TOJ's Top 10 Sorta-Resolutions for 2010

2010, this will be the year! I can feel it. Today I packed a snowball. Before I threw it, I vowed, "If it hits the ground, this will be the best year ever. Health, fitness, prosperity, peace, happiness. "

Sure enough, after a short arc through the cold air, down it went, hitting the ground! So with great confidence in the future based on that good omen, here are a TOJ's top 10 (you understand: it always has to be 10...Top 10 Movies of the Year, Top 10 Athletes of the Year -- I only had 7, but made up 3):

1. Eat more vegetables. (I'll try. I used to not eat them, but have learned to actually like some. The evidence is overwhelming that the more and the fresher and the rawer, the better. The complex nutrients in vegetables are better for you than almost any supplement -- and cheaper.)

2. Exercise less. (I keep running into this message. Latest is an article about Melody Fairchild in Colorado Runner. She was a child-phenom distance runner in high school who struggled in college. She realized, maybe too late, that less is more. Rest and recovery are the necessary yin of the exercise yang that enable health and even better athletic performance if that's what you're after.)
3. Drink less beer. (Ummm. I'll have to have a stout and think about that. Alcohol in moderation is supposed to be good for you, but there is countervailing evidence that beer gives you an insulin spike and contains empty calories. On the other hand, beer has also been shown to lower homocysteine (an amino acid that is considered a risk factor for heart disease) levels. Might have to have two stouts and think doubly hard about this.)

4. Stretch more. (I like stretching less than I like vegetables. I've never had an injury that stretching purportedly prevents. I like to do a few yoga positions, mostly along the lines of those in John Capouya's Real Men Do Yoga. For a TOJ it could make sense because as you age, tendons and ligaments tend to lose size and elasticity. A resolution needs the force of a goal: ok, I'll stretch at least 5 times this year.)

5. Warm up more. (Actually, I've gotten better and better with each year. Not before runs, because starting slow is a warm-up. But definitely before lifting weights. Joint sockets need to get lubricated and muscles warmed to avoid pulls and tears, both of which this TOJ has experienced. It takes only a few minutes to rev up your feet to your neck.)

6. Drink less caffeine. (I will go to Starbucks only on weekdays, weekends, and holidays. That's a promise.)

7. Drink more water. (Caffeine is a diuretic so it makes you lose water. Exercise makes you lose even more. Expresso and beer are not substitutes for pure H2O. Being properly hydrated helps your strength and stamina because you pump more blood easier and deliver nutrients and oxygen to cells more efficiently. Sure, you pee more and feel bloated. Tough.)

8. Sleep more. (There's a better chance this TOJ will eat more veggies. When I see recommendations for 8-9 hours for optimum recovery and health, I'm skeptical of the evidence. It seems too long. I'll take my 6-7 and a catnap here and there. Who's the rock star who said, "I'll rest when I'm dead?" Is he still alive?"

9. Take my fish oil. (I am fish-phobic due to childhood trauma from visits to the fish market in Tokyo. I strongly believe that we evolved from the ocean onto land to escape from fish. But the scientific evidence is overwhelming that the Omega-3's in fish oil (the refined stuff with the PCBs and other environmental pollutants removed) are good for both your physical and mental health. I cringe every time I swallow that pill knowing what's in it, but I won't be eating much fish in this lifetime, and this is one pill worth popping.)

10. When stressed, exercise harder. (This is as easy to me as eating chocolate. Whether little stuff at work (and remember problems at work are always minor in the same way most politics are banal) or the big stressors like war, global warming, terrorism, flu pandemics, disease and mortality, you cope better when you work up a sweat.)

Here's to a happy and healthful 2010 for you! Hope to see you out there!

Once Upon a Time a TOJ Discovered Trail Running

I remember my first trail run better than my first kiss. In the early 70s, we lived in an old house in Laporte, Colorado. With my two black Labs running around chasing squirrels, I'd walk for a half mile on a trail winding along the river, under a canopy of scraggly cottonwoods, then cut off at a fork in the trail to a junior high with a quarter-mile cinder track. There I'd do a regimen from Dr. Ken Cooper's Aerobics -- try to run two miles (8 laps) in less than 12 minutes (something like that, you got cardiovascular "points" for speed and distance).

In those days, running was done almost exclusively on oval tracks. Few people even hiked on trails, much less ran on them. REI was still a tiny co-op in Seattle, selling climbing ropes and ice axes to hard core mountaineers. The only trail runner I'd ever seen was in a film clip of Kip Keino, the great Kenyan distance runner who beat American world record holder Jim Ryun in the Olympic 1500 meters in Mexico City, then won a couple more Olympic distance medals four years later in Munich. In the film clip, Keino ran up sand dunes and across a vast stretches of desert. His running seemed so effortless and free-spirited.

Late one fall afternoon I was on the trail, headed to the junior high to run some laps, when, for no reason, I started to jog. The dogs found it so unusual that they stopped hunting to come see what I was up to and trotted along with me for a couple of minutes as I hopped over a few downed logs and mud puddles. I took the cutoff, ran my laps, then ran back.

A couple days later, as soon as I got on the trail, I started running. I stayed on the trail and ran right by the track for a couple more miles. It was challenging, less monotonous than running laps on a track, and the sound of crunching leaves and the river seemed to carry me along. I found myself totally absorbed in navigating the rocks, roots and windfall, and watching for wildlife. That was it, I was hooked. Trail running had called my name.

Since that time, in all kinds of weather, I've run trails all over the West -- in the Tetons, Gros Ventres, Valhallas, Never Summer Range, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Flat Tops, Wind Rivers, Cascades, Elk Mountains, Rocky Mountain National Park, even into the back bowls in Vail.

My generation didn't invent trail running. Humans ran for many generations before they ever raced, and there does seem to be something primordial about it. Many books on running begin with speculation on why we run, whether as hunters pursuing prey or prey fleeing predators. It is so natural that you have to wonder why something so natural and exhilarating seemed to go into hibernation in modern industrial societies as social stature increasingly equated with the amount of time you spent sitting on your butt as your body atrophied.

