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

Running Economy

The concept of running economy (RE) – the amount of oxygen our body uses at a given speed and distance – is akin to fuel efficiency in a car.  If we have a heavy car, with a big engine, going up a hill or pressing the pedal hard as the light turns green, our fuel economy suffers.  So it goes with running.  Ideally we’ve got a trim chassis, run with an even pace, lean easily into the hills and then motor down them. Most books on running devote space to this topic.  Pete Magill, Jordan Metzl, Owen Anderson, and Tim Noakes come at it from a slightly difference angle.  However, for the endurance runner it boils down to what percentage of the oxygen we have at our disposal is being used to move us forward at a submaximal pace.  Other than a finishing kick this is the pace we run.  While VO2max gets a lot of attention, RE is crucial.  Many highly successful runners have respectable but not top-end levels of VO2max.  Frank Shorter, for example, had a 72% VO2max but regularly beat competitors with 80%+ levels.  RE is closely related to the concept of fatigue resistance, which Anderson defines … Continue reading

Bending Back the Aging Curve!

I am involved in a research project at UVM developing interventions to enhance stride length (and therefore speed!) in older runners.  These interventions are jumping and skipping plyometric-form drills I’ve previously blogged about.  Borrowing from what John Babbington prescribed for his Wellesley cross country team and also discussed by Peter Reaburn in The Masters Athlete, I have been consistently doing these for over 20 years.  I firmly believe I’ve benefitted from this regimen.  The premise of plyometrics rests upon generating maximum force in the shortest time (Reaburn, 2009.) To be clear, the drills I use and prescribe for older runners are not as intense as the ones you’ll see demonstrated online by college or younger athletes. But they do generate force quickly! Through this research, I’m looking to expand this practice beyond myself and those I’ve coached.  As part of a proposed research paper, I’ve described how the expected decline in endurance running speed accelerates after age 50.  This took me right to the World Masters Athletics (WMA) adopted age grade (AG) tables, which most of us are probably familiar with.  At root, these tables are derived from best-ever times reported by age and gender for various distances.  The computed … 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

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