Sunday, March 31, 2013

From all ends a new beginning

All things have a beginning and an end. No matter how good bad or indifferent that's the way of the universe and all that is, was and yet to be.  That is never more true than with those of us who choose to be athletes well into our senior years.  We go through many stages and when each stage comes to an end then, if we are going to successfully continue, we must recognize that end and prepare to begin again.  Sometimes a break is needed before restarting to let old injuries heal, and sometimes the change is seamless.

My personal journey is a patch work of starting anew and then seeing that new path come to a fork in the road, where a decision is required.  Sometimes I, like most of us, have made the wrong choice, but that is just a part of living.  We are always successful in that trial and error experimentation if we learn form the mistakes and capitalize on the right choices.  If all our choices were right then it would make it much less meaningful when we did get it spot on.

Sometimes our ends are not the result of injury or anything personal with us but a change of our environment.  When I was in high school I ran track.  When I left high school and went off to join the military, running track just wasn't an option unless I wanted to do it by myself, so I took up martial arts and racquetball.  Later on when I moved again, distance running became my sport of choice, and again a move to the right area made triathlon racing an option.  My latest change, from distance running to race walking, was injury related.  I have some good friends that because of knee replacements have switched from being marathoners to bikers.  Others who, because of loss of their legs, have become wheelchair racers.

The important thing is not the choice of sports we make but that we made the choice not to give up on ourselves.  I would like to hope that if I were to lose the use of my legs that as soon as I got out of rehab I'd be out shopping for a racing chair.  Sometimes age becomes a factor.  There is an old saying, "We don't grow to old to play, we grow old when we stop playing".  That is so very true for an adult athlete.  I'm a big fan of the senior Olympics concept.  How awesome to know that no matter how old you are there is competition.  To compete at the state and national levels, in your senior years, helps you keep focused on the future.

When you reach those forks in the road and you are forced to take a new path, look at it for what it is, not a reason to grieve over the past, but a reason to start a new adventure.  You never get very far if you are always looking back so when decision time comes for you embrace the new path and make it yours.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Our Comfort Zone

The term 'Comfort Zone' gets a bad rap.  But it's a catch all term that's used to identify things that are not in our best interest to indulge in.  We hear, "To get the changes you need, you need to get out of your comfort zone".  It probably comes from the use of the term when describing food that isn't the best for us but we grew up calling, here in the south, good down home cooking.  Or turning off the computer or the TV and getting up off the comfortable couch.

Perhaps the way to think about it is not to think of it as getting out of our comfort zone, but changing what we view as our comfort zone.  A lot of us have hobbies, both active and inactive, that if we really thought about it, are our personal comfort zones.  As adult athletes we get pleasure form our motion.  We are the most 'comfortable' when we are moving at a relaxed pace, in beautiful, interesting surroundings.  For us it doesn't get better than that.  We have other hobbies that we are just as passionate about, reading, sewing, quilting, scrapbooking, or any of a thousand more.  These are the hobbies that exercise our minds while relaxing us.  For me it's my writing, I always feel much more refreshed after getting thoughts down on paper.  These are our healthy comfort zones.

We may be doing a disservice to those we are trying to motivate by telling them to get out of their comfort zones.  We should instead say that to move forward and get the results we want out of life we need to change what we consider our comfort zones.  We are currently implying that you have to be uncomfortable and in pain to be progressing.  We know it doesn't have to be that way.  But we are implying that it does.  Yes pushing our limits can be tiring and we can be sore the next day, but we soon learn that is a sign that we did good not a reason to suffer.

When a person is beginning an exercise program it can be uncomfortable at first.  The first 20 minutes or so of motion, until we are warmed up, isn't very pleasant, but once we are warm and moving smoothly it is a lot better.  A beginner doesn't think of it that way.  They have heard they have to get out of their comfort zone.  They have also heard that 20 minutes 3 or 4 times a week is a good beginning.  So we can be sending a mixed message there without meaning to.

The right way to look at it is that we should change our unhealthy, Comfort Zones', to healthy and productive ones instead.  That way we are sending the right message.  Comfort zones can be a valuable part of a healthy lifestyle.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Walking the line.

