Our Brains on the Run

It’s old news that moderate to intense exercise is good for our hearts, muscles. skeleton, and lungs.  Running is particularly good since it’s weight-bearing and stresses the joints.  Some feel that creates wear and tear.  But the research is clear that running combined with strength-training, stretching, adequate rest and recovery, and a reasonable training load, in most people builds cartilage at joint surfaces rather than wearing it away.  This is due, in part, to nutrients being drawn into our joint capsules from physical activity.  Otherwise, the avascular (no blood vessels) cartilage is left to fend for itself and it’s not a fair fight.  So, for the most part, us runners feel we’re doing what we can to keep the chassis in decent shape, hoping to keep it on the road more than in the garage.  Whether or not we’ve come completely to terms with slowing down, we are at least out there putting in a good effort. That is all well and good, but lurking in many people’s minds, literally, is what is going on in our heads, in our brains. We may have instances of forgetting things and not being as quick on the fly in spirited conversations.  We … Continue reading

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

Prehab

We all know the word rehab.  Whether it’s a house or our running body, it’s working with something that has fallen apart, or at least not functioning properly, and making it whole or materially better – restoration!  Prehab is something of a contraction of preventative rehab.  Meaning, if we do things to ward off injury, we may avoid the need for rehab.  Makes sense, of course, and we could agree nobody wants to deal with an injury.  We just want to run!  So, what to do? First, there are some pretty basic exercises that can/should be done on a near-daily basis.  They include eccentric heel dips — (see November 10, 2015 blog post), against-the-wall calf stretches, standing quad stretches — pulling your bent leg back from the ankle and feeling the stretch in the hip flexors, rope pulls – lying on your back and pulling your leg up with three progressive 15-20 second pulls, weighted knee extensions – most easily done on the leg extension machine, and goblet or wall squats.  See the Runner Resources – Resistance Exercises section on my website for descriptions of several of these. Nothing really fancy with this battery, but they strengthen and stretch multiple … Continue reading

Setting the Bar

There is plenty of scientific evidence to support the notion we do best when we have a goal. This seems to hold for all elements of human endeavor in such varying activities as sports – achieving a time or score, or in the arts – completing a written or visual piece of work every two weeks, month, or what may be appropriate.  Whatever, the key is focusing on the end result, not the process.  If the end is clearly in mind, the steps to get there become apparent. A key question, then, is where to set the bar.  Research suggests that if it is set too high or too low one defeats the purpose of setting the goal: to maximize output or potential.  Running is a perfect example for exploring this phenomenon.  Let’s look at two common scenarios:  (1) setting annual race time targets; (2) returning from injury. Many runners sit down at the start of the year and map out a tentative race schedule.  This may be driven by a club or series schedule, races in a particular location or time of year, or ones that have been enjoyable in the past.  For recreational runners, this mapping typically includes … Continue reading

What Keeps Us Running?

Each year, we notice some friends and fellow runners stop competing.  They may run on occasion but the fire that burned to train and submit themselves to the rigors of racing has faded.  In younger years, most said that would not happen to us.  We surely expected to slow down but to drop out, never!  Yet, the numbers don’t lie.  Less than 6% of race fields are 60 or over, in spite of this age grouping comprising about 17% of the U.S. population.  Even the 50-59 age group, also representing 17% of the population – it’s a big group!, comprises about 13% of race fields.*  So it appears the downward trend starts in the 50s.   Race participation is a reasonable proxy for vigorous training.  I don’t know one person who trains with intensity but doesn’t race.  Racing is the payoff for doing the hard work!  There are numerous reasons why people stop training and racing.  It can be distressing and depressing to belabor them.  So I decided to focus this post on what does keep runners running and racing.  I came up with six relevant to me and perhaps others will relate to them too: Enjoyment Satisfaction Camaraderie Challenge … Continue reading

Back on Track!

I’ve always enjoyed and valued the UVM indoor track.  It’s a tenth of a mile with a very slight bank, enough to allow for efficient cornering without causing excessive torque.  If I pick unbusy times, I alternate direction.  Some don’t like the distance – they want the standard 200 meters.  But I prefer the more frequent feedback loops.  However, due to COVID-19 the UVM indoor was track shut down on November 24th, the day students went home to finish the term remote.  I did my last track workout that day.  The athletic facilities were then closed until February 4th.  Thus, what had been weekly ventures to maintain some fast twitch fiber function went on pause.  So, heading up today for my track reservation, it was with some trepidation and uncertainty about what to expect.  Could I still muster anything resembling speed after nearly 12 weeks?  After two miles of warmup, I hit the marker, pushed the start button on my old-school Timex (Garmin GPS isn’t accurate indoors) and took off on the first 800.  The first lap felt pretty good!  Then the second, then the third.  Finishing the fifth lap, I was somewhat surprised the pace was similar to the … Continue reading

A New Year!

