The great British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that we build our buildings and then they shape us. It remains to be seen how this house will shape me.
I wish I knew what makes one home come together easier than another. Most of ours have required some amount of renovation, which you hope produces the perfect blank canvas to launch the ideal interior design. It does not always work out that way.
Sometimes there’s rooms of furniture to be purchased, which should make for the perfect layout. Or maybe a home requires serious downsizing, which almost always leaves me with mostly perfect choices, and a few of something I should have gotten rid of but didn’t.
Design is definitely the process of solving problems.
I have realized that by delving into the world of interior design on a running blog has created two distinct audiences. It’s my husband’s fault. He encouraged me to write about the things I enjoy most when he said, “It’s your blog. You can write about anything you want.”
So for this (non-running) post, I thought we could document the evolution of one of the rooms in this house. For whatever reason they seem to be taking their dear sweet time to reach a conclusion, giving us the perfect excuse to tag along on their journey. Take our living room, for example.
Bodies were placed in Parlors when influenza ran rampant after World War I causing it to become known as the ‘Death Room’. The Ladies Home Journal suggested that with the return of socialization and happiness after the outbreak subsided, the room should be ‘livened’ up, and thus the term ‘Living Room’ came to be. This is the story of ours.
Design Rule No. 1: Deal with the elephant(s) first.
How wonderful when a room has a focal point – architectural windows, a brick wall, or grand fireplace. Focal points should stand out, although they should only be noticed after one has laid eyes on the one design element with the most dominance in the room (or, however many design elements of dominance one might possess).
There was no construction to be done to this room, so the most important decision was the furniture layout, including three elephants: an oversized armoire, a piano and a herd of wild horses.
We found the horses on the third floor of an antique store in New York City in 2000. Two strong men can barely lift them, and you can’t imagine the terror they’ve brought to the eyes of movers everywhere.
They’ve been in storage three times while we renovated, on a boat to Ecuador and back again, and have dominated a foyer, kitchen, and six living rooms during my lifetime. Finding the perfect spot for ‘the horses’ is one of the first decisions we make in every home. Sometimes a design element can become a burden.
The only time the horses resided in the foyer was in this house. We found the perfect round table for this perfectly square foyer, and that table became the best spot for the horses for several years to come.
We sold the round table before we left Ecuador and for a few years the only place for the horses was on the bottom shelf of the island in the kitchen (next to the pig who lived there first). It was not their most dominant years.
Design Rule No. 2: Be sure you can walk around the room.
We used the living room for storage while the rest of the house was being renovated. I had put the piano by the front windows where I thought it would remain forever. After renovations, I asked my husband to help me move it to the back of the room just to spot check how it would look there. I wasn’t sure that was perfect, so we moved it back to the front of the room, which confirmed it for me – it looked best at the back of the room. (Yes, he’s a saint.)
The horses found their perfect spot, the armoire started feeling more comfortable tucked away in the corner of the room, and positively amazingly – we could walk around the room.
Design Rule No. 3: Add the human touch.
Fabric, more than any other tactile element in design, has the ability to humanize our interiors.
Interiors by Karla J. Nielsen and David A. Taylor, McGraw-Hill
Fabric adds depth and texture to a monochromatic scheme, or it can create a dramatic, even theatrical design with intense colors or interesting patterns.
We bought the sofa and a pair of chairs to furnish our previous living room, which also included the same rug, cocktail ottoman, and all the same elephants from our current living room.
I love colorful rooms – whether multiple shades of the monochromatic scheme, or the expert combination of every shade on the color wheel – and if you can swathe the room in fabric? Even better.
When my son had an unavoidable meeting at work during my visit a couple of weeks ago, I searched out the nearest fabric store – and spent the entire day there. Most of my hunt revolved around fabric for the upstairs window seat cushions, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I had needed nothing at all. The hunt would have still lasted all day.
The Textile Discount Outlet in Chicago, Illinois has been in business for more than 30 years with over 13 rooms and 75,000 sq feet of fabric. I never made it to all 13 rooms, but spent a good deal of time in the upholstery room where every fabric was on sale for just $5/yard.
There were hundreds of full upholstery hides. I carried the green one around all day (on the top shelf between the red ones), but ultimately put it back since I couldn’t think of a thing to use it on.
These boxes held a gazillion million slip covers and pillow shams. I had to stand on my head several times to reach the bottom of the box, but eventually found two pillow covers for the living room sofa.
For this living room, we used a bold drapery color that’s repeated other places throughout the house, such as on all the doors, the chairs in the keeping room, the refrigerator, and even the ottoman under the horses.
The Berber Kammlah Baby Mac Ottoman by E.J. Victor is upholstered in shaved hair-on leather, which we always thought was black until we saw it in the direct sunlight of this living room.
