Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Words of Wisdom From a Winning Runner

Readers to this site know that I am very big on listening to what successful people,especially runners, have to say.I assume most others who want to succeed feel the same way I do.
Recently I was speaking with my friend Scott from the Buffalo area where I used to live.For two decades he has competed in countless road races around Western New York,he continues to place high and even win his fair share of races.I asked Scott if he could give me his pre-race,race and post race thoughts,meaning,what does he think about and consider as it relates to the whole racing experience.Here's what he had to say: "To begin with,I go into the race telling myself that the training program I'm following is better than most of the other guys I'll be going against, and at worst,equal to the rest.See,racing as long as I have,I know and have seen how most of the other guys train,'cepting maybe the college guys who come in from out of town but that's a whole different thing.I've raced against alot of guys in 5k's and 5 milers on a Saturday night only to see them hammerin' 8 or more 400 meter reps on a track 2 or 3 days later despite the fact that they will be racing again the next weekend. It's whacked,it's no way to train during racing season.I follow a modified Lydiard program and June through September is my racing season,intervals are done for me,I want to be sharp and fresh for races.I get added confidence knowing that many of the guys I'm trying to catch at the end of race have left their reserves on the track two days ago.
Another thing,and it may seem crazy, but I remind myself that I eat better than the others out there.I'm very careful about what I eat.I see what runners eat and it's garbage,gorging themselves on chicken wings,pizza and junk; getting drunk after races is another thing.Now, maybe it doesn't matter what they eat and do,but I think it does,and I tell myself that I have an edge there,maybe it's psychological but it works for me and that's what counts.
Race day,there are very few races that I get worked up about,maybe that's because I'll be running 16 to 20 races in a 4 month period.It's the same as starting a race,after awhile,with experience, you learn not to go out too hard.For instance, I know that in the first mile of a 5k I'll be running it in 5:10,that's the pace I've conditioned myself to run, what I do gauge in that first mile is how I feel physically,is it a strain to hit that time, am I feeling good? I'm always talking to myself during the race.Telling myself to stay loose,breathe easy,stay calm,not to be taken out of my game plan.There is that point,somewhere in the last mile that I make a conscious effort to pick it up and finish strong, I'm really talking to myself now. I have a tendency to scrunch up my shoulders at this point which is a disaster,drop the shoulders and use those arms like they are an extra pair of legs I say but all the while I'm remembering to stay loose.When I feel like easing up near the end I think how shi..y I'll feel if I do.This works for me every time,I may not finish like I want but at least I know I gave it my best shot.
Post race,after a very slow 10 minute warm-down, I evaluate,then re-evaluate. What did I do right,what could I have done differently,how did I feel? Things like that. I try not to make the same mistake again in the next race.Lastly, I always go out with my wife and a few friends after,no matter how I do.It's a good way to unwind as well as saying thanks to my wife for putting up with me and those nights when I get in late after the long runs. Running can be a selfish activity if you allow it to be. That's not how it should be though,I need her support and encouragement,I wouldn't have done this well for so long without her."

