Saturday, July 28, 2018

The New Normal: Running Over 50

53 And Feeling Good!
It's funny how age sneaks up on you. I've been running for almost 35 years (man that in itself makes me feel old). Started when I was a college kid in 1984.  Really didn't get serious about trying to set PRs until my early 40s. Set my 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Marathon PRs when I was 42.

When you're in your 20s, the 40s seem really old. When you're in your 40s you realize that's not really old. You actually realize that you can be pretty competitive, even if it's just with yourself. If you check out the ages of many of the really good elite endurance runners, they're not in their 20s.

Then all the sudden you reach your 50s and the 20-year-olds seem like babies and you realize you're children are grown, you're now a grandfather and you're a parent again, but not for you kids but for your own parents. I've heard it called the "sandwich years." You're sandwiched between your adult kids still needing your support and guidance and your parents who now need assistance.

The 50s, however, is a great time. But just like when you were a teenager going through a growth spurt, you often feel awkward, confused, and out of place. Sometimes I forget that the runners I work with are 15-20 years younger than me. That is until I mention something like JJ from Good Times, Luke and Laura, or that the original One Day At A Time  TV show starred, Bonnie Franklin. Bonnie Who?

While I don't know that latest "in" movie or reality stars, recording artists, or socialites, I don't feel old.

Feeling and looking old are two different things, however. After turning 50, you experience little "reality moments" like when you find yourself sitting and watching TV one day, and you look down and, "OH MY GOD!" you're the person in the crepey skin ad! When? How? Why? You start googling franticly cures for crepey skin only to find that short of surgery and spending lots of money on snake oils, it's just a part of nature and heredity (thanks Mom and Dad).

Or better yet, you get that race finish line picture back and you realize your quad looks like a wrinkly balloon that's lost its air hanging off the side of of your thigh. It's almost like you've been cursed by the old gypsy women in the Stephen King novel, Thinner and you're slowly turning into a lizard.

I was sitting with my middle child one afternoon and I noticed her looking at my face. Then she says, "Dad, your skin is like leather." Then realizing that the comment may not have been that flattering, she follows up with...."Fine Italian leather." That one still makes me chuckle.

Or how about those mutant hairs that sprout on your ears! What's up with those?

So, once you get over the shock of the "new normal," you realize that it ain't so bad. Age, while it might start to show on the surface, really is more of a state of mind. Running in your 50s, 60s and above is just like any other thing in life. If you want to be successful and injury-free you have to put your mind to it and be committed. That's true of any age but maybe a little more so as a seasoned adult. The only difference is the approach to your training. As we get older, we have to  have to listen to our bodies and respond appropriately.

While you can still run long and keep a good pace, the focus of your running may change. Runners in their 50s, 60s and above often share with me that it's more about the experience and being with other runners. That sense of community and support. Runners really are one of the most inclusive and welcoming people I know. I had client (who is also a cyclist) tell me that when you visit a new running group, more than likely someone from that group will approach you, look you in the eye, smile, say hello, introduce him/herself and then introduce you to others in the group. This same client also shared that when you come to a new cycling group, if someone approaches you, there is no eye contact or hello. Their eyes immediately go to your bike and to checking out your equipment. I'm so glad I'm a runner.

Research shows more and more that runners who run their first marathon in their 50s tend to stick with endurance running and continue to do more full marathons or endurance runs. Runners who run their first marathon in their 20s or 30s, tend look at it as "one-n-done" and have less of an urge to do more. That's one reason why the over 50 group is one of the fastest growing groups in running today.

So, if you're in your 50s and new to running, it's not too late. And to those of you who've been running for years and are now in your 50's, you've got a lot a good running years ahead.

Keep the following tips in mind to keep you healthy and injury-free.
  • If you're a new runner, take it slow. Join a beginning running program. Check out the program before your sign up. Not all beginning running programs are for beginning runners. Programs for beginning runners should ease you into running, starting with short run segments of a couple of minutes mixed with walking segments and over the course of several weeks weaning you off the walking and increasing the length of the run segments. The focus should be on increasing endurance, learning good running form, and building your confidence as runner, not on pace or distance.
  • If you've been running for years and you're entering your 50s and 60s, you can still have ambitious goals and run those races you have on your bucket list, but respect the "new normal." Listen to your body. If your body is saying , "Uncle" take the day off, even if  your training plan says otherwise.  Incorporate more rest between runs to allow for proper recovery. Less weekly mileage can often reflect in faster race times and less injury. No need to keep high mileage weeks if you keep being sidelined with injury.
  • In addition to less weekly mileage, mix up your runs. Have a variety of runs, some short and easy, some hard and fast, some long. Research shows that runners that include a variety of runs in their weekly mix do better on race day than runners who either run all their runs easy or run all their runs hard. The reason has to do with adaptability. The bodies of runners who mix it up are better able to adapt to any situation or condition faced on race day than runners who don't mix it up.
  • Hydrate and fuel properly, before, during, and after your runs.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Stretching and Rolling: Important and Often Ignored

