The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 11: Older people shouldn’t exercise

Today’s myth is one I hope is something of the past, as recent research makes it quite clear that this myth is truly that. While we all probably know some elderly folks who seem pretty frail, delicate, and anything but athletic, the amount of badass strong senior citizens out there is growing. And while it’s probably unfair to compare my grandparents in their 90s to a 65-year-old marathoner, I can tell you that my grandparents were definitely not running marathons in their sixties. Or ever, actually. But I will tell you that my grandfather, who was active (a farmer) most of his entire life, didn’t become weak or frail until he was forced to quit farming and being outside much due to some other health issues. But the cool news is that the amount of masters athletes out there is growing, breaking records, kicking major ass, and taking name.

Some folks will suggest older folks protect their joints by not using them. Unfortunately, a body that isn’t used is naturally going to be weak and used to sitting around. We can all picture that old person sitting in a rocking chair, looking so delicate and ancient. That doesn’t have to be the way! A body in motion craves to be in motion. While it’s completely true that sometimes activities, intensity, and recovery will need to be adjusted as we age, there’s a ton of science backing up and supporting we be active our entire lives. In fact, some research suggest that exercising can have an anti-aging affect. Is sweating the fountain of youth?

Often non-impact and low-impact exercise has been recommended for older joints. There’s the common belief that older joints are fragile, and we need to be careful. While some folks may certainly have joint issues – cartilage, arthritis, other possible issues or aches – impact activities like running can be critical for staying healthy. The shock and vibrations high impact activities send through our body help with bone density. And some research shows that running will make an older person a more efficient walker – walking with the pep of someone decades younger. If you are already a runner, but perhaps struggling to deal with aging and how to adjust your training and goals, here are some helpful tips.

While running and cardio is good for us, there’s also a lot of evidence that strength training can do amazing things for our bodies as we age. This medical study has some very promising things to share about resistance training. While muscle mass typically declines as we age, strength training reduces the amount lost. This will help that individual feel stronger, have better balance and agility, and probably look and feel better in their skin. And more muscle will usually mean less body fat. Many studies suggest it is never too late to start strength training, and that while starting any new workout program takes some adjusting and some bumps along the way, a consistent strength training program can have incredible benefits.

So not only is there some pretty good evidence that exercise is good for an aging body, it is also good for the brain. Here’s an article suggesting that physical activity can slow the brain aging by 10 years! So not only may you have a strong and kick ass bod, capable of doing all kinds of things, you’ll have a brain to match it!

Running Injuries, Goals and the Gym

Berlin Marathon. Low mileage, lot's of time in the gym. Pretty good PR - 3:03:30.

Berlin Marathon. Low mileage, lot’s of time in the gym. Pretty good PR – 3:03:30.

It’s that fun time of year when there are literally dozens of races every weekend – from small 5Ks and 10Ks to some very large half marathons and marathons. The running community is filled with taper nerves, stories of recent race experiences, and reflections and goals for the new year. It’s a pretty awesome time to be a running coach and to watch the weeks and months of careful planning and training begin to pay off with some really incredible race finishes, personal records, and lessons learned.

I find that the journey can vary quite a bit per person. We are all different, and we adapt to training, goals and work load differently. I couldn’t help but notice while I was out for an 8-miler today how many runners I passed with medical tape, braces or bands on their body. It made me a little sad, angry, ad motivated to blog about it. In the non-running community, most people still assume running is bad for our knees. In fact, I cannot count the amount of times an acquaintance or total stranger says something negative about running and joints when they hear I run and coach runners. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

This isn’t to say that repetitive wear and tear doesn’t have consequences – cyclists, swimmers, dancers, tennis players – each sport has it’s own chronic injuries due to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints used repetitively. However, when done the right way, we actually usually stay far healthier and active when we use our body instead of sitting on our butts. Can running mess up knees? Sure. That will vary per athlete, their genetics, history, form, training practices, and overall strength. I come from the philosophy where most injuries are preventable, and most runners you see taped up simply didn’t train well. Usually they took on too much too soon (mileage or stress), or are incredibly imbalanced and could benefit from some serious strength training, cross training, stretching – or all of the above. Most injuries are preventable. Some obviously are not, and require immediate medical attention, and the diagnosis and advice should not be ignored.