Saturday, May 26, 2012

True Health Versus the Appearance of Health

I guess it's one of those opinionated days. It's odd what passes for fitness and beauty these days. For most men, big muscles and 6-pack abs are indicators of fitness.Large or prominent breasts,even if surgically enhanced, seem to have become a prerequisite for the female to be deemed,"the perfect package." And,lest I forget,well defined,firm and prominent "buns" are sought after by men and women.I suppose I could also add in a perfect tan while I'm on the subject.
It's of course all nonsense,as Solomon once said, "Vanity of vanities,all is vanity." Health, and what passes for fitness, as promoted in the media and by far too many "health experts" these days is based on shallow and superficial criteria.I often think of Van Aaken's quote,"health has nothing to do with mass,and a well tanned skin after two weeks at the beach is often nothing but varnish over a rotting interior."
What is health? What constitutes health?
What follows are some thoughts on these questions. I should begin by saying that this is not intended to be a comprehensive listing of everything that comprises what health is in an individual,just some thoughts on the subject.
For starters, health is the absence of disease,sickness and any debilitating physical condition.Also,one is neither overweight or emaciated.What I've said so far is stating the obvious,but, lets look a little deeper into what health is and what qualifies as true health.Van Aaken said this about health: "Health is a constantly changing,multifaceted sensation with feelings of freshness,endurance,comfort,strength and performance capacity which also includes reliable vigor,as well mental and emotional strength." Is that how you feel?  As an aside,due to the fact that Van Aaken's writings have been translated from another language sometimes the phrasing seems awkward but what I just quoted is profound.He also says,and this was written 40+ years ago,that what is perceived as health these days is anything but, that the criteria for determining it is weak and has been compromised by the passage of time.Health can be "characterized by performance capacity,and a high performance capacity demands true health." Van Aaken writes that performance capacity, in say a weight lifter, is diametrically opposed to what is done by a marathon runner.He also indicates that the performance capacity of the weight lifter is clearly inferior to that of the distance runner.The reason why is obvious,he writes that the athletic activities of the weight lifter which require "pure skeletal-muscle strength and increase the heart's work by increasing blood pressure within the heart itself and in the arteries,are detrimental to the durability of the organism and to the work of this most important motor,the heart." If you have read the prior posts where I have referenced Van Aaken you know that he found that heart strength and health, as well as longevity, are best achieved by regular and sustained aerobic training.Repeatedly stressing out the heart by "explosive" muscle functions is not the way to health.With that said,a fitness program can be made complete by the addition of weight training.
In closing,the good Doctor says,and we should remember this,and I know I do when I see pix of former pros,past Olympians and elite athletes looking like shadows of their former selves, "Health is not static but full of movement,and it has to be re-won,maintained and heightened daily,through the years and decades, up to highest old age."
So excuse me,I have to leave now and do a little "maintaining and heightening."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Whitlock's Wisdom

As the years go by I find myself seeking out runners older than myself who continue to run well. Perhaps I do this because I am looking for reassurance that I can train and compete indefinitely. Another reason may be due to the fact that so many of the athletes I've known from decades past no longer run.With that in mind, I've been thinking alot about Ed Whitlock recently.  I can't imagine that there are many runners who haven't heard of Ed Whitlock. For those who haven't, he holds a multitude of age group records,most notable of which being a 2:54:48 marathon at age 72.Also, consider a 3:15:54 marathon at age 80 and a 42 minute10k during that same year.He has set other phenomenal marks you can read about on his Wikipedia page.
When there is a runner like Ed Whitlock who has accomplished what he has, it's a given that you would want to listen to what he has to say.The following is just a few excerpts from a past interview he did for Running Times.If you could condense what he said in a few words they would be: simplicity,mileage and proper perspective.Ed says:" I go out jogging. It's not fast running,just that I do it for a long time.I don't follow what typical coaches say about serious runners. No physics,ice baths,massages,tempo runs,heart rate monitors.The more time you spend fiddlediddling with this and that,the less time there is to run or waste time in other ways.Running should be a pastime. All sports should be a pastime. There shouldn't be all this professional stuff." Whitlock then goes on to say that a life that focuses exclusively on  performance as it does in the upper echelons of running is ultimately a life that is lacking.
A few thoughts on the above. In the quest for excellence, there is a tendency for athletes,especially newbies, to complicate the process by doing what are basically unnecessary activities.I'm sure many would disagree with what Ed has to say on sport and professionalism,I know at one time I would have. But,as the years have gone by, I've seen the cheating(doping,etc) that's gone on in every sport,all in the quest for victory,records and more$$,his view makes alot of sense to me.Finally, Ed's runs are done at a very easy pace for 2 or 3 hours a session with tremendous results.Think back to Van Aaken.
I remember what Herb Elliott once said,the ideal life for an athlete is one of simplicity. Simplicity in his training and simplicity in his lifestyle.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Looking Into the Heart,Mind and Soul of a Running Warrior

Standing alone, I am what others see and hear,
Without pretension,
Having no need to effect a look or manner by adopting vain extraneous appearances.
I exude a quiet confidence derived from a life that is disciplined, yet open and welcoming to new challenges.
I view my physical training as an opportunity to grow and be fulfilled in all aspects of  life.
This training is as vital to me as my relationships and my vocation,it makes me complete.
I feel no need to explain or prove the validity of the way I have chosen.

The merit of one's life can be measured in part by his disposition and how he treats others,
Yet one's words and actions often betray what he espouses.
My running and training burn away my weaknesses and faults, but the fire must be kindled each day.

