DO YOUR RUN OR WALK AND SEE THE SUNRISE
No suggestion conjures up more fixed feelings than that of an early morning workout. Seeing the sunrise at the beach while walking or running always sounds good the night before, especially if you're considering it with an adult beverage in your hand and a few more under your belt. Come 5:00 AM when that alarm goes off, the idea of going for a run ranks right up there with your idea of getting rid of that Wasp nest by whacking it with a tennis racket.
Making a commitment to run or walk in the early AM is a recipe for abject failure. It ain't gonna happen! Rather than pre-planning a whole new routine, try simply committing to do it one time, period. Better yet, find some like minded soul willing to give it one shot and agree to meet at a prearranged time and place. It is only after experiencing the beauty of sun rise over the ocean and all the things that happen before most people wake that you can even BEGIN to think about doing it regularly. Chances might be that you never do it again but I'm betting that won't be the case.
By now, you'd have to be completely oblivious to what's going on in the world of fitness and health to not know how important strength training is. It is necessary for everyone who wants to lead a healthy, injury free life. It is ESPECIALLY important to those of us who've reached the dreaded "middle age" territory.
Someone contemplating the need to add weight or strength training to their routine immediately envisions a gym filled with men resembling an NFL linebacker making loud, otherworldly noises while raising a prodigious amount of iron plates. Visions of some insanely fit person putting you through a workout worthy of an Olympian followed by a week of being so sore, you look like a character from "Night of the Living Dead" trying to walk fills your mind. Even worse, just walking into a gym means you'll be accosted by a salesman that should be selling used cars.
Forget all that, all you have to do is knock out a pushup. Notice I said A pushup. Truth be told, a pushup is one of the most effective exercises known and if you haven't done any in a while, they're not as easy as you remember from 7th grade gym class. A pushup brings into play numerous muscle groups in your chest, shoulders and triceps. Further, by maintaining good form, you are giving your core muscles in your abs, back and legs a super workout. To do this little ditty, you need go nowhere other than your home. If you're worried about your teenage son laughing at you, do it on your bedroom floor...with the door locked. If you can't do them the "official" way, do them from your knees. Who cares, no one can see you! There are many other body-weight exercises that can be done at home with little or no equipment but start with the good old, all american pushup.
This one gets me. I have a tendency to eat anything that doesn't eat me first...in LARGE quantities. Sometimes I have this out-of-body experience where I witnessing myself stuffing my gob while thinking to myself, "good heavens, that food isn't even touching the sides as he swallows it". When I first started running, one of the appeals was the presumption that a runner could eat anything without having to worry. My favorite theory from those days said that anyone capable of running a marathon was pretty much immune to any form of heart disease. Modern science has since set us straight but correcting all these bad but enjoyable eating habits has become a real challenge. Every now and again, I commit to "eating healthy" which means eating NOTHING that I like while washing it down with all manners of fluid containing no alcohol or sugar which is EVERYTHING I like. Needless to say, it doesn't take long before I walk into a bar or restaurant minus my self control and soon utter words to the affect of "what's holding up that pizza and fries, I'm almost done with my Nachos" while experiencing a near panic when I hear the bar tender say "I think we're running out of beer".
Doing a 180 in the eating department and sticking with it is a challenge I'm not up to. What I do find that can work is simply picking one or two habits that can be reduced or eliminated and aiming for that. I've always felt that one day, modern science was going to announce that vitamins are bad for us and should be avoided at all costs. While I'm still holding out hope for that, I think I might benefit from sampling a vitamin or two. So as not to shock my system, I've introduced nutrition gradually and I've found that drinking smoothies containing copious amounts of fruit along with a protein supplement is an easy way of doing something right for myself. Even if I resort to eating like a 5 year old at a birthday party the rest of the day, I've accomplished something. The hope, of course, is that that one healthy habit convinces me that there is benefit is trying something else. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking with it.
