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

Age-Adjusted Training Plans

Most training plans suggest an incremental buildup in mileage and intensity as you close in on your target race. This is particularly important for a longer distance, such as a half or full marathon. These training plans generally assume an average recovery period, incorporating a hard-easy regimen of workouts. Also good! The problem with standard training plans is runners come in all shapes and sizes with varying running and fitness backgrounds, as well as having unique injury and other physical issues to address, not to mention the ebb and flow of daily living. Bottom line, the proposed schedule for a particular runner may not neatly fit the timeline prescribed for a target race. Also, and this is the topic of this post, runners are different ages. Everything above pertains to master runners. In addition, there are cumulative effects of aging to factor in. Let’s look at that. First we should define what age we’re talking about. Research shows that after age 30 measurable declines are seen in VO2max, muscle strength and quality, and what Tim Nokes in Lore of Running calls the “capacity to absorb landing forces” due to wear and tear on tendons and joints. According to Nokes, a … Continue reading

Preparing to Run!

Last June, I posted a piece entitled Why We Run!  I rewrote it for the purpose of posting on the Run Vermont website, but it was deemed too much like the original post.  But I prefer the rewrite though it includes some of the same thoughts and basic organization. So here’s the rewrite, which I’ve entitled Preparing to Run. Preparing to run a marathon is a BIG commitment. If we do it right, it takes time, focus, energy, and understanding from those around us. However, training for a marathon, or any race really, might give us pause to consider why we run, period. Over the years, various reasons have regularly surfaced for me. You may have encountered these too: We Choose to Participate We Challenge Ourselves We Make Friends Good Health Reasons Beyond Ourselves  PARTICIPATION Running is a choice we make. But we’re not alone! Running USA’s 2015 survey indicated there were 17 million road race finishers (not unique racers – one can count multiple times) up from just 4.7 million in 1990 – nearly a four-fold increase! Interestingly, 57% were women, up from 25% in 1990. Why this overall increase? Four key reasons are technologies that allow for net … Continue reading

Cells and Tissues

Imagine this: if each cell in our body was represented by a one-meter step, we would have to circle the earth over one million times to account for all our cells. It seems absurd, but it’s true.   We are each composed of between 50 and 100 trillion cells! As I continue to report on my study of Human Anatomy and Physiology by Elaine Marieb, I move from chemistry to structural components. Cell theory was developed in the late 1800s and is based on four core elements: The cell is the basic unit of living organisms, Organisms depend on both individual and combined activities of its cells, The activities of cells are dictated by their shape and number of structures they contain, and Cells arise from other cells. Restated, our 50+ trillion cells are the body’s building blocks, they don’t stand alone, they look different and do different things, and they’re self perpetuating. Cells have membranes that allow solutions to move in or out and have specialized organelles, such as mitochondria, which provide the energy for all we do. The nucleus is where our DNA (what makes us us!) lives and cell division happens, without which we would literally be one … Continue reading

The History of Exercise Physiology

I recently purchased Exercise Physiology by William McArdle. It is the text used for University of Vermont’s course on that topic. I opened the book expecting to jump right into nutrition, muscular movement, injury rehab, and cardiovascular and neural function. But it started with a 55-page history of the science of exercise physiology. It was fascinating! We may take for granted fundamental principles of training, such things as VO2 Max, hard-easy loading, nutritional balance, and benefits of strength work. And it seems like new developments in the field, or at least novel approaches, come along every couple years. Anything we have a question about has boundless info on the Web. We of course know it wasn’t always like that.   And I raptly read through this historical account. “Exercise” was first defined by Galen, who lived from 130 to 210 AD and treated both Roman gladiators and their rulers. Roman athletes who threw the javelin, discus, and ran fast were revered. He espoused the “laws of health” including fresh air, proper diet and drink, good hygiene, exercise, sleep, and emotional control. He considered exercise “vigorous movement” and was well aware of what we today call the “overload principle.”   There were numerous … Continue reading