Enthusiasm!

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts today, No Stupid Questions, which is essentially a conversation between Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth.  They cover a broad range of topics and feed off each other in a fun, informative way.  Dubner is a writer/economist and Duckworth a psychologist at University of Chicago.  Today’s topic was “How Valuable is Enthusiasm?”  Dubner, an avid amateur golfer, was posing how important enthusiasm was for him as he approached participation in a pro-am golfing event.  He quoted from Gary Player’s book, The Golfer’s Guide to the Meaning of Life.  Those of us of age probably recall the “big three” of golf: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player.  Dubner indicates this book is about much more than golf and draws on Player’s comments about enthusiasm.  Perhaps more than is needed for this post. Nevertheless, I highly recommend listening to this podcast, #89 in the NSQ series. This discussion got me thinking about how important enthusiasm is in our running lives.  What is it that gets us out to train most days at an intense level?  And what allows us to put the hammer down, or keep the hammer down, in a race when discomfort mounts? This is hardly a stupid or theoretical question for a competitive runner, at … Continue reading

And Then…..

How many times have we planned things out, maybe in great detail, only to have change thrust upon us without notice?  Often, I suspect.  This is the way life goes!  I believe the saying is “life happens when we are busy making plans.” My latest wrecking-ball-to-plans happened last weekend at the Clearwater Marathon Weekend 5K.  Six weeks prior we decided to visit Florida to escape the frigid Vermont cold in late January, historically the coldest time of year.  So, we made plans to visit St. Petersburg and Siesta Key, where temps then are usually in the 70s with lows in the 50s.  I saw a 5K on January 29th, organized by none other than Millennium Running, the Bedford NH operation run by John and Jenn Mortimor, who regularly host USATF-NE Grand Prix events.  I knew the race would be well organized.  So game on! It turned out Florida had a cold spell this year.  Iguanas were falling out of trees and race morning was just 40 degrees.  The wind was horrendous to boot, between 25 and 30 mph, gusting at 40+ — putting wind chill in the mid 20s.  Just pinning on numbers in the dark for the 7 a.m. start was challenging, as well as deciding how much clothing to … Continue reading

A Running Conversation

I’ve been conversing with two well-known Boston runners/coaches, Jon Waldron and John Barbour, about starting a podcast built around our experiences with running – our own and those we know.  Getting it off the ground is a challenge for three people not especially well-versed in technology.  We know enough to get by, but producing a high-quality podcast is something else.  We’ll need some help! We’ve had a couple Zoom calls already and posed two questions to ourselves: One, why would we do this? And two, would anyone listen?  We’ve sort of answered them.  The “why” is we are unabashed running enthusiasts, with over 150 years (!!) of running experience among us.  John and Jon were accomplished distance runners in their youth and then continued to excel whereas I got serious about it in my late 20s.  They have very successfully coached (John mostly adults and Jon high school) for many years.  I’ve coached myself and others who might bother to listen about what has worked for me.  The tougher question is: Who would listen?  Maybe we are kidding ourselves, but we think there are many others out there, like us, who have an insatiable appetite to read, talk, and listen … Continue reading

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

Olympics 2021

The Olympics are over.  Eliud Kipchoge ran a masterful marathon and put away the competition in hot and humid conditions, throwing in a 14:28 5K (that’s a 4:40 pace!) at 30K.  Kipchoge now joins two others as the only runners to repeat in the Olympic marathon.  He looked good; Kipchoge always looks good and probably will if he’s still running at 70! Reflecting on my last post about whether to hold the Olympics in light of Covid, I admit my fingers were crossed that outbreaks would be avoided among the 11,000 athletes and the games would be viewed as a success.  I believe that is now a given (sigh of relief!)  Certainly, the heat and humidity (which translates into the Wet Globe Index) were major factors in the races 1,500 meters and above.  Under those conditions, athletes respond differently.  In a way, it opened the door for non-favorites to medal.  Not having crowds didn’t seem to materially affect the performances.  In fact, athletes probably were able to focus better without loud crowds. There were some truly outstanding and memorable performances.  Granted, my focus was on the distance running events.  In that vein, four things stand out. Kipchoge’s marathon.  He showed … Continue reading

Let the Games Begin!

There is a swirl of controversy surrounding holding the Olympics in Japan this year.  The track and field events start July 29th with the men’s and women’s marathon on August 6 & 7 (EST).  Should they be held?  The arguments against it include (1) adverse public opinion in Japan; (2) the games becoming a Covid super-spreader; (3) severe restrictions on spectating — suggesting these games are for TV only.  I’d like to probe each of these arguments. For the first, I lived in Colorado in 1972 when there was a vote against hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics in Denver (and the surrounds) after they had been awarded.  Although outspent 5:1 by pro-event advocates, 60% of Coloradans voted no, resulting in the games being held in Innsbruck, Austria. It was a hot topic, fueled by an anti-growth sentiment.  Also, were concerns that much of cost of staging the Olympics was covered by taxpayers.  Forward to 1984, when L.A. said it would not foot the bill, which led to newfound reliance on sponsorship that has continued unabated.  There are also equity issues.  In both Atlanta (1996) and Rio (2000) many lower income people were displaced to make way for Olympic facilities.  I … Continue reading

The Anthology of Adidas

I have started what may be an impossible task: writing a book about my development as a distance runner in the context of how the sport has evolved over the past 60+ years. The impossible part may be writing it so it interests others.  Several friends are reading early drafts of the first chapters and providing great feedback. Time will tell if/how this project proceeds. However, I do think many will find interesting the story behind the founding and growth of the first running shoe companies, which parallels the expansion of recreational running.  It could be argued more available shoes spurred expansion of the sport.  Alternatively, that new shoes met the exploding demand.  Probably neither argument stands on its own: runners needed shoes and shoes needed runners, though a subset promoting barefoot running argues shoes are an anathema and should be avoided.     Currently, there are 12 or so well-known brands of running shoes.  But 50 years ago, Adidas, Puma, Tiger (now ACSICS), and Nike ruled the roost.  Adidas has been my go-to for racing flats and lightweight trainers for the past 15 years so I took particular interest in that company’s development and highlight it here.  Adidas is a … 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

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