Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Necessity of Taking Responsibility For Your Health

The book pictured above was written by Manfred Steffny who was a two-time Olympian in the marathon.It is an excellent book that every serious long distance runner should have in his library. In doing a search online as to its availability I was shocked to find used copies were available at for a penny.Now this is just my opinion but Steffny's book is better than 90% of the running books you will find at your local Barnes and Noble.However,my reason for posting a picture of the book was due to the fact that something I read in it gave me the idea for today's article.
Steffny relates that a friend told him,"my daily run is my daily health exam." This person went on to say how once while he was out on a run, he experienced mild discomfort in his chest.This led him to seek help and he was later treated for a heart related ailment.Steffny's friend believed that if he had led a sedentary life this problem might not have been detected till much later when it could have developed into a potentially life threatening condition.
This brings us to a most important topic and that is the necessity of taking personal responsibility for your health and well being. For far too many runners, health means freedom from injuries and other conditions that keep them from training.Their focus is often muscloskeletal rather then total body. Real health involves much more.It pertains to feeling good mentally and physically as well as an absence of various ailments and disease.
I should begin by saying that I have worked for about 40 years in the healthcare field and it is not my intention to bash doctors and other health professionals.But, with that said,only a foolish or uninformed person would leave their health and well-being up to others.The healthcare field today,in many ways,is much worse then the one I entered decades ago.What follows are some things that runners can do to take a proactive approach to their health and well-being.
The first thing is,we should always look to deal with the cause of a problem instead of just treating the symptom(s).Here's an example, ever know runners who take motrin(Ibuprofen) like they're vitamins? Everyday,sometimes two or three times a day, they'll take a few and think nothing of it.Many of you may know this but for those who don't, regular use of motrin is bad for your stomach and will cause a rise in blood pressure.Instead of dealing with what is causing the pain and masking it with a medication,consider what is causing the pain and do something about it.The reality is,and I speak from many years as a medication nurse,is that with every medication there is a side effect.Sometimes the side effects are subtle,sometimes they're not. Take it from me,today's "wonder" drug may later become the subject of a 1-800 ad on television for a legal firm.Fosamax,once heralded as a bone building drug for those who might be prone to developing osteoporosis,has now been found to create brittle bones that can lead to fractures of the femur. Prilosec,the go to drug for acid reflux,causes problems with the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D and iron. I could go on...and on,but you get the picture,deal with the cause of the problem,don't mask the symptom(s) by taking a pill, which unfortunately most of your healthcare providers are all to ready to prescribe.Looking to the source often takes time and lifestyle changes but isn't it worth it in the long run?
Another thing about taking control of your health,minimize the habits and behaviors that will come back to hurt you in later years. For many,that means making serious lifestyle changes.Our bodies are incredible,they can handle an unbelievable amount of abuse but eventually they will break down.This is a fact that cannot be denied,a certainty.Think of the cigarette smoker who believes that at 25 years of age, lung cancer is what other people get,not them.
Once you get diagnosed with a disease,it too often takes radical intervention to remedy it, if it can even be remedied at all. So, to the runners who: drink too much alcohol, eat crappy foods,push their bodies too hard too often,don't get adequate rest,or, involve themselves in a host of other debilitating behaviors,there will come a point in your life where there will be a breakdown.Sadly,we tend to get addicted to our poor lifestyle choices,be they food,alcohol or whatever,but,once we rid ourselves of them and live and eat simply,life becomes so much better.Make the changes today,get away from that "tomorrow never comes" mindset.                                                                                                                         

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Taking a Look at Franz Stampfl

