Monday, April 24, 2017

SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH ME

After last weeks poor performance, I decided to abandon the six-mile course that I love.
After two successful runs on the 10k path, my third try failed to meet the criteria for a good run.
I had to stop and walk four times in the last three miles.

Fail.
Even though I backed off on the amount of leg work in my weight workouts, it was not enough to allow my body to rebuild between long runs.

Apparently.
So I am giving up on the 10k distance.
Reluctantly.

So, this past Saturday, I was present and accounted for for the old, tried and true 3.6 mile hill course.
The weather was cool and pleasant.

As was the case the week before, I did not get a nap on Friday, which put more pressure on me to get a bit more good sleep Friday night.
Which did not happen.

So I woke up at 4 AM.
I forced myself to go back to sleep, and dozed for the next hour or so, until my alarm ever so gently mumbled its quiet announcement.
I was ready to get to the task at hand.
This, in spite of the feeling a bit tired.

I started out gently, hoping all joints and connective tissue were ready for the ball.
Right ankle requested special treatment as it resisted change in angle of Tibia and Fibia with each step.
And left knee attachments were not ready to play with the team for the first hundred yards or so.
It even tried to play dead, with an important nerve trying to shut down the whole party by going numb.

Fortunately, this mis-fire only happened once and was gone.
Had it persisted to its maximum potential, this posting would a good bit more morose.

Everything got sorted out in the first couple of minutes of the trot, and there were no more physical problems the rest of the ho-down.
Except for respiration.
As I climbed the first incline, Level 3 breathing wanted to supplant my more comfortable Level 2 breathing rate.
And midway into mile one, Level 3 breathing took over.

Experience has taught me that if this happens, I am not as strong as I need to be.
It was an unwelcome guest, and he overstayed his welcome.

Even when I got up on the relatively flat plain of Toll Gate Road, the accelerated breathing stayed with me.
The good news is I was not struggling, but I was not comfortable.
Midway through the final mile, I was working hard enough that I entertained the thought of stopping to walk for a minute or two.
All Runner got from Running Central was a silent glare for even allowing the thought to coalesce.
So we ran on.


By the end of the course, Runner was looking forward to stopping.
And as he rounded the last corner, a Ledecky finish seemed unlikely.
But, as has happened so many times before, even when there seemed to be no more Wheaties left in the bucket, a sprint was attempted.
It was feeble and, no doubt, pathetic to watch, but it was attempted.
And so another run is in the log.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

EDUCATIONAL FAILURE

The answer to my question has been answered.

Depending on one's mood, you could summarize this mornings six-mile run as a disaster or just informative.
I call it a Murphy run.
Almost anything that could go wrong - did.

The only thing that did not go wrong was that there were no physical breakdowns.
All tendons, ligaments, muscles, lungs, feet, etc. performed well.
Everything else?
Eh...

Although I got about five hours of sleep prior to the endeavor, apparently, it was not enough.
My Wheaties ran out at the beginning of Mile Three.
Not good.
Not sure I can blame the outcome on lack of rest.
Murphy's Law camped for an extended visit.

I could have turned around at that point and gone back to the car and saved myself a few minutes.
But time was not really a factor.
I just wanted to run (as in, RUN) the whole course without having to walk because of some  physical weakness on my part.
Fail.
I had to walk in Mile Three (as mentioned), Mile Four, Mile Five, and Mile Six.

These walks were each about two minutes in duration.
They were because of a lack of strength, which manifested itself in Level Three breathing early in the party and inability to recover to Level Two breathing even on downhill sections.

This was disappointing because as a result of last weeks difficult - though more successful -  performance, I purposely cut back on my weight workouts this week.
My leg work was reduced by half, and I cut my workouts from four to three.
Apparently, that still took too much of me to share with my running.

It seems that the amount of strength/effort to run six miles is so close to my maximum overall capability that the slightest deviation from my ideal effort margin prior to a run is fatal to my running capacity.
This makes me seem a bit fragile. (but I AM rather old....)
Humph.

In addition to my general weakness today, a biological imperative interjected itself midway into Mile three.  (more Murphy...)
Fortunately, there was a construction site on the course, from which I borrowed a handy portable plastic booth for a minute or two, to correct the situation.
This problem was successfully eliminated, in spite of adding another unplanned stop.


So, today's jaunt has provided answers to two questions:  
1  Can I run the six-mile Cotton Row Race course?
       Yes, sort of, sometimes, under ideal circumstances.
2  Can I run the Cotton Row 10k race, in four weeks or so.
     No.
Thus, next week I will return to my previous 3.6 mile uphill course.

