It was 61 F, under a steady moderate light rain. Normally, before a run, I can just walk outside, sniff the air, and know what to wear. That clarity was eluding me that morning. My objective knowledge said: “Race temperatures ranging from 65 F, rising to 71 F. Winds will be 10 miles per hour, gusting to 20. You’re perfectly comfortable in the rain at 71 F. bare chested while running. Wineglass was 40, raining, and you were in long sleeves. You came across the line nearly hypothermic, but that was much colder.” It was so dark and rainy and seemingly cold…..I wanted to wear long sleeved fleece to stay warm. Objectivity won, however. I picked shorts, technical muscle tee, and hat under a heavy construction plastic bag for protection from the rain. It was roughly 1.75 miles from the Residence Inn Roslynn to the starting line. There, we waited roughly 45 minutes for the start. I began to shiver, putting on technical sleeves and grabbing a full technical tee shirt, looping it on my N belt. While I was only mildly chilly, though shivering, under my plastic bag, I was concerned that when my muscle tee became soaked after taking off the plastic bag.

I ditched the bag as the crowd of 30 thousand surged forward with the firing of the Marine howitzer, before I crossed the starting line. I warmed instantly, notwithstanding the 65 degree rain. Three quarters of a mile later, my arm covers were off. At first, I pulled them down to my wrists, but I was still too warm. They wound up retired them on my belt. The hat followed soon after. My original estimate stood: I’m comfortable at 65 F to 70 F in a muscle tee in occasionally heavy rain.

By 9 miles, in Rock Creek Park, the runners had become resigned to the rain. Each time it picked up, a cheer rose from us. It will be an iconic moment for me, running with 30 thousand others in the pelting rain, up the winding road into the park, then back down, returning to Georgetown. Then, the unthinkable happened. Distracted by my surroundings, I had abandoned my habit of watching the unfamiliar road before me. My foot came down in what I thought was a puddle of water. Instead, it was a pothole. I could feel my right ankle twist fully on its exterior side as I stepped on it. I stepped forward with my left leg, certain that I would surely when I placed weight on my right foot, I’d feel the pain. I knew I would fail to finish due to a major sprain. But, striding forward, I felt no pain. I passed a woman runner sitting on the side of the road being attended by medical personnel. She had fallen, hitting her face and was bleeding profusely from her forehead. During the next 11 miles, I waited for the swelling to come. It never did. I am stunned that the ankle wasn’t severely sprained.

The most challenging rain came around mile 12, while I was working my way south along Paines Point. It came down heaving, pelting in gusts of wind from the south, blowing unimpeded across the Potomac River. I heard grumbling as I passed a lady and slowed to tell her that in 6 months, this would be a pleasant memory. I told her that despite the weather at Wineglass, time had turned it’s memory into a positive experience. I shared a fond recollection of how the cows in the fields starting running along side us. I would later learn that we got 3.5 inches that morning.

It has been 9 years since my last marathon. I ask myself why I came back. I realize that without measurement, without comparison, I decline. Without visiting the scale nearly every day, my weight drifts up. Without putting that measure around my waist once a week, my girth grows. Without hanging myself off the chinning bar, my upper body gets weaker. Without testing myself in that grim, unforgiving contest between clock and distance, my body gets slower. For me, the marathon is the ultimate test of how well I have lived the last 12 months of my life to enable my strength of will, strength of body, and maximal aerobic capacity to focus on one moment of maximum effort against an unforgiving standard. It is my test of how willing and able I am to live life.

"Importance of Assessing Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Clinical Practice: A Case for Fitness as a Clinical Vital Sign: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association". Circulation. 134 (24): e653–e699. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000461. ISSN 0009-7322. PMID 27881567

I started the run planning on a 13:30 pace, based on what had felt comfortable in training. I was extremely disappointed by this as during my first 8 marathons, 10 mpm represented a fairly comfortable pace and 9:45 mpm was pretty much a PR. However, after a few miles, I found 12 mpm to appear sustainable, so I ran the whole effort trying to hit that goal. This became quite challenging after mile 20 or 21, but I managed close to it. It was a near maximal effort, my best on that day for the weather, my level of training, and admittedly my age. It has left me with a desire to do much better in 2020. Next fall, I need to see the fast side of 4:30 again. I realized that I probably trained too slowly this year, though perhaps giving my plantar fasciitis a full year to recover was not a mistake.

At 64, the commitment to be faster next year a remarkable mindset. It is not unlike the one that got me started at age 49. Fifteen years ago, my peers were telling me that I would ruin my knees or hips, give myself a heart attack, or some other dread mythical result of long distance training. Yet, over the past decade and a half, my physical ambitions have grown. I see the alternative result that arises from the cumulative effects of poor diet and inactivity across decades. We consistently lie to ourselves to indulge our vices. Then we lie to ourselves until we believe that the unnatural, unhealthy result of those vices is the normal way to be in our sixties…..and fifties...and so on.