Being a Cerutty guy I have to admit that I knew little about his "rival" Franz Stampfl. His book,Franz Stampfl on Running published in 1955,sat on my bookshelf unread for many years.Recently I started to read it and from there I looked into his bio on Wikipedia. If you are unfamiliar with this Austrian born coach who coached British and later Australian athletes,I would encourage you to read the Wikipedia entry for starters. He was a fascinating man who underwent many trials and hardships during World War II.Perhaps best known for advising Roger Bannister prior to his becoming the first sub- four minute miler,he also successfully coached other athletes in a variety of distances and sports.
As I continued reading about him, I was struck by how similar many of his views were to Ceruttys'. Like Percy,he believed in allowing his athletes to become independent thinkers,not just willing "slaves" to a coach.Stampfl also believed the ideal athlete would develop himself mentally and spiritually,as well as physically.Both him and Percy recognized that hard training "nursed and nurtured" the competitive spirit. Stampfl wrote: "closely fought races are won at the moment when physical and mental pressure are at their greatest;the man who,as the result of training,can best cope with that pressure is the one who will run out the winner."
Stampfl first used the phrase "will to win" which I saw referenced years later in a Cerutty book.
He offers the following insightful observation: "Every competitor wants to win but not all have the will to win. This is a much stronger emotion and varies in intensity with the mental make-up of the individual. To that extent it is inherent but,like all other inherent qualities,it is capable of tremendous development under training and stimulus,or of near extinction under neglect.In every hard fought race there comes a time when a man continues to run though his lungs are bursting and every muscle in his body aches with fatigue,when his brain is dulled from pain and lack of oxygen and his legs are leaden(editor:I'm sure we've all experienced those feelings).At such moments the body underrates its own ability;it telegraphs that it can do no more when,in fact,it is still far from spent. The brain compels it to carry on but can do so only for a short time. After that,instinct takes over,the instinct for survival which is present in every human being but which from long training is greatly intensified in the athlete. With instinct in control,a numbness of the senses follows,pain and fatigue recede from the consciousness and only the compelling urge to run and keep running remains.This is the competitive spirit--a combination of will-power and instinct which,merging together,produce a higher quality in man,a singleness of purpose which sweeps aside the protests of a failing body and produces deeds of athletic heroism."
I don't believe I have ever read a better account of what goes on,and what needs to exist, in runners who are  reaching that critical period near the end of every race.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Evaluating Yourself--Two Questionnaires From Joe

While going through some of my running books recently I came across one written in the 70's by Joe Henderson. In it were some checklists that could be used to determine whether you were a serious runner or a fun runner. My first thought was, how hard is it to figure that out? But, many of  the questions do cause you to think and consider how you view your running. I will begin with the questionnaire that asks if you are a Fun Runner and add some comments from time to time.
Are You A Fun Runner?
1."Have you started thinking of your daily runs not as training but as pleasant ends in themselves?"
A good starting point.Knowing how you view your running says a lot about the kind of runner you are.
2."If you still keep a running diary at all, is a time within five minutes, or a distance within a mile, accurate enough?"
In all my years of running, the majority of serious runners I've known, meaning over 50%,have not kept an actual running diary.That's not to say they don't jot down their daily mileage somewhere.
3."Do you run more by how you feel than by a detailed plan?"
4."Can you take time out in mid-run, stop early, or even skip a day without feeling guilty about it?"
It's a foolish serious runner who tries to gut it out instead of stopping when he's hurting or feeling bad.Not doing so is a common rookie mistake.
5."However,when you must miss all or part of a run, do you feel like an old friend has left you for awhile?"
Hardly, because I know I'll  be visiting this "old friend" very soon.
6."Would you keep running as you do now even if you never race?"
If this was asked of me in my younger years I would say that I'd run as much as ever except that I would back off on the intensity.
7."Do you often decide whether to race when you wake the day of a race?"
I don't know many fun runners who would do that.
8."Do you race  without planning your pace?"
9."Can you run through a race at an easy pace and still feel good about the experience?"
That's part of what qualifies a person as a fun runner, not being overly concerned about finishing times.
10."Are you proud of your older, faster times--but not so haunted by them that you can't appreciate a race a minute per mile slower?"
There comes a moment in every serious runner's life when he has to take the time and evaluate whether or not the performance driven training he's been doing is still worth it.
Joe closes out the above by saying that if you answered yes to most of the above then you are a fun runner.