Life can be hard and filled with uncertainties that overwhelm the unprepared,
For many, the joy in this life is thus lost.
The way I live,though strange to most,
Provides a peace and comfort that cannot be measured and is not tangible,
But it is the path I've chosen and it's worth is validated each day of my life.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lydiard's "Controversial" Training System

I was looking at some archived issues of Sports Illustrated the other day and boy,did it ever make me feel nostalgic for the "good old days" of long distance running. You know,the days when America's premier sports magazine regularly ran articles on distance runners from America and around the world.
With that said,I came across an article published on March 19,1962 which included an assemblage of notable coaches and athletes discussing a new and controversial marathon training system being taught by a New Zealand coach named Arthur Lydiard. Prompted by the success of the Lydiard trained athletes, and in particular Peter Snell,Sports Illustrated sought out the opinions of people like Herb Elliott,Percy Cerutty,Jim Elliott,Roger Bannister,Bill Bowerman and Franz Stampfl to name a few.It appeared that the mileage Lydiard was recommending was at the heart of the controversy. From reading the comments,I sensed that most of the responders didn't really know all the details of Lydiard's program. His first book had not yet been published so it would seem understandable that they weren't all that knowledgable about it. I got a good laugh when Percy said: "Lydiard is using the same theory as my own." A classic Cerutty comment if there ever was one.
What's follows from 1962 is Lydiard's description of the essence of his "marathon training system".Keeping with the recent theme of mileage, Arthur expresses so well the program he came to develop and refine.
He said: "My training system is not the super-human thing it's made out to be.....My system is as simple as it is effective: build up your endurance through marathon training.
In theory,I am trying to develop my runners until they are in a tireless state. In practice, this means I am trying to give them sufficient stamina to maintain their natural speed over whatever distance they are running. Stamina is the key to the whole thing,because you can take speed for granted.No? Look here. Everybody thinks a four-minute mile is terrific,but it is only four one-minute quarter miles
How do you give them the necessary stamina? By making them run and run and run some more,until they don't even think in terms of miles. There is no psychological magic and no pain barrier to be broken through. It is merely a process of long gradual conditioning."
"It is merely a process of long gradual conditioning," that's it in a nutshell,no complicated formulas,just the recognition that increasing work, and harder work, must be preceded by the kind of training that prepares you to handle what comes next. It's all so logical.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Running and Cancer

Cancer, now there's a word that throws a scare into most people. I read recently that it has surpassed heart disease as the number one killer of Americans.In a prior post entitled,The Trojan Horse Syndrome,I addressed the claims by some "authorities" that suggested running might actually contribute to the formation of cancer cells.Unfortunately,this expert made the mistake of saying that those who ran x amount of miles or more were leaving themselves at risk for developing cancer at some time in their lives. What was ignored in the article and other publications was the acknowledging of what kind of running may leave you more vulnerable to getting a form of the disease.The emphasis here is on the word may.If definitive proof exists out there to substantiate a claim that ALL kinds of running can lead to the development of cancer I haven't seen it.Now,there does appear to be certain studies which indicate that habitual hard training and racing can lead to the formation of free radicals in your body that could cause the development of mutations in your DNA.This situation might potentially lead to the formation of cancer cells.Naturally, these conclusions bring up such questions as,what constitutes hard training and racing,how long a period of time does one have to engage in such activities before you would be deemed at risk(for developing cancer)?
Back in the wonderful days of the 70's running boom(boon?), running was looked upon as a cure for most anything that ailed you.As we have now come to realize,running is good for lots of things but certainly not everything.
This brings us back to the subject of running and cancer. Over the decades I have noticed that cancers haven't been eliminated but the ways of detecting them and their treatment have advanced to the point where the survival rate of patients has improved significantly.A cure for cancer has not been reached despite billions of dollars being spent in the effort to find one. It appears that factors such as pollution to our air and water, as well as the chemicals that go into the growing, production and manufacture of our foods may play a significant role in our developing cancer.Often overlooked is how pollutants and enviromental conditions, over a long period of time, can negatively effect cell development. This is not only a problem for one individual,it can have an impact on any children they may have.Our genes and cells, both good and bad,are passed on to our children.So does aerobic centered running prevent cancer? Maybe. I do know this,there are studies that show that those who have run regularly for years have a lowered incidence of colon and breast cancer. I also recognize the fact that it is much easier to minimize your risk factors for getting the disease then waiting until you have a cancer diagnosis.Once you get the diagnosis it's then time to get the treatment,all the running in the world and healthy eating,although very important,takes a back seat to the specific treatment of that cancer.
Consider the following by Dr,Van Aaken: "Energy is required in all processes of life,and energy is produced in the cells almost exclusively by chemical reactions which consume oxygen....As long as mankind doesn't understand the importance of oxygen as an elixir of life,so long will diseases of civilization continue to increase.Oxygen must be acquired by the application of effort to reach the billions of cells in our body."
So what type of activity do you think the good Doctor,through his extensive studies,believes is the best way to achieve maximal oxygen intake? By endurance(aerobic) training of course!
Van Aaken, after noting that a once healthy cell, if deprived of necessary oxygen pressure can develop into a cancer cell, writes: "Endurance training, carried on at a moderate pace with optimal breathing efficiency, is because of it's optimal provision of oxygen to all 60 billion cells of the organism, the best guarantee of the prevention of cancer in certain forms which depend on a inhibiting of the oxygen supply."
What did Van Aaken conclude from his years of research? He states: "that an optimal running training with eightfold increase in the endurance function of the biological oxidation process,carried on for years,prevents cancer."
Am I saying that the last statement is 100% provable? No,but it makes sense. The fact is,is that Van Aaken is referring to a running program that involves more than putting on the shoes and going out for a 2 or 3 mile jog  each day. There is a whole lot more to his system then that, none of which involves needing a degree in science to understand. His running program is as pleasurable as it gets and adaptable to runners of all levels. For the speedsters who might want to dismiss his style of training I would say, look to champions Harald Norpoth,Manfred Steffney,Jacki Hansen and Joan Ullyot for starters.
Once again,for those who live for the run,and those who desire to live a long, healthy, active life, I encourage you to read the Van Aaken Method.    