How many times have you finished that long run, hopped in the car, only to hobble out once you get home. Stretching. We all know we need to do it, but few of us ever do or do so on a consistent basis. The underlying benefit to stretching is flexibility. The more flexible you are, the less tight you are. The less tight you are, the less risk of injury. Stretching helps prepare your body for exercise as well as wind-down from exercise.

Pre-exercise stretches need to be comprised of dynamic stretches or "moving stretches." Dynamic stretching actively moves the body in similar movement patterns to those that will be used in the upcoming exercise. So for running, dynamic stretches could include a 5-minute brisk walk or slow easy jog. They could also include various warm-up running drills such as high-knee, butt kicks, skipping, side shuffles, etc.

Static or traditional stretch-n-hold stretches can be done after dynamic stretches (if a runner is still feeling tight), but static stretches are of better use after a run. I tell my runners to think of their muscles as taffy. If you take the taffy out of the fridge and try to manipulate it cold, then the candy will break. But if you let it warm-up some then when you try to stretch it, it will give and bend. Your muscles are very similar. If you try to do more traditional stretch-n-hold type stretches before a run without any type of warm-up, then you may actually pull a muscle or set yourself up for pulling a muscle during the run.

So, now you know to hold off on the static stretches until after your run, but which ones should you do and how should you do them?

The focus of this article is on post-exercise stretching. There are various theories how to do the following stretches, but what I've found to be pretty effective is to hold each stretch for 30-40 seconds. Never bounce into a stretch. Ease into it. Once you've acclimated to a particular distance in a stretch, then you can try extending the stretch a little further. Go only to the point of "feeling the stretch" which may feel a little uncomfortable, but never painful. NEVER stretch through pain. You many cause a problem that previously didn't exist or you may exacerbate an existing condition.

The following stretches are by no means the only effective stretches that can be done. These are several of the stretches I've found to be effective with myself and my runners.

Adductor muscles run along the inner thigh and help pull the legs toward your body. These muscles along with the outer thigh muscles (the Abductors) often get ignored strength-wise as well as when stretching. It's important to keep these muscles stretched and flexible as much as the more obvious running muscles such as the quads and hamstrings. Any one of the following three stretches is good for loosening up the adductors.
1. Sit with your legs stretched out to the side as far as possible. It's okay if your knees are slightly bent. Exhale as you slowly lean forward between your legs with your hands stretched out in front. Hold the stretch for 30-40 seconds, breathing evenly during the hold.
2. Lie on your back with your legs up in the air stretched out against a wall. Gradually increase the stretch between the legs. This is particularly effective after a long run in getting the blood that may have pooled in your legs recirculated helping to reduce inflammation.
3. This stretch not only helps stretch the adductors, but also the muscles in the groin and hip. Sit on your bottom with the soles of your feet touching. Grab your feet with your hands while placing your elbows on your knees. Use your elbows to gently press down on the insides of your knees to activate the stretch .

Often ignored, the Glute Medius or hip muscle is often the culprit when it comes to IT Band issues and/or Runner's Knee. A tight or weak glute medius can cause both conditions. This stretch is more subtle than the other stretches. Gravity does most of the work. Lean your right shoulder against a wall. Cross the right leg behind the left ankle. Then lean into the wall. You should feel a subtle stretch along the outside of the right hip and thigh. Repeat with your left side.
Overworked and/or tight quads can cause issues such as Patellar tendinitis which causes pain-to-the-touch below the knee.
1. To do this stretch, lie face down on a mat. Reach back with your left hand and grab your left foot. Gently pull your foot toward your buttocks. Repeat with the left side.
Note: This stretch can also be done standing, however, I've discovered a much better stretch when doing this laying down.