Are You A Serious Runner?
1."Is preparing for races your most important reason for running every day?"
No! It's a common misconception that serious runners qualify as being serious only because they run to race. My love of running is the reason I run as often as I am physically able.I'm sure I speak for millions of other serious runners.
2."Do you intentionally make your training hurt so you can tolerate the pain in races?"
No! It's just something that naturally goes along with the training schedule you follow if you are planning to eventually race.
3."Are you a high goal setter who believes a person's ability is limited mainly by his imagination?"
No! experience refutes that statement. I think of the great John L Parker's comment, and I'm paraphrasing here, the distance runner is the ultimate realist. This means his workouts show the difference between reality and his wishes.
4."Do you give up foods and drinks you like just so you can run farther and faster?"
Truly serious athletes will and do.
5."Do your athletic practices appear abnormal compared to the habits of your family and friends?"
Since I don't use altitude chambers,etc.,I'd say no.
6."Do you train with a group or team so you can run farther or faster than you would alone?"
On occasion, however, there is a certain kind of mental and physical toughness that only comes from training alone. It is an often overlooked component to a serious runner's regimen.
7."Is it important to you that you beat certain people or place a certain way in competition?"
Yes,that's why most compete in the first place.
8."Are you always asking yourself to go a little faster a little farther?"
Not usually,one should listen to their body and evaluate,look at the big picture.
9."Are you always comparing your current performances with past marks and expecting them to progress?"
Yes, but understanding that there will be times when I perform below expectations.
10."Do you think you must always stay a little bit dissatisfied with yourself so you'll keep trying to improve?
Absolutely not! That's a one way trip to unhappiness and a common rookie mistake. Take pleasure in doing well, let it be a validation that you are doing things right!
Joe says that if you answered yes to most of the above then you are a serious athlete.I say this in regards to Joe's assertion: his criteria are too rigid and shortsighted,my comments below explain why I believe this to be so.
Runners, be ye serious or fun ones, Go Long Sunday!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Words from Warriors

In keeping with the theme of my May 19th post,I return to the warriors,those who possess wisdom,insight and courage.The following is from Japanese samurais and Chinese sages.Athletes can gain much from what they have to say. These are people who "walk the talk",personally,they help me to focus and be totally committed to the task at hand.I say this because, for me,and I'm quoting the title of the now legendary Lasse Viren video here,"Running Is My Life." That's my priority,that's where I want to do well.
"One should not torture himself over a single mistake.What is essential is one's presence of mind hereafter. When one makes a mistake,he should not be hesitant to correct it. Making a mistake and not correcting it,this is the real mistake."
Evaluate and re-evaluate,be introspective.I see the same athletes repeatedly getting injured while others can't understand why they are not seeing improvement in their performances.
"Do all things with patience."
The impatient athlete tends to be a self-defeating one.
"Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind."
For most of us that takes awareness of how we are and the desire to acquire mastery over ourselves.Again, being introspective is the key.
"We do not rise to the level of our expectations.We fall to the level of our training."
Great quote here,positive thinking and Jerry Lynch affirmations are only as good as the training you've done.
"Victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay its price."
How true,but for those of us who live for the run,it is a labor of love.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Frank Shorter on a Forgotten Aspect of Ageing and Training