It seemed to be the little things that pulled the colors of this room together – the blue plates on the wall, touches of orange in the flowers, vases, the chairs by the horses, and the miniature fish prints by the sofa. Then I realized it lacked a critical color – my favorite color, green. Plants, pillows and the green shagreen on the sconces by the fireplace helped solve the problem.
Some say true athletic development is not possible without periods of rest. Most of us would say just shoot me now. Then we learned about periodization.
Athletes can’t train the same way all the time. Some training programs incorporate this keep-the-body-guessing approach on a daily basis, but runners need only divide their season into distinct segments that includes time for base building and endurance, strengthening, speed-work, and maybe a taper before the target race.
Periodization also includes time for rest. And what pray tell does an athlete do during a period of rest?
There are the expected answers: fishing, golf, video games, reading, sitting on the beach, or even mass doses of bingo.
Hanley Ramirez from the Boston Red Socks spends his off time cooking, and Texas Rangers pitcher, Colby Lewis, drives Go-Karts on a track he set up in his back yard.
Professional athletes in every sport take some time off completely from their sport every year – usually two to six weeks, although Croix Sather (2012 world record holder for the solo self-sustained crossing of Badwater Ultramarathon) took a six-month break.
Bernard Legat, a Kenyan-American middle and long-distance runner and 5-time Olympian, says he gets “fat” during his time off – and we may as well not kid ourselves, we obviously lose some level of fitness. A planned break, however, is always better than a forced break (i.e., injury), and fitness is regained sooner than you may think after returning to training.
Greg McMillan says of this, “Science is discovering that the chemistry of the brain, the hormonal system and the immune system are compromised during hard training. Breaks rejuvenate these systems, allowing us to train better, more consistently and with more zeal across the next training plan.”
He put his own advice into practice by taking a month off after a marathon, and ran 2 minutes faster in a subsequent 15K than he had run it before. He was convinced the recovery phase was the critical component.
Rest and adequate recovery helps head off problems while the tell-tale signs of not taking these breaks are disrupted sleep, moodiness, chronic fatigue, poor concentration, a noticeable difference in appetite, a general lack of interest in other activities, and eventually injury.
A full week of rest fit nicely into my training schedule last week, so I took the land-based route to Chicago for a getaway to see my son, including a week of days sleeping past 6:30am, shopping for endless hours, long naps, and lovely dinners. Ahhh, rest.
It has been a year since my husband and I made the drastic decision to settle into one house forever. It’s a daunting word in my world. An endless or seemingly endless period of time. I’ve never found anything even slightly interesting about forever.
Plenty of past homes have been worthy of forever. The front door of our first condo in Chicago opened onto a wall of windows that overlooked the Sears Tower. The full east side of the apartment was a wall of windows overlooking Lake Michigan, while the west side overlooked the suburbs. It was breathtaking, and so was the job offer he got from a company in Florida.
When I was in school a few years ago, my 20-something classmates were just beginning to think about their future careers. The subject came up in class one afternoon.
Our instructor would give us the floor to say whatever came to mind after we had spent the week pushing ourselves to the very edge of our personal limits jumping off telephone poles, climbing the Alpine Tower blindfolded, or for me, forcing myself to hang upside down in a kayak for as long as I could hold my breath before escaping.
On this particular day, my classmates were admitting their fear of moving away to some unknown part of the earth. Hoping to relieve their concern, I talked about how exciting it is to move to a new city and to see the world. Trevor very politely spoke up after a bit of silence to say that some people may not be afraid to move across the country, while others (particularly those in our class) may find it terrifying to move down the street.
Here we were, a class full of adventure junkies, and what scared us most was as different as night and day. Move me a hundred times between now and eternity, just don’t leave me in one place.
My husband and I seemed ready for forever though. This is our favorite spot on earth. It’s never too hot, not too cold, but just cold enough. The views will sweep you off your feet – driving down the road, sitting at a red light, hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or in the parking lot at the grocery store.
It’s a quaint, little community. We complain about the tourists all summer, and when they flock in for the prettiest fall colors on earth. As unlikely as it may have seemed prior to this moment, however, this is home.
We also seemed to be ready to stop remodeling houses, although this one will clearly take us forever to finish.
If the weather is nice, we work outside – where there’s ivy to clear, dead trees to clean up, flower beds to be designed. If a limb breaks off anything, it goes into a vase of water and we wait to see if it will take root. After all, we have forever.
Our neighborhood is called ‘Ivy Hills’ by the locals, for good reason. After clearing the ivy from a hidden swan on the back patio last summer, I got the worst case of poison my doctor had ever seen. At the time of this writing, I have poison ivy again on my left shin, left arm, right toe, on my neck, under my chin, and on both sides of my face. Ivy, forever.
