Goals for Senior Runners

In my Sports Psychology class at UVM this fall, we were able to choose a topic for a research project on goal setting.  Of course, I jumped at the chance to do this for senior runners!  And for this post, I’m drawing from my project write-up.  Goal setting theory (GST) is used to improve performance in many endeavors.  In sport, GST has been applied to both teams and individuals, with clear links to building skills and task achievement.  Goals have been broadly grouped as subjective or objective.  Subjective goals could include “I want to keep running” while an objective goal might be “I want to run competitively until age 80 and maintain a 70% age-grade standard”.  Objective goals can be subdivided into process, performance, and outcome goals. In sport, objective goals should be: (1) moderately difficult to achieve; (2) both short and long term; (3) specific; (4) feedback looped.  An oft-used acronym to critique goals is SMART, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timebound.  It’s no secret we senior runners encounter constraints not faced by younger runners. These include various physiological changes that begin to appear in our 30s but accelerate with aging.  These include changes in: (1) … Continue reading

Hamstrings and Balance

Most runners have frequent and recurring hamstring problems.  It seems endemic to the sport.  And it’s debilitating – if your hamstring is talking to you, then in Bob Dylan’s words, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.” The anatomy and biomechanics of the lower extremity is complicated.  A chart noting interrelated muscular actions in Joseph Hamill’s Biomechanical Basis of Human Movement  provides a clear picture of how each muscle, joint, and tendon plays a role in proper movement in running gait.  The three hamstring muscles (semimembranosus, biceps femoris, and semitendinosus) form the “meat” of the posterior (backside) thigh.  And attached to these three, either directly or indirectly, are about a dozen muscles attaching to the hip and knee.  If that isn’t involved enough there are the anterior (frontside) muscles that serve as antagonists to the posterior muscles.  For example, the four quadriceps flex the hip while the hamstrings extend it.  It’s a beautiful system when it works as designed! But few of us have perfect biomechanics and things happen, the most noteworthy being imbalances. These may be minor, for which we tend to compensate without notice.  But over time these imbalances build up and result in some muscles having to work harder than … Continue reading

Stress and Stressors

We all know stress!  Life without stress is not a vibrant life.  While there is a great deal of attention on reducing stress, the real need is to manage and channel it in productive ways. Stress can be either a noun or verb.  As a noun, it describes something.  For example, the pressure placed on our joints or muscles from physical activity is stress.  Emotionally, something that bothers us causes stress, with research showing this impacts us mentally and physically in various ways.  In physiologic terms, stress is defined as the damage caused by “adverse” circumstances.  Of course, that is an important element of training: breaking down and then building back stronger.  As a verb, stress describes an action or effect: e.g., an exercise that stresses our quads (presumably with the aim of strengthening it.)  For sure, we have all experienced the feeling of being “stressed out”. Hans Selye, an endocrinologist who lived from 1907-1982, is known as the founder of stress theory, described by the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).  Selye suggested the initial response to stress is alarm, followed by resistance, and if continued exhaustion.  In running, the alarm phase alerts the body to fatigue, soreness, stiffness, and a … Continue reading

Slingshot Form

This week I finished my graduate program in clinical and translational science at UVM and last week presented at the department’s weekly seminar, summarizing my research interests in runner biomechanics, which I explored during my program.  Suffice it to say, at this point I thought I’d have a clear idea of next steps.  Not so!  However, in preparing for the presentation, I leafed through three running books in my library: Running Anatomy by Joe Puleo and Patrick Milroy, Running Form by Owen Anderson, and Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry.  They deliver the same message in different ways: to run fast and avoid injury, you need a strong chassis and you’ve got to be efficient in how you use your energy.  I looked through my blog posts and saw one from June 25th, 2019 drawing from Dicharry’s book that I entitled Gait Keeping.  I’m going to expand on this here, but recommend looking at that prior post too.   Dicharry suggests thinking about a slingshot, as we probably played with as kids.  You pull it back and there’s tension.  Depending on the thickness of the band and how far you pull it back, the projectile shoots out.  To maximize distance, … Continue reading

Tone

During Covid, many of us have lost significant amounts of muscle tone.  To be clear, the tone I’m referring is much more than the external buff sought in the gym.  It’s about the layers of muscles around everything inside our bodies.  These layers are working 24/7 to support organs and posture, offsetting the effects of gravity.  Without tone, we would be lifeless blobs!  Of course we don’t see these inner layers but lost tone may present itself in various ways: feeling more tired during the day and stiffer than usual when starting our runs; slouching more when sitting; and after a while and even if not gaining weight, slight appearance of a double chin and softer abs and triceps.     I can think of two basic reasons for these changes.  One, Covid isolation has us being home much of the time, significantly reducing our out and about, some of which was done carrying a backpack or bag.  The benchmark number of steps for an active person is 10,000 a day, though the average for Americans is only about 4,000 steps.  Whatever the baseline, my guess is current activity is way down.  Also, even though we may go for a run … Continue reading

The Eyes Have It!