Volumes have been written about the simple sounding rule of performance, with endless personal variables.  Basically it goes like this:  In order to achieve your maximum performance you must train to that line between enough and to much and not cross that line.  Sounds simple, but that line is different for each of us.  That's why there is no best training plan to achieving your maximum potential.

The best person to advise you that you are getting too close, to crossing over that line, is your self.  You need to be ever vigilant, you need to be aware of those feelings that you are starting to over train and risk injury instead of increased performance.  That to would be a lot easier if you didn't have to factor in the constant changes that our body goes through with just living.  A professional athlete that makes their living with their body are more aware of this than most of us.  The equation includes how much sleep you get, how well you have stayed hydrated, did you get the proper amount of protein, even how stressed you were over something.  All these affect performance and how you react to a hard training session.

Having a training partner helps.  You don't always want to hear what they have to say but you should listen.  You are often feeling your best just before you get injured.  You have been training well and so every workout you try to better what you did last time.  It's not long, training with that attitude, before something goes wrong.  When your training partner points this out to you listen and believe it.

Another little quirk that most of us adult athletes share is the desire to show off a little bit when we are feeling bullet proof.  This has been my downfall more than a few times.  My training partner has pointed this out to me many times.  When we are in a half or full marathon and trucking along at our planned pace and another race walker over takes us I will speed up to keep them behind me, even though we are not in competition with anyone else, just doing the distance.  One time we were on a training walk and ended up in the middle of a local 5K race.  We weren't even in the race and I start seeing how many of the runners I can pass.  Even though I wasn't even aware of it, I was pushing the pace.  Stay focused on your training plan for the day, save the competitiveness for the races.

What are the symptoms that you are getting close to crossing the line?  Not feeling rested when I wake in the morning is a sure sign for me.  Lots of nagging little aches and pains that are getting worse rather than better.  A constant feeling of being tired instead of feeling energized all day after a workout.  Not sleeping well but waking up a lot during the night.  Any of these things could signal that you need to back off and rest.  We need time to recover after a workout and as we get older we need more time between workouts. 

Training by feel is often better than trying to stick to a training plan that is starting become to much.  Some easy to remember rules that will help are to adjust after any significant event.  If you just went faster than ever before, called getting a 'Personal Record' or PR, then the next day should be a rest day or an easy day, NOT an attempt to better that time!  If you didn't get much sleep then adjust your planned training.  Any high stress event in your life will affect your training session, adjust for it.  There are so many things that can affect your performance, be flexible and change your workout when you need to.

Getting the most out of our workouts is a priority for most of us, but sometimes to do that we need to back off or adjust and not try to stay on a strict training plan.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, March 23, 2013


There is a saying that, "Until you can accept and care about yourself, you won't value your time".  I agree with that, it's a very powerful statement.  The greatest treasure and the one that is limited for everyone is time.  There is another powerful saying that, "The greatest tragedy, in life, is not realizing how valuable our time is till it's running out".  Those statements are very much connected to person thinking about getting into 'shape'.    Although an irony of it all is that the sooner you make the decision, that you are worth the effort, then the sooner you can begin the journey.  The journey that can give you not only more time but give you the energy and health to make the most of that time.  But the longer you wait the more difficult that path becomes.

The first step is to make that decision, you and only you can make.  Other people can tell you but until you, not think but know that you are worth the effort, it will never be successful.  It will always be an exercise in starting and stopping, trying and giving up.  But once you do commit and begin your own journey then you and your whole way of seeing yourself and the world around you is changed forever.

Just as important as that first step being in front of the mirror, making a commitment to you, the second step should be in front of your family asking for their support.  Your decision will affect those around you and if you can secure their support then you will have an easier time of it.  The third step should be at the local running specialty store.  Starting with the right shoe will save you bunches, you just can't imagine.  There is no way of knowing how many people started on their journey only to be stopped cold by a shoe related injury.  See the problem is that as shoes have evolved they have made it vital to get the proper type for your foot and gait.  The wrong shoe can multiply minor foot and gait problems.

