Back and (maybe eventually) better than ever…

So it’s been two years to the day since my last post, and a ton has happened since then. Shortly after my last post, I suffered yet another calf injury, and was away from running for another several months.

A couple of months after the injury, I also started a new and ridiculously demanding job. As a spokesperson for a high-visibility government agency, the new position sucked away a lot of my workout time, as it’s a 24/7 kind of thing. My new hangout buddy become my work cell phone.

Months later, COVID-19 made its appearance, and had a direct impact on my work hours, as my agency’s response to the pandemic is a big part of my account. Bye-bye, free time!

One year and many COVID tests later, I found myself ten pounds heavier, and REALLY out of shape. While I was fortunate (and vigilant) enough to avoid catching the ‘rona, I had let my body go a bit. That’s what happens when every day feels the same: get up, go to the computer room to telework, wrap up work, go to bed.

My other interests (mainly billiards) also suffered. My game went downhill, because pool halls weren’t open, and I don’t own a table. I also stopped writing, mainly because I spent most of my days staring at the computer, and didn’t want to do that in my spare time, too. Let’s just say I wore out NetFlix and Amazon Prime Video.

Eventually, our gym partially re-opened, and we could make appointments to get in and start over, in terms of getting into running shape. A couple of months later, we’re slowly getting there. We don’t get over there as much as we’d like, but it’s more than it was. I’ve even gotten a couple of 6-milers done in recent weeks (one treadmill, one outside). Maybe I’ll be able to lose this spare tire that appeared during the winter quarantine.

THE SILVER LINING

Sometimes it’s hard to spot the good things that result from bad things. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed a lot of people, and had some pretty bad effects on the US economy. There are a lot of people hurting. But the good news is that we are witnessing a lot of innovation, as people and businesses try to survive the conditions.

My family was blessed in that we didn’t lose much income during the pandemic. On top of that, mortgage interest rates dropped enough that it made sense for us to refinance our home. We decided to pull out some equity and convert our carport and sunroom to a permanent addition, which will function as a pool room and exercise room. Construction is nearing its end, and we’re looking at pool tables and treadmills for the new room.

Why negative splits?

How do you attack a race?  Do you believe in ‘banking time’ up front or starting slow and building up as you go?

I’ve always been a believer in training at a certain pace until that speed becomes my ‘forever pace.’  Of course, I can do that because I’m not aiming to break world records.  All I have to do is focus on cadence and stepping lightly during training, and that lets me ‘go zombie’ during a race, zoning out and maintaining that familiar pace.

But I had a race a couple of years ago where I unexpectedly and unintentionally went with the negative split approach.  It was amazing!

fb-stopwatch2.pngScience is against trying to ‘bank’ time early in a race.  The point is this:  If you’re running at a speed faster than what your body typically trains at, your body enters its anaerobic metabolic zone.  While in that zone, your body uses carbs to fuel your effort level, and not oxygen.  When your body burns carbs, it produces higher amounts of lactic acid.  That acid builds up in your muscles and other tissues and blocks enzymes from breaking down more carbs.  Additionally, cell membranes are damaged and electrolytes build up inside cells, causing swelling.

In short, operating at high intensity will drastically inhibit performance over time.  And that’s just the physical effect.  Of course, the psychological effect might be even greater.  While there’s no greater high than passing people and pulling away from your competitors, there’s also no greater low than knowing your competitors are closing in, seeing and hearing them getting closer and finally watching them go by, knowing there’s nothing you can do about it.

glycosisA slower early pace helps the body conserve its supply of glycogen.  If you’re not burning it at a prodigious rate, you’re also not building up that evil lactic acid early on.  If you’re running a half marathon, starting off a race at 20-30 seconds off your normal pace and staying in that range for the first mile or so, and then settling into your goal pace will pay benefits down the line.

By mid-race, you should still comfortably be running within yourself.  Now it’s time to start increasing the pace – but not all at once.  Slowly build your tempo, speeding up only a little at a time.  The increase should be hard to notice.  Soon, you’ll notice your splits are slowly falling.

Regardless of how well you pace yourself, you’re going to feel fatigued around the last third of the race.  Focus on form and cadence, and forget about the clock.  At this point, you should start to see the people who bolted out of the gate in an effort to bank time coming back to you.  That will be a motivator in itself, and your confidence will increase, too.

Hitting the road again, and loving it

A fundamental change has helped me get back on the running trails again.