Mr. Boggs, Dudley and Bentley (left to right) on the stone wall by the patio – now clear of ivy.
If the weather’s bad, we work inside – where there’s still 8 doors, 12 windows, 2 columns, the master bath, and almost every ceiling in the house to be re-painted.
When decorating previous homes, I raced to finish every room (preferably in 3 weeks or less), and once a room was finished, rarely did anything change – not one piece of furniture moved, drapes never replaced, rarely one pillow changed seats.
This time my husband has encouraged me to take it slow, be patient, and enjoy the process.
Suddenly, there’s a seemingly endless amount of time to watch how the sun travels across the garden, to experiment with decorating the bookshelves, or finding the best spot in the room for a plant. . . the pillows have finally changed seats.
Forever is beginning to be a little less scary. In fact, forever can be quite pleasant indeed.
The second in a series of posts about what makes runners uniquely equipped to run. This discussion attempts to explain the physiological changes to the runner’s heart and address the endurance athlete’s normal anxieties as to whether these changes cause permanent damage.
A 10-15 minute read.
The heart’s four chambers function as a double-sided pump to circulate oxygen-rich blood to the body through a coordinated and normal rythym. It normally beats about 100,000 times in one day — about 35 million times in a year.
Blood enters the heart on the right – the right atrium to the right ventricle. Leaving the right ventricle, blood travels to the lungs to gather oxygen before entering the left atrium and finally to the left ventricle, which pumps the oxygen-rich blood through a maze of arteries to every cell in the body.
A normal resting heart rate (heart beats per minute while sitting or lying down) is around 60-100 beats per minute. Moderately active humans will likely have a resting heart rate similar to the rest of the population: 60-100 bpm. Professional Athletes and the very fit may have a resting heart beat as low as 40 bpm.
1) The resting heart rate of five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain was once recorded at 28 beats per minute.
2) A sudden increase in the athlete’s resting heart rate is a sure sign of working too hard: over-training, which will inevitably lead to injury, decreases in immune function, and increases the risk of disease.
3) When training is completely stopped the resting heart rate returns to your untrained heart rate within three to four weeks.
4) Factors that have little to do with your level of fitness will impact your heart rate, such as dehydration, heat, or pain. Medications, such as beta-blockers and some migraine medicines, caffeine, and stress will also affect heart-rate. Studies have shown that running by feel and doing the talk test is well correlated with target paces rather than relying on a heart rate monitoring device that can be frustratingly inaccurate in reporting data.
What happens to the body during exercise?
In strenuous exercise, just about every system in your body either focuses its efforts on helping the muscles do their work, or it shuts down.
For example, your heart beats faster during strenuous exercise so that it can pump more blood to the muscles, you breathe faster and deeper, and your stomach shuts down so it does not waste energy the muscles can’t use. (In addition to the stomach, blood is also diverted from the kidneys and liver in favor of the skeletal muscles.)
Runner’s Note: avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, prior to races. These drugs work by inhibiting the function of prostaglandins, compounds that plays a role in inflammation but also protects blood flow to the kidneys. Because blood flow is already decreased to the kidney during running, NSAIDS could further decrease blood flow, placing the kidneys at risk of potential injury. Tylenol or acetaminophen is a better choice since it relieves pain via a different mechanism.
If you are going to be exercising for more than a couple of minutes, your muscles need oxygen or they stop working. Just how much oxygen is used depends on how well your body gets blood to the muscles and how well the muscles extract oxygen from the blood.
During exercise, active muscles require as much as 20 times more oxygen instantaneously while the inactive muscles’ oxygen demands remain unchanged. Also, working muscles can take oxygen out of the blood three times better than resting muscles.
There is a limit, however, to how deeply you can breathe, the number of times you can breathe per minute, and the speed and frequency with which your heart muscle can contract and pump blood.
So the body’s response to exercise is: lung capacity increases (they become more efficient), heart chambers grow bigger, and heart muscles stronger. This means the blood carries more oxygen, and a greater volume of blood is pumped per beat (the stroke volume).
The Athlete’s Heart
A consequence of exercising more than an hour a day (or in excess of 5 hours per week) is Athlete’s Heart, a normal, physiological adaptation of the body to the stresses of physical conditioning and aerobic exercise.
Static training, such as strength training, is mostly anaerobic (the body does not rely on oxygen for performance), and only moderately taxes the heart.
Dynamic (aerobic) exercises, such as running, swimming, skiing, rowing, and cycling, rely on oxygen from the body and taxes the heart to produce the oxygen needed.