Now having said all that, your new journey should begin at a slow and controlled pace.  Walk to become stronger and start changing your body into that of an athlete.  I firmly believe that when as an adult you decide to start getting into better shape, that you should begin with walking.  When you can walk briskly and strongly then you can think about going the next step.  A body that has been strengthened with walking is better prepared to handle the rigors of more intense exercising.  That next step can be running, biking or my sport, race walking.  However there is nothing wrong with stopping right there and simply walking briskly for several days a week.  The health benefits are accomplished with the walking and it gives you increased energy for living.  But it's the nature of us that when we start feeling stronger we want to test our limits.

The best advice that I have to give is to choose wisely.  Pick a more challenging activity that will fit your current abilities and also your lifestyle.  Your main activity should be the sport activity you have chosen, next should be a flexibility routine like stretching, yoga or Pilate's.  I advise those second because if you can only find the time for them a couple of days a week you won't be sore for days after.  For an active lifestyle to be a lifestyle that you can live with it needs to be fun and feel good.
Weight training is great for rehabbing an injury or correcting a strength imbalance and it's a fine exercise routine on it's own.  Weight training is not something that can be done just ever once in a while, for it to be effective it needs to be regular.  The same applies to the new super exercise routines like 'Insanity' and 'Cross fit'.  They need to be done regularly or all they will do is make you too sore, for a while, to do your regular activity.  The older you get the more this advice applies.

Our time is limited and valuable, it's worth the effort to both increase the time we have and our energy to live it fully.  But we need to do it wisely and safely to get the full measure of it.

Thanks for reading.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Fix Bayonets

Fix bayonets, a command that means your position is about to be over run and you are going to be fighting hand to hand.  A soldier hearing that knows this may be his last battle, that click as the bayonet locks on to end of his rifle, is a sound that means, "though I may die, I will give full measure,  I will not fall easily but die with honor".  The ultimate example of, 'stuff just got real'.

As we walk up to the starting line of races we are not going into battle, are we?  Yes most of us are doing that very thing.  We are going to battle a lot of personal demons form our past and present.  Whether we take our place on the front line as an elite or stand far back in the pack as a new warrior, we all face a coming battle.  I'm not strong enough, I'm not thin enough, I'm not smart enough, I don't belong here with real athletes.  Lot's of labels for the demons of self doubt.  Those demons are hardened from all the years that they have had their way with you. 

When you prepare for that next race, prepare to go to war with those demons and train to beat them.  You are earning your freedom form their grip, with your sweat.  Every mile, every lap, every rep makes you stronger.  You can become that warrior that will free you, from that bondage of self doubt.  Those years of thinking you were never enough can be put behind you.

While you are training for your next race, tell yourself, "I am enough", then believe it.  To be enough you must know that you are.  If you are getting out there on the road putting in the miles, going to the gym and doing your cross training, eating like an athlete and getting the proper rest, then yes you are enough.  Trust your training, know that you are indeed earning your race.

Arrive on race day, ready for battle.  Get warmed up before you go to that starting line.  Being warm you can start racing when the gun sounds, not worry about going slow enough to warm up so you don't burn out early.  I can truthfully say that I have never had a race race where I didn't over take and pass people who passed me at the start.  Be ready to run your race not be haunted by, "I've started to fast and now I can't hold this pace".  If you do find that your pace is to hard to maintain, back off for a few minutes and then speed back to that pace and I bet it will be easier.

When someone is passing you, let them, if you have to go so fast to stay ahead of them that you soon fade back even further.  When you begin to close on someone, practice some good deep breathing and get lots of oxygen to those muscles before you to make the push to pass.  Don't give up on a good pace till you have taken inventory, do you hurt anywhere, breathing comfortably, smooth motion?  Just because you are going faster than you thought you could, let your body make the decision, if it's not having trouble, enjoy the feeling.