After a 9 year hiatus, I finally ran my ninth marathon. In many ways, it felt like my first, given the insecurities I’ve had leading up to it. My first was the MCM. I feel that it was appropriate to return here.

Nice description of something I've felt most of my life, but have been unable to find a contemporary who seemed to understand. Now that I'm near retirement, they seem unable to comprehend my lack of an inclination to retire early. The Social System system is struggling to remain solvent. Full retirement age for my cohort is 66 and 2 months. I feel it is a duty as a member of the society to at least attain that age before retirement, contributing my part to the Social System system and society at large. The nation and individuals are facing the financial troubles that we are because we take more than we give; we spend more than we make; we do not see that society cannot work when it is composed of individuals who put themselves first.

Reading Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations, repeatedly focuses on his duty as Roman and emperor to contribute to the well being of Rome. Likewise, all my life, it has been my focus to provide for those who depend on me and to make my contribution to the collective good. I don't really know where this presumption came from. I first read Epictetus in a course on Classical Philosophy when I was 19. Denise Vause learned, to her unhappiness, of my stoicism in my resigned acceptance of orders in the Corps when they occurred at inconvenient times. While UF exposed me to the Stoics, I'd guess I probably read "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" while in high school. I know it rang truly the first time I read it.

In popularizing the term "American Dream" in 1931, James Truslow wrote "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement....It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position." Eighty years later, this has degenerated into a Kardashian fantasy of Trumpian excess. JFK's challenge to Americans, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" has been forgotten in the flood of materialism and consumerism. The movie "Generation Wealth" illuminates this with disgusting clarity.

Nations and empires are great only if their members are great. America will not be great or be great again until Americans are individually great. An individual is only great if he/she has maximized his/her contribution to the well-being of those around her and her nation. To do this, one must strive for maximum excellence in body and mind.

I realize that prayer is fundamentally different from sitting. In prayer, the actor is invariably asking for something from some other entity. In sitting, Zazen, the meditator is not addressing any other entity. The Buddhist meditator understands that there is nothing out there to pray to. Meditation is not about asking for something. The reasons given for meditation varies by practitioner. I do it to more viscerally understand what I already know objectively. All is change, all is transience. It is best to accept this and let go of attachments that try to ignore this reality.

Video games, careers, drugs, religions, music......all distract us from the fundamental truth of experience. Consciousness is a brief quirk in the evolution of time. We come into existence momentarily and in a flash the universe will snuff us out. Elizabethan Shakespeare understood this completely and captured the thought in Macbeth: "The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."

I understand that hard days should not come the day before a longer run. But Saturday, I ignored the advice. My plan it to run my 4 minute hill repeats on Thursdays,  but, last week, I did not meet my plan. So I ran my hill repeats on Saturday, then went out for an easy 15 on Sunday. I've managed DOMS all this week. Finally, today, I only feel a little residual tiredness and/or sorenes coming down the stairs at work.

When I was a young man, I ignored all the rules of thumb and wondered why they even existed. Since returning to running at age 49, I've come to know very well why the guidance exists.

I listened to the awful way we kill our old in one of Terri Gross's always wonderful interviews while driving home from work today, entitled "A Clearer Map For Aging: 'Elderhood' Shows How Geriatricians Help Seniors Thrive". It got me to thinking.....

It has been a long journey from my Woodsville radish patch, across high Alpennine trails overlooking the Mediterranean, to so efficiently navigating the labyrinthine halls of my Agency's Big Four. I can't say that I've enjoyed it, but I achieved everything I set out to do. As I approach the end of the journey, it is not death that I fear. It is how we force people to die. Dying as a vegetable, incapacitated by dementia and pain killers in some institution leaching away the personal savings I have accumulated for my wife is worse than any other conceivable end. We have laws put in place by people who have no understanding of the biological sciences and evolutionary fact. Instead, they impose some mishmash of views concerning the right way to die that springs from ideas more comparable to Medieval myths than the scientific facts. To compound the crime, they are encouraged along my industries making themselves rich off the sentimental lies we tell ourselves about life after death.

I have chosen the arc of my life every step of the way. I will not relinquish it at the end.

 

Down in my basement gym. It's upper body compound dumbbells today. I alternate dumbbell and barbell workouts for the variety. Compound movements because I don't have time to do isolate arms this morning. Compound movements provide the most bang for the buck/minute. 5 sets, 3 minutes between sets. Chest ups, db bench, reverse rows, db standing press. Skipping legs today: my back's a little sore from Monday's deadlifts.

