Tag Archives: 50

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


Why Am I Doing This? Oh, Yeah, the Payoff

During a flatter part of last weekend’s long run, I chatted with a guy who’s big into triathlons. He’s doing Ironman Boulder this summer, and part of his preparation is a trip to an Olympic facility for two weeks to work with top coaches. He’s about my age and the two-a-day sessions are, to put it mildly, brutal.

“You’re killing me!” he told a coach after one particular grueling session in the pool. “You’re used to working with athletes thirty years younger!”

“The payoff comes in June, Michael,” he was told.

The coach was correct, of course, and those of us in the throes of training know it. But there are two issues with just accepting that, “the payoff comes in X” and moving on. It doesn’t make training any easier, and it assumes we survive to get to the payoff.

Jim Mora Playoffs Rant

Payoffs? Don’t talk to me about PAYOFFS!

The conversation came back to me while reflecting on this past week of training. While I train and race year-round, January through March is technically my off season, so this is the time to hit it hard. I’ve stepped up my weekly mileage and added an extra session at Body Specs, and boy, am I feeling it.

My coach and gym trainer are keeping an eye on me so I don’t overtrain. But see above for how that makes me feel.

Assuming that I do get through this and end up stronger and faster, my payoff begins as early as April 9, when I join the Martians for a marathon through the streets of Dearborn, in an attempt to qualify for Boston next year. After that, trail season begins, with another April marathon, a May 50-miler, and my first-ever 100-miler in June. I’m still working out plans for the second half of 2016, but for now I think I have enough to train for.

If you’ve read this far (and if you have, thank you!) you may be wondering why all this training and racing is worth the payoff. After all, what’s to gain? A couple more medals? And is the satisfaction of finishing these races worth the time, the effort, and the pain?

My brother perhaps expressed it best once when my wife was telling him about my latest ultrarunning exploits. “Does he enjoy torturing himself this way?” he asked her.

Richmond Half 2015 - middle

I’m up to 287th place! Yes!

I’m tempted to quote Mark Twain, who said, “I hate to write, but I love having written,” but the analogy doesn’t really apply. Yes, there are times during a race or in training for a race that are no fun (last week’s hills come to mind), and yet there is something fulfilling about the act of running for me that is hard to describe.

Mark Twain quote about exercise

Yesterday’s run was a good example. It was a fifteen-miler, with a good portion of it at marathon pace, on a cold, windy day. But I distinctly remember thinking, somewhere in the middle of that run, today, right now, there’s no place I’d rather be.

DWD LM - 099

Dances with Dirt – Hell, 2014. Payoff, baby!

Train on, everyone! The payoff is ahead – and right now.

Perspective Regained: Hills are Hard, But . . .

“I want you to push yourself on the hills,” my Saturday running assignment read. “Dig deep and crest the hill before you let off the gas.”

Saturday’s route would be a 14-miler that included several of the more punishing hills in the Ann Arbor area. In particular, the climb up to the Barton Hills Country Club is a soul-sucking slog even on good days. And after a week of stepped-up training I was feeling less than 100 percent from the start.

Coach Rob Morgan

This man (Coach Rob) was responsible for today’s route. He’s also married to Coach Marie. I sense a conspiracy here.

It was my own fault, of course. I was dumb enough to tell Skip, my Body Specs trainer, and Coach Marie that I wanted to work on getting stronger and faster over the winter. They have taken on the task with alacrity; on Thursday I actually heard an evil cackle from Skip as I groaned my way through one particular torture involving hand dumbbells.

And the Saturday long run? Normally I look forward to it. But this one was more like a trip to the dentist; you know it’s in your best interest, but it ain’t gonna be no fun. I was fretting too much about it, so I went to bed early and read a chapter about the Battle of The Bulge from Killing Patton, which my father-in-law loaned me over the holidays.

And those few pages were enough to restore my sense of perspective.

In December 1944 the men of the 99th Infantry Division faced a surprise onslaught from the German army, digging foxholes and defending themselves in freezing weather without winter clothing, waterproof boots, or sufficient weaponry.

American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment near Amonines, Belgium. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment near Amonines, Belgium. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

They suffered intensely and took heavy casualties. But they blunted the attack and played a key role in preventing the Germans from reaching the key port of Antwerp. And they did it because it was their job, and it had to be done.

