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

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

Moving Forward

As COVID-19 continues to affect much of our daily lives, at least those of us in Vermont have some assurance we’re doing things right, as we have both the lowest incidence and active cases per 100,000 people in the country.  Mask wearing indoors is universal and highly prevalent outdoors where there are people in close proximity. My past three blog posts are about completed races.  So, in spite of protocols that constrain how we congregate and execute a road race, things are beginning to happen.  Not everything is opened up, however.  For example, the UVM indoor track is reserved for “groups,” which for now means the track team.  For now, that’s OK, but winter is coming! Running in the rain this morning on the Intervale trails, there were  very few people.  Farmers were picking vegetables and the F-35 jets blasted overhead.  Otherwise, it was pretty much me and the elements.  Which was nice – I kept my mask below my chin.  Starting out, I felt quite sluggish, drained really, and was not at all sure making the planned five miles was in the cards.  But I kept moving and after about two miles the sluggishness lifted and the rest of … Continue reading

Staying With It

It’s now looking like all the larger fall races are cancelled.  The glimmer of hope that continued training would apply to these races is fast fading.  There are some smaller local races still on the docket, but looking at the conditions under which they are being run makes it seem more like a time trial: start times are staggered; you are not expected to show until your start time and then exit immediately upon finishing; no water stops or course support.  Not much different from getting a small group together for a time trial. At the same time, kudos to these race organizers for taking a stab at bringing things back. Our choice is whether to participate. How much different is this than playing MLB games in empty stadiums?  Time will tell if the  safety precautions were sufficient.  There has been a lot of chatter about the pros and cons of trying to have a season.  One could take either side and make a strong argument.  If we consider the fans, of which I am one, it is healthy to have the season get underway.  Maybe it’s vicarious experience, but I’ll take some of that.  From the players’ perspectives, they … Continue reading