Here’s the funny thing – most injured runners will willingly admit how much they are in pain, or how much their potential has been compromised, but yet they won’t take the necessary time off to rehab and recover. As a coach, I cannot help someone who isn’t willing to take the help. That may be the toughest part of my job. Knowing what needs to happen, but having an athlete unable to accept the work load, recovery, etc – to get there.

And so after witnessing all of those taped up runners today, I thought about myself and my running. I haven’t been injured (thankfully!) since 2012. I was forced to take 8 weeks off from running back then, and it was the worst two months ever. I swore to myself I would do what I could to avoid the injured list in the future. And so I finally began to take my own coaching advice. I also began to really listen and learn from my body. Dare I say, I began to train smart. Even when clocking 100-mile weeks while Ultra Marathon training in 2014, I quickly learned I needed to eliminate all speed work and simply focus on mileage. And when I shifted back to shorter and speedier goals, I cut mileage way down, and spent just as much time weight training as I did running.

In fact, that’s what struck me today. While training in 2016, my mileage was lower than most years in the past, ranging from 35-60 miles per week – including when marathon training. I’d cap my runs to 5X per week – no more, and 2 total rest days. I also spent a ton of time lifting heavy in the gym – upper and lower body – 2-3X per week for each. And for me, that combination lead to two of my three fastest marathons ever, within a 6-month span, and minimal aches and pains and no injuries.

And not only did the above combination work for me, I made myself be incredibly smart and conservative when hopping into any other races. Did I miss out on some incredible race opportunities this year in NYC? Absolutely. Did I have regrets or FOMO? Sure. And peer pressure is a bitch. But somehow I stuck to my guns, and my goals were clear. And so I didn’t add anything potentially harmful to the big goals.

Not every runner can spend hours in a gym. Or many simply don’t want to or refuse to prioritize their time. I get it. If you are very busy and love to run, you want to spend your free hour running – not in the weight room or on an elliptical. You want to be outside in the open air. I can totally relate. However, if you start to think about the longevity of your running career, and the specificity of your goals, you may start to view your training and choices a little differently.

So when you hit your off season, whenever that might be, I encourage you to take a hard look at your running and training history, and how your body has responded. Are you healthy? What hurts and why? Were your time goals achieved? How do you mentally feel? Listen, learn, and adapt.

Post-Marathon Blues

img_6945Post-marathon time is often a time of riding the high of your accomplishment, reflecting on what went wrong and what went right, resting those tired legs, and perhaps deciding to retire from said marathon distance or perusing for future races. You may also find yourself feeling a little lost without all those training miles, and perhaps still eating all those yummy carbs. It’s natural after your 26.2 mile journey to go through a few weeks of transition.

Despite your enthusiasm to get back out and running, allow your legs to rest. Even though you may feel decent, many little micro tears in your muscles are healing. Your body and brain will thank you for the break. A few weeks of rest or easy cross training is the best thing you can do for your legs.

Spend this time going over your marathon experience. There are lessons that can be learned from every marathon. I find the greatest lessons come from the marathons that disappoint than those that go according to plan. Mistakes are the greatest learning lessons, as long as you LEARN from them. Perhaps you didn’t take the proper taper, or you wore something new on race day and it backfired, you made poor fueling choices, or you abandoned your plan and took the early miles too fast – those are all common mistakes, and mistakes that shouldn’t be made twice.

The “off-season” can be a great time to work on your weaknesses. Strength training, rebooting your nutrition, shedding a few pounds, rehabbing a nagging injury, trying a new sport or hobby – don’t view this part of training as a bad thing, it’s the chance to improve.