And me? I was going to have a challenging run the next morning, but it would be done with warm clothes, good shoes, and plenty of sleep beforehand. And I could stop early, or even not run at all, if I chose.

So long, worry and self-pity. Which was a good thing. (*)

The run went about as I expected. Per instructions I ran the level parts at a steady 8:15 to 8:30 pace. Then when a hill came up, I took off hard and tried to sustain the effort until after I crested the top.  I didn’t always make it, and many were the times I was bent over gasping for a bit. But a funny thing happened. Despite very tired legs I kept up a solid pace the entire way, and I even repeated a hill on the way back to see how my time differed from early in the route.

Coach Marie was at the studio when I returned. “You look good,” she said. So much for any attempt to complain that it was too much for me. This spells trouble for next week. I can’t wait.


(*) I have more thoughts about the contrast between that generation and ours that I will save for a future post.

Lessons from Half a Brick

ONE GREAT THING about my fitness activities are the things I learn while doing them. And the great thing about having a blog is that I can share what I learn, and pretend that someone out there might actually read it. (It’s a nice fantasy.)

Well, last weekend’s “brick” (bike ride and Crim race) provided several good lessons. So without further ado, here they are.

The first lesson about biking from Ann Arbor to Flint is: don’t bike from Ann Arbor to Flint. It didn’t take long after leaving home to realize that I am spoiled rotten.

Living in Ann Arbor, where new bike paths and complete streets are popping up everywhere, one can get the idea that they might also exist in the real world. (*) But in most of Michigan the roads remain the exclusive purview of motor vehicles, and lowlifes like cyclists are encouraged to stay the hell out of their way.

Google Maps - Linden Rd north of Linden

Guess I should have looked at Street View before the ride.

But Google Maps provided a bike route, and like a fool I trusted it. Whitmore Lake Road and old US-23? Yeah, they’re a bit dicey, but I hoped Linden Road would be like many other back roads I’ve biked on; decently paved with little traffic. Nope. When it wasn’t rutted dirt or beat-up pavement, it was 55 MPH with no shoulder, and every pickup truck in Michigan was taking it. I made it in one piece, but called off the return trip. I felt I’d pushed my luck enough.

The good news is that in Washtenaw County, work on the Border-to-Border Trail continues, including a new stretch on a busy road near my house. It includes a wood boardwalk over a wetland, with an observation cutout. It opened last week, and last night I ran on it for the first time. (I also watched a deer sacrifice itself to the SUV god, but I won’t go into details.)

Now this is more like it!

Now this is more like it!

Lesson 2: If you bike from Ann Arbor to Flint, and have a race the next morning, don’t stay at a budget hotel with uncomfortable pillows and noisy residents. I got about two hours of sleep. Technically it wasn’t the motel’s fault that outside my door was a popular conversation point, or that someone turned on a stereo full blast at 3:00 a.m. Bed and breakfast next time, somewhere in a nice boring suburb.

Michael and me after Crim 2015

Popsicles: my favorite post-race fruit!

Yet to my surprise, I ran a good race. The plan all along was to test my ability to run while fatigued, and I sure had a perfect setup. In the end I finished the 10 miles only two minutes off my PR. Not bad!

Lesson 3: I really do have readers! At the post-race party, one of my PR Fitness friends told me he enjoys reading my blog. Over the years (4+ to date) I continue to be pleasantly surprised by people mentioning this blog when I thought they didn’t even know I had one. So to all my readers – thanks again for reading. You keep me writing! (And you wouldn’t hurt my feelings by leaving the occasional comment.)

The big race at Run Woodstock is just over two weeks away! One final brick this weekend – a 16 mile tune-up run on the trails, followed by a bike ride to White Lake. This time, however, much of the route is actual bike trail. Sure would be a nice change to relax and enjoy the ride!

Downtown Linden

Bonus lesson: Don’t ask the locals. They didn’t know of a cafe/sandwich shop in Linden. Found out later there was one right in my sights! The black car is parked at the Bridge Cafe & Market.


(*) You may have heard this description of Ann Arbor: Six square miles surrounded by reality.