I don't really call it cross-training. It's all training to me. Everything you do to improve is training. And I like the way it makes me look in a tee shirt. I keep at it because I keep improving. I know this can't go on indefinitely, but, at 64, improving is hugely rewarding. It defies the convention of what 64 is supposed to be. I don't really train like exercise authorities recommend. I go at it every day, resting only on sporadic days when I wake up tired and my body's demanding a rest. I train like I did when I was 24. The only significant difference is that I can't/don't run as fast. I can run much further, but not as fast. The weight I'm lifting now is beginning to approach what I was lifting 40 years ago, also. This is really quite an exploration as I run out my remaining years. I keep thinking....plyometrics and some sprinting...maybe I can match my old running paces.

I lost my focus last week and missed 2 runs and 2 strength work outs. This happens from time to time. I'm 10 weeks out from my 64'th. Physical fitness is the foundation upon which all mental and physical health rests. I cannot honestly claim injury or fitness. It was just loss of will and focus. I don't know why the wheels sometimes just come off. No excuse. I'm 151.7 lb. 16% body fat by impedance measure. This is too high. 

In wonderful Stoic Spartan manner:

"You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.
Ask for a stout heart that has no fear of death,
and deems length of days the least of Nature's gifts
that can endure any kind of toil,
that knows neither wrath nor desire and thinks
the woes and hard labors of Hercules better than
the loves and banquets and downy cushions of Sardanapalus.
What I commend to you, you can give to yourself;
For assuredly, the only road to a life of peace is virtue." 

Juvenal 

I lose my identity when I do not train. I flush into the pool of the indulgent lumpen consumers. 

I begin my strength workouts with deadlifts and pull up, 3 sets of the first, 5 of the second. By the time I'm finished with those movements, I am wide awake.

I don't use belts or straps, unlike in my youth. I firmly believe you are only as strong as your weakest link. A belt compresses your core. The increased internal pressure takes load off the back, making the deadlift easier. Likewise, straps relieve hands of the need to grip the bar as tightly. This decreases load on hands and forearms. What good are strong legs without a midsection capable of lifting what the legs did? What good are strong bicep and lats without the grip to move the object they pull?

Holistic training must leave behind no weak spots. Deadlifts and pull up are my most mentally demanding movements. Leading off with them, particularly at 04:15, is particularly difficult for me. My mind rebels against the exertion. This is a weakness. Mind or body, you are only as strong as your weakest link.

I slowed my rep tempo this morning and lost about a third of my reps. Jerking the weight and kipping cheat your muscles of the work. There is a place for plyometric training. But too often, those techniques degenerate to being a means of squeezing out more showy reps for bragging rights. I do not train for others. In the end, the only voice inside your head is your own. It is weakness if you need the deceived opinions of others to prop you up when you are alone inside your head with that one voice.

Mind, body, the link between them: train everything. Train for life.

I passed up my long run for 5 miles in the pollen. While running, my mind wandered, as it almost always does.

From something akin to a tree shrew to bipedalism, to enlarged cranium, to tool use, there is a continuous archeological record of human evolution. Now H. Sapiens sits as Rodin's Thinker, pondering the quantum universe. The senses of sight, smell, and sound that evolved hunting on savannas and the steppe no longer suffice. H. Sapiens extends his ability to conceive and know through abstract mathematical models because nothing in his experience can possibly explain or even be analogous to what he learns of the universe through careful measurement and thought. H. Sapiens as Thinker of abstract models becomes the God his ancestors thought they worship. H. Sapiens has becomes the measure of all things.

We saw the season's first hummingbird yesterday on Easter. He was a ruby-throat. It's an appropriate symbol for the rebirth of summer as the sun crosses the equatorial plane on it's return to the north.

My allergies have been really bad this year. I was knocked down after my 12-miler last Sunday and truly miserable on Monday and Tuesday. I spent the second half of the week trying to pull myself back to a sense of well-being. Yesterday, I pulled myself out of my physical and emotional funk enough to work legs. This morning, I'm doing compound upper dumbbells. In my own defense, however, there is a safety component to my lay off: my sense of balance has been mildly off during the week. Free weight training while experiencing mild vertigo is an invitation to disaster.

It is not a strong workout. Reps are down across the board. But I'm here. Paraphrasing: before the strong workouts must come the weak ones. It can be discouraging at times, but as much as I self-identify with my fitness, I have to stop the erosion in self-image.

It is inevitable, tomorrow's workout will be stronger. Tomorrow's will will be stronger. Tomorrow, Denise and I hit the roads running again. It is inevitable: Spring is here.