When it comes to exercise, each of us discovers what we like to do best. I enjoy other workouts besides trail running, but it will always be my favorite. I think about the poem by Robert Frost that goes, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..." That's how it was for me. I took off running on the one less travelled by, and it made all the difference.

You Gotta Have Heart

A heart rate monitor is to a TOJ what a telescope was to Galileo. It provides another insight beyond speed, reps, weight, or distance to measure exercise intensity.

While elite athletes use heart rate monitors as a precision instrument with which to train their bodies the the their max, this TOJ uses one because it is fun to explore how heart rate correlates to the spectrum of sensations experienced between exertion and exhaustion during intense or prolonged exercise.

I've made some interesting discoveries with my Polar heart rate monitor. I was surprised to find that when trudging up a mountainside my heart rate rises, but rarely gets as high has it does on the flats. Even more surprising was the tremendous drop in heart rate coming down. Though my thighs throb, my heart rate drops into a zone where it's not clear there's much training effect, at least according to the conventional calculations for the so-called aerobic zone. My heart also beats slightly harder on a bicycle going uphill than when I run.

Whenever I do intervals where my heart beats close to its maximum rate, I watch to see if it drops a minimum of 30 beats within a minute after completion of the interval. That's a reliable indicator of a good fitness level, and when it doesn't drop that fast after an interval, I'm nearing exhaustion. Sometimes when I workout hard several days in a row, I leave the monitor on after the workout to see how long it takes for my resting rate to return close to normal. If it doesn't return to normal within an hour or so, from my experience, that means I've not recovering between workouts, and that can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system, making me more susceptible to colds and flu.

Typically heart rate monitors are used to determine some number, based on age, close to maximum heart rate and then the aerobic and fat-burning range between 65% and 80% of maximum heart rate. Truth be told, determining optimum aerobic zones is an inexact science.

For years, dogma was that your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age, but the calculation has become more elaborate than that. In fact, it's difficult to determine exactly what your max heart rate is, although if you sprint to the point of exhaustion and capture the highest value on your heart rate monitor, you'll be close enough. (Note: Make sure your doctor has cleared you to exercise at that level of intensity, especially if you're a TOJ.)

Online you'll find a plethora of heart rate/aerobic zone calculators. One included a factor that differentiated between the rates for men and women. Here are three good examples: the Mayo Clinic, a fitness site, and a gear (like heart rate monitors) site. I found the gear site correlated the best with mine. Yours may be different.

Using a heart rate monitor during any kind of exercise will make you think about all kinds of things. Recently the NY Times had a good article that raised questions about whether it's best to train in the morning or in the afternoon. The author had discovered a pattern: according to her heart rate monitor, her heart rated tended to be lower in the morning and higher in the afternoon when doing the identical exercise. Some chrono-biologists chimed in that the body may be more primed for hard exercise in the afternoon.

By itself, heart rate is not very useful because it is affected by age, temperature and humidity, how rested your muscles are, what you've been eating, among many other factors. But I've found if you frequently wear one, you develop a sense of how all these are related and reflected in that number. WebMD has an informative summary of the myths and facts regarding heart rate, including the fact that your maximum heart rate declines 7 beats per decade of life. If you really want to learn a lot about it, check out Joe Friel's Total Heart Rate Training.

If you've been a good TOJ this year, ask Santa for one. It's a perfect recession gift -- good for your health and cheaper than a new pair of running shoes.

Merry Christmas!

The White Dragon

Early one morning, I was waiting at a gate in Denver International Airport for a flight to San Francisco that had been delayed because of snow. To pass the time, I was on my computer looking at running and exercise blogs. A man, whose hair was tied back in a long, dark braid, sat down beside me. He was wearing a black North Face jacket over some kind traditional garb tied by a colorful sash at his waist. He had knee high boots that appeared to be made of wool.

I noticed he had a pair of brand new trail shoes tied to the handle of a brown canvas carry on bag. "You a runner?" I asked. His age was hard to guess. His Asian face was ruddy, lustrous, and weathered, with eyes, surrounded by vague crowsfeet, sparkled like black diamonds. He nodded with a warm smile.

I asked him where he was going. "Home. Tibet," he said.

"Wow, I bet that's a tough place to run. The altitude," I said.

He shrugged. "High not so bad. White Dragon. Yes"

I thought about what he said. "White Dragon?" I asked, not understanding. He grinned and pointed to the snow swirling around the airplane outside beyond the window. "Ah, yes, now I understand. Yeah, snow can be tough."

"White Dragon tough," he offered. I asked him what he meant. In his broken English he explained that his ancestors taught him that there is a White Dragon that abides part of the year in a cave on a mountain near Mt. Everest in the Himalayas. Sometimes the White Dragon lives in the sky, but when it is in its cave, there is snow, which is like its skin. I asked him to tell me more and he gave me these laws of the White Snow Dragon. He said if you heed them and say a quick prayer to the White Dragon before each outing, you can run safely all winter long.

First Law: White Snow Dragon Hides
There's always some mystery when you run on snow because you don't always know what is really under your feet. The snow may be thin, but hiding a layer of ice. Deep snow can conceal rocks, roots and curbs. Start slowly to get the feel of the snow and surface underneath, watch for lumps and dimples where you are about to step. Run more upright with short strides and come down more flat-footed that you do in dry conditions.

Second Law: Stay Quiet So White Snow Dragon Sleeps
Be light on your feet. Float like you are on thin ice. You will not slip as much, or break through hard crust. If the snow is more than a couple inches deep, you take one successful stride at a time, not reach too far or gain the high forward momentum you attain in summer. If you slip, forward momentum will turn you into a comic figure.

Third Law: Fight White Dragon, White Snow Dragon Wins
You cannot overpower snow. If you push too hard with your foot, you will not turn the force of your muscles into kinetic energy, but dissipate it in the snow. That's tiring and why when you run on snow you will never run the same distance as fast as you do when its dry. Plan on a shorter, slower run. If even the most powerful athlete tries to attack a run in deep snow , s/he will collapse with exhaustion within a minutes. Submit and relax.