I think by now we all realize that with age we have  to make some changes in our training.When we should do so differs from individual to individual.For myself,I noticed that beginning at age 45 I didn't recover as quickly from hard workouts and races as I once did. I'm sure everyone realizes that less intensity and more recovery time is necessary as we age.In the following, Frank Shorter talks about an aspect of ageing and training that isn't often brought up but is essential to recognize and deal with if we are to minimize the negative effects of getting older.The aspect he is referring to is the loss of muscle mass.
Frank says: "I think that athletes believe if they maintain the same body weight, they maintain the same conditioning.For instance,although my weight hasn't changed in 17 years,tests showed my body fat had gone up 4 percent. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you body fat goes up 4 percent and you weigh the same,there are many pounds of muscle that are no longer there. Based on that alone,I think logic would indicate that the more of that muscle one can maintain,or get back in my case,the more it will help.
Obviously,the loss of muscle mass will have a significant impact on your performance. That's why I do a 30 minute weight routine several times a week to build and maintain muscle."
Shorter then brings up this interesting point: "As you get older and still maintain the same daily goal as to how much training you'll do,you lock into a certain amount that you feel is a day's exercise.If you maintain that amount from age 30 to 45 and you've been losing muscle mass,in essence you've been slightly overtraining as you age. You're aiming to reach your daily quota but you've had less strength to do it.Consequently,you're going to be taxed more and obviously it will take you more time to recover."
If the above isn't an incentive to do regular weight training I don't know what is.For many,it's easy to tell yourself that lots of running will take care of everything but in truth it won't. I know that I often have to force myself to do the weight workouts but recognize that if I don't do them then I won't reap the full benefits of all the running I do.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How Do You Approach Your Workouts?

Today's post could have also been entitled,how you approach your workouts says alot about the type of athlete you are.As I have written previously,there are serious runners and there are fun runners.One's level of commitment does not make that person superior to the other.I have known many fun runners who had a real love for the sport while others who were faster and trained more intensely didn't. I remember how surprised I was years ago when I spoke with a runner who was dominating the local racing scene and he told me that he viewed his training as "a job." My first thought in response to that comment was,why bother training,why not spend the time doing something you enjoy?
The following relates to those who believe they are serious athletes.There are those out there who believe they are but in reality are not.There is more to being a serious athlete than training hard.Serious athletes have a distinct way of approaching their workouts. Much of it involves attitude and mindset as well as the physical.
So,how do you approach your workouts? For the serious athlete their workout is one of the focal points of their day.They know when they are going to do it, it is a priority and not something they fit in between this or that.They understand that there is never a good reason for rushing a workout in order to move onto something else.
Serious athletes give consideration beforehand as to what they are trying to accomplish in the workout they are about to do.They realize that this training session is another step towards achieving their athletic goal(s).
I'd be remiss not to include a few other thoughts on the subject. I often laugh when I read some of the early writings by Cerutty where he says that those who desire to be a champion need to stay away from "the dancehalls" and relationships with the opposite sex. As dated as it sounds in this 21th century there's some truth to be gleaned from what he says.I recall when some friends and I would get together for those Sunday long runs, there was always this one guy who would show up a few minutes late and hungover. The point here is that serious runners don't let their lifestyle impact negatively on their workouts.
Finally,the serious athlete approaches his workouts knowing this,and I quote the great champion Ron Clarke, "By far the greatest determinant of success is the ability of the athlete  to focus on the job at hand and to train consistently."
Ron knows what he his talking about,he's got the resume that validates what he says.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

How Running Has Changed You(?)

Through his writing,George Sheehan always seemed to find a way to get you to consider how your running effected you.Perhaps I should say,how your running could effect you, if, you were alert and aware to what was going on.Sheehan knew that the mental and spiritual components of running were as real as the physical.
It's unfortunate that no one has come along since Sheehan to fill the void of what I call the runner/philosopher.As I've said before,he was not only a good runner but he really loved the whole running experience.I sense that much of what he wrote was directed to those who also had a passion for running.I have a quote by him above my desk that says, "Each Day I Run I Learn More"
In the following you will first read a comment, then a response to it by Sheehan below--' The running experience should not become an end in itself, because at this point runners may lose perspective,internalize questionable priority systems and place self above everything else.'
Dr.Sheehan wrote: "Runners,of course,see it differently. Running is an end in itself,as well as a means.It does change our perspective. It does give us the sense of humor to see ourselves as we never have before. And it does drive us to change our priorities toward our own truth and rules and roles,not those thrust upon us."
The big question is,when the realization comes to us,this change in our perspective that Sheehan mentions,do we have the courage to change or not be conformed to what others expect us to be?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