Most people I know are glad 2020 is over!  As discussed in my previous blog: “2021: Here It Comes!,” there is reason to hope for an end to the most stringent COVID-19 restrictions during 2021, as we move towards some kind of normalcy.  While we each have a role in containing the virus, certainly much about COVID is beyond our control.  Nevertheless, the new year provides an opportunity to take stock of what happened with our running in 2020 and plan out 2021, as best we can. Most runners I know, of all ages, regressed some during 2020.  Part of this is due to a lack of “real” races to target and train for.  For the younger set, maybe that’s not bad, giving the body some needed rest. For those of us 50, 60, or beyond, it’s likely another year beyond our PRs and a time when our capacities are progressively aging.  Regardless, for us seniors (50 YO+) it is probably best not to dive into 2021 with unbridled enthusiasm, pretending to some degree 2020 didn’t happen and we’re ready to rock n’ roll.  It would be a shame to push it early and bring on an injury that persists … Continue reading

Runners, On Your Mark!

The races are beginning to happen!  For five months most everything has been virtual, but intrepid clubs and race directors are taking the plunge.  The reason this can happen is enough is known about how Covid-19 spreads and what can be done to avoid that while holding a race.  The list of precautions and requirements is long and things previously taken for granted, such as water stops, post-race food and awards ceremonies are off the table.  Start times are staggered and a limited number of runners allowed in a wave.  Not perfect for sure, but progress, nonetheless. One novel approach is a marathon I am helping with on a rail trail in Northern Vermont this Sunday.  It was organized by 62-year old Jim Miller, who has run a sub 3:00 marathon in each of the past five decades, starting in the late 1970s when ran his first sub-3:00 as an 18 year-old.  He’s shooting for six decades, which would put him in select company: only three others in the U.S. have accomplished this.  To be clear, over the years Jim’s bar has been much faster than three hours.  He has run sub-2:20 marathons, participated in the U.S. Olympic Trials and … Continue reading

Running vs. Training (and Maintaining!)

I keep a small book by John Jerome at my bedside entitled “The Elements of Effort.” Published in 1997, it’s 150 snippets from one paragraph to several pages of his musings on running.  You may recall the running log he authored for many years after Jim Fixx’s death — the cover was a replica from Fixx’s Book of Running and the log was dedicated to him.  Each month included an essay, similar to some of these entries. Last night I picked it up and turned to one entitled Running vs. Training. Here’s a quote from it:  “There is running to run and there is running to train, and the difference can best be summed up by a single word: increase.  Training is about trying to get more ….  In the running sports, what we’re trying to get more of is speed ….. You might say that those of us who run to train see life as a kind of graph, and concern ourselves primarily with the angle of its line.  Running just to run, on the other hand, is about sustaining. Those of us who are not trying to improve are running for the experience itself, and the only pressure … Continue reading

Hidden in Plain Sight!

In speaking this week with Jon Waldron, longtime running coach at Concord Academy and accomplished masters runner, we kicked around ideas for a tagline for Run Strategies –  something that might draw attention and readership to both the site and the blog.  I’m also toying with the idea of starting a podcast of interviews with top regional masters runners and was looking for a name for that podcast.  He suggested: “Hidden In Plain Sight.”  Jon noted the many examples of incredible masters runners who are buried behind the pack of open division frontrunners.  I looked at two of the 2019 USATF-New England Grand Prix races, the 5K in Westfield and the 10 Miler in New Hampshire. As expected, Jon’s instincts were confirmed.  In the 5K, 49 out of the 1,506 runners (a mere 3.3%) accomplished at least an 85% age grading and of those, 26 were over 40 with 17 of those over 50. In the 10 Miler, only 14 of 1,128 runners (1.2%) achieved 85% AG status, with 8 of those 14 over 50.  Another 57 runners earned at least an 80% AG with 34 (48%) of the 71 80%+ age graders being masters runners. Thus, 4.7% of the … Continue reading