After months of dealing with hamstring issues and years of Achilles issues, getting away from low heel-drop shoes seems to have done the trick – I’m back to double-digit miles in a week for the first time since July.

Mileage would have been a bit more, but we took advantage of a snow day Wednesday, and hit the slopes for some snowboarding.  Given that the snow was wet and heavy, I’ll consider that my cross-training/active recovery day!

The current training plan has me on target for a half marathon sometime around Memorial Day.

Next milestone:  a 5K race next weekend.  Ideally, I’ll be somewhere between 7:30 and 8:00 per mile, and will complete it without injury!

running log

Next run:  Tomorrow’s LSD – 6 miles.  I know it’s not much, but I’m very much looking forward to it!

Finally healthy, and looking for more

thoughtsIt’s been a long road back to relative health, which means it’s been an equally long time between posts.

I deeply hate the ‘poor me – things aren’t going well’ kind of posts, so I simply don’t do them.  As a result, that meant a long time away from working on the fitness journal.  But I’m back at it, so that’s a good thing! Continue reading “Finally healthy, and looking for more”

Here’s How Cycling Can Slow Down the Aging Process

Originally published on http://www.bicycling.com

https://www.bicycling.com/training/cycling-reverses-aging-muscles-immune-system

It might not grant eternal youth, but cycling, scientists have found, can slow the aging process and keep your muscles and immune system healthy well into your golden years.

Aging, it turns out, can do a number on your muscles. Humans typically lose muscle mass as they get older. Fat and connective tissue also start invading, affecting the muscles’ ability to contract. Furthermore, muscles can no longer suck up oxygen at the same rates.

However, a new study questioned if these age-related muscle declines are inevitable, or if regular exercise—cycling, in this case—can slow down or even reverse them.

To figure this out, researchers at King’s College in London biopsied the vastus lateralis muscle—the largest and most powerful part of the quad—in 125 male and female cyclists. Participants were all between 55 and 79 years old and deemed highly active (meaning the men could bike at least 62 miles at 15 mph, and the women 37 miles at 7 mph, twice within three weeks).

The researchers then analyzed muscle properties related to aerobic function and explosive muscle power. They found that, compared to sedentary populations, the cyclists showed less age-related muscle deterioration. That is, at the tissue level, muscle mass and strength stayed intact.

A second study turned the researchers’ attention to the immune system, which can also decline as you age. Specifically, your thymus—the part of your body that produces white blood cells—begins to shrink. It then produces fewer cells, meaning your body gradually loses the ability to protect itself against disease.

This trend, however, has been observed primarily in inactive populations, so the researchers wanted to see whether regular cycling could help prevent it. They compared blood samples from the same group of cyclists with blood from 75 older sedentary adults (aged 57-80) and 55 younger sedentary adults (aged 20-36).

They found that while cycling didn’t protect against every single measure of immune-system decline, the cyclists had white blood cell levels comparable to those of the younger control group—meaning that their immune systems were acting “younger.”

These studies are only two of many that demonstrate how physical activity like cycling can slow the aging process. One 2017 study found that high-intensity interval cycling increased mitochondrial capacity—a big deal when it comes to aging, as the decline of these organelles leads to the onset of age-related disease.

Another study from last year found that regular vigorous exercise protected telomere length. Shortened telomeres are what cause cell death—i.e., aging—and those who exercised saved themselves up to nine years of cellular deterioration.

The Genius of “Run Fatboy Run”

run-fatboy-run-51fe2e9c68580Runners come in all shapes and sizes.  The reasons we run are as diverse as our body types.

Respect is often part of the equation.  Sometimes, it’s self-respect, a by-product of confidence.  Other times, it’s to prove something to someone else.  To prove we can lose weight.  To prove we can endure.  To prove we can stick with something – anything.  To prove (?) that age hasn’t caught up with us yet. Continue reading “The Genius of “Run Fatboy Run””

Starting to build again!

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It wasn’t far, but it was enough!

After eight months of no running (in an attempt to soothe my angry Achilles), I started running again a few weeks ago.

It’s been a slow progression. I’ve only added about a half mile in distance to my longest run each week, starting at a half mile back in November.

Due to travel and the holidays, I didn’t do much for the last two weeks of December, but have picked it up since then.

At first, I was only running three times every two weeks, then twice a week. This week marks the first time I’ve run three times in a week since the re-start. I’m cautiously optimistic.

I’ve deliberately kept the pace a little slower than what I’d like – typically between 9:00 and 9:15 per mile, and it’s been great.

