The little workout that could

Today’s workout (treadmill): 35 minutes

A little resistance

Work distractions prevented me from getting out this morning and the busyness continued throughout the day. By midday I’d resigned myself to missing any kind of workout. Around 5:30 I was fully caught up, so I decided to do something that resembled activity. The treadmill provided an easy, quick and low key alternative to a run on the street.

I didn’t feel like a run that late in the day, but 35 minutes walking on the treadmill didn’t seem like enough of a workout. I put on some ankle weights, grabbed some hand weights, and set the treadmill’s incline to a 2% grade. I picked an easy running pace and ended up with a far more beneficial workout than I’d originally planned. Judging from the level of sweating I’d done, this was the equivalent of a much faster run done with no incline or weights. I didn’t wear my HRM but I wish I had. I would have liked to see how hard I’d actually worked today.

Running through the neighborhood hive

The neighborhood was abuzz

Today’s run (street): 4.25 miles

The Monday after Thanksgiving week starts like a cold diesel on a freezing morning. It’s hard to get back into business mode after four days of leisure. My first meeting of the day wasn’t until mid morning and that gave me enough time to ease into the work week after getting in a run.

Mondays are normally my rest days. Since I got a good workout done on Sunday, I could have stayed with the schedule but I’ll be resting on Friday ahead of Saturday’s race. Continuing my workouts and not taking the rest day seemed to make sense. If I’d been more focused on getting out this morning I might have had time to head to Bethpage. With only 90 minutes to run, recover and prepare, I was left with no choice but to stay in the neighborhood.

I rarely run between 7:30 and 8:30 AM because I don’t want to deal with all the school buses. Today I had no choice and I discovered that buses were just one reason to avoid going out during that hour. My fun started as soon I stood on the driveway and saw two huge landscaping trucks pull in front of my house. These trucks discharged a small army of workers who were there to start our fall cleanup. I guess today was the day to do that, because once I was clear of my own road, I encountered at least a dozen other crews at work across the neighborhood.

Buses scare me and landscaping trucks really scare me when I run. I spent more than my usual amount of time running on the sidewalks today. It was amazing to see the amount of activity playing out before me. Who knew that 8:00 AM is when every car backs out of its driveway, every parent with a grade school kid congregates at a bus stop and every town truck (maintenance, garbage, recycling) is rolling and stopping along the street.

As I made my way towards home, it all played out in front of me. Cars stopped for garbage trucks, Bobcat loaders blocked school buses and people walked their dogs. The neighborhood was like a hive of activity and I was just trying to get through it unstung.

Considering all the hazards, I had no close calls. I was glad to get back home and away from the frenzied streets. I missed the days when I ran at 4:00 AM and the only vehicle I would ever see was the guy who drove around and threw the NY Times on people’s driveways. Since I have more time flexibility now, I’m not willing to go out so early. But going forward, I’m going to do everything possible to avoid that 7:30 AM hour.

Yet another reason to run

Newsflash: Running is good

I haven’t done a single thing today that would fit the definition of a workout. But that’s okay, because according to an article in the NY Times Well, my consistent adherence to an active lifestyle keeps my blood sugar control robust and prevents my fat cells from exhibiting “potentially undesirable alterations in gene expression”, as compared to sedentary men. I’m happy to know that my genes are expressing desirably.

The point of the article, based on a study conducted at the University of Bath in England, is that exercise not only fights the accumulation of fat in our bodies, it also protects us from when we “overfeed.” It may seem self evident that an active lifestyle will help regulate insulin levels and facilitate metabolic balance, but this study proves that.

I may yet get on the treadmill later, but not because I read this article. I really believe that runners feel deprived when they miss a workout (though not to the extent of those fake crybabies who claim that tapering is torturous). It’s touch and go in terms of whether we’ll run the Nissequoge 5K Turkey Trot tomorrow. The weather is due to be cold and windy and the crowds are supposed to be 3X greater than last year.

I’m sending good Turkey Trot wishes to FS, SIOR, The Petite Pacer and other runner friends who will be lining up for races tomorrow morning. I hope that if weather conditions are tough, they’ll take comfort in knowing that their running will enable very desirable gene expression.

My workouts by the numbers

Today’s run (street): 3.5 miles

I did my last workout of this vacation today; a mid-morning run around the neighborhood. It was the thirteenth day in a row where I’ve either run or cross-trained on the elliptical machine. A check on Daily Mile showed that I’ve done 24 workouts over the last 27 days. You’d think I’d be in better shape!

Although my activity frequency is high (90% days per month), my running distances have mostly stayed under 5 miles over the last few weeks. I blame the heat and some exceptionally busy weekends this summer for that and I know I’ll need to get my base back up to 6+ miles as I prepare for the Dirty Sock  and Great Cow Harbor 10K’s.