In one sense, my gambit to run the long course was a success three times.
I did it as planned.
But today proved that I just need to dial back my running a bit.
I would rather run a little than not at all.
And it still is a delightful privilege to be able to run at all at my age.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

WEEK 3 - SIX-MILE COURSE

The Saturday morning six-mile jaunt was a qualified success.
The temperature was not ideal - 35 or so degrees, clear, with virtually no wind.
Not my favorite temperature for a run (or anything else, really).
This atmospheric environment required judicious layers to keep the body temperature in an optimal range.
All that remained was a nice, steady rain to throw me into a total snert.

But that did not happen.

The other qualifier on the project was lack of sleep.
I stayed up too late Friday night -until about 11 or so, and I did not get a nap that afternoon - to which I am accustomed (read: spoiled).
So I hit the bed with a deficit of a hour or two (depending on how one wants to score it)
And I woke up at 2:30 AM for no discernible reason.
I tried to go back to sleep, but succeeded only in imitating a rotisserie for an hour or two.
Somewhere around 4 AM I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew, my alarm was ever so gently mumbling that it was time to rise.

Which I did. 

I felt only slightly tired as I walked to the starting line, but I was wary.
This six-mile course has a way of finding your weaknesses and rubbing your face in them.

The first serious little hill shows up at the 2 mile mark.
It was there that I felt my lack of strength.
There were no specific parts complaining, just a general overall feeling of "I really kinda sorta don't want to do this."
This is NOT the sort of thing I want to hear before the half-way point in this race course.
So I fastened my seatbelt for a difficult slog for the rest of the hike.
And it was so.

I walked The Hill, as planned, and forced myself to resume running the last 200 feet or so of it, as I usually do.
But at this point I was wondering if I was going to be able to run the rest of the course (even though it is virtually all down hill from that point).
I had to stop for traffic at California Street for a few seconds, much to my dislike.
The last mile felt like two miles, and that I was dragging a 45 pound barbell plate along the pavement behind me by a rope.  

But I made it.
No unplanned stopping because of my physical failure.

As I walked back to my car, I was pondering how to alter my weight workouts to reduce my leg work.
Perhaps changing the work balance between weights and running would make the Saturday morning picnic a bit easier.


As I have found in my 20+ years of weight lifting and 17 years of running, is that it is easier to fine-tune the weight workouts than it is the running.
Weight workouts can be micro-tuned by changing exercise order, exercises, number of sets, number of reps, and number of workouts per week.
The only thing one can do with running is modify your pace, change the distance, or change the course for more or less elevation.
Over the years I have found and used a three-mile flat course (nearly so), a six-mile flat course, a three point six-mile hilly course, and a six-mile hilly course.

Once you are on a course, you are pretty much stuck with what you have chosen to run.

I love to run.
And I have learned to live with the rules of the game.
At my age, it is a distinct privilege to be able to run ANY distance at any speed.
I am blessed.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Round 2 - The Six-Mile Course

The saying goes, "if you play, you pay".
And it is true.
I feel "weak", sort of tired, stiff, and .... happy.
The happiness is drug-induced from the big shot of endorphins this morning.
All the other stuff is run-induced physical issues.

I did the six mile course again today.
It was cold - 48 degrees or so - so I had to fiddle with layers and whatnot.
I hate cold weather.
But I chose my layers carefully and they proved to be exactly appropriate to the task at hand.
The cold air was calm, so the wind chill was minimal.

As usual for this distance, I was scared and cautious.
I know I am pushing my limits.
I started out slowly, carefully, intent on getting all participants warmed up and happy for the extended journey.
And ten minutes into the party, I was daydreaming and enjoying the familiar scenery.
I felt a bit tired, for reasons I do not know.
And for this reason, my breathing - which is the element I use to pace myself - wanted to go from my comfortable rate of Level 2 to more intense Level 3, on each of the steeper portions of the course in the first three miles.
But it always settled back down.
I did not have to strain to keep my pace.

I walked The Hill at mile three, as planned.
The sky was clear and a million shades of blue as I topped The Hill at 5:50 AM or so, and bopped to the high point of the course a quarter mile away.
Then it was all down hill (well, mostly).