When the race is close to finishing and you still have something left, let it go, chase down those demons, you have more left in you and you need to know it.  Start that sprint to the finish a little further away than you think you can do and don't give it up till you are across that finish line.  You may look the same when you are done but if your shadow was accurate it would show you with your bayonet fixed and there would be a trail of slain demons in your wake.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dare to Dream

You hear that dreams never accomplish anything.  Dreaming doesn't get results, results are for people that take action.  Day dreams are often welcome escapes but they should never be confused with reality.  All those are sound advice, however, dreams are often the spark that leads to taking you places, that, well you only dreamed of.  We are, all of us, on a journey, dreams are sometimes the road signs that show us the right path.

All successful adult athletes know that goals are necessary to improve in their chosen activity.  Someone once said that, "you can't hit a target you can't see", dreams are our minds way of seeing a clear picture of just what it is we desire.  A goal that you can visualize is a lot easier to reach.  When I was a student of martial arts we would start to practice a difficult technique by visualizing ourselves doing it.  Once you could see yourself doing it in your mind it became easier to do it physically.

So you have a dream, the next step is to form a plan, how are you going to act on that dream to turn it into a path to what you desire.  Of course the answer to that depends on where you are in your training and current ability.  It's a different answer for someone just beginning to explore getting off the couch and starting out than it is for a seasoned athlete that wants to get better.  But the concept is the same.  You have to see it, want it and then set off after it.

What happens if you fail?  I'm going to use myself as an example here.  I'm an expert in the science of trial and error.  I'm a good athlete in that I'm motivated, consistent and dedicated.  I'm not however a talented athlete.  I have a couple of dreams and a plan to accomplish them.  One of my dreams is to own an age group record.  Another is to write a book on the subjects of health and wellness.

I plan to achieve the age group record by training consistently and learning from athletes that are successful.  I'm in a learning and developing stage now.  When I retire in 5 years I will begin my assault in earnest.  When I don't have to go to work I can structure my day around my training.  I can get the proper rest and better control my nutrition.  I can literally train like a professional, but at a senior level.  What I can do now is keep on the path and when retirement comes I will have a good clear vision to follow.

The book is a learning process as well.  What I can do now is train.  I'm training by writing these articles and practicing what I learned back in creative writing and journalism classes.  I have the blessing of the social media world as my practice field.  Soon I will be ready to start putting it together.

Now back to that question, what happens if I fail?  When I retire and devote my time to my love of training, traveling to races, eating properly and writing my book, I will, I believe have all I could ever ask for.  I will be pursuing my dreams not waiting for the end of life.  I will be living my dreams.  If I never break a record or ever get my book published, well so be it.  The journey will be reward enough.  I will not regret my failure, but I would regret not trying to follow my dreams.

Do you have dreams?  Have you thought of a plan to get what you desire?  Perhaps the next time you head out for a long slow distance training you can think about it.

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Spring Cleaning

You hear the term, "Detox", a lot these days.  As we get more and more information about what is sold to us in the market place we can begin to wonder how we have survived as long as we have.  It seems that pretty much everything we have been eating and drinking has been processed to the point that it's no longer safe to consume. 

When I went through a period of gaining weight, because I had stopped exercising, I got really good at not seeing my body for the condition it was in.  The same goes with the food we eat.  We want our comfort stuff so we tune out the fact that it might not be good for us, even though the facts are right on the label to read.  Or we go to the restaurant, fully intending to get salmon and steamed veggies and order the chicken tenders and fries instead.

It's human nature to do that and we shouldn't beat our selves up over it.  But as in a good marriage, you and yourself need to communicate.  Will power is not magic it's making conscious decisions instead of blindly following your desires.  As in the example of the restaurant meal, you and yourself need to make a decision:  You desire the chicken tenders and fries but you know that is going to trash your calorie intake for the day, have grilled chicken and a baked potato if your not in the mood for the salmon, you came for.  Have your chicken  blackened or with a glaze for some extra flavor.  The main point here is that you identify your feelings and negotiate a decision that acknowledges your desires and your healthier eating plans.