People diagnosed with athlete’s heart commonly display three signs that would indicate the condition: a slower than normal heartbeat (bradycardia) along with irregular rhythms, an enlarged heart (cardiomegaly), and the thickening of the muscular wall of the heart (Cardiac Hypertrophy), specifically the left ventricle (by approximately 15-20%), which pumps oxygenated blood to the aorta.
Both static and dynamic exercises cause the thickening of the left ventricular wall, however weight-lifting or resistance training causes the muscle to thicken to increase blood pressure necessary for anaerobic exercise, but does not create a more efficient stroke volume or lower the pulse rate. Combining a form of aerobic exercise and resistance training will, of course, show the benefits of an enlarged heart and lower pulse rate.
Athlete’s heart is not dangerous for athletes – although a nonathlete with the same symptoms may be found to have a serious cardiovascular disease. Nor is athlete’s heart the cause of sudden cardiac death during or shortly after a workout, which has instead been linked to a genetic disorder (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy).
The athlete’s heart will return to its normal size and all symptoms disappear with detraining, usually within 3-6 months.
The Athlete’s Heartbeat Anomaly
Up to 69 percent of aerobically trained athletes demonstrate Phasic Sinus Arrhythmia, a pulse that speeds and slows with respiration (what feels like a skip between beats).
Skipped heartbeats are usually premature heartbeats – one beat quickly follows another, and the resulting pause in the rhythm of your normal heartbeat is assumed to be a “skipped” beat. This benign rhythm discrepancy becomes more common as you become more fit, and temporarily disappears when you increase your heart rate with exercise.
Phasic Sinus Arrhythmia usually doesn’t indicate a problem unless accompanied by chest pain, light-headedness or other symptoms.
(Click here for more information on the Athlete’s Heart.)
Athletes = Heart Problems?
A significant number of heart attacks or sudden death in marathon runners have been reported over the years and it’s probably safe to say the news is unsettling to runners everywhere.
Subsequent studies have shown that unlike an enlarged heart caused by stress, heart disease or high blood pressure, the physiological remodeling of the athlete’s heart is generally beneficial and does not progress to heart failure.
What we hear most are that athletes show right ventricular dysfunction and elevated levels of cardiac troponin – biomarkers typically found in left ventricular failure – immediately following a race or long training run. Symptoms generally disappear, however, within 1 week post race.
A study of 114 world-class endurance athletes who had undergone uninterrupted exercise training over a 4- to 17-year period and competed in two to five consecutive Olympic Games demonstrated that long-term, high-intensity exercise training does not lead to cardiac dysfunction, or adverse clinical events (although one study found substantial heart chamber enlargement persisted in 20% of retired and deconditioned former elite athletes after 5 years, which has opened the question as to whether certain individuals experience permanent physiological changes. It is generally considered that more research is needed to determine possible predisposing factors for these individuals.)
Twenty amateur long-distance runners between the ages of 18 and 60, who were going to run in the Quebec City Marathon were evaluated for heart damage post-marathon. In half of the runners, researchers observed that the marathon prompted a decrease in left and right ventricular function with some experiencing swelling and reduced blood flow in the heart. All symptoms were temporary.
Dr. Eric Larose, of the Institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Québec (IUCPQ) in Canada, says that the heart muscle changes they observed were more common in runners who had lower fitness levels and who trained less – reaffirming that being less prepared or undertrained for the marathon has the potential to cause more damage to the body than for those who have adequately prepared through proper training for the distance.
Click here for more information about sudden cardiac arrest in athletes and for the American Heart Association (AHA) 12 point sudden cardiac death screening guidelines.
The first sentence in a 2006 comprehensive review on training (Midgley and McNaughton) reads, “The maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) has been suggested to be the single most important physiological capacity in determining endurance running performance.”
Numerous training programs for distance runners (and other endurance sports) have become fixated on the VO2max concept leaving us with the assumption that it must be directly tied to performance and fatigue. Some would say it is not.
VO2max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. It is measured in millilitres per kilogramme of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min), and has been used as a traditional measurement of endurance since the 1920s.
The amount of oxygen consumed to produce energy (and hence the rate at which you exhale carbon dioxide) increases as exercise continues. However, there is a maximum level of oxygen that can be consumed and even when exercise continues, oxygen consumption plateaus. At least this has been the thinking for many years.
Studies suggest this plateau phenomenon can only be identified in about 30% of tested subjects (Noakes 1998b; M. Doherty tell al 2002), and is seldom identified in children at all (Rowland 1993; Rowland and Cunningham 1992).
Nonetheless, some training programs focus almost exclusively on improving VO2max to improve performance even though studies show that VO2max does not change in elite runners and does not correlate with performance.
In one study by Smith and Donnell of untrained individuals, changes in VO2max over a 36 week training period substantially increased by 13.6%, but all of those gains were seen in the first 24 weeks of the study with no further increases during the final 12 weeks.
