Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Slow & Steady in Weight Lifting

Hip replacement surgery in 2002 ended my running career, so I started lifting weights (I still run 2 to 4 miles per week; I just can’t give it up completely).

In the past, weight lifting programs, like my running programs, ended with injuries. The previous episode ended in 1994 with an injured rotator cuff.

This time, however, I had learned a lesson from running – slow and steady really does win the race. I set each exercise at an initial weight I could lift easily for at least six repetitions. I determined to add weight in the smallest increment available to me; 1-1/4 lb plates. When possible I would add only one plate, sometimes it was necessary to add two plates to maintain symmetrical weight distribution.

Further slowing down the process, I kept each exercise at the new weight level until I could do fifteen repetitions. At that point another 1-1/4 lb plate was added.

I’ve done this for five years now without injury – the longest I’ve ever kept up a weight training regimen. And, the total weight per exercise has grown significantly.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Slow & Steady Really Does Win the Race

I started running programs many different times and they usually ended with a minor injury – typically to a knee or ankle.

Eventually, I learned that slow and steady really does win the race when it comes to developing an exercise program. When I again started running in 1994 I began with a walk/jog of about 1/2 mile. I went that distance everyday until I could jog the whole way. Then I added about 1/8 mile to the distance without increasing speed until I reached 2 miles. From that point on I added distance in increments of ¼ mile.

Soon, my speed increased and I didn’t realize it. I continued adding ¼ increments each week without thinking about speed until I reached seven miles per day. During this phase I also learned the value of good running shoes and elastic knee braces.

When I started getting some pain in my knees I was occasionally working with a personal trainer who was on staff at my then employer. He advised me to upgrade my running shoes, so I switched from $15 per pair sneakers to $120 per pair Nike Air shoes.

The pain disappeared for a number of weeks. It returned when I reached 5 miles per day. Then the trainer suggested knee braces. They completely solved the problem – no more pain. To this day I wear Nikes and knee braces when I run.

By the time I was up to seven miles per day I simply couldn’t devote more time to my weekday runs so I maintained seven mile runs on weekdays and continued increasing my Saturday runs until they reached 20 miles.

Finally, life intervened and a Judo injury ended my hope of running a marathon. But, before that happened, I was running 20 miles at 7 minutes per mile and never intentionally worked on increasing speed – it just happened as my fitness level improved.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Marine Corps Half Marathon

On 10/3/1998 I ran in the Marine Corps Half-Marathon at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, a 13 mile foot race around a course marked off within the USMC base.

From my home in Burlington, NC the base was a three hour drive so arriving at 7:00 AM for registration and warm-up required that I drag myself out of bed at 3:00 AM and hit the road at 4:00 AM. It was a good thing I did.

Finding Camp Lejeune was not a problem, and the Marines made entry to their base relatively hassle free by issuing a "Special Event" pass at the Main Gate to everyone declaring their intent to run in the race. However, I missed the turn immediately after the Main Gate and unintentionally toured the 1st half of the race course before finally asking for directions to the registration area.

Eventually, I arrived with time to spare, found the registration tables, collected my gratis pullover long sleeve shirt with my registration packet, and paid the modest $10.00 registration fee. At last I could relax, pin on number 422, and warm up for the start of the race.

With "ARMY" written boldly in Black & Gold across the chest of my Gray tee shirt I drew a few looks from curious Marines, but surprisingly few comments. I wore the shirt expecting to have some fun and receive a little good natured razzing. In that, I was disappointed. During the warm up period, no one harassed me for representing the Army (I left active duty in 1977, so I was stretching it a bit) and only a couple of respectful comments were made acknowledging my "colors".

Before this day, I had never competed in a foot race this long. In fact, only three 5K races (about 3 miles) were in my record. Prudently, I positioned myself at the rear of the pack.

If you have never seen the start of a long distance race, imagine a packed throng of adult humans completely covering what looks like a quarter mile of two lane highway. Suddenly, the entire throng starts running in one direction. From the rear of the pack, I faintly heard the starting buzzer. Many, including me, were unsure what the buzzer meant. But we all started running east, so the race must have begun.

Immediately, I started passing other runners; mostly senior citizens and women pushing baby carriages. I mean that. It is not a joke. At least three women started the race pushing those big wheeled strollers specially designed for joggers. One of them pushed twins! As I passed I kidded her about calculating a race handicap. She replied that they should divide her time by three.

The scenery along the first three miles was nice though boring. The roads were tree lined and I couldn’t see more than a few feet into the woods on either side of the road. Some of the young Marines kept things amusing by rushing into the woods, relieving themselves and rushing back into the pack. For those 1st three miles, this was a common form of entertainment. Later, I seldom saw it - but farther from the starting line we were more stretched out and I could see fewer runners.

While running through a barracks area somewhere near the 7th mile marker, two attractive young women Marines made a dash behind a large dumpsite dumpster accompanied by whoops from marines on the second floor of the barracks and interested stares from nearby runners (yes, me too).