Now back to the "Detox", or the spring cleaning.  There are all sorts of radical 'cleansing' methods and diets on the market, but the more radical and strict they are, the harder they are to follow and also the more potentially dangerous they are.  The vast majority of us need to eat better, but that becomes easier if we keep it simple and take it one step at a time.  Obviously the best course of action is to throw out everything in your cabinets and just buy organically grown meat and veggies, but that's not a step most of us are willing to take.

When we shop we need to once again communicate with ourselves.  We want a certain meal for supper so we can look at options.  Can we have it using the least processing possible?  Read the labels and look for the option with the least ingredients, the more ingredients the more chemicals that have been added.  Go for fresh or frozen vegetables over canned or that come dried and in a mix.  Buy meat fresh and cook it as opposed to precooked and packaged.  It's a little more trouble but way better for you.  Look at all the ingredients in a package of precooked chicken or beef.  Also when you do cook a meat like hamburger, drain off all the grease before you add it to the dish your cooking, that grease is pure fat and calories.

Drinking is easier to make healthier choices with than eating.  Keep it as close to natural as possible.  Choose water first, that also saves money when you eat out and ordering ice water, with lemon, soon becomes something you really enjoy.  Stop drinking soft drinks and juice substitutes period NOW!  I promise that if you go without a soft drink for 3 months you will not like the taste, if you try to drink one after that.  It's like smoking if you stop, after a while the smell of someone smoking bothers you a lot, just like it does everyone else that doesn't smoke, where once you enjoyed that comforting smell.

It's a good time, with winter coming to an end, to think about making some changes.  Spring Cleaning, get your personal communication channels open and become partners with that person that looks back at you from the mirror.  Make conscious choices instead of being slaved to your desires.  Will power is really not all that difficult to practice if you remember to recognize your desires and then make better decisions that will satisfy your needs but still fall within the boundaries of living a healthier lifestyle.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Warrior Within

I often refer to my fellow adult athletes as 'Warriors' or 'Warrior Princesses'.  I started that because of how closely the lifestyle of an athlete resembles that of a member of the armed forces.  The warrior and the athlete both train to face whatever challenge that may arise.  Neither of these groups are readily understood by the general population.  Sometimes we athletes really don't understand ourselves. 

What we do understand is that we share a belief that there should be more to life than:  getting up, going to work, coming home, eating dinner and watching TV till bed time.  But that is the life of the vast majority.  That is the normal life of the good responsible adult.  We just are not good with that life, we crave more.  We need to be challenged, we need to find our limits and then nudge them a little more each time we reach them.  Perhaps there is still a part of us that refuses to be be tamed and allow us to follow the herd.

Along with our desire to have a more exciting life we also become more body conscious.  We begin to eat healthier food, drink more water, care more about the air we breathe.  Something interesting begins to happen, we begin to see the world around us differently.  We begin to see the beauty of nature and we come to realize that we are not in nature but we are part of it.

There is a term used by seasoned endurance athletes, 'The Runner's high'.  It has been debated over the years.  The science types have analyzed it as when your body produces endorphins, a feel good substance, that the body produces.  Others have said that it is a heightened state of consciousness that comes from all the fresh oxygen being pumped through your blood stream, supercharging all your functions.   Maybe it's when that untamed part of us takes over and we are for a short time no longer the store owner or the office worker that we were a moment before.  Maybe we do indeed become a part of nature, like the wolf loping tirelessly across the tundra or the eagle soaring high above, completely at peace.  Once we experience that feeling we don't need to analyze it.

We tell ourselves we train for different reasons, to look better, to have more energy, to become healthier.  Regardless of the reasons we tell ourselves we soon begin to realize that what we have really done is make a decision to retake control of our lives.  Like the warrior we prepare to meet our challenges head on.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Magic and Wonder

When we were children we couldn't wait to get out of bed in the morning, we just knew that something exciting was waiting and we didn't want to miss any of it.  There were all sorts of adventures waiting for us, we just needed to be there and the magic would find us.  Why do we stop believing when we grow up?  When we are children we know, without a doubt, that the world is a wonderful magical place and through our play we can access that magic. We can be anything and anybody, we can be anywhere and go anyplace.  We are only limited by our imagination.  Why do we grow out of that feeling?

