Attrition

Over the years, we get used to going to key races, such as the regional USATF Grand Prix Series, and seeing our friends and rivals there.  That’s a big reason why we travel to these races.  Many of us keep track of our times and places at these events and maybe note who we beat or beat us.  Yes, this can be obsessive, but it’s also part of the fun! Yet, as we age, we see fewer of our cohort showing up.  We invariably hear directly or through the pipeline about the reasons why: an acute or chronic injury; a serious debilitating illness; an unwillingness to train as workouts feel harder and less fulfilling; less motivation due to slowing times; and even death.  The data bears this out.  Results from the 2019 BAA Distance Medley Races (5K, 10K, Half Marathon) with over 23,000 finishers, showed that 80% of the field was under age 50; 14% were 50-59 and just 6% over 60.  Last Saturday’s New Hampshire 10 Miler, a tough, hilly Grand Prix race that weeded out some younger casual runners, drew 1,088 finishers.  Of those 33% were over 50 and 11% over 60, with just 23 runners 70 and older.  It would be an interesting longitudinal study to … Continue reading

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

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

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

The Precious Moment

Last week I saw an email from Ralph, a long-time running friend, briefly describing a bike accident.  He was on a less traveled road approaching the Charlotte Town Beach.  The scenery approaching Lake Champlain on this downhill stretch is beautiful.  In its infinite wisdom, the Town of Charlotte decided this was a good place for a pronounced speed bump, just on the downhill side, with the aim of slowing traffic approaching the beach parking lot.  Good idea?  Maybe.  But for Ralph it proved otherwise. Ralph’s front tire hit the bump at a slight angle, twisting the tire and sending him flying over the handlebars.  He spread eagled on the pavement, landing hard on his arm and side.  As he slid along, gathering road rash, he had a rush of thoughts and questions, foremost being “what just happened.”  In any event, the result was a fractured pelvic bone, determined later at the ER, and an arm that looked like Popeye’s.  Fortunately, four people on a bike tour happened to be there (in fact it was noticing the parked bikes as well as the vista that distracted his attention from the road) and came to the rescue.  The tour leader bandaged his … 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

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