Paula Radcliffe’s VO2max was monitored from 1992 – 2003 (Jones 2006). Her training increased from 25-30 miles per week (with a VO2max of 72 at the time) to 120-160 miles per week, yet her VO2max did not change despite the change in volume and intensity of training.
Meanwhile, the study of a female Olympic level runner showed that while the athlete’s 3,000m time improved by 46 seconds, VO2max actually decreased from 72 ml/kg/min to 66 ml/kg/min (Jones, 1998).
Training Note:studies show VO2max values can improve with training but independently decrease with age. However, the degree of trainability affects VO2max widely; for example, conditioning may double VO2max in some individuals, and will never improve it at all in others (Bouchard, 1999). Also it has been shown that respiratory muscle training does not improve VO2max of triathletes and marathon runners (Amonette & Dupler 2002).
Dr. Timothy Noakes is a highly decorated and respected South African scientist, professor, runner and author (notably Lore of Running now in its fourth edition).
Dr. Noakes has challenged paradigms in the discipline of exercise physiology, including VO2max, where he introduced the concept of a central governor (located in the brain) that prevents the muscles from working at their maximum level for extended periods to protect the body (and more specifically the heart) from permanent damage or death.
The central governor regulates power output so that the task, or exercise is completed in the quickest, most efficient manner while maintaining a reserve of physical and mental capacity. In other words, Noakes contends the central governor acts as a regulator for exercise rather than exercise being limited by a person’s VO2max.
The concept that the central governor would be located in the brain, or concluding that it is actually the brain that restricts endurance has been one of the more contentious of Noakes’ conclusions (a topic we’ll cover extensively when this series reaches the brain).
But for the argument presented here, consider French free diver Stéphane Mifsud, who stayed underwater unaided for 11 minutes and 35 seconds in 2009 – a world record for breath-holding at the time, and one of several world records he holds. His lung capacity was measured at 10.5 litres, twice the capacity of most men.
He attributes his success in part to ignoring the overwhelming distress signals that force us to gasp long before we’re out of oxygen.
A quote from his website says, “Our minds have the power to destroy or push us beyond our limitations.”
Do the muscles fatigue and reduce their output because the body has reached its maximum potential to deliver oxygen? Does the heart force the muscles to reduce output because it senses a lack of blood flow (oxygen) and works to protect itself? Or, does the brain anticipate when the blood and oxygen supply to the heart is about to become inadequate and reduce the recruitment of the muscles causing exercise to diminish or cease (fatigue) before damage is incurred to the heart or skeletal muscles? Is our training dependent on the final answer to these questions?
To be a successful endurance athlete requires muscles with superior contractility that allows them to run very fast despite the limiting output of the heart.
Obviously oxygen is the universal currency of every athletic endeavor. Muscles require oxygen for the chemical reaction that converts food energy into motion, and the best athletes are those who use oxygen best.
If we agree that Noakes’ Central Governor Model is the accepted de facto model (in the absence of another indisputable approach), VO2max is not the only factor determining exercise performance.
Noakes suggests that VO2max is the result of two distinct physiological processes:
the maximum pumping capacity of the heart, which determines the peak rates that blood and oxygen can be transported to the exercising muscles, and
the athlete’s exercising muscles – where the best athletes are those whose muscles have superior contractility (the capacity of the muscle to contract or shorten forcefully).
The ability to process oxygen (VO2max) as a measurement of how fast you can run is not useful in isolation. How efficiently you put that oxygen to use is equally important.
Noakes offers a useful analogy: “supplying fuel at the same maximum rate to the engines of a Formula 1 racer and a family sedan would not eliminate the performance difference between the two. This would be due to limitations, not in the rate of fuel (oxygen) supply to the engine, but in other factors inherent in the engine (muscle) itself.”
Athletes with superior athletic ability have muscles with a superior capacity to generate force, which is essentially independent of the oxygen or fuel supply. Just as we suspected in our last discussion of the upper leg, it’s all about that bass.
Next up: Wooly Chaps and the Big Joint (the hip and knee).
High-intensity exercise may not lower blood pressure as effectively as moderate-intensity exercise. In one study, moderate exercise (jogging 2 miles a day) controlled high blood pressure so well that more than half the patients who had been taking drugs for the condition were able to discontinue their medication.
Studies show that yoga and tai chi, an ancient Chinese exercise involving slow, relaxing movements, may lower blood pressure almost as well as moderate-intensity aerobic exercises.
Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise on most — if not all — days.
Benefits of aerobic exercise include cancer prevention (including colon, breast and prostate cancers), reduces the risks & symptoms associated with osteoporosis, diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, and helps improve cognitive function.
