My Life as a Rat


I’ve been feeling like a rat lately. Not a gym rat – a lab rat.

EMU Running Science Lab - treadmill

Unlike my involuntarily conscripted rodent comrades, this is my own fault. Like many runners who enjoy the sport, I want to be able to run, and run well, for many more years. And being over 50, I have a greater sense of the importance of training properly. One serious injury could put me out of action for a long time, perhaps forever.

So ideally, I’d like to continue running both for fun and in competition, while minimizing the risk of something seriously bad happening. This is one reason I have a running coach, and why I weight train under professional supervision. But is there more I can do?
There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop.
– Randall Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T, as quoted by The New York Times

Fast After 50 bookI’ve been reading Joe Friel’s book Fast After 50, and I highly recommend it to anyone approaching the half-century mark or “on the high side” of it. He pulls no punches in saying that decline in physical condition after 50 is inevitable. The good news, however, is that exercise slows that decline, and can even lead to some improvement.

The keys to training and performing well, Friel says, are: first, stop comparing yourself to the athlete you were, and focus on the athlete you are now. You may never achieve another PR in some event, but that’s no reason to stop competing if you enjoy it. Second, training intensity is more important than training volume in maintaining a high level of performance. The trouble, as he sees it, is that older athletes tend to begin replacing their speed workouts with more long slow distance (LSD).

This philosophy fits what I’ve been coming across more often in the mainstream running press. To maintain fitness, strength work and high-intensity training is essential. Higher volume at low intensity is better than nothing, but it will not keep me at my peak fitness potential.

But in order to be at peak fitness, I need to know what my current fitness factors are, and what things to work on. For example, what is my maximum heart rate? How well does my body deliver oxygen to the muscles (VO2max) and what is my anerobic threshold? And are there things in my running form that I can improve to be more efficient as a runner, and avoid injury?

So I began looking for opportunities to find out.

When Student is Ready - inspirational-quotes_15445-0And soon I came across an article in the Ann Arbor News about the Running Science Lab at Eastern Michigan University. They have two programs that anyone can sign up for: a physiological analysis, and a biomechanical analysis. The analyses would provide a benchmark of my current running fitness markers, and look at my running gait to identify areas of stress that could lead to injury over time.

Me on Zero RunnerThen came an opportunity to try out the Zero Runner, a training device that is designed to replicate running form without the foot impact. (Here’s a review of the Zero Runner from Detroit Runner, a fellow run blogger.) And on the heels of that came a University of Michigan study that was looking for distance runners to measure healthy variability and pacing strategy.

So, which of these did I sign up for?

All of them, naturally.

So in some upcoming posts I will share what I went through, what I learned, and what, if anything, I will change as a result of all this. At the very least, I hope you find it interesting. And maybe it will inspire you to do some of the same!

rat-treadmill-282x300The trouble with the rat race is, that even if you win, you’re still a rat.
– Lily Tomlin

6 thoughts on “My Life as a Rat

  1. I love this article for so many reasons – the “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” saying, the fact that there are these places doing the research that could potentially help you, and this thought that intensity is important for us older folks. Thanks!

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