Better & Bolder the Blog

Just hard enough and lots of rest

hands up

It’s been a lot of fun to watch amazing athletes reach for their best at the Rio Olympics. 

This article from Mens Health (December 2011) features tips from Olympians but its really advice that works for all of us. 

The article addresses the question of how hard should your workout should be. The authors explain, "If you're so sore it hurts to lie down in bed, you'll know you took it too far. And if the pain is in your joints rather than your muscles, you may have done something wrong.

Ill add that we dont need to be sore after every workout. Each workout should have a purpose, and that purpose may be fun or relaxation. It may be that you wish to improve your mobility, which wont result in next day soreness.  

However, if youre aiming to increase your strength, understand that the workout will be uncomfortable at times and you may feel sore the next day. Remembering that youre in control of it, and that you dont have to go so hard that you ache, may increase your willingness to suffer a bit. 

Meb Keflezighi, who is 41 years old, just finished 33rd in this mornings Mens Marathon in Rio. In this recent article from Outside Magazine, Meb tells the interviewer this about how to train as an older athlete:

People say, “Go the extra mile.” But that’s not always a good idea. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to go one mile less. [What's important is] staying healthy and being consistent. I still get my share of injuries, but, as I write in my book, Meb for Mortals, it’s about “prehab instead of rehab.” You’d rather do one less mile and be able to say, “I could have done more,” versus “I’m totally drained.” In physical therapy, people will ask me, “What hurts?” And I’ll say, “Nothing hurts. I just need to be tuned up. I’ve put my body through a lot of stress, a lot of mileage, and I want to get it taken care of before it becomes a problem.” You’d rather get to the starting line healthy than just be one percent over-trained. 

The message here is to work just hard enough, not too little and not too much. Invest at least as much time and energy in recovery and injury prevention as in the workout. 

Another tip is to keep it short. I do not love my upper body weight routine, but I like the results. I do it twice a week and Im done in under 20 minutes, which helps motivate me when I really would prefer to skip it. I also attach the weights to another workout, either a run or a ride on the ElliptiGo. That way, Im already warmed up. My body is already in exercise mode. 

Another piece of advice from the Men’s Health article is to change up your routine. Some exercise programs have variety wired into them, such as Nia classes, and other  forms of fitness, such as walking and running, can get monotonous. It can help to change where you walk or run. For instance, I live on the bosque trails, which means I go out my door for my run or walk or ElliptiGo ride. Its beautiful here! and I still crave variety. Ive learned its worth the extra 20 minutes to get in my car sometimes and head to a new portion of the trails or go to a new neighborhood to walk. 

In addition, we can vary our speed during a walk or run. Throw in some pick ups in which you increase the pace to a huff and puff level for a minute. You can do this even when its just you and a friend on a nice walk to catch up. This New Yorker article about older athletes (Meb and Bernard Lagat, who finished 5th in the mens 5000m) cites a physician and researcher, Michael Joyner, who believes we can keep up our speed as runners, even past 40, in part by doing interval training. The other part? Dont get injured. 

There’s another component to training that is important for us at all ages. Even Olympic athletes gain weight if they dont eat well. Theres an adage that you cant outrun your diet. Regular exercise helps us find and maintain a body weight and composition thats great for us (and for each of us, in different parts of our lives, thats individual). However, even regular intense exercise doesnt mean we can eat whatever we want. Some foods play havoc with our metabolism; some foods seem to function in such a way to store fat more efficiently. Its not just how much we eat but what we eat. When the Men’s Health article explains how to calculate calories, thats off base. Read in the article about how Ryan Lochte gained 13 pounds of fat in several weeks from a fast food diet even though he was burning more than 6,000 calories each day. Of course, how much we eat matters but it’s not all about calories in and calories out. Check out this article about why its not just how much you eat but also what you eat that matters. 

The best piece of advice here is to target your weakness. When I was teaching Nia in my early 40s, I noticed that the day after doing side kicks in Nia, I was sore and stayed sore. I decided that side kicks werent good for me. I decided the problem was the move, not me. Really, it didn’t occur to me that I wasn’t strong enough. A decade later, when I started running, I discovered that I have some weakness in my hips, which resulted in running injuries. I started a series of exercises to increase my hip strength - and now my running is better and I can do those side kicks.  

If theres something you cant do, consider that there are muscle imbalances and weaknesses. Your knees dont need to be strong, but your legs do. What might happen if you did specific, targeted exercises designed to make your butt and legs stronger? Its easy to work the same muscles, even in a dance workout such as Nia, and back off on any movements that we know can lead to strain and injury. Work on building a stronger support system. 

This gets more and more important as we grow older. We are going to get weaker unless were working on getting stronger, and its going to take more work (and especially more focused work) to get strong.

I leave you with this piece of Olympic inspiration. Kristin Armstrong won her third consecutive gold medal in the womens cycling road race, and this mama of a five year old son did it the day before her 43rd birthday. 

Now get out there and do what you love. 

Body Love PR

just hands belly bw

Summer is my time to dive deep into my training, whether it’s Nia or running. I thrive in warmer weather and, more importantly, have lots of time and energy because I’m on break from my full-time job teaching at CNM. 