The list goes on and on but the point to all this is that the only commitment you need to make to yourself is that of being open to trying new things that complement your healthy life style and trying those things without any thought other than "hey, I want to try this". If you try it and hate it so what, you tried. On the other hand, you might find you like it. Kinda like my mother used to say about trying Brussel Sprouts.
Those of us on the selling floor will hear a lot of comments, observations and complaints but without a doubt, the most common statement will relate to color as in “what’s up with these shoes”? Walk into any store that sells running shoes, be it a big box giant or an independent running establishment like Miles Ahead and the first thing that you notice is color!…Lots of it. The selling wall resembles a jelly bean jar. We hear you. In my almost 40 years of running, I can never recall the variety of bold colors and exotic design. The irony to this expansive mass of color is the fact that if someone is looking for a plain, white shoe, you’re out of luck. They’ve come up with colors that don’t even have names but should you want a basic color, oh well. I suppose you could make a case that an all-white shoe will get dirty quicker but truth be told, I suspect the reason is more to the fact that white is boring. That’s a word that no shoe brand wants associated with their product. The industry is hard at work pursuing the age demographic that every business covets, the kids. It doesn’t matter that we ancients have more disposable income. Kids want color and flash, brands wants kids wearing their product, older runners better get used to it. Look at the bright side; if you’re worried about standing out if you wear flashy shoes, you’d probably stand out more if you didn’t!
The other big change we’ve seen in recent years is the basic design of the shoes themselves. When the running boom took place back in the 70’s, it was thought that the shoes had to be attached to an elevated platform designed to dampen the shock of the foot strike. Made sense, right? We ambled along blissfully under the conception that we were protecting our most vulnerable body part, our knees. Next thing you know, some guy writes a book about a tribe of Mexican Indians who run unheard of distances daily in leather sandals and get this, they never get hurt! The author then postulates that the reason so many of us get hurt is BECAUSE of these over-stuffed shoes and that all of us should learn to run as we would if barefoot. A simple slab of rubber for protection is all we need to run safer, faster and longer. Simply drink the cool-aide, adios your Kayanos, squeeze into some Vibrams and sure as Bob’s your uncle, you’re in running Nirvana!
Well, after making every sports podiatrist in the western world rich, people came to realize that barefoot running was NOT the answer to injury free running. While there were runners who benefited from the switch and have been happy with this new style, many others found that while their knees may have benefitted from this minimal style, other parts of their body didn’t. Injuries to feet and ankles proliferated. Sure, we weren’t designed to run with the heel-striking pattern traditional running shoes caused but we weren’t designed to run on concrete and asphalt either. Back to the drawing board.
If you’ve been in Miles Ahead within the last 6 months or so, you’ve probably noticed some shoes that more resemble moon boots. These oddities are from a brand called HOKA ONE ONE. They are at the forefront of a trend that is the polar opposite of the minimalist shoe. These shoes appear to sit on a mountain of foam and at first glance, they seem like their weight should be quoted in pounds, not grams. It’s fair to say that this is a very strange looking shoe.
At closer glance however, the concept has a lot of merit. Developed initially by and for ultra marathoners, the large foam platform is designed to absorb almost all the shock caused by the heel strike. Further, by examining the components of these shoes, you see that your foot is cradled in the shoe so your height off the ground is not nearly what it appears to be. It also borrowed a concept from the barefoot trend of having your heel height much lower to the ground than a traditional shoe. We refer to the “drop” in a shoe as being the height difference in millimeters between the heel and the forefoot. A traditional shoe might have a 10 or 12 millimeter drop while a minimalist shoe would be 0 or 2. These Hokas have a drop of 4 or 6. This lower drop encourages a more mid-foot strike as opposed to a heel strike. This is a more efficient stride that reduces shock to the body but doesn’t shift it to other vulnerable areas of the foot and lower leg. Oh yea, one more thing, the lightness of these shoes is astonishing. If you haven’t tried one of these on, you owe it to yourself to do so. Admittedly, these things aren’t going to win any fashion contests but they may save your knees.