Fourth Law: White Dragon Centers All Beings
Find your balance by running with a low center of gravity. Balance from your core. If you r on ice or on a steep hill, keep your hands low and slightly away from your sides. The steeper, the lower. Enjoy the burn in your lower legs and ankles as they seek to find balance on an unstable surface.

Fifth Law: If White Dragon Wakes, Kiss the Earth
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you will fall. Relax your body as you go down and roll to minimize the shock to any one part. Keep your upper body strong so you can use your slightly bent, outstretched arms to soften the pull of gravity. If you don't hurt too bad, have a good laugh.

I had a hundred questions to ask him about the White Dragon, but they called to start boarding our flight. What about gear? What about different types of snows? Lots of trail runners retreat to gyms for the winter to escape snow and cold and jump on treadmills and other contraptions. But a TOJ on a treadmill is like a prisoner looking through the prison bars at the world going along outside. This TOJ loves snow because the best trails are less crowded, more big mammals are hanging around, and the running is challenging.

His zone was called to board, and I stood up to thank him for his advice and shake his hand. He was short, but sinewy and powerfully built. I glanced down at the trail shoes dangling from his bag. They we heavily lugged and had a high cuff, perfect for the deep snow where he was headed.

I thought about giving him a tip that if was going to run on ice a lot, he might want to get some 3/8 sheet metal screws and insert them around the outer edges of the shoe, maybe set them in a little Shoe Goo. That works as good a studded snow tires. But then I realized he might not have access to a hardware or running store, and just said, "I hope you have many happy miles in those shoes and don't wake the White Dragon."

He smiled. "Oh, no, I sell to a tourist in Kathmandu for fifty bucks. I run these," he said pointing to his wool boots with a Yak hide sole. "They stick like snow leopard."

As he disappeared down the Jetway, I was still smiling.

Breaking the Time Barrier

A wonderful thing happened -- the wristband on my Timex Ironman watch broke. So my watch stayed behind when I headed out the door with my dog just before dusk to run my favorite local trail.

I was primed to get outside and run because I had just returned from a several days of travelling in a car and sitting around a conference table discussing contentious stuff like health care reform. Before I started up the trail, I reflexively pulled back the sleeve of my windbreaker to reset the stop watch function, having forgotten it wasn't there.

I time runs out of an old habit. I keep a notebook log where I record the place, distance, time elapsed, time of day, temperature, and other noteworthy events, like animals sighted. But I didn't need the watch. I have run that trail so many times that I know the approximate times, plus or minus 30 seconds or so, that I will arrive at a certain tree, rock, or turn.

And I hadn't run too far before I realized how nice it was to not have it. It was great to just be out there running. The sun was setting, throwing dark shadows on the mountainside and chilling the air. My feet crunched rhythmically over a thin crust of metamorphosed snow from a storm a week earlier. I passed one trail marker after another oblivious to the time.

Athletes in general, and runners in particular, tend to suffer a little obsessive-compulsive disorder when it comes to time. You pick up a Runner's World and the pages are riddled with references to race times, splits, interval targets, and records. People are introduced by name, age, and his or her PR in the 10K or marathon. Much of the information, whether on training or nutrition, is mainly intended to shave minutes and seconds off a race time. Many of the interviewees are happy or sad based on time or eagerly looking to the future to see if they can beat a time.

On the cover of Trail Runner magazine, you always find a runner passing trough a spectacular landscape, like the Dolomites in Italy or vast aspen stands in Colorado. It conjures visions of stories about beauty and adventure waiting inside, but most of the pages are devoted to recaps of ultramarathons and finish times. Pain, injury, and disorientation from sleep deprivation or dehydration are frequent topics. It is the only magazine where you'll find the exact time it took a guy to run all the way around Grand Teton National Park or through Death Valley. In its pages, ultrarunners bag distances like hunters bag trophy elk heads.

It dawned on me as I trudged along the trail that a focus on time can be a barrier to the sheer fun of just running. Time can put unnecessary pressure and expectations that lead to disappointment. I recalled that I have found myself pushing harder up a hill to reach a marker because the watch indicates I'm off a certain self-expected pace. Running can lose its stress-busting magic if you create additional stress by focusing too much on time. Looking at a watch distracts from enjoying the beauty of a place, its contours and attractions.

And no doubt many injuries and illnesses (including mine on occasion) are caused people pushing too hard, day in, day out, to cover a certain distance at a pace that is too fast for them. Healthier runners are probably slower runners. Obviously competitive athletes need to train hard for events that are measured in seconds, minutes, and hours to win scholarships, money, and endorsements. But most of us are better off keeping the time obsession in check, especially TOJs, who should know better because any high stakes are purely imaginary.

Running without a watch let's you tune into your body, detached from the monotony of measured time, and find a pace that ebbs and flows naturally with the terrain, distance, and your biorhythms. Your body is rich with sensory information that goes far beyond numbers blinking on a screen. You can feel when to run hard and when to back off. It doesn't take a watch to know how you feel.

Back home, after my dog and I finished the run, I opened my log. In the column where a time is usually entered, I put a quick slash. I'll get a new band for my watch sometime soon -- don't want to late for a meeting! But nearing a new year, I resolve to run more without it. Each slash will indicate runs that were fun and timeless.

On Exercise, Dietary Supplements and Doping

When I'm walking down the street, people often stop and ask me (not really): Do you take supplements?

All athletes, whether world class or TOJs, are always alert for anything that makes them stronger and faster, or enhances endurance, or speeds recovery. At the extreme ends of the spectrum, there are the notorious, professional athletes who used illegal substances to enhance performance, like Mark McGuire (baseball), Marion Jones (track), or Floyd Landis (biking).

But the truth is most of us are separated from them by a thinner line than we like to admit. We all have our manias, whether running a 10K in a certain time or living to be 100 years old. In North America, we spend $16.4 billion a year on vitamin/dietary supplements, which is amazing given so little is actually known about them regarding their effectiveness and long term effects.

