and exerting a different type of fatigue on muscles. Running the same speed for all workouts invites overuse injuries, … Continue reading

Running and Juggling

I just returned from the Circus Smirkus adult camp in Greensboro, Vermont, where I focused on juggling with balls, clubs, and rings. I’ve been picking away at it for several years, but had developed little consistency and had no confidence to perform in public. I figured a weekend intensive would do the trick! It didn’t quite work out that way, though progress was clearly made. Juggling skills, like running, are built on incremental gains. You may ask why write about this for a running blog? Sure, my interest is to take on something inherently challenging and rise to that. As is running and racing. And granted, there’s an element of wanting to twirl implements to impress others, and myself! But at root, it’s an attempt to stimulate and build neural plasticity, even at an advancing age. Any complex movement involves near-simultaneous processing of stimuli by our neurons with subsequent routing, in nanoseconds, to our muscles. It’s a fascinating and esoteric process too involved to go into depth here. But rest assured there’s a LOT going on when we write, run, or juggle! However, let’s look at proprioceptors, which are highly specialized receptor organs in our muscles and joints that affect … Continue reading

Play On!

Play On by Jeff Bercovici, just released, is a great read about how older professional athletes in various sports are flattening, and even bending up the aging curve. It’s loaded with insights about things master’s runners care about. Bercovici starts with an account of how Meb Keflezighi won the 2014 Boston Marathon, which is particularly relevant since it also speaks to the bizarre conditions of the 2018 race.   In 2014, Meb was a clear underdog against one of the strongest fields ever assembled for Boston. He wanted to run a steady pace, which resulted in him taking the lead after nine miles as others were taking stock of each other and thinking Meb would come back to them. He extended his lead to over a minute in the Newton Hills. When at mile 22 it became clear Meb was for real, two Kenyan runners, Wilson Chebet and Frankline Chepkwony, went on a tear to catch him, cutting their pace by 20 seconds a mile. The margin evaporated to six seconds at mile 25 and it looked like Meb was toast. But it turned out the chasers had gone into anaerobic debt to catch him while Meb was still within his … Continue reading