Temporary Interruption

Humble apologies for not posting this yesterday.The usual Saturday article will be posted later today (Sunday).

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

More Than Just A Running Book

Over the years my idea of the ideal running book has changed. I used to look only for the books with training schedules and related info that could make me a faster distance runner. I have since found that my focus has changed. Although running faster is still important to me,I find myself appreciating more the running books that address living a long,healthy and fit life.                                                                                           No book does this better than the Van Aaken Method (Finding the Endurance to Run Faster and Live Healthier) by Dr.Ernst van Aaken. Readers to this blog know that I have referenced Van Aaken on several previous occasions.As a medical doctor,one-time runner and coach to several successful runners,he studied and wrote about endurance training(running),diet,and the effects of both on the body beginning in the 1940's.

I recall when I first purchased this book many years ago I went immediately to the chapters that spoke specifically about training. That was a mistake. I say this because Van Aaken correctly recognized that many different factors are necessary to not only achieve optimal fitness, but overall health. Actually to him,optimal fitness and overall health are one and the same.An example,in the chapter, The Basis of Life,Van Aaken provides a convincing argument on how our intake of oxygen and the expedient use of it in our body is more important than what we eat. I should add that he in no way advocates eating whatever you want. He provides solid advice on what to eat and what not to eat but also explains how the intake of oxygen during aerobic exercise(running) strengthens the heart and distributes oxygen to every part of your body like no other form of exercise can.I am giving a condensed and simplistic explanation of what he writes in his book here.

With that said,this book gives much information in a readable and non-technical way.Yes, there is plenty on training and all things connected with it for all types of runners, but, this man has the personal experience,the medical training and the passion for running that validates the truth of what he writes. He recognizes that distance running is an essential activity(attention Dr.Cooper and Mr.Galloway) when done correctly.
Lastly,I'd be remiss not to mention another important key to Van Aaken's health and running program,the necessity of maintaining a low body weight.He has written that distance runners should be 10 to 20% below their recommended ideal weight. He again ties this in with developing optimal oxygen intake,oxygen distribution to the body, heart health and running your best.In addition,he gives a convincing argument for systematic undereating as a means to living a long healthy life.This is not starving yourself but a way of restricting your intake of food and limiting the desire to eat whenever you feel like it. This way of eating has been the subject of several books in recent years that claim it's the key to longevity and health.Just think of it,Dr.Van Aaken began writing on this subject 60+ years ago.