Consider these questions about supplements that have incomplete answers:

  • Do supplements actually do what the companies marketing them claim they will do?

    Fact: Few supplements have been subject to the rigorous double-blind studies to which medicines are tested to make these determinations. Because most supplements are derived from bountiful, natural sources, they are not patentable, therefore not attractive as investments to Big Pharma.
  • If so, have the correct dosages of these supplements been determined based on weight, age, health and other factors?

    Fact: No, for the reason above, though they are marketed by health food stores or multi-level schemes whose marketing materials clearly imply they have medicinal or health-enhancing properties. They are able to do this because the supplement industry, using the political machinery in Washington (e.g., Orin Hatch, who represents Utah, home to large supplement manufacturers) to protect it, have managed to fight to keep supplements classified as foods rather than medicines and avoid FDA regulation.
  • Do the supplements you buy contain the actual ingredients listed on the labels of the bottle?

    Fact:, which provides actual laboratory analyses of vitamin and other widely marketed supplements for a minimal fee (note, however, for a limited number of brands) says it finds about one in four products do not contain what is claimed. More alarming, many of the ingredients are made in China (the prosecution rests).

The key unresolved question is if the chemical compounds in these supplements, assuming they can be helpful, are not best acquired by eating good food. However, the supplement industry, not completely without justification, claims that due to soils being over-worked and depleted by industrial agriculture through overuse of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, long refrigeration, etc., healthful levels of these vitamins and minerals are missing. Hence we need to pop pills.

In December 2008, I blogged about the challenges facing a TOJ trying to figure out what's best to eat/swallow. I recommended people interested in the topic of supplements to read Dan Hurley's Natural Causes: Death, Lies, and Politics in America's Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry. In the interest of self-disclosure, this TOJ is hostile towards the diet supplement segment of the industry because my family suffered a tragic loss from the unregulated use of ephedra.

All this said, athletes place unique stresses on their bones, lungs, hearts, muscles and immune systems. Some supplements do show promise to ameliorate the inflammation that follows hard workouts, and help the body to resume anabolic processes (cell building) and resist opportunistic viruses like colds and flu.

So, in answer to the question: Does this TOJ take supplements? Yes, a few. More later on which ones and why. I take them based on a formula of 20% faith and 20% science, mixed with a 60% dose of healthy skepticism.

Running, Shakespeare and Zen

Shakespeare wrote several hundred sonnets, a kind of poem composed of three quatrains (four lines) and a couplet (two lines). One of his most famous and revered is Sonnet 73. It's a sad poem about mortality. No surprise, I usually remember it around my birthday, a date when we all realize time is going by and we get a reminder of our own mortality. Sonnet 73 starts with:

That time of year thou mayest in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang

Upon those bows that shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet bird sang.

He slips that first metaphor in like the master he was -- he's not talking about the fall season, but himself. He continues in the next two quatrains to compare himself to the onset of nightfall, then to a fading fire. With each new metaphor, you descend an emotional staircase with him, and with each step down, the mood becomes darker and starker -- we live and die and must separate from everything we love.

However, though the poem is beautifully written (so well the words have stuck with me for decades, ever since a nun made me memorize it in high schooI), maybe Bill sat too long hunkered over his desk, brooding too much on the Big Topics like life, love, and death. I wonder what his mood and writing would have been like if he had been a runner and got out a few times a week to pound the cobblestones under London's gloomy grey sky.

Many people who run continuously for more than 30 minutes have experienced the runner's high, a feeling of calm and well-being that is a pleasant side effect of aerobic exercise. It is a well-understood physical phenomenon that neurologists attribute it to the release of endorphins in the brain. When its there, you are very cognizant that you feel good, and the feeling can linger for hours after you finish a run.

If you want to read an interesting scientific explanation of the neuroscience of the runners high,, pick up a copy of Christoper Bergland's The Athlete's Way: Sweat and the Biology of Bliss (a fine book that deserves a wider audience). In fact, the exercise-induced high is so predictable that John Ratey, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, believes that aerobic exercise can be considered an effective treatment for a range of mental and emotional disorders.

I get a runners high on many runs, sometimes more intensely than others. I've no doubt that this endorphin rush is addictive, and the reason Runner's World has so many subscribers and so many people of all sizes and shapes toe the starting line for races 10K and longer.

But every once in a while when I'm deep into a run, something very different occurs that is beyond a runners high. It has only happened a few times and is hard to describe in words, but suddenly you as a thinker goes away, and you are just running. There is no sense of time. The color of every bush, rock, and cloud is thrilling and vivid. There are breathing sounds and leg pains, but they don't belong to anybody. It's more than a high, it's an ecstatic absorption in the moment. It's short, intense, and very cool.

What I'm trying to describe is better said in an ancient story from Zen Buddhism. In the story, a man is dangling over a cliff, desperately clinging to a vine. Above him, two mice are chewing through the vine. Below, two tigers are circling, looking up, waiting for him to fall. As the man ponders his difficult situation, he looks right in front of him and sees a wild strawberry plant growing from a crack in the rocks. He reaches out, plucks the deep red fruit, and takes a bite. How sweet it tastes!

If I'd been around London in the early 1600's, this TOJ would have dropped by Shakespeare's place. I would have said, "Bill, put down the quill. You need to get off your butt and sweat a little. Let's go for a run. If we're lucky, maybe we'll find some strawberries."

The visit might have changed the entire course of English literature by taking the edge off all the drama and trauma in human events about which he obsessed so much. He might have stopped after the first quatrain of Sonnet 73 once he laced up his Sauconys and run along the Thames for a few miles because his melancholy would have vanished. The world's loss would have been his gain.

--This blog is dedicated to Tom Wayman, my favorite foreign poet

Exercising on the Edge

A couple weeks ago a strange and terrible thing happened: three runners died in the Detroit Half Marathon. The men, 26, 36, and 65, all died within sixteen minutes of each other. News of the tragedy gave pause (hopefully a short one) to endurance athletes everywhere.