I crossed California Street and did not have to dodge a firetruck as I did last week.
In fact, there was very little traffic today.
This, on top of there being very little traffic at this time of day in downtown Huntsville.
Although I did not feel strong, all participants in the effort seemed reasonably happy to be part of the team.
The connective elements around my left knee, that began whining halfway through mile six last week, seemed to be content with the platter presented to them today.

As I approached the finish line (actually it is a three-inch dash of paint next to the curb with "5k" next to it), I wondered if I would have any Wheaties left to give for a final effort.
Consciously, I thought, "maybe not today".
But then I felt my tired self digging in and going marginally faster.
And for the last 100 yards or so, another Ledecky finish was in progress.
I still do not know where that comes from, but it is in me somewhere.

I was disappointed in myself that I let up my pace one full step before I passed the finish mark.
That was lazy.
And I am sure I could have given one more max step to the cause.
Next week.....

But, it was another wonderful experience.
Another privilege to do at my age.
The proof of the rarity of this event?
I was alone the entire way.
No one else, of any age, was out running on this course, at this time of day.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

WOW, A VISIT TO AN OLD FRIEND

I did it.
Wow.

The idea has been tickling my mind for the last three or four years.
Just every once in a while.
Could I do it?
Just once more?
But, I do not need any further ego boosts.
Not at my age.
But still, every few months the thought would come around.


"It" is the 10K Cotton Row race course.
I love that course.
I do not know why.
But, several years ago, after three or four failures to finish the full journey without having to walk for a minute or two, I decided that I could no longer do that course. (June 2011)
I was getting older, after all....


So, I came up with a four-mile practice course to continue running. 
I purposely included a substantial hill to make up for the shortened distance.
It included part of the Cotton Row course that I love.
Then I found that I had to walk for a minute or so on THAT course, so I dropped back to a 3.6 mile version of that course.
I will have to do some research to see when all of that happened.

But for the last year or so (?), I have been running this 3.6 mile loop to scratch my runners itch.
And it has kept me happy.
Sort of.

But in spite of this gradual contraction of my running capacity, the thought would still visit me from time to time; could I do the whole six-mile loop again?
So, this past Thursday, as I watched what the weather would be for my Saturday morning run, as I usually do, the thought came again - do you wanna try?

The weather this morning was partly cloudy, temp in the low 60s, slight breeze - perfect running weather.
Perfect 10k running weather.
And as I packed by duffle bag and ran through my mental checklist of the things I need to bring for my run, my mind was also running through a list of contingencies, should I choose to do the long course and I suffer a physical failure.
I have run the 10k course dozens of times.
I know every hill, every mile marker, every street, every turn, in this course.
If something breaks, I know what points are turn-around points.
If I turn around at mile marker two, that would equal a four-mile run - approximately what I have been doing lately.
Mile marker three is the half-way point (give or take - mostly give - a hundred yards or so), so it does not matter which way you go from that point.

You might as well keep going.
Plus, the 10k course is virtually all down-hill from the three mile point to the finish.


I was nervous - and a bit scared.
I pointed my car a different direction from the way I go to my short course.
In past years, I used to run the 10k course twice each week.

The route I took today to the 10k starting line was a very familiar one.
But I have not driven it in several years.
It was a deja vu moment.

After parking my car, I walked to the start line and began to run.
Slowly, carefully.
My usual non-warm-up warm-up.

Testing all the connections and support structures to make sure everybody was happy.
I was biting off a big chunk today.

No gradual build-up of distance to break-in the body in smaller steps.
I know better.
But Plan A was to go for the whole enchilada.
If something broke, I would walk, limp, run, or crawl, back to my car.
I had no time constraints other than my own little Saturday schedule.


Plan A strategy was to take it slow, keep my breathing at level two and finish without walking.
How fast I went was not a priority.

And it was so.
To my delight and amazement.

Early in mile six, Left Knee began to complain about the unfairness of life.
I blame this on my turning around to the right to see if there is a car coming from behind me.
I consciously told myself to not do this because of this very result.
It only happened a couple of times, but that was enough to cause a problem.
Sometimes adjusting my stride and concentrating on keeping my form very linear can mitigate some joint problems.
This was done and it did help some.


By that time, my breathing was up to an easy Level 3, but I did not care.
After the last left turn you can see where the finish line is, a half a mile away.
I have found that, at that point, you tend to forget about a lot of details in life and focus on getting to that little mark on the planet.
I knew at that point that, barring a major surprise catastrophe, I was going to finish Plan A.
It was a wow run.
Thank you, Jesus, for the privilege to be able to do this one more time.