One Day Delay

Due to out of town trail training and Stotan related festivities--the usual Saturday post will be out tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Reigniting the Passion

I'll begin by quickly assuring everyone that this post is not about love and relationships.Well,I suppose in a sense it could be. Today's post came from a conversation I had with another Stotan who was lamenting about the apparent "falling away" of some of the guys we used to train with. All of you hardcore runners out there know what I'm talking about.The runners who used to be as zealous as you are but now have pretty much gotten out of it. 401k's,big mortgages,car notes,relationships,and yes,laziness,have come between them and the sport they once said they'd be a part of till the day they dropped.It's always kind of sad when I run into that former running mate I haven't seen in a long time and can't help but notice he's acquired some softness around his waist.You know,now they look more like the average Joe then Joe Athlete. You ask them if they've been doing any running and they answer sheepishly,"a little." You sort of get the feeling that they're not where they want to be in regards to their running.
It would be easy to dismiss these folks and just get on with our lives but don't we owe it to them to do something? Perhaps some of you are one of those lapsed or lapsing runners. How do you get the passion back? The following is for those you want to encourage as well as those who feel they may be losing their zeal for the sport.I'll begin by relating a personal experience.                                                                          I knew someone who had allowed himself to get into very poor shape,we're not just talking fat here,we're talking high cholesterol and a recent diagnosis of adult onset diabetes.This friend by the way was a onetime 800 meter and mile champion in high school. Unfortunately,he took a running scholarship to a big-time college which was loaded with runners every bit as good as him and better.Add to that a track coach who worked his distance runners like show ponies and my friend was repeatedly injured and done with running by the beginning of his junior year.What followed were years of non-activity,unless you want to call golf a serious physical exercise.I sort of laugh when I recall the conversation I had with him,it was not unlike one you would have with a friend who was drinking a fifth whiskey a day.I told him that he looked terrible and the fact that he was taking the meds he was confirmed my observation.I went on to say that achieving even a reasonable degree of fitness would probably lead to his not having to take those medications. I asked him if he was comfortable with the way he felt and looked,of course he answered no. I asked this seemingly obvious question in order to get him to acknowledge out loud to someone besides himself that this wasn't the way he wanted to be.I then got to talking about  the good old days and the trail runs we did at "the Ridge" and how good he felt. I told him he could get back to that point if he wanted. He said that he did but felt he had been out of it for so long that getting back was impossible.At this point I could have told him he could if he really wanted to and that would have been the end of it,but,if you really care about someone,you have to do more.Another Stotan and I met our friend on separate days to get him going again. That meant hour long sessions combining running with walking,and you can imagine which one of those two activities predominated in the beginning. It also included ragging on him about eating crappy foods and trying to occasionally blow off workouts.On a regular basis I also made sure I dropped off some of the athletic mags I had read. After 2 and a half months the three of us witnessed one of the wonders of distance running; the transformation of a person through this great sport. You might think I'm referring only to his losing weight and getting fitter.To me,the more important transformation was in his thinking,he began to think and act like an athlete.He was feeling good mentally and physically again. He changed his priorities, health and running was in the foreground.
If I had to put the above in a nutshell,I'd say you have to take an active,hands-on approach to helping others,even if it means sacrificing your time.It's all worth it though.Wouldn't we want someone to do that for us if we were in my friend's position?
So what about us? You say it's all you can do to get yourself out on the roads(or trails) for your runs? Maybe you are running less than you have in years. You need to get back into it for your physical, AND mental health.I've noticed that many of the runners who are drifting away from the running scene have not taken part in any kind of road race for too long a time.If this is you,I would highly recommend you find a local 5k and run it,soon! Forget about the condition you are in,forget about trying to race well,just jog and walk if need be. There is no question that feeling the energy of being around a few hundred runners will rekindle your interest.
Also,get back in touch with other runners and athletes.Nothing stokes the fire like being around others who are into it and talking about it.
Read running and athletic materials. Put the Fortune 500 and Business Week mags down and enjoy reading something that your investment of time and energy will surely pay dividends.
And finally,remind yourself of what Cerutty once said, "when it's all said and done,what good is having all the money you want but not having the health to enjoy it?
Stotan Up!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Some Thoughts On Perc