My ARMY tee shirt started drawing comments from mile 4 onward. Aid stations, where volunteers hand runners water or Gatorade as they pass by, were positioned every two miles. One of the aid station volunteers at mile 4 saw my shirt and said "Here comes an old soldier. Give him some water." Now I wasn’t THAT old and I wasn't in that bad of shape either. But he meant well and I took no offence. Between miles 5 and 6 two young Marines ran along side me for awhile. One of them asked if I was an ARMY fan. I wasn't expecting this question because my shirt did not clearly indicate a connection to West Point. These Marines recognized the ARMY mule mascot on my shirt tail and I was pleasantly surprised. We talked football and college for a few minutes and then they fell behind and out of sight. I don't know why, I'm sure I kept the same pace.

Soon after leaving my two companions we entered what appeared to be the Army portion of the base and I was greeted by enthusiastic cheers from the twenty or so soldiers lining the route. In that moment, I was grateful to Devine Providence for my choice of uniform for running this race. I was proud to represent these young soldiers. I was equally proud of them.

Beyond the Army barracks the course entered a pleasant residential area with homes occupied by the families of Marine Captains, Lieutenants, and Warrant Officers. Shortly, we entered field grade territory where the Majors and Lieutenant Colonels live. In this neighborhood we had more spectators as career Marine families came out to support the troops, waving and cheering. Here too, I heard several "Way to go ARMY" comments. I smiled and waved back. Somewhere in the field grade neighborhood, the New River sprang into view. The trees were much thinner here and the river was clearly and beautifully visible. The broad expanse of blue framed by the scattered mature shade trees was captivating. It caused me to forget that I was past the 10 mile marker with 3 plus miles remaining. I felt good, relaxed, high on life. I was enjoying God's creation more intensely than ever before.
My arms and legs were warm and working comfortably. My trick knee was functioning painlessly. The runner's high was upon me, a direct manifestation of the love of God. And the view was terrific.

From mile 7 to the end of the course, I passed many Marines. I admit to some undeserved pride in passing a couple hundred 18 to 30 year old Marines. But I was proud of them too. At least four times when I passed a group of young Marines, one of them shouted "Way to go ARMY!" I hoped I would have the same grace if the situation were reversed.

In mile 11, I caught up with a group that included a special couple. Both apparently Marines, the man was running and the woman was riding a bicycle, softly chanting cadence and running songs to encourage her mate. It touched my soul. That is a marriage that will stand a thousand storms. I took strength from their example and picked up my pace, reluctantly leaving this admirable partnership behind.

Past the 12 mile aid station I picked up my pace again and soon caught up with another marriage partnership; two runners of my own age wearing matching stars and stripes shorts and shirts. The man's shirt identified him as a Marine Vietnam veteran. This couple ran side by side, not quite in step, but seemly synchronistically. They too, gave me a "Way to go ARMY" as I passed.

The remainder of the race I labored a bit as I had quickened my pace substantially and I was relieved to enter the chute at the finish. I was pleased with the thoughtfulness of the Marine Corps as demonstrated by the medallion hung around my neck, and the neck of every finisher, after I crossed the finish line. The refreshments laid out for the runners were also well received. It was just a class act from beginning to end.

Most participants left before the results were tabulated, but I hung around to the end and watched a 71 year old man and a 70 year old woman receive trophies. A 61 year old woman took home three. I wanted to see where I placed. I knew my result was not close to trophy times but I wanted to know just how far off I was. In the end, I had finished 238 out of approximately 600 runners. It was about what I expected and I was satisfied.

My long-distance running days are over now. I still run a bit but the artificial hip joint installed in 2003 ended my hopes of running a full marathon.

The Marine Corps Half-Marathon was fun. I was treated with respect, boasted my ego, accomplished a goal, enjoyed the fellowship of other runners, exercised my body, communed with God, and took home a medallion, a long sleeved tee shirt, and many pleasant memories. If you are a runner and you have not run at Camp Lejeune, put it on your calendar. If you are not a runner, you don't know what you're missing.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Getting Fit & Staying Fit

I am 58 years old. I’ve got a paunch that my wife doesn’t like but otherwise I’m in pretty good shape with hard muscle everywhere – even under my paunch. I run a little. I walk a little. I lift weights a little. I practice martial arts a little. And, I do some yoga/Pilates.

Over the years I’ve started and stopped exercise programs many times and I can tell you they are a lot easier to stop than to start. I’ve learned my lesson on that score and now I work hard at keeping my exercise routine going. When it is interrupted I jump right back into it as soon as the interruption in over.

I’ve heard it takes six weeks of doing something consistently to make it a habit. Maybe, but it seems to take me only two or three weeks to make a habit of not exercising. So, I cannot afford to let an interruption of my exercise routine last more than two weeks.

I continuously change my routine – slowly and cautiously. I add bits, delete bits, increase durations or intensities but I don’t make changes of more than 10% (that’s just an estimate) in any one week.

Three categories of reasons have caused me to stop exercising in the past.

1. Injuries
2. Lack of sleep
3. Major life events (marriage, changing jobs, having children, etc)

Major life events are not controllable or take priority over my exercise program. When they occur, now-a-days, I incorporate exercise into schedule for the event. For example, when we go on a trip I plan time for weight lifting in the hotel exercise room or for jogging.

Injuries seem uncontrollable but I have found that if I start slow and increase intensity even slower I avoid most injuries.

Lack of sleep reduces my motivation so today when I am over tired I will exercise anyway but cut it short and reduce the intensity. Doing even a little bit maintains my momentum and keeps my good habit intact.