In wake of the tragedy, the Internet buzzed with speculation as to what happened. One blogger was convinced that a demented person had poisoned the water at one of the rest stops. It will be interesting to see what the pathologists conclude, if made public.

Facts regarding each of the men's health and medical history are few. They were probably in pretty good shape based on what I've read. The death of the 65 year old was no great a surprise because, as every TOJ knows, odds of sudden death during exercise rise steadily as a function of age, and he reputedly had some lung problems. When young men die during exercise, it is usually attributed to an electrical conduction or other hidden heart defect.

The weekend after the Detroit event I received an email from Dr. Al Sears (, who runs a wellness and longevity center in Florida, and is a strong opponent of aerobic training, especially running marathons. His email claims this type of exercise "shrinks your lungs and downsizes your heart's output." Further, studies have shown that blood samples taken from people who have completed marathons have exhibited the same enzymes that are present during a heart attack. Dr. Sears sells an program that is based on progressively short anaerobic bursts of exercise, which be believes are safer and help you live longer.

I forwarded his email to another TOJ who is a distance runner (had just finished the Humboldt County Marathon in California) and a physician. His reaction was illuminating. He said it might be true you live longer if you exclusively follow a short interval program like Dr. Sears, but there is no scientific evidence that it does. Furthermore, most distance runners use a variety of exercise, including intense progressive intervals.

This distance runner/physician's most important point was that how you exercise really depends on the outcome you seek. If you want to run a marathon, you have to train for it, which is true for any challenging physical endeavor. If your goal is just to live a long time, it might not be necessary to do many of the forms of physical exercise that a TOJ enjoys. Most TOJs exercise hard because it enhances the quality of their lives. Quantity, as measured in years, is just a secondary effect, and subject many other factors like genetics and environment.

My friend speculated that there might be subsets of people for whom distance running is good, and others for whom it is detrimental. But being able to identity who falls into which category waits future study. Right now, to use his words, we are still in the medical dark ages when it comes to long term effects of exercise.

For most of us, any exercise where you ramp up your heart rate -- whether in intense, sub-minute anaerobic bursts that leave leave you breathless or in long aerobic activities where you dwell minutes and hours at at the burning upper end of your aerobic capacity -- presents some risk. You don't know know where you reach a dangerous tipping point, and, luckily most of us never find out.

The men whose lives ended in Detroit did. While it is doubtless a tragedy for their family and friends, this TOJ admires that they were in the race.

The Best Weight to Train with Is Your Own Body

TOJs hunt for the best exercise ideas. Among the best are the techniques used by special forces in the military, which has known for a long time that the optimum weight to lift in your training is your own body. Unlike a gym, it's accessible 24/7, no matter where you are. Unlike a free weights, kettle bells, or elaborate weight machines, it's free. Most important, putting your body through these workouts develop strength, balance, power, endurance and flexibility -- the very physical characteristics a TOJ seeks.

Pick up a copy of Mark de Lisle's Special Ops Fitness Training or Andrew Flach and Peter Peck's The Official United States Navy Seal Workout. The exercises may seem basic and mundane. Many you'll recognize as calisthenics from high school gym class that involve lifting, pushing, pulling, squatting, and jumping. Although I enjoy lifting weights once a week, these exercises are superior, and harder, in several ways.

First, they develop functional strength that you need in everyday life or athletic/fitness endeavors. They are total body workouts involving multiple muscle groups, not the isolated hypertrophied muscles you get with standard repetitive weight lifting, e.g., Sylvester Stallone's biceps in Rambo. Bulging muscles are actually useless except for photographs (and big muscles weigh you down when you run and turn to parking lots for fat cells if you don't keep them toned).

Second, they develop coordination from head to toe. Some exercises require the body to be held up like a suspension bridge, others to balance in an awkward position as the muscles burn. Full body exercises fire nerves and pump lymph through your body via muscle contraction, both natural health tonics.

Third, they take you through a wide range of motion, sometimes as a stretch, sometimes as a lift. The exercises include dynamic stretches that are more effective than static yoga poses. TOJs need to make an extra effort to promote flexibility while maintaining their strength.

Fourth, they place an emphasis on the core muscles in the abdomen, lower back, and butt. TOJs don't give a damn about six pack abs like you see on the cover of Men's Health, but they know that because this area of our anatomy is the epicenter from which all strength and balance emanates. Back pain is a frequent skeletal/neurological complaint and is controlled or eliminated by a strong core.

One type of exercise the military regimens encouraged me to include in my weekly routine is jumping, like you see kids and athletes do every day. There are lots of ways to jump, from jumping jacks to star jumpers to frog jumps. There is a whole exercise science called plyometrics (for a quick intro to to that is based on jumping. It is strenuous, and you need to gradually relearn to do it if you haven't for years.

The benefits of jumping are obvious after a couple of weeks. Beyond the anaerobic cardiovascular challenge (at first you won't jump for long), you develop explosive strength. The muscles must fire hard to get you airborne and the g-forces as you come down help your foot and ankle strength, as well as stimulate stronger bones and good balance. And it's exhilarating -- we're hardwired to jump when we feel joy.

Go slowly with your jumps. Build up over weeks and months. To get started, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and just bounce lightly for a couple minutes with your feet on the ground, raising from your heels up onto your toes. Then as you get stronger, put an inch of space between your feet and the ground. That will acclimate you and lay the foundation for higher jumps. Don't hurry, don't try to jump too high, too soon. Start slow and low, and go higher.

If you're a TOJ, don't expect to do the same number of reps or perfectly match every exercise you see young, exceptional soldiers perform. They are as elite as any NBA or NFL player, and, by most measures, more fit. Go slow. Where they recommend 30 reps, do 10. Do only what you are comfortable with.

Mark de Lisle gives some good advice he says is heeded by special ops during their training to avoid injury. It is doubly true for TOJs -- do the exercises smoothly and with control. If your form falters, stop. When you start to lose your form, it means you are at a level of fatigue where you are at risk for injury.