Everyone, especially people with high blood pressure, should breathe as normally as possible through exercise. Holding the breath increases blood pressure.
There is such a thing as a broken heart. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (TC), or broken heart syndrome, revolves around the weakening of the muscular portion of the heart that’s triggered by emotional stress presenting with the same symptoms as a heart attack: chest pain, shortness of breath, and sweating – although the arteries are completely clean, no blockages.
Patients respond to supportive care and to the same types of medicines used for patients with weak hearts. Typically the heart function begins to improve and is back to normal within six weeks.
Experts say the best recovery for a broken heart also includes yoga, meditation, talking to and socializing with friends, and exercise.
Endurance athletes, especially those with a family history of heart disease and other coronary risk factors, should not consider themselves immune to either sudden death or to coronary heart disease and should seek medical advice immediately if they develop any symptoms suggestive of ischemic heart disease. Physicians should not assume that “physically fit” marathon runners cannot have serious, life-threatening cardiac disease.
This post is meant for informational purposes only.
References not previously linked within this post:
It was in June of last year that I stumbled onto a post, “Are Marathons Stupid?” Three little words, and I was captured.
The author, Jon Waldron from therunnereclectic.com, quickly referenced an article by Christie Aschwanden that had been published a few days earlier on fivethirtyeight.com, “The 5K, Not The Marathon, Is The Ideal Race“. I had already read this article, and thought it was a lousy attempt to upsell the 5k.
Waldron had the perfect response: “But the problem I have with the piece and others like it is that it makes no serious attempt to really grapple with the reasons people choose to run hard events, or competitive events, or long, life-altering events, rather than convenient ones. People don’t run for no reason, they run for a variety of reasons, some simple and some complex, and like any other human behavior, people engage in it because they apply a calculus that convinces them that it’s worth it.”
The last 5k I ran (and at this point there have only been two in my life) was 7 years ago. I wrote about the experience: “Less than 10 minutes in, I was saying to myself, “Shit! This hurts. I hate this!” A few minutes later I had decided nothing was worth hurting that bad for. I would quit. I stepped off the course and stopped running. For the next few seconds, I tried to picture how I would unwind myself from this race. Walk back to the start? Walk to the finish? Good lord, how would that look. How long would that take? My husband was standing at the finish line waiting for me. Did it really hurt so bad that I couldn’t finish? No, it didn’t. I put my feet back on the course, stopped at the aid station for water and, cussed all the way to the finish line. . . in 3rd place for my age group.”
Almost every year I try to convince myself I should run a 5k. They must be great for improving speed. It’s a nice way to set realistic expectations for other races scheduled that year. It’s only 3 miles. I hate the 5k.
Last Saturday I ran a 5k. It set me back $15. There were no finish medals, no mile markers, no aid stations – although there were plenty of bagels, donuts, coffee, water, oranges and shirts for all. And I won a blueberry bush from the drawing at the end of the race.
My only training included testing a theory that riding my bicycle would fire up the fast twitch muscles as well as sprints at the track, so I’ve spent about one day each week cycling instead of running fast. Otherwise, I focused on maintaining fitness for a spring half marathon instead with 25-30 miles/week and one longish run of 10-12 miles. It’s been heavenly.
As race prep, I looked up the last 5k I ran (in 2010) and realized I had never recorded my finish time. And since it appears those race results have long ago been deleted from world history this took me to my very first 5k in 2008, which I finished in 24:19.
So there I stood at the starting line last Saturday morning hoping for a finish just one minute slower, but knowing I’d be happy with a two-minute gain over 9 years.
Maybe the 5k race strategy seems pretty simple. Run. Fast. Do. Not. Stop. There are other approaches.
Lauren Fleshman became an ambassador of sorts for the 5k. Her advice for running the perfect 5k goes like this:
“Try this next time: Run the first mile with your head, the second mile with your focus, and the third mile with your heart. In the first mile, you can’t let any emotion or excitement in at all. Start with a pace you are confident you can maintain and then relax a little bit more. Until you see that one mile marker, all you are allowed to think about is running smart. From 1-2 miles, focus on maintaining your form and start to look around you, taking a survey of which runners around you probably went out too hard, and which ones you should make your prey in the third mile. You are taking some time to strategize for the big battle, and you aren’t allowed to draw your sword until you pass the 2-mile marker! The last mile, start to pick off your victims.”
With the passing of time (old age), I’ve realized that if I can get my feet moving fast and then settle my heart rate back down by relaxing into the pace, I can maintain that pace for a while (however subjective that may be). On race day this translates into: start fast, settle in and feel good, momentarily crash just past midway, recover, and surge to the finish. Turns out it’s a viable strategy.