Let’s summarize all this by saying that no “one” thing will work for and appeal to everyone. Any shoe company or retailer that tells you differently is fibbing. Change is inevitable. Companies must continually update styles, colors and technology to stay relevant. When considering a change to your running shoes, it’s wise to do some research and talk to your running shoe sellers in person. What may work for your best friend might not work for you. Only a fair and thorough assessment of your running style, foot and arch profile and goals hoped for with the change will reduce your chances of getting injured. There’s a lot to be said for sticking with what works but hey, we’re human, sometimes change is fun. Unfortunately, the expertise at Miles Ahead can only go so far and while we feel your pain, we can’t tell you when they’re going to come out with an all white shoe. What the heck, buy that chartreuse trainer with the neon laces and enjoy the looks you get on the boards. Hey, at least they’re looking!
Those lucky enough to attend heard Dr. Connors speak about the prevention and treatment of the most common running injuries we all encounter from time to time. The point was well made that being able to identify an injury at it's initial stage will allow the athlete to understand and treat the issue before it becomes a chronic problem thus minimizing down time and more complicated cures.
Rather than recounting the various injuries discussed, I wanted to highlight a couple of key points Doctor Connors made that are meaningful to all of us.
Many injuries begin with some form of musculature imbalance. Put another way, we have reciprocating muscle groups that collaborate to allow us to complete the movement in an efficient manner. Those groups are each intended to carry a certain % of the work load, no more, no less. When one of those groups doesn't carry it's intended weight, the others have to pick up the slack. Over time, this extra work will likely result in injury. In addition to getting hurt, we also run the risk of peripheral injury because the inefficiencies we're experiencing will begin to affect other areas.
In many cases, a physical therapist is brought in to assess our mechanics in an effort to identify the problem and to create a treatment protocol to strengthen the offending muscle group. Dr. Connors explained some of the more common imbalances but his message was clear that by working on our core strength, flexibility and balance BEFORE we have problems goes a long way in keeping us healthy. Dr. Connors emphasized how much time, effort and importance world class athletes give to their pre and post-race care. The stretching and strengthening aspects of their training are as important as the running. By prioritizing this prep work, they not only minimize the risk of injury but equally as important, they develop the means of performing with the maximum amount of efficiency.
While the professional athlete is surrounded by a team of therapists, coaches and trainers, we amateurs must rely largely on ourselves. A well designed lifting program that focuses primarily on multi function exercises will go along way towards building up our strength and lean body mass, aka muscle. By 'multi function', I mean exercises that bring into play a number of muscle groups. As an example, doing a simple push up brings into play a surprisingly large group of muscles. We work the chest and shoulders along with the all-important core. The effort of holding our body rigid while lifting ourselves from the ground fires up our abs, lower back and glutes. Doing a simple pushup requires all these muscle groups to get involved. On the other hand, sitting in a chest press machine requires only that we push the weighted bar away from ourselves so all the aforementioned muscle groups aren't brought into play to support and balance our body. Sure, we work the targeted area but we don't get the added benefits. There are numerous basic exercises that can be done with no added weights or equipment that over time will build our bodies into efficient engines.
Dr. Connors touched on another point that should ring loud and clear with all of us raising children involved in sports, the burn-out syndrome. Years ago, kids learned to play a particular sport largely by playing it at local parks and community gyms. Sure, there was Little League and other organized events but most of the time, you were playing the sport with kids in the neighborhood. If a kid chose to give more effort and priority to a particular sport, it was based on the simple desire to do so.
Nowadays, kids have the benefit of private coaching, specialty training centers, off-season leagues and other forms of coaching. If a parent can afford it, a child can have almost all the support noted earlier as being available to the pros. While this help might be the thing to get a young athlete to his potential best, it can also take the fun and enthusiasm out of the sport and make it a chore. A child blessed with all these advantages can begin to feel the pressure to excel not only for themselves but in addition, to not let their parents and family down. Throw into the equation the odds of a child getting a college scholarship or making the pros being somewhere in the neighborhood winning the lottery.