Navy Seals and Special Ops troops don't stay fit to win multi-million dollar sports contracts or endorsements on TV and in glossy magazines for underwear and deoderants. For them, fitness can be a matter of life and death. If these exercises are good enough for them, they are good enough for a TOJ.

Fitness Lessons from the Ultimate Coach

If I were going to be stranded on a desert island and could only take one book on exercise and fitness, it would be an easy choice -- The Ultimate Fit or Fat by Covert Bailey. That's a high compliment because I have a pretty good collection of books on those topics.

In the case of Covert Bailey, you really can't judge a book by its cover. They sometimes have a cartoon or a goofy picture of him wearing a tie, a stark contrast to the present day fitness books with Photo-shopped shots of sleek super-bodies and bulging muscles. Don't be fooled: he knows his stuff.

Now retired and in his late seventies, Covert Bailey made his book debut in 1978, around the time the aerobics movement was quickly gaining strength. He had a graduate degree from MIT in biochemistry and learned his first lessons on diet and exercise from lab rats. He went on to sell over 6 million books and had a show on PBS (though I never saw it). And he did it in a light-hearted, straightforward style that is accessible, inspiring, and devoid of scientific jargon (though he once expounded on the Krebs Cycle and ATP with a raw display of expertise that would stand with any PhD).

The Ultimate Fit or Fat, his last book, was published in 1999. That may seem so, like, last century, but Covert Bailey set forth all the enduring principles of exercise for health and wellness that are still valid today. I reread it recently and realized how much my guiding principles were influenced by him. Here are some lessons he taught me:
  • The best exercise for you is the one you like to do best. No one exercise size fits all because of differences in age, genetic makeup, injuries and a host of other factors.
  • Fitness is a lifelong endeavor that is health and wellness, not competition.
  • Muscle metabolism, not just diet, controls your weight, and it's exercise that controls metabolism. If you focus on developing a conditioned body, weight takes care of itself.
  • Forget about body image. Exercise to strengthen your bones, improve your immune and cardiovascular system, and improve your brain function and nervous system.
  • Aerobic exercise must be mixed with sprints, strength training, and recovery.
  • Exercise is for people of all ages.
  • Keep exercise fun like play is for a child. If you get too intense about it, you steal the joy and increase the odds of injury.
  • As you age, exercise longer, but more gently than you did in your youth. And don't do the same exercise two days in a row.

There's an insightful poem that Covert wrote when he was sixty-seven years old:

I'm in training!
For what?
Oh, just training.
I'm thinking about
the mountains I'm going to climb,
the rivers yet to be paddled,
the square dance that lasts half the night.

Read it a second time because this might be his most important lesson of all.

Turning the Orange

This TOJ will soon abandon his favorite running trail, though fall is the sweet season for a trail runner in Colorado because the sun moves further south, making for cool mornings and warm days that are perfect for distance running.

Unfortunately, just as the aspen and oak leaves start to turn spectacular yellows and reds that cover the mountain sides as far as the eye can see, one very unnatural color also arrives -- day-glow orange, the safety color of vests and hats worn by a mechanized army of big game hunters. For the next three months, I share my favorite BLM trail with armed strangers who make a valuable contribution to the local economy by their conspicuous consumption, but present a clear and present danger to back country runners.

In his book Why We Run: A Natural History, the biologist Bernd Heinrich speculated that running taps into primordial hunting instincts that we share with our ancient relatives on the African savanna. He writes, "It is not the hunting that motivates, nor is it the prize as such. The allure is being out in the woods, in having all senses on edge, and in the chase." Although I love to run, I've never had fantasies that I'm on a hunt, though I see big game all the time. And the Bubbas I see riding around on ATVs, clearly there only to hunt, don't act like they feel much connection with ancient hunters depicted in cave pictographs either.

Big game season starts with bow hunters, clad head to toe in camouflage, and old fashioned muzzle loaders. I won't see many of them. Anybody hunting where I run in early September will find slim pickings because the most big game are up on the Flattops above 9,000 feet where it's cooler and there is more cover to hide in and understory to eat. Where I run at 6,000 feet, the gambel oak and grasses are so dry that any movement will instantly give a hunter away. I never worry about these hunters mistaking me for a buck because they must be close enough to their target to see exactly what they are shooting at due to the limited range of their weapons.

However, in the second half of September come the first crack of rifles. Once the rifles are around, I remember the message of the X-Files: Trust No One, and I start wearing the day-glow orange vest I bought years ago at Wally World for $5. By wearing the orange vest, I exhibit a kind of respect for hunters that says I recognize their presence and acknowledge their customs.

The Colorado rifle hunting season for deer and elk stretches over October, November, and early December. How many hunters show up where I run depends on how much snow starts falling 10 miles away, up the high country. Heavy snow drives down the deer and elk. By late October the hunting can be really good where I run if the storms come, but the last couple of years, its been too warm and the snows later to arrive.

Last fall on opening weekend, early morning I headed up the trail. At the top of the first climb were a couple of trucks with California plates. They had set up a nice camp with several wall tents, a neat stack of wood, and large metal fire ring. I didn't see any of them around as I went by, but when I came down one of them was standing along the trail near the camp in his day-glow orange vest and hat. I waved a hello and the man waved back and stepped out like he'd like to talk, which is not usually the case. There is often a look of surprise or suspicion when hunters see me on the trail in running shoes and shorts, orange vest on or not, like a TOJ is out of place.

It's an expensive proposition to be an out of state hunter in Colorado because the licenses are pricey, not to mention miles of travel and hauling a ton of gear. I always know if game is around because I watch for tracks as I trudge along trying to avoid tripping on a rock or root. Last year there weren't many in early October. Too hot and dry. I advised him to move their camp up higher, but they stayed there the whole time, and I never saw signs they had any luck.