A few rambling thoughts on the Man. Some may have wondered if I had left out a y after reading the above title.I understand that Cerutty was often called Perc by those who knew him. Another thing,for many years I pronounced Cerutty as Cerooty. He once wrote that his last name was actually pronounced Cerity, as in the last part of the word sincerity.On a related note,Cerutty was called many other names throughout his life,a fair amount of them could be described as derogatory in nature.I am often asked by people about the numerous reports of inappropriate,rude,vindictive and downright nasty behaviour and speech exhibited by him during his life.It would be easy to chalk this all up to his being arrogant or that he was just another old crank but there was a reason for the way he sometimes was,just as there is one for all of us.You get a good look into why he was the way he was in the excellent biography by Graem Sims.What you learn is that Cerutty experienced a great deal of physical deprivation as he was growing up. I'm talking about not enough food and adequate shelter here. Add to this poor health and an enviroment that wasn't always conducive to emotional stability and you understand why he  seemed to be periodically wracked with feelings of insecurity and paranoia.Cerutty often had this me versus them mentality.I would venture to say that this was also a result of the situation and conditions he was raised in. It's remarkable that he became as successful as he did. Many people having a similar type of upbringing have gone the other way,leading a life of self-destruction by drinking and/or drugging themselves in order to deal with the pain.                                      Percy wrote this in regards to difficulties and failures: "It then becomes a case of faith,the going on in faith in oneself, a faith that can eventually break through,achieve in some way,at some time." Yes, determination,stick-to-ittiveness and faith in yourself,is, and always will be,the key to success.
Awhile back, someone wrote and said they were doing an article on Cerutty and asked for my thoughts on him.The writer was clearly looking towards the Percy who trained runners,not the philosopher.I have seen this slant on him before.Every now and then you'll read a story,usually about a high school cross-country coach, who has come across some info on Percy or Stotanism and has his kids busting their butts on the trails.While this may be good,the athletes are being shortchanged in the Stotan/Cerutty department. Cerutty's greatest contribution came in the philosophy he taught,not the training regimen.His views on athleticism, naturalism, materialism,achieving success,nutrition and rugged individualism,as well as his belief in the necessity of developing the complete athlete(physically,mentally), were and are, his greatest contribution. There are very few coaches,if any in modern times,who have articulated so well insights into such a wide range of subjects.There was a time not too long ago that an athlete would be told that all he had to do was train hard and listen to his coach.Cerutty accurately wrote of the shortsightedness of such a mindset. I always think back to this quote by him directed to those athletes who desired success: "success is the result of deep thought." Amen to that Perc!
Postscript: It may seem strange that I have a picture of Zola Budd,now Zola Pieterse, on a post about Cerutty. This however makes perfect sense.Zola is a Stotan who exemplifies so many of the qualities he taught. At 45 years old,she is still training and racing. She's also a volunteer coach at a University close to where she lives(Myrtle Beach(S.C.).She has sought out new challenges,running the Two Oceans Ultra(58km) this past March and is set to race the Comrades Marathon in South Africa this coming Sunday. For the few who may not know,this "marathon" is either 51 or 52 miles long.The great multi-Comrades winner Bruce Fordyce has been acting as Zola's coach for the race. I believe you can watch a live stream of the race on the Comrades site. Good luck Zola!!