Rick Morris wrote “5k Race Strategy And Tactics” for Running Planet where he differentiates the 5k strategy based on the runner’s experience level:
“It has been drummed into our heads that we should always be conservative during the first mile of a 5K race so we are able to pick up the pace in the middle and last miles. But is that always good advice? Maybe not. There is evidence that competitive runners will usually perform better with a stronger start. Scientists at the University of New Hampshire studied 5K pacing strategy of eleven moderately trained women distance runners and found that the best performances were obtained when the athletes ran their first mile at between 3% and 6% faster than their average split times for the entire 5K race distance. Another study from South Africa that studied record breaking performances found that the first and last kilometers of most record breaking races were run significantly faster than the middle miles. Both of these studies seem to support the benefits of competitive runners running the first mile at a slightly faster pace. . .”
I survived my token 5k race of this year (decade?) with a finish time of 26.03. It felt pretty good to run faster than usual for the first mile. Things looked good when I made the turn at the halfway point, and then I nearly crashed on an uphill around mile 2. I had vowed not to stop and walk. I stopped and walked. Cussed when the 50-something woman ahead of me didn’t stop and walk. Recovered and surged to the finish.
It was the most miserable 26 minutes of this year.
Now that I have run the 5k race three times in my life I realize the length of the race is not commensurate with lessons learned.
In just 3 miles you can reach your limit, recover, and make a decision whether to continue or quit. . . “and just like any other human behavior, people engage in it because they apply a calculus that convinces them that it’s worth it.”
The first in a series of posts about what makes runners uniquely equipped to do what we love to do most. . . run.
The lower leg is the part of the lower limb that lies between the knee and the ankle. The thigh is between the hip and knee and the term “lower extremity” is used to describe the colloquial leg. For this discussion, the runner’s base is considered the upper leg, which begins at the hip and the Gluteus Maximus and continues to the knee.
In human anatomy the knee is the connecting line between the upper leg and the lower leg. This connection, and the resulting tension caused by its relationship between the two has caused the topic of the knee to be moved to another post. We’ll get a feel for the knee’s function as it relates to the upper leg, but delve into specific knee injuries another time.
Key Facts: The only bone in this region is the femur, the largest bone in the body. The femur’s head creates the ball of the ball-and-socket-style hip joint. The base of the femur makes up part of the knee.
Gluteus Maximus (the “glutes”): muscle located in the buttocks regarded as one of the strongest muscles in the human body. Responsible for movement of the hip and thigh, contributes to good running form and alignment. Standing up from a sitting position, climbing stairs, and staying in an erect position are all aided by the gluteus maximus.
Hamstrings: three muscles at the back of the thigh that affect hip and knee movement.
Quadriceps: the strongest and leanest muscles of the body – a four-muscle group at the front of the thigh that work to extend the knee and lower leg.
Knee: a pivot-like hinge joint that connects the bones in the upper and lower leg. It is the largest joint in the human body. The knee is where the femur in the upper leg meets the tibia and fibula bones of the lower leg. The patella, or kneecap, is at the center of the knee.
Tendons, ligaments, and protective elements, such as cartilage and bursa, connect and protect the bones to keep them in place and prevent them from grinding against each other while also allowing the knee joint to flex and twist slightly.
Why it hurts: The most common cause of a gluteus injury is stretching or straining one of the muscles beyond its normal range of motion – especially prominent with soccer, football, and baseball players who make sudden movements and overexert their legs during a play.
However, track events such as hurdles or the long jump, or a runner’s rapid acceleration (particularly up hills) can also increase the likelihood of a gluteal strain.
Excessive acute stress on a gluteal muscle can cause it to tear, which usually results in immediate pain and leg weakness.
Where it hurts: symptoms include numbness in the buttocks, hip and possibly the thigh down to the ankle with difficulty walking normally and rising from a seated position.
Prevention/Recovery: rest, cold/hot therapy, massage, and eventually strengthening exercises. According to a review in the November 2005 issue of “New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy,” a full squat and running on an incline require the greatest gluteus maximus function. Start slow and easy.
Test Your Strength:
30 Second Chair to Stand test: this test measures the ability to stand up from a seated position as many times as possible in a thirty-second period of time. Testing the number of times you can stand up in a thirty-second period helps assess strength, flexibility, pain, endurance, and progression of recovery.
Runner’s Note: according to the physique-oriented website Waist, Hips & Thighs, doing repeat sprints using starting blocks is the best way to build the gluteal muscles. If you’re hoping to avoid the over-emphasized glutes (aka “bubble butt”), focus on long, easy mileage rather than short, intense bursts of speed.
Why it hurts: also known as a pulled hamstring, is defined as an excessive stretch or tear of muscle fibers and related tissues. Hamstring injuries are common in athletes participating in many sports and are very difficult to treat and rehabilitate. Track and field athletes are particularly at risk, as hamstring injuries have been estimated to make up 29% of all injuries in sprinters.