I thought of writing this post a few days back when I did a search for this book on and saw it was selling for 85 cents at one bookstore. I was shocked, here it was, a book that was better than any I had seen last week in the running section at Barnes and Noble and it was going for literally pennies.I bought it and sent it to a family member who believes, like far too many Americans, that diet is the key to a long, healthy life. I think copies are now going for $3+, this book is worth a whole lot more then that. If you've never read it, pick up a copy,you got everything to gain from doing so.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Tips For Achieving Running and Racing Success,Pt.1,Two- a- Days

I recall years ago when the concept of having groups of elite American distance runners sponsored so they wouldn't have to work and could use their waking hours for training and rest was heavily promoted. The impetus for this was the desperate hope that American runners would become more competitive on the world scene,translation--they could beat the Africans.Well, some programs were initiated; I believe one funded by Nike and with Alberto Salazar as coach still exists today.As a sidenote,I recall years ago writing an article for the running website The Nashville Runner and taking the viewpoint that these funded programs were doomed for failure. The editor of the site strongly disagreed with what I wrote but my response was that time would reveal whether or not I was right. It only takes a look at today's world distance rankings to see who was correct.The reality is,as former world marathon record holder Derek Clayton wrote,"there are just so many hours in the day you can train,you need to do something to stimulate your mind." He then recalled how he trained twice a day while maintaining a full time job and having a family. Having to do so he said developed discipline and gave structure to his life.I thought of what he said in light of the running magazine articles I had read describing how some of the guys in the sponsored programs spent their days running,resting and playing video games.But, I digress. As we attempt to become better runners and racers, there are some things we can do that will make us better. I should add here that the key word is,WILL make us better,not might.One thing that that will help us in this process is adding an easy second run on specified days of the week.Dr. Ernst Van Aaken and Arthur Lydiard were both believers in the benefits of a second easy supplementary run. Lydiard especially recommended doing one sometime after an anaerobic session had been completed. He said: "This helps develop general cardiac efficiency and assists in the recovery from the low blood pH that may have developed during anaerobic training. By stimulating blood circulation gently or aerobically,you will assist your metabolism to improve generally." In speaking with other runners and from personal experience,you will reap significant benefits over time from a second daily run, irregardless of whether or not the earlier run was an anaerobic or an aerobic one.You will be building muscle strength and cardiac efficiency. Of course before starting, you first have to take into account what your body can tolerate.For some,a 15 or 20 minute jog done twice a week may be all they can handle to start. Also,it is not written in stone that a second daily run is something you must do 5,6 or 7 days a week for x amount of time.The details are something you determine by evaluating your training and listening to your body. I should also add that the second easy run of the day should not impact on your earlier aerobic workout. By this I mean,if you intend to run a 10 miler as your main workout for the day,do not split it up into 7 miles at one time and 3 later.As Lydiard taught, the longer and more continuously you run the better the development of new capillaries which in turn will lead to the body being able to use more oxygen and use it more efficiently.
There is another and sometimes forgotten psychological benefit of adding a second daily run.The overwhelming majority of runners at your local road races train once a day.In the races you will be strengthened mentally, as well as physically,knowing that very few out there are doing the kind of training you are.Do not ignore or underestimate the psychological benefits your training can provide on race day.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Uncharted Territory

There's an uncertainty that often comes with trying something new.Potential setbacks and possibly failure may arise when you venture into uncharted,unfamiliar territory. It's a fear of failure that makes people reluctant to try something they haven't done before. Many people,especially as they get older,are reluctant to "step out of their comfort zone." Interestingly, the younger ones who do, are often described as being foolhardy or impetuous. Consider the following quote from Brandon Lee, "We reduce ourselves at a certain point in our lives to kind of solely pursue things that we already know how to do. You know, because you don't want to have that experience of not knowing what you're doing and being an amateur again. And I think that's rather unfortunate. It's so much more interesting and usually illuminating to put yourself in a situation where you don't know what's going to happen,than do something again that you already know essentially what the outcome will be."
Have we reached that point in our lives where we only "pursue things that we already know how to do"? I often wonder if another reason for not being more adventuresome might not only be due to a fear of failure, but the condition of laziness and/or complacency on our part. Yiannis Kouros once said that an ideal life was one that took risks and faced challenges.We repeatedly read where athletes grew and learned things about themselves, and ultimately became better people, when they went through certain obstacles on their quest for success. We all need to consider whether we are guilty of playing it safe and ultimately shortchanging ourselves of the varied benefits that can be gained from "going for it."