In late October and into November the first snows usually come, a little at first, then steadily heavier. It's also when the Bubbas show up. Bubbas drive big macho-trucks to haul huge campers and trailers with multiple ATVs. They never heard of roughing it. Most come from out of state. They cluster at the bottom of the trail like fidgety soldiers awaiting the order to launch a military operation. Their rifles are in black plastic scabbards, and often a cooler of beer (judging by the trash I find after they leave, they prefer cheap American pilsners) is strapped on the rack of their ATVs. Because they spend so much time sitting on their butts, they have to bundle up in single piece suits and hats pulled down over their ears to avoid freezing. When they are revving their ATVs before they head up in single file, you can't hear anything else over the roar and the air stinks of engine exhaust. So much for Heinrich's romantic idea of having your "senses on edge and in the chase."

I have a rule. If three or more Bubba trucks are at the bottom of the trail, especially if their plates are from out of state, I don't go up. Instead I head north on the asphalt road going through the valley ranch land. Or right after work I'll run up a hard uphill trail that starts in the town where my office is located. I run with a headlamp because it starts to get dark at 5 pm. There it's beautiful and quiet as the stars come out and the lights turn on in the town below. And no hunting is allowed.

A day-glow vest isn't enough of a guarantee to make me feel confident that I won't get accidentally shot by a jumpy, pot-gutted Bubba whose brain has been altered by buck fever and cheap beer. (Accidental shootings don't happen often, but do happen. A few years ago, about five miles from where I run, a guy hunting wild turkey shot and killed another guy hunting wild turkey. The guy who got killed was hiding behind a bush. When he moved the bush, the other guy fired at the bush thinking there was a turkey. And of course, remember Dick Cheney.) If heavy wet snow has fallen, their deep lug tires will rip the trail to shreds, cutting deep muddy ruts as they fishtail up the hill with throttles open wide. Running becomes difficult, if not impossible.

I have no moral issues with hunters killing animals to eat. I eat meat as couple times a week, and the meat that hunters "harvest" is much more nutritious and safer than anything they are likely to buy in a supermarket (see Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won't Eat Meat by Howard F. Lyman and Glen Merzer, one of the first books to expose the dangerous levels of antibiotics and hormones that pollute many industrially produced meat products). Besides, some hunters rely on game to feed their families, especially in this recession. Best of luck to them.

However, I don't think the Bubbas have much interest in nature, certainly not in the well being of their own bodies. Why can't they walk? Why do they smoke so much? What's with all the Twinkie wrappers? Once I found two large cow elk carcasses; the steaks had been neatly carved off the entire length of spines and the remainder of the meat left to rot. Real hunters are the pure of heart -- they trek, climb, stalk, track, use stealth, appreciate animal behavior, and leave no trace as they pursue their game. And they eat what they kill -- all of it. Real hunters are an endangered species. What I see must make Ernest Hemingway and Teddy Roosevelt roll over in their graves.

By the last month of the season, I'm in voluntary exile. But that's okay. In mid-December, big game season is over, and the hunters disappear just like the leaves on the trees. My day-glow vest is wadded up and stuck in a corner of a closet. For the next five months, all you'll find up there are the wind blown tracks of deer, elk, coyote, and a TOJ.

Obama and the Health of the Body Politic

This TOJ supports President Obama's courageous efforts to reform U.S. healthcare. Your good health depends on many factors, including an accessible, high quality healthcare system. Right now that is not what we have.

Since President Obama took the first steps towards the healthcare reform he promised in his campaign, the Big Pharma-AMA-Insurance cartel have unleashed armies of lobbyists in Washington and funnelled millions to cowardly Blue Dog Democrats and fringe elements within the Republican Party. They hope to derail healthcare reform now just as they did in the Clinton era to protect their corporate jets, country club memberships and excessive compensation.

Their job has been made much easier by a mediocre, gutless press that diverts public attention to drug-addicted, dead pop stars and away from pressing healthcare issues that have the potential to bankrupt this country and shorten the lives of our children and grandchildren. The media has failed miserably at this pivotal time and shares responsibility for the loud microphone they have handed over to devious liars, manipulators, and political hacks like Sarah Pallin. She quit the only responsible elected position she ever held, yet she is given national coverage for her non-sensical views on death panels?

Last week I got email from President Obama's organization that he was going to be speaking at a town hall on Saturday in Grand Junction, Colorado, which is a little over an hour from where we live. The email was a plea for supporters of the President's efforts to show up for a rally to counter the anti-reform protesters that we going to gather there as well.

Having tracked the innane coverage of healthcare reform on both the major networks and the cable channels, I didn't need to be convinced the President needs help. From watching talking heads on split screens, who are paid big bucks to engage for faux-debates as to whether President Obama really has secret plans to euthanize the elderly or intends a Bolshevik takeover of hospitals, it was clear to me that caring citizens must stand together to protect the key elements of healthcare reform, despite all odds.

So on Saturday we headed down I-70 to Grand Junction, and arrived there around 2 pm. We parked and hiked through a weedy field to the rally staging area. It was a hot day, in the 90s, with a blustery, dry wind swirling dust devils (Grand Junction sits on a flat desert irrigated by the Colorado River). Soon there was a person with an Obama sign who directed us to a registration area, where we signed up (no doubt to receive pleas for money to fight an ad war that fuels the very corporate media that has been aligned to defeat true healthcare reform) and given posters to hold up that read, "Standing Together for Health Insurance Reform."

Health insurance reform? We need health services delivery reform. The problem is not about insurance, but fee for service, unnecessary procedures, ridiculous compensation to self-referring specialists, poor quality, hospitals duplicating purchases of high technology that ends up being underutilized, AMA resistance to wider utilization of non-physician providers in order to restrict the supply of medical providers, and a host of other well known issues. Insurance companies stand in the middle of these transactions, taking a big cut, but adding no value. They have no more incentive to lower cost than banks who took a percentage of the mortgage on a bubble-inflated house and caused the collapse of our financial system. If nothing changes, healthcare will have its turn. Look at your bill the next time you visit the emergency room at your local hospital.

But I understand the President has been abandoned by many of his congressional party members who lack the vision and leadership to stand with him on this issue. Steadily they are dragging down his bold agenda. Their focus is re-election, not leadership. So we will probably be left with a patchwork of ineffective minor reforms that, in the long term, will exclude even more people from care.