Research proposes predisposing factors to injury include muscle weakness, muscle imbalance, poor flexibility, fatigue, inadequate warm up, poor neuromuscular control, and poor running technique. One of the few predisposing factors that most researchers agree upon, however, is previous hamstring injury. Brokett et al. (2004) stated that “the athletes most at risk of a hamstring strain are those with a previous history of such injury” and noted that 34% of the hamstring injuries were recurrences.”
Cameron et al. also found that 34% of injuries recur in the same season. Arnason et al. generalized these numbers, saying that previous injury was in itself an independent risk factor for re-injury. (Reference: Wikipedia)
Where it hurts:
Grade 1: Sensation of cramping or tightness and a slight pain when the muscles are stretched or contracted.
Grade 2: Immediate pain more severe than the pain of a grade one injury. It is confirmed by pain on stretch, swelling and contraction of the muscle.
Grade 3: A grade three hamstring strain is a severe injury. Immediate burning or stabbing pain, unable to walk without pain. The muscle is completely torn and there may be a large lump of muscle tissue above a depression where the tear is.
Prevention/Recovery: almost always, the hamstring strain occurs just before the lead foot hits the ground, when hamstring tension peaks to resist forward motion of the swinging leg. Incorporate agility and trunk stabilization exercises, stop and stretch during runs.
Avoid over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, which can interfere with tendon remodeling.
Deep tissue massage is better for recovery and pain.
It is usually possible to continue running through recovery.
Shorten your stride, increase cadence, and keep the pace slow.
If the injury is too painful to run, avoid prolonged wet-vest pool running. Although it is true pool running maintains aerobic capacity while recovering from injuries such as stress fractures, pool running fails to adequately stress the hamstrings since the resistance provided by the water forces the quads to pull the lead leg forward while the hamstrings are stressed only while pulling the leg back.
The natural function of the hamstrings is to fire eccentrically when they lengthen to stop forward motion of the lead leg. By failing to strengthen the hamstring eccentrically, pool therapy often results in rapid hamstring re-injury as soon as the runner attempts to run fast.
Test Your Flexibility:
Test it With: Toe Touches. To see if your ‘strings are supple enough for Deadlifts and Olympic lifts, put your feet together, bend over and touch your toes. Can’t reach? Back rounds when you do? Better loosen up.
Fix it With: Leg Lowering Pattern. Lie on your back with both legs in the air. Place a band around one foot, then lower your opposite leg, keeping the leg straight and core tight. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg. (Read more at Champions Are Made In The Off-Season.)
Runner’s Note: the glutes and hamstrings have far more fast-twitch muscle fibers than the quads, making them more powerful and explosive. If too much attention is placed on strengthening the quads, thereby creating an imbalance, the glutes and hamstrings will suffer. A lack of strength in the hamstrings compared with the strength in the quads can result in an unstable knee joint and assorted lower-body injuries.
The Marathoner vs The Sprinter
Why it hurts: As mentioned above with the hamstring movement, eccentric loading occurs when muscles lengthen and shorten at the same time. When we run, our quadriceps contracts when our foot touches the ground. This stabilizes our knee and stops us from collapsing. But even stabilized, our knee bends slightly, stretching our quadriceps as it shortens. This eccentric tug-of-war creates enormous tension on the quads.
Where it hurts: Athletes with quadriceps strains often complain of a “pulling” sensation in the front of the thigh. Pain, swelling, bruising and muscle tenderness may also occur. Its severity is categorized by the same grades as with the Hamstring injury.
Prevention/Recovery: a counterintuitive strategy for recovering from a quad injury was offered by Pete Magill in Runner’s World: Cure Quad Pain, Calf Pain, and Heavy Legs: “Running downhill can cure quad pain once a runner’s legs adapt to the eccentric overload caused by the activity,” says Beaverton, Oregon, coach and exercise scientist Tom Schwartz. “Initially, the soreness caused by downhill running can be quite harsh.
A parallel is the soreness caused by starting a new weight training regimen. Soreness is caused by the lowering of weights, which is the eccentric loading. Lifting weights, which is concentric loading, doesn’t cause soreness.”
Brisk downhill running increases the eccentric load on our quads, causing more muscle damage. The good news is that once our body repairs this damage, we’re left with quads that are pain-free, stronger and protected from further injury.
Although there is no substitute for real descent repeats, eccentric single-leg squats and lunges may also prepare the muscles for downhills.
Meghan Trainor declared, “I’m all about that bass, ‘Bout that bass, no treble, …”, and while runners everywhere train by the very beat of their heart, Meghan’s lyrics may be more true than we first thought.