Friday, March 28, 2014

11 Ways Running Gets Harder As You Get Older

On a recent run, as I learned the hard way that 90 minutes between eating and running apparently is no longer sufficient, I came to realize that running gets harder as you get older. Naturally, a few miles later, I felt fantastic and was convinced that running actually gets easier as you get older.

Both statements are true. Certain aspects of running improve with age; others, not so much. This post will focus on how (and why) running gets harder as you get older. I’ll cover the positive stuff in a subsequent post. (Note: None of this is actually scientific.)

  1. You need rest. This comes in two forms: Sleep and days off. In my 20s, I could party into the wee hours of the morning, wake up a few hours later, and run a PR. You probably could, too. Now? Hangovers last two days. Forget it.
  2. You need to stretch constantly. Did you stretch after every workout in high school? Didn’t think so. Now, if you don’t stretch before you get into bed, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to get out of it the next morning. In fact, you should probably be stretching right now.
  3. Everything hurts. Even when you rest, stretch and foam roll, you’re sore. You can’t complain about it, either, because then everyone will just tell you to stop running.
  4. You need more downtime. As a result of everything described above, I usually need at least one day off after a hard workout -- sometimes two days.Same goes for bouncing back from races.
  5. Life gets in the way. You have a real job, real relationships, a home you actually care about keeping clean, a car that you don’t always want to smell like wet running shoes, pets, children, in-laws, school and 47 million other things to get in the way of training. This means running in the morning when you're tired, running at night when you're tired or running in the middle of the day when you're tired. Awesome.
  6. Your GI system gets sensitive. Back in the day, I used to eat dinner and run 45 minutes later. That was fun. Now my body apparently needs two hours to process a banana and some yogurt.
  7. You have to watch what you eat. Sure, publicly we brag about eating “whatever we want,” but privately we carefully measure out portions of proteins, carbs, fat and water so we don’t gain or lose too much weight. It’s a far cry from literally eating whatever we wanted while we ran in high school and college.
  8. You have to pee more. Didn’t wait in those pre-race PortaPotty lines in the halcyon days of your youth, did you? And just reading about having to pee made you have to pee, didn’t it?
  9. It’s more complicated. I started running in 1995. It took six years for me to even buy a watch. Now I wear a GPS-enabled watch that tracks distance, pace and time and input that data to a website that lets me track every workout. Oh, and then there are the shoes….
  10. It’s too hot. Now it’s too cold. Sensitivity to temperature only increases as you age. The days of wearing only shorts and a long-sleeve T-shirt on a 30-degree day are long gone.
  11. You never have leftovers. After running for more than 18 years, I need such ridiculous amounts of food to fuel my metabolism that I never get a doggie bag from restaurants, I need to cook for four if I want leftovers at dinner, and friends and family gawk whenever I eat.
I’m sure there are more than 11 ways running gets harder as you get older, but these are the ones that came to mind immediately. What did I miss?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Running in the Dark: Another Cautionary Tale

When you get down to it, you try to avoid two things when running in the dark: Falling down and getting hit by a car. (Yes, you try to avoid these things running in sunlight, too, but darkness magnifies the difficulty of the tasks.)

Earlier this winter, I offered a cautionary tale about what can happen on even your most familiar running routes. I let my guard down for a second, and I fell down.

Getting hit by a car also happens when you, or the driver of the car, let your guard down for a second. Obviously, you should pay attention at every intersection and street crossing, erring on the side of caution. Most people are lousy drivers, after all.

Now, you can't control how other people will drive, but you can control how you appear to them. One way to make sure drivers see you is to dress like this:

I hit most of the colors of the rainbow here: Red shoes, blue hat, green shirt, yellow vest, black tights and pasty white skin. And this doesn't even include my headlamp, which I put on after snapping this pic when I realized how dark it was outside.

Do I have any evidence that, had I dressed otherwise, a car would have hit me? No. But I imagine I was pretty hard to miss.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Don't Be Afraid to Run Naked (At the Wrist, That Is)

At my day job, covering technology, there’s a lot of talk about fitness apps and fitness gadgets and wearable tech and, in the context of healthcare, the quantified self. (Full disclosure: I contributed to the hype by creating a list of tech for the athletes on your Christmas list. To further prove I am a sellout, I made it a slideshow, too.)

There’s definitely value in tracking all this data. When you’re training, you need to make sure you’re hitting the right pace and distance -- and, frankly, it’s much easier to log that information and study it later if it comes from a fancy watch or smartphone. (Full disclosure, again, which makes sense since I put "naked" in the headline: I track my runs using dailymile.)

However, there’s also a downside to having so much data. It’s easy to fret over, especially when targets are missed. It doesn’t take into account that, say, your tempo run in 22-degree weather on snow- and ice-covered sidewalks couldn’t possibly happen at goal pace (as has been the case so often this winter). It’s not just times, too; steps taken in a day, miles run in a month, weight lost (or gained) or other numbers can quickly become obsessions -- and the problem can be further exacerbated when all this information gets shared on social media sites.

I fully recognize the benefit to aggregating and sharing this information. If you've started, and especially if you've started as a means of motivation, there's no point in returning to the 20th century and "guessing" how far, fast and long you've run.

Every once in a while, though, it pays to unplug. On an easy day, the watch stays home. On the first few runs after my post-marathon rest, the watch stays home. On days when the weather's terrible, and pace goals go out the window, the watch stays home (or freezes). On a rushed race day, the watch (often accidentally) stays home.

Running unplugged offers a few benefits. It helps to run "by feel," without constantly staring at your watch. It prepares you for situations when your watch fails you. It lets you clear your head, since you're not focusing on every little detail of your run. It lets you enjoy the scenery. It lets you return to your roots, to the freedom of running around your backyard or park for hours as a child, and appreciate our sport even more.

It certainly isn't easy. Like any routine, running with a watch is a hard habit to break. But if you have an easy run in your future, it might be worth leaving the watch behind and just seeing what happens.

Who knows? It just might be the start of a new routine.