The President was scheduled to speak at 4 pm. Three hundred yards away you could see the check-in area where 1,000 dignitaries and randomly chosen citizens were undergoing security checks before entering the building. And there were large vans with satellite dishes identified with the usual corporate media logos. Police were everywhere, even on top of the building. I hoped maybe to catch a glimpse of President Obama, but I overheard someone say the last time he was there during the campaign they took him in a back door.

The pro-reform supporters stood several deep on one side of the main road leading to the high school, waving their signs. We had a temporary stage with loud speakers from which a congressman had spoken just before we arrived. He had already left to get through security at the high school. Sometimes the speakers would blare out John Lennon's " All You Need is Love" or Springsteen's "Born in the USA." The pro-reform supports would sway and wave their signs to the beat. One young woman, who had her talking points down, got up and tried to work up the crowd.

A couple of young men held a colorful banner with the message, "Stay Positive."

I climbed on a small pile of dirt to see what the anti-reform contingent had to say and was stunned at what I saw. Across the street was a snarling, angry mob, waving anti-Obama signs with absolutely bizarre, destructive, and incoherent messages, which had nothing to do with healthcare, such as:

Until you see something like that, you don't realize how deeply a certain swath of people just will not accept that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. They are consumed with irrational fear. A woman standing next to me said, "Lord, I wonder if they have guns." Good question. I did notice one thing -- they were all Caucasian, mainly old Boomers and a few kids who looked like skin-heads.

Around 3:30 a helicopter approached and took a swing around the high school and out towards the throng of rallying pro and conners. Everyone thought the President might be aboard and waved their signs upwards, or, in the case of the folks across the street, flipped the bird or waved their fists. But the helicopter soon took off away from the high school, and some resumed taunting each other and moved towards each other with threats so the police had to get in between them.

A friend from up where I live showed up with a sign saying he was a moderate and was standing in the middle of the street, handing out a factsheet of data collected on the internet about how much money is spent on healthcare and our poor rankings on key health indicators such as infant mortality and longevity. A police officer told him to get out of the street.

Eventually a huge jet, with landing lights on and the baby blue markings of Air Force One, passed overhead in a slow, wide turn, off towards the airport. Fifteen minutes later the military helicopter passed over again and hovered here and there around the school, but never set down. We never figured out how they had gotten the President into the building. The Secret Service had done the right thing keeping him clear of this seething mob.

It was after 4 pm. We wanted to hear what the president had to say, but no provision had been made to get his speech broadcast to the rally, so we trekked back through the field to our car, and headed back to I-70. When the radio came on, we scanned until a station came on with his calm, logical voice explaining to the crowd why healthcare reform is so important to the future of our country.

Each day where I work in a community health center, we see how the limitations and inequities of our healthcare system cause economic hardship, physical and mental suffering, and, not to be melodramatic, even death to a growing number of Americans. Someday it might be you or someone in your family, especially if you lose your job or get really sick. Don't rely on media to help you understand what is going on; the media is missing-in-action just like it was during the buildup to the war in Iraq. Your health is not as interesting to them as who will be on the next "Dancing With the Stars." Find out the facts for yourself. Go to

As I watched Air Force One circle overhead, I wondered if sometimes it must be hard for President Obama to come back down to earth and face fellow countrymen who are so uninformed and blind to what really matters. President Obama is an enormously talented and bright man, a kind of person who comes along very rarely in public service. History will determine, not if he was up to the job, but if we were. This TOJ still has hope.

Mick Jagger Receives TOJ Honor

For immediate release: Mick Jagger, lead singer of a music group called the Rolling Stones, has been named a honorary TOJ, a recognition that must rank a close second to having been knighted by the Prince of Wales in 2003. Many hard core TOJs are confused how such a high and rare honor could be conferred on such a skinny runt (143 lbs.) better known for sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Thus far he has not commented publicly on the honor; rumor has it he is just too overcome with emotion.

The other night I was watching Martin Scorsese's 2006 "Shine a Light," an entertaining documentary about the Rolling Stones' performance at New York's Beacon Theatre, when something caught my attention -- Mick Jagger's energy as he strutted and danced during the entire concert was mind boggling! He was around 63 at the time. In a concert, you can fake singing by lip syncing, but there's no way to fake the intense workout he put his body through in that performance. A TOJ recognizes strength and endurance when he or she sees it.

I'd seen Jagger perform up close in 1970, and though his stage style was high-energy, but he was limited in his range of movements by microphone cords and a relatively small stage. But when I saw him again on the Voodoo Lounge tour in the 90's, and he had clearly elevated his fitness to a new level because he was performing in Mile High Stadium in Denver, where I've seen many NFL players brought to their knees by the altitude. The stage had long runways extending twenty yards on either side, and Jagger, liberated by a wireless microphone, skipped and ran back and forth, non-stop, all night long. That night I wondered if he wasn't a closet fitness nut, the yin of Keith Richards' dissolute yang, because that level of fitness doesn't happen by accident or just good genes.

The Scorsese film confirmed my suspicion. I went online and Googled "Mick Jagger + physical training." What popped up was an article from the Vancouver Sun, written in the same year, that reported Jagger routinely runs 12km, kick boxes, lifts weights, rides a bike, and practices yoga and ballet. He also eats an excellent training diet that is heavy on low-fat foods and grains. He even travels with a trainer and dietitian like many pro athletes. Read it for yourself at:

Mick Jagger has earned his honorary TOJ membership because he's an inspiring example to young and old alike when it comes to fitness (yes, his love life is another story). You do not need to compete for medals or endorse energy drinks to be an athlete. It's more simple than that: you exercise hard, eat right, and rest.

In the documentary, there is a clip of an interview with a twenty-something Mick Jagger. He's asked if he can imagine himself being a rock singer when he is in his sixties. With a smile, Jagger answers, "Easily." I bet if you asked him today if he imagines himself exercising when he is in his nineties, his answer would be the same. Jagger may be a famous rock star, but away from the stage, he's a TOJ.