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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://www.consumerlab.com/, 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.
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
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 (http://www.alsearsmd.com/), 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.
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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plyometrics) 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.
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!
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.