If you are eager to sign up for a new race, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to recover and build some base mileage before hopping back into intense training. Being too eager can increase injury risk. Your body and brain both need to be on board – not just your brain. When searching for a race, think about what you loved about your recent one and what perhaps you wish it had. With all the race options these days, you are bound to find the perfect fit. When searching for your next race, think about your goals and how to find the perfect complement to your needs, goals and race-day dreams.

Ultra Update

The weeks and months leading up to a big race are sometimes the most exciting months you can experience. It’s like waiting for potential college acceptance letters to arrive in the mail, or the anticipation of a birthday party or Christmas for a child. However, unlike those exciting events, the weeks leading up to a goal race include lots of training, hard work, and focus. There is no sitting back and waiting for the big day. Instead, you are actively pursuing your goals.

Two years ago, when I was training for the Back on My Feet 20 in 24, fear of the unknown drove me to train. Having never attempted a 24-hour race before, the unknown can light a fire of fear under one’s ass. You expect race day to hurt, to be hard, and to be something you are hopefully prepared for – thanks to your training. This time around, I know my weaknesses in this kind of race. Perhaps I should be even more scared this time around because now I know how badly I can fall apart, but I am strangely confident in what needs to be done between now and July 19th. I know I need to put in a lot of work, and instead of fearing the pain and fatigue, I welcome it. I welcome the challenge of staying focused and of playing with hydration and fueling. Instead of being driven by fear, and I am driven by redemption.

Two years ago I was training like a reckless runner. Slamming my legs on the track once per week, powering through tempo runs once per week, clocking 50-mile weekends, and peaking at 80+ mile weeks. My body was stressed too hard too frequently. Aches and pains became an issue, especially in my left ankle. I would ice it or rest it for a day, and then take it for a spin on the track. For my body, it was simply too much. This time around, I am not on the track and am not running many tempo runs. My fastest miles have been on par with my slowest at the Philly Marathon. I have realized and learned from my own experiences that if I want my mileage to comfortably hit 80-100 mile weeks, I simply cannot be running any of those miles hard. The lesson here is that if we learn from our mistakes, those mistakes are worth making.

While I still have eight weeks before the big day to make progress, there’s obviously the chance that between now and then some aches and pains could creep back in. However, as of the day this blog goes up, I feel pretty darn good. No ankle pain, no heel pain, and the IT band that sometimes acts up seems to loosen and relax a few miles into my runs. It has taken me a long time, but I am finally looking at the challenge of an Ultra like an Ultra runner – not a mid-distance or marathon runner. I am hoping that mental shift and change in training is what will make the difference.

I encourage you to try new race distances and new challenges, but to also realize that every distance and challenge presents its own unique problems, requirements, and adaptions in your physical and mental training. This can be exciting, fun and fresh. It also requires some caution, trial and error.

Pushing Past Ourselves

635204713309974156Most runners have the same post-goal race process. While we recover, we analyze and go over moments that seem like a blur from the recent race. It’s our time to mentally process what we achieved, failed to achieve, and how to move forward.

In the days following the Philly Marathon, I was in something of a fog. Perhaps that was due to my immune system finally collapsing, and therefore battling a cold. My lead-like legs certainly were due to the beating I put them through over 26.2 miles, and my left IT Band made sure I was aware that it wasn’t happy. As my body slowly recovered from race day, and then took on a cold, my head had some time to wrap around just what happened during those 3 hours and 5 minutes I spent on the race course.

One of my team mates, when she saw my crazy negative split, asked me if that was a half marathon PR, achieved during the second half of my marathon. Her question got me thinking. No, it was not a PR for the Half Marathon, but it certainly was a fast second half. Her question got me thinking about myself as a runner, a human, and other PRs.

After some analyzing past race stats, I was reminded that some of my PRs were contained in larger race distances. For example, my 10K PR was the first 10K of the 10 MILE Broad Street Run in 2012. Yes folks, apparently I can run a 10K FASTER when I still have 4 miles to go than I can when towing the line for a 10K.