2. For a more advanced stretch, grab both feet at the same time pulling both feet toward the buttocks simultaneously.

Tight hamstrings and glutes are very common in runners. This can cause a domino effect of problems. Tight glutes can put more demands on the hamstrings which in turn puts more stress on the calves and so on all the way down to the plantar fascia. Keeping the glutes and hamstrings loose can help prevent a whole host of problems.
1. Research has shown that the traditional toe touch with the locked knees puts a great deal of stress on the lower back. An alternative is to place one foot on a step, wall, or car bumper. The position both hands in the fold of the leg. Looking straight ahead, slowly bend forward at the hip while at the same time pulling your toes toward you. This creates a great stretch along the hamstring without the stress on the lower back.
2. The knee hug is great for stretching the glutes. Cross your right knee over your extended left leg. Then hook your left arm around your right knee and gently pull your knee toward your chest. Repeat with the left knee and right arm.
3. This stretch is great for the hamstrings, glutes, and piriformis. Lie on your back. Bend both legs and then cross the right leg over the left knee. Reach through and grab the back of the upper left leg and gently pull it toward you. You'll feel the stretch in the hamstring and glute of the right leg. Repeat the process with the opposite leg.

Hip Flexors are one of the most overused muscle groups in the body. If you have an office job and sit most of the day, then you're flexing your hip flexors that entire time. Then go for a run after that? You can see where some problems might arise. Never stretching the hip flexors can result in a slight pelvic tilt putting stress on the lower back and causing a whole host of muscle issues.
1.  Bend down on a mat with your left knee bent and your right leg extended behind you. Place your left hand on the inside of your left foot. Your right hand should be about shoulders-width from the left hand.  Gently lean forward. You'll feel a slight stretch of the hamstring in the left leg, but the main purpose of this stretch is to open up and stretch the hip flexor of the right leg. Repeat the process with the left leg extended and the right leg bent.
2. A similar version of this stretch can be done by placing one foot on a wall or car bumper and leaning forward to stretch the opposite leg's hip flexor.

Tight lower legs can cause everything from pulled calf muscles, to Achilles Tendinitis, to plantar fasciitis. The following simple stretches can help prevent all of these issues.
1. Place the right foot perpendicular to your body. Extend your left leg out in front of you with your heel on the ground and your knee locked. Put your hands in the fold of your leg and gently bend forward while pulling your toes toward you. Repeat the process with the right leg extended.
2. Place the toe of your left foot  and both hands against a wall. Extend your right leg behind you as far back as you can while still keeping the heel on the ground. Repeat the process with the left leg extended.
3. Similar to #2, this stretch stretches the soleus (the deeper calf muscle). This stretch begins like #2, but instead of extending the right leg behind you, put the toe of your right shoe against the heel of the left foot. Then squat down as far as you can. You'll feel the stretch in the area of the Achilles Tendon of the right foot. Repeat the process with the left foot.
4. The plantar fascia is a fibrous band of tissue that runs from the heel of the foot to the ball of the foot. A tight  plantar fascia can often result in a sore heel, a sore ball of the foot or soreness anywhere in between. To stretch the plantar fascia, place your toes on the edge of a step. Hold onto a rail or use a broomstick for balance. Gently lower both heels below the horizon of the step. This stretch will also help loosen the Achilles Tendon as well as the calves.

The following stretch includes everything but the kitchen sink! This stretch will help to stretch the hamstrings, glutes, hips, calves, and Achilles Tendon. If you want bang for your buck, this stretch is for you.

To do the stretch, lie on your back with one leg in the air. Place a resistance tube, long towel, yoga strap, or belt around the raised foot. (I'm using a jump rope.) With the knee locked, gently pull the raised leg as far as you can while exhaling. To get even more out of this stretch, try slowly flexing and releasing the foot while the leg is extended.

Note: If you are new to this stretch and need a little more support, try placing the raised leg against a door frame. The flat leg will be laying through the doorway.)

Sometimes stretching just doesn't seem to do the trick. Adding a massage tool such as foam roller, a massage ball or a roller stick will be more effective. If tightness is due to a trigger point or "tight spot" within the muscle, elongating the muscle by stretching may not release this tension. A trigger point is the result of myofascia (connective tissue) adhering to the muscle, causing tension. You can often physically feel these spots in the muscle. Lying on a foam roller or massage ball to apply direct pressure on the tight spot will often help to relieve this tension. Lying on a foam roller, massage ball and moving the body back and forth across the tight spot is very effective too. A rolling stick can be used standing or sitting. Instead of lying on the stick using body weight to help increase pressure on the trigger point, you use the roller stick much like a baker's rolling pin by holding it in your hands and rolling back and forth across the tense area.

Massage tools such as foam rollers, massage balls, or roller sticks can also be used to loosen up any muscle groups. Runners may find it effective, if they are prone to tightness in a particular muscle group such as the calves, hamstrings, or quads, to "roll" them out before a run.

It's a good idea for runners to routinely use a combination of dynamic stretches, static stretches, and a variety of massage tools before and/or after running as "pre-hab" to help prevent injury.

Below are some great massage tools designed to enhance your stretching/massage routine!