Monday, October 31, 2016

AN INTERESTING PROGRESSION

A couple of you may find this of interest.

SOME BACKGROUND

I started lifting weights when I was 50 - 1995.
I started running when I was 54 - 1999.
I have done both off and on, or one or the other since then.
There have been periods when I did neither.
The lapses have mostly been dictated by my job situation.
I have never stopped doing either of them because I did not enjoy them.

I stopped doing weight workouts and running when I took a job as a janitor in 2012.
I found that, while the work was relatively easy, there was a lot of walking and plenty of pushing mops and large brooms for eight hours a night.
The initial effect the new job had on me was to make me tired.
I did not believe I could do both, so I stopped working out and running.

THE PROGRESSION IN 2016

When my job hours changed in January 2016, I immediately began doing my weight workouts and running again.
I assumed that I would not be as strong as I was when I stopped doing weight workouts, but I was surprised how weak I was.

Understand that I was doing weight lifting to maintain my strength rather than to build muscle, as I was trying to do when I was younger.
At my age (71) there is little hope of gaining any muscle mass.
The battle is to hang on to what little I have remaining.

These exercises were selected because they require little set-up, use my bodyweight for resistance, and are compound/full range movements.
Because pull-ups are so difficult for me, I can do only a few.
This causes my biceps to receive a smaller amount of reps compared to my triceps and other areas.
So I added standing barbell curls to give some added work volume for my arms.

My point of reference was what I was doing in my last weight workout in February 2016.
My last workout was as follows:

Crunch 30 repetitions
Pull-up 6.5
Push-up 12
Standing Heel raise 60
Standing barbell curl 16 x 40 pounds

I count a half a repetition or incomplete movement as a half a rep for more accurate statistical analysis of my work load.

My first workout in April 2016 after I quit my job was as follows:

Crunch 30
Pull-up 4
Push-up 6
Standing Heel raise 50
Standing barbell curl 16 x 40 pounds
Squat (no extra weight) 20

PUSH-UPS

I was surprised by my poor push-up performance, which had fallen to almost half in just two months.
The next workout, the following day, I did 10.
The following week I was up to 12 and stayed there for about a month.
Then in May I did 14.
Two weeks later I did 16.

In July, I felt like I could do more, so I began doing two sets of each exercise.
The first two-set session I did 14 and 10 reps of push-ups.
I bounced around between 14 and 16 reps on the first set and 12 and 15 on the second set for the next three weeks.
Then on August 18 I did 18 push-ups on the first set and 16 on the second set.
I fluctuated between 18 and 12 for the two sets for the next eight weeks or so.
Then on September 23 I did 20 push-ups on the first set and 16 on the second set.
Since then my push-ups have varied between 18 and 14 repetitions for the two sets.
On October 26 it did 20 reps on my first set, then 17 and 14.
An average reduction as the muscles fatigue.

STANDING BARBELL CURLS

Standing barbell curls demonstrate another interesting progression.
I started doing them to provide a better balance of work volume for my arms.
They are one of my weakest areas.
In February I did one set of 16 with 40 pounds in my last workout before stopping for six weeks.
When I restarted my weight workouts in April I did 15 reps with 40 pounds – almost no loss of strength.
The next day I did 17 reps with 40 pounds.
The following week I completed 18 reps.
The following week I did 20.
Two days later I did 21.
A month later – June - I did 22 reps.
The following month I completed 23 reps with the 40 pound weight.

At the end of July I started doing two sets of each exercise.
My reps dropped to 21 for the first set and to 17 for the second – same weight both sets.
By the beginning of August my reps were holding at 20 – 21 for both sets.

The first week in September I increased my weight to 50 pounds.
I did 15 reps the first set and 11.5 for the second, an expected decrease.
The following week I was doing 14 and 14 reps.
In October first set reps increased to 16 and second set reps stayed at 14.

OTHER EXERCISES

In September I decided to add some variety to my exercises.
I replaced push-ups with bench dips and pull-ups with bent barbell rows using 135 pounds in the Wednesday workout.
My first workout with these new exercises produced the following:
BB Bent Row 20 x 135, 20 x 135
Bench dip 24 reps, 22 reps (partial bodyweight = 110 pounds)

This change in exercises has had the effect of improving my push-ups a little.
Push -ups are holding at around 18 and 16 reps.
Bench dips are up to 26 and 24 reps.
At this rate I will be doing 30 reps soon.