Most adults have that growing up thing all wrong.  Play is our way of coping and when we lose sight of that fact then we open ourselves up to some pretty awful things, like depression, hatred, bigotry and greed.  Wow heavy stuff, maybe I'm exaggerating?  I go to DisneyWorld every year and race walk the marathon there, I go for a lot of reasons.  When you enter that magic land of Mickey Mouse, you are surrounded by people from all over the world, people of all creeds and colors and nationalities. Everyone is getting along and having fun, you are not thinking about how "That Middle Eastern" family over there is probably in the oil business and they are getting rich making you pay through the nose for a gallon of gas.  Nope you are having fun right along with them and no longer thinking negative thoughts at all.  When we are all out there doing that marathon we are brothers and sister humans on a personal mission, not groups of people who are suspicious of each other.

We all need to be grown up be responsible for our actions and work to provide for our families.  But that doesn't mean we have to give up our imaginations and our love of play.  Our play is just different when we are older.  When we suit up in our exercise gear we are preparing to get out in that big magical world and look for adventure.  We should think of every run, walk and bike ride as an adventure.  It might be cold or steamy hot or just perfect but each has it's own challenges and rewards.  We can feel just amazing when we have done our miles, especially if we were bucking a wind or braving the weather.  We often see the world differently when we are in motion, our senses are sharper and we feel so much more alive.

Just like our inner child of old we can still unleash our imaginations when we are in motion.  We can be doing a 3 miler through the park, but in our minds we can be shoulder to shoulder with the world record holder and feeling that champion fade back because they know there is a new force in the game.  We can still believe, we can still seek out the magic and the wonder of being healthy and alive.  There is an old saying, "We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing".

Let your imagination take over the next time you put on your exercise gear and rekindle that spark that you used to feel when you were to young to know better.  Maybe that child you once were had it right all the time and you just forgot how to believe.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Stress Management and the Adult Athlete

The news is awful, we are all going to be starving since our taxes and the price of gas are going to be so high we won't be able to buy food.  Work is just awful, and there may not be any social security so I'll never be able to retire.  The children are just out of control and my spouse doesn't understand me.

Any of this sound familiar?  We can choose to be carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders or we can eat our elephant one bite at a time.  Part of the deal, when we make the life style change to be an adult athlete, is to put stress in it's place.  It is a medical fact that stress is the cause of a lot of ills.  We certainly can not perform at our best and sometimes not at all if we are stressed out.

It's time for your workout and your just not feeling it.  To much on your mind and you feel so helpless, so out of control of all the things pressing on you.  The first thing you need to do is ask yourself these very important questions:  Is there anything I can do about all the stuff that is concerning me during the next couple of hours?  Will anything be worse if I do this workout?  Do I need some time to think things out anyway and come up with some reasonable plans?

When you increase your heart rate into the training range you are also supercharging your whole body, including sending lots of fresh oxygen to your brain so you can think better.  Unless your concerns are such that something must be dealt with immediately, thinking things out usually results in better solutions than trying to just react.

Once we can start putting things in perspective we can start learning to lower the stress level in our lives.  If work is impossible, why is it impossible?  Is it conflict with a co worker, unrealistic goals, or is it......ect.  Take the time to figure out what it is that is making where you spend half your waking hours uncomfortable.  Start thinking what would make it better.  Do you need to make peace with a co worker, have a sit down with your boss or maybe you need to get some more training to make your job skills better.  Each of us have to answer those questions for our selves.  Thinking of positive solutions to concerns are an outstanding way to keep your mind occupied during a training run or walk.

We adult athletes have the added advantage of having our chosen motion to help us cope with unpleasant situations.  We can take a 'time out' to get our head clear and that helps us see situations without the feeling that it's overwhelming.  Our running shoes and our workout clothes are how we prepare for our happy place.  When we don't feel the love, sometimes getting our gear on is all it takes to get us thinking straight.

Let's all of us take the time this weekend to dwell not on all the lions and tigers and bears, but on how fortunate we are to be healthy and in control of the only things that we are truly in control of, our own thoughts and actions.

Thanks for reading.