Dr. Connors reference to the above phenomena was not intended to vilify parents who want their kids to have every opportunity to succeed in athletics. Rather, the subject was brought up to point out why he has had to treat athletes in a significantly younger age group than past generations experienced. We as adults love to point out that kids can get away with almost any form of body stress that would put us in the hospital or worse. While 'youth' is a great benefit in avoiding or minimizing injuries, those same physical characteristics weren't made to endure all the stresses being put on them. Parents should closely monitor their young athletes relative to any aches or physical complaints they may be experiencing. Catching a potential injury in its initial stages will prevent chronic afflictions down the road.
The "burnout" I refer to comes when the sport a child participates in becomes so overwhelming in the time, discipline and personal sacrifice it requires that it loses the appeal that engendered the interest to begin with. Dedication to a sport teaches a child many things about team work, commitment and fair play but it comes with a price. Pressure to succeed comes from all angles, be it parents, coaches or trainers. Many kids simply don't have the coping skills to deal with these pressures. This can ultimately lead to a kid quitting the sport entirely as soon as the opportunity presents itself. I think it boils down to the simple axiom of letting kids be kids.
The other night, I decided to take a walk around my neighborhood in search of inspiration. As I pondered possible themes, it occurred to me that what I was doing would make a perfect subject, walking.
Australians refer to it as a "walkabout". The term was originally attributed to a rite of passage by young male Aborigines where they would go on a long journey in the wilderness seeking a connection to their ancestral past. Over time, the term became associated with the need to satisfy one's craving for the open road and the adventure to which it leads. For my own purposes, I came to define a walkabout as the simple need to get outside and walk somewhere.
Let me first say that a walkabout is not about raising one's heart rate to an aerobic level or trying to make it a workout. It's the simple act of walking, watching and thinking. You can do this at any time but I prefer to go on my walks at night. Everything seems different in the dark. By virtue of there being no light, you actually have to 'observe' what you're looking at. In addition, the night time sounds put a whole different perspective on otherwise familiar areas. All our senses become just a little bit more sharp at night.
Each of us has our own level of caution and evening walks necessitate an honest assessment of our surroundings with their requirements for maintaining safety. Risk is not part of the equation.
Over the years, my ramblings have taken me over many different paths and locations. I used to be very fond of night time walks on the Manasquan Bike Path. You would be very surprised how the ambient light allows you to see the path clearly, even when the moon is not full or otherwise shining. I also found a particular cemetery in my neighborhood that made for some wonderful walks in a very peaceful environ. I recently went on a spectacular full moon walk on a local golf course. These locales and routes won't appeal to everybody, nor should they. A walk around your block or into town may be all the adventure you need.
A walk is always fun with a partner and having someone with you does bring an element of safety for your journey. Having said that, a solitary saunter allows for some much needed reflection on what's going on in your life. It also means you can pick whatever route you want without having to clear it with your companion.
Another fun part of my walkabouts is being able to handle all the elements simply by dressing properly. I have gone out on nights with near zero temps and honking winds by choosing the right clothes. Being comfortable in those conditions is its own reward as I've managed to beat mother nature at her nastiest. Heading out for a walk as snow begins to fall is a treat.
Many of us have spent a lifetime reaching and maintaining a level of fitness that allows us to pursue many challenging goals but these walks should be all about using our fitness to relax and enjoy the moment. Being fit means you can handle everything the day throws at you and still have something left to get out at day's end.
Above all, be safe. Always trust your gut instincts when it comes to deciding where and how long to go. As much as it pains me to say this, having your phone with you just in case justifies having the darn thing with you.
Next time you find yourself sitting on your couch complaining about the nonsense on TV, do yourself a favor and take a walk. I guarantee you'll like it!