Since I prefer to hold my high rep exercises to a maximum of about 20, I may have to consider replacing bench dips with parallel bar dips.
Which has the effect of increasing the weight, which will decrease the reps.
I do not like parallel bar dips as much because they seem to not work the chest as much and work the triceps more, because of the angles of the range of motion involved.
But the variation will be useful in rounding out my “development” - such as it is.

As of mid-October 2016 I have increased my sets to three per exercise.
The downside of increasing the number of sets is it takes more time – about 15 more minutes per session with these exercises.
After just a couple of three-set workouts, I am surprised at how easily my system has accommodated the increased work volume.
I do not feel tired, and only slightly sore a day or two after the workouts.
The downside is this added volume may make it easier to overtrain.
I will have to watch my reps.
If my reps begin to drop, it is an indicator that I am overtrained and need to take some days off.

To be continued…..


Saturday, October 22, 2016

BALANCING THE FITNESS LOAD

Balancing the Fitness Load

I am a planner.
Almost everything I do is part of a plan.
When I started lifting weights in 1985, I recorded my sets, reps, weights, dates, and exercises.
Some of this I picked up from reading several magazines and online sites on exercise.
They taught that progress came in spoonfuls and fractions of an inch over time.

Visible changes were difficult to see in the short run.
Some of my interest in recording data was my genetic disposition to plan everything out.
I assumed that it would be useful to know my physical baseline to be able to see if the exercising was doing any good.

2016 has been an interesting year for my weight lifting.
I started out just trying to maintain what strength and mass I had left.
Aging is not fun to watch on oneself.
The normal progression - or rather, regression - is to lose strength and mass as the years progress past the age of 40 or 50.
And I have experienced this slow decline.
I have fought it kicking and screaming the whole way, as much as I could.

And one more thing - as you age, your body takes longer to recover from exercise - both after each set during the workout, and after each workout session.

So.... I set my exercise program to be simple to do.
It consisted of simple compound exercises that mostly used my bodyweight as resistance.
One set of each exercise, three days a week, and a run on Saturday morning, mainly because I love running.
The exercises were:  push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, and standing barbell curls.
All upper body exercises.

My leg work consisted of my hill run each Saturday morning.

But gradually my body became accustomed to the work load, and I found myself seeking more work.
So, I increased my exercise to two sets.  (I will present more details of this progression in another blog post)
Soon, I was craving more work, and went up to three sets of these same four exercises
Then, I felt that I needed to find some alternate exercises to work these same areas of my body.
So some workouts stayed the same and other workouts involved different exercises.
Then I decided to add some leg work to compliment my running.


All of this culminated in the inclusion of deadlifts into my exercise plan.
Deadlifts are, along with squats, an exercise I love to hate.
They are hard work, and involve almost your entire body.
They call into service your thighs, back, shoulders, chest and arms.

They require strict form and, if done incorrectly, you can injure yourself.
So it was with some caution and concern that I scheduled three sets of deadlifts in my Friday workout.
I kept the weight to 95 pounds to break myself in to this new exercise.
The concern had to do with my recovery time - how long would it take my body to recover from this new (new in this year - I have done them before with more weight) exercise, and would it adversely affect my run.


I wrote all of this to write this.....
I had a fantastic run this morning.
When I first started out, my left hip and knee were acting like they wanted to collapse with each step.

I was concerned that I would have to cancel my run if things did not improve.
It took about a quarter of a mile in the 40 degree darkness for things to sort themselves out.
But eventually everybody got happy.
It was in the darkest parts of the road that I realized that I had a big full moon to light the way for me.
Thus, I did not need the little flash light I had in my hand JIC.


As I started up the steepest part of the hill, I found myself running slower than I could have.
I call it passive running.
Just bopping along at a certain pace because it is comfortable.
This is instead of putting just a bit more effort into your stride and push against your capability.
I called to mind the mindset of my new athletic object of admiration, Katie Ledecky, who pushes herself every lap of every day of practice, so she can win races.

I am not trying to win any races these days, but I am trying to challenge myself.
So I put a little more effort into my run today.
Just a little.
I was mindful of my heavy workout yesterday.
Would any extra effort empty my bowl of Wheaties before I reached the end of my course?

I decided to push this a bit.
To my surprise, I felt strong - as evidenced by my level 2 breathing the whole way.
I pushed my pace both up the hill and down the hill to the end.
I was able to push hard all of the last quarter mile of my course and sprint the last 200 feet or so.

Another Ledecky finish.
Wow.