 

 

I've come across an amazing study published this month in The Lancet, Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017.

I've not had time to parse it, but a few results and thoughts come immediately to mind. The first is that, while we have pretty much eliminated starvation as a global health issue, the "findings show that suboptimal diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risks globally, including tobacco smoking". In this era of global obesity, people are dying at increasing rates because of poor choices made in what they eat.

I noted with interest that morbidity is now being quantified as well as mortality. Disability-adjusted life years (DALY) is the measure. The stunning results are that "high intake of sodium (3 million [1–5] deaths and 70 million [34–118] DALYs), low intake of whole grains (3 million [2–4] deaths and 82 million [59–109] DALYs), and low intake of fruits (2 million [1–4] deaths and 65 million [41–92] DALYs) were the leading dietary risk factors for deaths and DALYs globally and in many countries." Note that DALY is a life-year.

The world it killing itself on junk foods.

We've entered spring. In my quest to return to marathon fitness, I'm changing my training emphasis. I'm dropping the separate leg and upper body workouts 6 times a week and adopting a full body 3 times a week routine. As I try to increase running mileage, there is always a tension between my leg strength work and my need to have them endure miles. With the current scheme, I'll do my legs on non-running days. I was finding that both running and do leg strength work on the same day was really making me tired. Hopefully, by splitting them, I'll have more recovery time for both.

I do not see all this as optional. I am convinced that the leg work prevents running-related injuries: dead lifts, high load heel raises, good mornings, and split squats. There's some peer reviewed science to back me on this as well as personal experience. Additionally, the dead lifts, along with a more knowledgeable core routine, have me hefting wet mulch bags with more strength than any time in my life, including when I was an active duty Marine. The upper body work is not optional either. Progressive muscle loss begins in the sedentary population in their mid twenties. By their 60's and 70's they are either emaciated and frail or obese and hardly able to move. They tell themselves that they are the inevitable result of age and genetics. These are lies we all tell ourselves. Muscle loss is discretionary. Sarcopenia is reversible. Epigenetics is more powerful than genetics.

I track total volume for each exercise. Total volume is simply the weigh, multiplied by the number of times lifted, summed across all the sets of the exercise. I follow a traditional body building scheme where, once I hit 12 repetitions on all sets, I increase the weight by 10-15% and drop the repetitions down to 6-8 reps per set. The result is a satisfying rise in intensity as my muscles contract with additional intensity against the additional weight. But, with higher intensity comes lower ability to achieve volume: my total volume. I know objectively that this is a good thing. By cycling through sets of 6 reps and slowly building back to sets of 12, I am cycling through high-intensity, low volume and lower intensity, higher volume routines. This holistic approach stresses both strength and endurance systems in my body. Of course, that total volume number will drop for this particular work out, only to inevitably rise again as I continue to train.

This morning, it was supine pull ups. Last workout, I hit 5 sets of 12. Today, I laid a 10 pound weight across my chest and dropped to 6 reps. The additional weight brings additional focus. Sometimes, doing 12 reps almost becomes mindless; 6 reps, on the other hand, demand to be noticed.

This particular morning is the Monday after a more aggressive 11-miler. Mornings after harder, longer runs are always lower energy, no matter how careful I am in attending to recovery.

No matter, Friday's repeat of this morning's routine will show progress.

I've never tracked workout volume for strength training before. It is a simple concept. For an exercise, multiply the number of repetitions by the weight raised in each set. The sum of the results for all the sets is the volume of that exercise. It is a basic, unflinching metric of work performed. Decreasing rest periods between sets decreases the volume the athlete can achieve. Increasing sets, repetitions, or weight lifted increases the volume. I find that increasing goal repetitions or weight lifted often decreases my volume on that day for that exercise. If I have achieved 5 sets at a particular number of reps, I will increase the number in the next workout. However, I can often not sustain that increased number across all sets. Likewise, an increase in weight lifted often causes a drop in reps sufficient to drop the overall volume. But these are anomalies. With consistency, I increase the number of repetitions at the heavier weight with the goal of hitting 5 sets of 12.

The volume number sets a metric that the athlete must focus on raising. I'm beginning to see the impacts of improperly managed components of my life affect my strength when I let them intrude. With body, as with mind, consistent improvement can only be achieved by focus on desired goals. If you divert this focus to other things, let other things intrude, the metrics will show it.

I realize I much prefer a 3 minute rest between sets over 2 minute rests. I get a lot more intensity waiting that extra minute. Furthermore, my total volume is greater. Granted, that extra minute adds up to a full 12 minutes over the course of a workout. Sometimes on a weekday morning, I just don't have the time.