Taking a break from Covid-related news, I came across a 2018 article in the ACSM Health and Fitness Journal extolling our marvelous (and maybe underappreciated) eyes.  Certainly those with impaired vision do not take their eyes for granted.  My father in his 80’s suffered a mini-stroke and woke up effectively blind.  He lived another 10 years but his enthusiasm for life waned as he was a voracious reader.  Many others have had sight complications earlier in life or even at birth.  But for most of us, we rely on our eyes without thinking a whole lot about them. So, James Peterson’s article “Ten Nice-to-Know Facts About the Eyes” caught my eye, literally, and I thought my blog readers might find this interesting.  So a bit rephrased, here are his 10: Our eyes are nearly full size at birth.  The rest of the body grows around them!  For those with normal vision about 80% of what we learn and remember is due to sight.   After the brain, eyes are the most complex and powerful organ in our bodies.  With them we distinguish shapes, colors, depth, and adapt to changes in light.  The tiny muscles controlling the eyes don’t get time … Continue reading

Pliability

I’ve been reading Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012).  It’s conversationally written.  You can picture yourself in a seminar setting with Jay presenting PowerPoints, cracking jokes, and noting anecdotal evidence.  The book covers the entire gamut of running, with a focus on injury prevention.  It’s pretty opinionated but includes an extensive reference list from which he draws.  Dicharry is a seasoned clinician and has no doubt seen many versions of all the injuries about which he writes.  He discusses in depth a concept worth expanding on — pliability, which Webster defines as “flexible, supple, yielding.”   Dicharry uses it in the context of muscle function. We all know what it feels like to be tight and stiff.  This, often in spite of regular stretching and taking it easy between hard efforts.   As Dicharry explains, the tension in muscles is not the same up and down the line.  And does not dissipate evenly.  Let’s look at hamstrings, the oft strained muscle in runners.  The biceps femoris attaches both at the hip and below the knee.  With insertion points crossing two joints, the tension varies along the hamstring.  For example, when running, one end of the biceps femoris contracts concentrically … Continue reading

Take a Knee!

Football season is about to begin.  You may recall, when a player’s knee hits the ground and he’s touched by a defender, play is called dead.  Often the quarterback “takes a knee” to stop the clock.  But this post is not about football!  Rather a look at our marvelous and incredible knees, the mid-point of our lower extremities — the runner’s drive train.  Since knees are the most common site of running injuries, it’s worth reviewing how they function.  Pictured below, the knee is the largest joint in the body.  The knee actually has three joints:  the tibiofemoral (largest, lying between our thigh and lower leg and generally thought of as the knee joint), the patellofemoral (kneecap), and the tibiofibular (below the kneecap and not directly part of the knee movement.)  I’ll focus first on the tibiofemoral joint here, which functions as a hinge. Unlike the hip joint, where there is significant bony structure, most of the knee’s stability comes from soft tissue – ligaments, tendons, muscles, cartilage, menisci, bursa, and fat pads.  This constitution allows for significant range of motion – for example, we can bend our knee to touch our butt with our foot. When looking at knee … 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 Chemistry of Life – and Running!

I recently retired from a career in finance and accounting and moved back to Vermont. I have been doing personal training and run coaching on a very part-time basis but now have the time to be a full-fledged exercise science professional. To facilitate this, I’m looking at a course in exercise physiology offered at UVM next semester. In case this proves a viable option, I am self-studying the prerequisite, Human Anatomy and Physiology by Elaine Marieb, a yearlong course covering the gamut of all that happens inside us. I figured this would be a cursory overview, which I could skim and be ready for class in January. Wrong! Right off the bat this book went into fascinating detail of how our bodies work. Fortunately, many of the terms were familiar — graduate studies in food science and nutrition years ago had not permanently eluded me. But the context is quite different. Before I was trying to memorize things without a use in mind. Now, I look at this from the perspective of running and coaching.   It’s like walking into a previously dark room now full of color and bright lights! Take for example the section on “Factors Influencing the Rate … Continue reading