I took my daughter on my third run of the week yesterday. We ran outside (😱) on a January day in northern Virginia and didn’t freeze to death!

I took her on this run deliberately. Although a track runner, she doesn’t typically run longer than 2-3 miles, so that helped force me to keep the pace sane. We went 3.9 miles at around a 10:00 pace, which was fine with me, given that it was on rolling hills.

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10+ in a week for the first time in *forever*!

Of course, having Jana running with me gave an added bonus – we got to run together, which rarely happens!  And…the biggest milestone so far was achieved – more than 10 miles in a week!

I know that isn’t that much, but it still means a lot to me. Sure, there were weeks where I was averaging more than 10 miles PER RUN, with five workouts per week.  But that was years ago, before I was hurt, and when I was in the best shape of my life.

Even so, this is important to me because I’m starting to feel like a runner again.  That means the world to me!

What do I have to lose?

med symbolI had lunch with an old friend last week.  It had been years since we’d gotten together.

His son is a budding runner, so we spent a fair amount of time talking about his progress, and the challenges of parenting an athlete.  Eventually, the talked turned to our own pursuits.

Marc has been running more, mainly as a result of his son’s success.  It’s time he gets to spend with him, and he’s getting in better shape while doing it.  He’s run some decent 5K times, and has come a long way for someone who was a non-runner for a looooong time.

Eventually, he asked me what’s keeping me from running.  After explaining the road I’ve traveled, and the list of injuries over the last few years, he asked me a very pointed one…

“For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been a runner.  You love to run.  If injuries are keeping you from running, and there’s a surgery that might get you back on the road, why wouldn’t you do it?”

That’s a great question – one I’ve been avoiding for quite some time.  While it seems like the eventual answer to this Achilles issue is to go under the knife, I’m still very reluctant to even consider it.

The thought has been on my radar for years.  Despite the fact that I haven’t been able to run on a regular basis since 2013, I’ve clung to the belief that if I just persevere, do stretches (which I haven’t been nearly vigilant in doing), and strengthen my calves and hammies, that everything will work out.

Well, it hasn’t.  Part of the problem, I’m sure, is that I need to stretch and strengthen more.  I know I haven’t been as vigilant about following through on it, and I think that’s part of what keeps me from committing to the surgery – the thought that maybe I’m not doing enough to fix it on my own.

Time to fix that, one way or the other.

 

Return to fitness: a process

 

fence 66
Sunrise over I-66, before gridlock builds.  The streets I’m on are mostly empty.  I’ts strangely peaceful!

After months of fits and starts, I’ve decided that, for the time being, I’m going to have to eliminate running from my fitness regimen.  This has been a painful and difficult decision to come to, but I think I need an extended period off to strengthen my legs and give them a break from running’s impact, and just allow them to heal.

(But bear with me – it’s not all bad!!!)

It’s four years since I’ve been able to run for more than a couple of months at a time.  Just when I feel I’m starting to get back to normal, something happens, whether it’s my Achilles, my calf, or my hamstrings.

The final straw was April’s Parkway Classic.  I was concerned coming into the race, with my longest run only hitting six miles, but I took it slow, never going faster than a 9:15 mile.  By the fourth mile, I was tiring, which was expected, but then my right calf started giving me trouble.  By the fifth mile, it felt as if the calf was splitting in half vertically.

By the sixth mile, I was resigned to walking the rest of the way.  I tried a couple of times to start up again and maintain a slow shuffle, and only made it worse.  I wasn’t able to walk normally for three days.

About three weeks later, I tried to run a half mile at a 10:00 pace.  I didn’t make it a quarter mile before the calf reacted badly.

End result:  rock bottom reached.

At this point, I recognize the need to strengthen, but without the impact that running brings.

work route
The way out is nice.  The way back…not so much!

Fortunately, I started a new job this week, and have a trail available to me that allows me to get to work without being killed by texting drivers.  It’s about 20 miles one way, is fairly hilly, and will certainly give me my cardio and calf/hammy work.

I’ve got to add core work.  I’ve never been big on weights, but I’m getting older and have to acknowledge the need.  I’ve spent so much time on the shelf over the past few years that I can no longer deny the toll atrophy has taken.

I’m not sure how I’m going to feed my need to compete, but am considering aquabike races.  Of course, that’s going to require me to head back to the pool at least a couple of times a week, but I can make that happen!

I’m going to spend this week developing a workable routine to return to fitness.  The end result may or may not include the distances of running that I used to cover, but it will result with me getting back to the level of fitness I’m accustomed to.