Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lest We Forget,Some Thoughts on Conditioning and Physiology

As athletes,have you ever found yourself  not backing off or resting when you know you should? I may have written about this before but I knew a runner who had a tradition of racing Boston and then doing another marathon 2 weeks later. When I asked him if this was wise, he responded with:"I've been doing it for years." Today this guy is a shadow of the runner he once was,plagued by back problems,he has now entered the ranks of the fun runner. Other athletes I've known who viewed backing off as something akin to being a "wimp," have long since taken up cycling or gotten out of athletics altogether due to recurring injuries. Our bodies are incredible,they can tolerate a huge amount of abuse for long,extended periods of time,but,there comes a time when they will break down. For reasons I've never understood, many seemingly intelligent athletes don't understand this physiological fact.What follows is something by Edward Frederick who has written extensively on physiology and the runner.He gives us the specifics of what happens when we rest and what it accomplishes. It is more than the commonly held and simplistic notion that we're just getting some rest. He begins by letting us know that running can be "an exercise in destruction." Frederick continues, "Each time we run, we tear ourselves down. Muscle tissue is torn. Mitochondria,the powerhouse of the cells,swell grotesquely. Metabolic wastes accumulate. Blood sugar levels drop.Dehydration occurs and,along with it,excessive losses of electrolytes upset the delicate balance required for efficient muscle and nerve function.Muscle glycogen is depleted.As duration and intensity of the workout increase,the damage becomes more pronounced.
However,in the period between runs, the body attempts to recover and rebuild.
These two phases---destruction and regeneration---together constitute conditioning.The two can never be separated if conditioning is to proceed in a positive direction."
For far too many coaches and runners,those last two sentences are perhaps the two most forgotten principles of training.Optimal conditioning can only happen if adequate time for regeneration is allowed. It is my belief that most serious competitive runners do not give themselves enough time in that department. Frederick then lets us know what happens when an intelligent training,racing and regenerative program is put together: "In any program of running,the body is systematically broken down and rebuilt. And each rebuilding leaves the body a little stronger than before.These incremental increases amount to the development of a progressively stronger body,capable of more and faster running. That is,if it's done right."
Of course,the key word here is if. I'm always amazed at runners who can't understand why they are not seeing more improvement in their performances or why they feel chronically rundown.Runners who are in their prime should be seeing improvement in times.Instead of looking for the magic training system they must be aware of the needs of a body that is often stressed through rigorous training. This takes time, effort and study,something that many athletes are unwilling to do.
More on this subject to come.

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