This summer I immersed myself in running. I joined two running groups, met new people, went for runs in different parts of town. I set big goals: to PR (a personal record time or personal best) in 3 distances — the 5K, 10K, and half-marathon.

That half should have been the easy one. I had raced only once before, two years ago, and injured myself three weeks before the race. I ran a conservative pace, finishing in just under two hours. I learned from that experience that I needed to do some running-specific strength training. I was delighted that this strength translated to better Nia technique. 

I learned so much this summer. I’m still digesting it all. 

I learned that I need to eat smaller meals and do so more slowly because my digestion post-menopause is more challenged. When my running increased to over 30 miles a week, I needed more fuel. I don’t know is if my metabolism slowed or if I was frantically shoving in calories, but I gained weight once my training intensity increased. I interpreted this as a message: my body wasn’t thriving on the additional running miles. It isn’t terrible to gain or lose weight. Our systems, though, seek equilibrium and when a balance is upset, I need to look to see if it’s a positive change or a sign of some distress. My gut intuition is that the additional stress of additional running was more than I could happily handle. 

In spring, my digestive upset sometimes followed me into my run and at least twice I had to stop running due to gut pain. This led to fear. I eventually worked out how much to eat and drink in the morning (not much) and how long before running to do so. I seemed to be fine most runs. If my gut started talking to me on the run, I talked back: “it’s okay, calm down, nothing to do now while we’re running, I promise you can come back online in a bit.”

Longer runs presented a bigger challenge. On runs over 90 minutes, it can help to take in some fuel and water. I didn’t want to wake up my GI tract, so I usually just gutted out the run. It seemed to work. I practiced gulping some Tail Wind, a rehydration drink with a bit of sugar, but I rarely took in more than two ounces during the run. Really, I seemed to be fine. 

In July, I injured my calf on a long run. I had done too many miles and too many fast hard workouts in too short a time period. Though I cut way back on my training and received a variety of healing treatments, some of the pain wasn’t resolving. It was worse after Nia then after a run, though, and I thought I’d be fine to race the half-marathon. 

I wasnt fine on the race. Around 11.5 miles, my calf seized up with a sharp pain. I could walk but couldnt run. Once in my car, I finished the Tail Wind and then had a protein and cucumber smoothie on my drive home. I felt nauseous, which is unusual for me post-run. I drank a bit of water and ate a bunch of food and hung out with friends, which strengthened me. I rested, iced a bit, and took arnica each hour. I noticed at some point that I was peeing less than usual. By evening, I couldnt walk. I took a hot bath with epsom salts, cuddled with my husband for a while (best medicine ever), and slept. 

I woke this morning knowing my error. What had worked for me in training runs — taking in only a few gulps of fluid — wasn’t sufficient when I was running a hard pace over concrete and asphalt with my adrenaline pumping. Though it was a cool morning, I remember noticing how much I was sweating early on. After giving myself the first five miles to settle into my groove, we had been averaging an 8 minute per mile pace over the next 5 miles, and it was getting more difficult for me to hold that. I realize now that I needed more fluids and sooner because the racing demands were so much higher than on a training run. 

I have some regret over this error, of course, but also a sense of satisfaction: I figured out what happened. I got the lesson. My analytical mind really enjoys this aspect of training. I’d rather choose to feel satisfied than regretful. 

I love being very active. I confirmed this summer that I’m happy to do a workout in the morning and again in the afternoon. I love being able to do some very hard workouts.  I am not nearly as happy to rest. I am especially unhappy to take time off to heal when I want to be walking, hiking, dancing, and running.

This summer I learned that I don’t enjoy the super long runs. I’m good to about 10 miles, which is under the 90 minute threshold. I would get anxious before a long run. I would get whiny and cranky on the run. It felt like work. That is not why I run. 

This summer I learned that I could survive a really bad race. I’m sad, a bit embarrassed, but I’m also relieved to be done with it. 

Sometimes it’s great to take what we’ve learned and go back to do better. If I enjoyed the training for this distance, I’d be all over that possibility. But I don’t enjoy the training, so I’m done. This summer I learned I could fail at a goal and be okay with it.

Before the race, I had promised my body we wouldn’t race that distance again. I don’t always succeed at self-love and body love. I fuss over my weight, my belly. I am frustrated with my digestion. Because surgical menopause means for me lower levels of both estrogen and testosterone than most women my age, I bring fear and even negative talk. I have worried that I will get less strong every year. The reality is that this year Im stronger than last year. Its possible I can be just as strong or even stronger next year.  Fear wont help me be stronger. If Im not stronger next year, thats okay too. Being afraid isnt okay. 

It is a high level of self-love that allows me to let go of a performance goal in order to honor my body’s needs. It is a supreme honor to listen to my body and respect what I hear. This summer I learned another way to love my body. 

I keep in my calendar a sentiment that I want to be sure to look at throughout the month. I move this from one week to the next. It says: “I want to be hopeful, not stuck in the past. I want unconditional love in my relationship with my body. Less attachment, more trust.” I inched my way closer to that this summer. Body Love PR.