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

Reflections on Grete Waitz

I happened to take World Class off my shelf this morning and started reading and looking at the pictures.  This is the life story of Grete Waitz through 1986, as well as a training guide.  Waitz trained at a serious level through 1990 when she won her last NYC Marathon, a race she won an amazing nine times!  Her last marathon was in 1992 when she ran NYC with Fred Lebow after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Waitz’s story is compelling.  She had running talent early on, focusing on 800M to 3,000M distances.  She had to overcome parental and societal resistance to girls and women running competitively but persevered and in 1975-6 held the world record in the 3,000.  Then in 1978 her husband Jack talked her into running the NYC Marathon on a long run of 12 miles!  Grete was skeptical but the Marathon paid airfare and hotel for Jack and Grete to come over.  She has often recounted that foray into marathon running: the first 18 miles seeming like a jog followed by eight miles of pain and torture.  She yelled with anger at Jack at the finish line saying she would never do this again!  Of … Continue reading

Extended Gratitude

I was listening to a TED Radio Hour podcast earlier this week where one of the segments featured A.J. Jacobs talking about his experience of thanking everyone who made it possible to buy a morning brew at the local coffee shop.   He started a list – it grew to over 100 people!  When you consider the entire supply chain for coffee, it’s long.  He made this a project – even traveled to Columbia to thank the growers in person.  He found some people suspicious — like “what’s up with this guy.”  But he said most got into the spirit, even giving him ideas of others to thank.  All this led to giving a TED talk. It got me thinking about who is responsible (i.e., who might we thank) for a pair of running shoes we buy.  I started my list going backwards roughly from the point of sale.  He’s what I’ve come with so far: The salesperson at the running store who brought out multiple pairs of shoes to try on The person who trained the salesperson so they knew which shoes to bring out The employees who stocked the shoes so the salesperson could go fetch them The driver … Continue reading

Running in the Moment

We all try to find silver linings in COVID constraints.  And it’s good to keep looking! As I was running recently along the Burlington bikepath which borders Lake Champlain, I found myself 100% in the present moment, taking in the views of the lake and the Adirondacks, the colors of the changing leaves, and the calm air.  It was close to a perfect day to run.  My trusty Garmin indicated a solid pace.  I felt smooth with a good rhythm.  Afterwards, I reflected upon how often I miss the opportunity to be “all there” during my runs, taking in the elements and fully enjoying the present moment.  As may be the case with others, I often find myself thinking about any number of things including how I should be able to run faster or contemplating the next race.  Of course with COVID, race opportunities are now limited. All this led to some existential thoughts.  First, the present moment is really all we have.  Everything in the past was built on prior present moments and the future will be the sum of those down the road.  So, our lives are really the totality of present moments and that’s a pretty awesome … 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

32 Years

This morning I went for an early 10-mile run along the Burlington Waterfront, ending up at the finish of the Vermont City Marathon.  With Covid-19, the event has been postponed (hopefully not cancelled!) until October and it was very quiet on the bikepath.  This is the way it was in Burlington on Memorial Day weekend before 1989.   On May 27, 1989, I recall driving into Burlington at 5 a.m. from Shelburne where I lived.  The sun was rising and anticipation in the air.  We had been planning the event for 18 months and it was here!  There were now several hundred volunteers setting up the course, filling up cups at the aid stations, donning traffic vests to supplement the police, setting up the start and finish areas and running around taking care of various tasks.  From the air, it might have resembled a sweater being knit.  The pieces were coming together!   As the 1,025 runners congregated at South Winooski and College for the 8:05 start (an agreement with the churches to minimize conflicts with their 8:00 a.m. services), the P.A. system embedded in the local radio station’s van quit, so Governor Kunin used a bullhorn to greet the … Continue reading

It’s a Panacea

We’ve all heard the word panacea thousands of times  — “that’s a panacea for this or that,” meaning all-healing, the total solution.  Perhaps an ointment, treatment, or even a good thought.  Often used in the negative, something may be said to not be a panacea.  And we’ve been told to keep good hygiene to stay healthy (and presentable!).  But where do these words come from?  The Greeks! I was looking for background on a research project I’m working on relating to gait and pulled ACSM’s Advanced Exercise Physiology off the shelf at the Dana Medical Library at UVM.  The first chapter was entitled Historical Perspective: Origin to Recognition.  As interesting as any novel I’ve recently read, this chapter presents where concepts and words we use freely today come from, especially as it pertains to health and science. Over time, what constitutes health, how it is maintained and reasons for illness and poor health, has been posited in different contexts.  Healers in ancient India and China promoted exercise and health to prevent sickness, not to improve performance, though warriors were provided with good nutrition, quarters, and encouraged to get adequate sleep. However, what we consider modern medicine and exercise science has … 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

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

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