My question: why?!?

Sure, the elevation and weather are factors, but why is it that my PR for a 10K hasn’t happened at a 10K race? Clearly it’s mostly not solely physical. So, what’s going on in my head? And if something goes on in my head, does the same thing go on in YOUR head? This made me think about my clients and their goals. Why is it we sometimes struggle and other times we blow ourselves out of the water?

Perhaps mentally, it’s easy to put up a mental block against certain numbers and distances. Perhaps for me, when I wasn’t thinking about the possibility or option of a 10K PR in 2012(my mind was focused on the 10 MILE PR), my body and mind didn’t even register that a 10K PR would have to happen in order for the 10 mile PR to occur. Maybe we get in our way more than we are aware.

Another example of mental madness: As previously mentioned in past blogs, I struggled with speed this Spring. Getting my speed back after injury and rest was tough. Before the 2013 Broad Street Run in May, I struggled HARD to hit 7:00 miles during tempo runs. I remember feeling completely unprepared as I stepped up to the starting line. You know what I ran for 10 miles? 6:33s. No, it wasn’t my best 10 mile race, but I was so shocked and confused as to how I pulled that out of myself when I had struggled to clock 7:00 miles for a few miles at a time. Once again, how and where did that come from?

Unfortunately, I don’t know. I wish I had the answer.

I clearly remember my first marathon, where I went into it determined to set a BQ. Failure was not an option in my mind, and I didn’t have anything to compare my first marathon to. I didn’t doubt it, or even really think about how hard a BQ was for most people. I just went out and did it. Sure, it turned out I had above average running abilities, but I am also going to argue that sometimes ignorance is bliss. Knowledge is power, but sometimes being a know-it-all or a veteran means we can psych ourselves out, or “decide” before the gun goes off what we are capable of, instead of just going for it.

As I ponder over my most recent marathon, I am left wondering how I can knock down any preconceived limitations I have put on myself. And as a coach, how can I help other runners see past their perceptions of who they are as runners. Is there a way to combine the bliss of ignorance and the power of knowledge to create a mentally stronger athlete? Of course we all of our own limitations. I, for one, will most likely never win a marathon. However, who am I to say what “time” I am capable of? The future is unwritten. And that goes for you, too.

Bouncing Back

Liz Corkum 322Most runners and athletes will experience injury. Statistically, over 50% of runners deal with injuries every year. Injuries are hard to deal with, perhaps harder mentally than physically. Most runners don’t want to take time off, and will find pretty much any excuse to continue training. Coming back from time off is tough, but often time off is the answer.

Personally, I can relate to struggles with injuries. Taking time off mentally is hard. I find myself in fear of how much fitness I’ll lose, how hard it will be to come back, and often questioning whether I can be as strong as I was before the injury.

Once getting the green light to train again, the journey back is slow. What used to feel incredibly easy is suddenly extremely difficult. Have faith, it will get better. The key is to be patient with the process, and to remember that your body and mind need time to adapt after time off.

If you are like me, you will find the process of coming back extremely frustrating. However, when I feel angry, I remind myself that without the hard work, I can’t magically get back to peak performance. So, if you are also struggling to get back into peak performance, remind yourself to be patient, work hard, but also rebuild your training wisely.

When sitting on the sofa counts as training

img_6502-editLet’s face it, in order to achieve your race or fitness goals, you will have to put in the work. There is no magic way to cheat the system.

The good news is that when you have rest days, take them as rest days! Often, runners get into the routine of their training, and at some point it feels very strange to have days that are for rest. Force yourself to take them when scheduled. Remember, rest and recovery are part of training. That time off helps your body heal so that you are ready for the next workout.

When you have a rest day, sit on the couch guilt-free! Enjoy your day. If you find you must get some activity into your day, take a short and leisure walk.

Remember, the last thing you want to do is wind up mentally or physically burned out and overtrained. Take those schedules days off.