This morning the sun was less intense than yesterday and that helped me move briskly over a route that took me around, and then through, my local streets. I tried to focus on my form and to notice if my arms crossed my chest, which I now know is a sign that I’m reaching the point of fatigue. All systems seemed to be working well today and I finished up with a sprint on the final quarter mile that left me panting and soaked by the time I reached home.

Tomorrow means a return to the train, the subway and lots of meetings. My vacation has been great and, with a diversity of activities that included our visit to New Hampshire and Maine, it felt endless. But there is, of course, an end and I’ll experience that when my alarm jolts me awake at 4:00 AM tomorrow.

I’m no running addict!

Today’s workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

You know you’re an activity-focused person when you wake up happy that your day’s workout is only a 25 minute elliptical session. It’s not that the elliptical is light exercise, it just feels easier than the treadmill. I used a little more resistance than normal today and finished hot, sweating and with a heart rate that proved I’d worked hard.

Someone recently suggested that I’m addicted to running and I laughed at the idea. I like running — I suppose at times I love it — but there’s nothing about my experience that fits the definition of addiction. I highly doubt there are meth addicts out there who wake up and have to talk themselves into using their drug of choice. A year ago, when recovering from pneumonia, my doctor ordered me to forgo running for a few weeks. During that time I was worried that I’d lose conditioning and would need to start all over again. It wasn’t withdrawal that I’d experienced, it was the fear that all that I’d worked for would be lost.

I think most of us who run, bike, swim or otherwise exercise are driven by the positive results of physical activity. I’m sure there is a small percentage of people who take working out to an extreme level and develop a true dependency for activity. For me, I appreciate the endorphin rush that comes after a hard run but that’s really the dessert, certainly not the meal.    

So exercise and healthy eating is not enough?

In reading through New England Runner Magazine I came upon an article by a nutritionist about the balance between activity and diet. The writer’s point was interesting, summed up with this quote: “[M]any runners burn far fewer calories than they realize, they are actually couch potatoes the majority of the day.” Her position is that the average person sits over nine hours per day and even competitive runners exist in a cycle of activity, rest and recovery where R&R may be proportionately much higher than exercise. According to the article, a study of senior citizens showed that one additional hour of exercise a day with no additional food intake yielded no reduction in body fat. Supposedly the subjects failed to lose weight because they slept more and were more sedentary throughout the day.

If this is truly the case I’d expect to see more runners with weight problems. Perhaps there are. It’s hard to gauge the fitness of other runners by sight. Aside from the ripped Ironman tri-athlete types who clearly focus on constant activity it’s challenging to know just by looking. I’m thin and run with what I think is good form but I’ve been passed in races by people who I would never guessed were runners (and competitive ones at that).

So fitness is clearly more complicated than exercise and diet. All the same, I did lose a good deal of weight that way. I suppose I could introduce even more activity into my daily routine to better balance the sedentary/active ratio. In the end it would only mean my new pants, shirts and suits would need to be replaced yet again. Frankly, I’d prefer having a percentage point or two of body fat over another round of clothes buying and tailoring.

One good thing leads to another

There are a number of good things that I attribute directly to running. Besides the obvious (better health, strength and stamina) and the things that go with that (weight regulation, improved physique) there are a few other things that I’m enjoying:

  • Increased patience. There’s something about distance running (even the distances that I run) that help set internal expectations for tedious events. I know that when I’m at the beginning third or quarter of a run I sometimes get annoyed by what I have left to go. This is especially true for treadmill running where the constants are usually time and blank wall space. More and more I am able to reach a zone where I can make use of the tedium by thinking about things with few distractions. This is a huge breakthrough for me and evidence that I’ve nudged up a bit from beginner to intermediate. Previously I was too distracted by the suffering to do much thinking but, as conditioning improves, I have more time to enjoy my runs. The concepts of bearing up through other tedious things in life (commuting, long meetings, checkout lines) apply here as well. My wife and kids may disagree but I think I am much more patient than I was 6 months ago.
  • Broadened interests. First there was running but that led to running technologies and a greater interest in nutrition. I’m also looking forward to trail running (I know, just do it and stop writing about how I plan to do it!). I’m also thinking a lot more about integrating karate into my workouts and I’ll probably go back to roller blading once it warms up and the streets are clear of snow and dirt. There are many more things than that but, possibly most important of all, it gives me something to write about.
  • Energy. Let’s just say I’m much more willing to do activities on the weekends than I used to…

Running and activity also enhances engagement with people in a way that I have not experienced in a long time. I work with many smart, dynamic people and I’ve discovered many of them run, cycle or do multiple sports. This website allows me to engage with people across the country and the world through an area of common interest. My wife has always been an active person and my activity now compliments hers. She even did some running this weekend although it’s not her sport. Since the kids are getting into running it would be great if all four of us could run together. Running and general activity have enhanced every aspect of my life. What took me so long to come back to it?