Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Running Late

“It’s an exciting, cutting-edge field with discoveries in science and performances showing the best is still ahead.”

The above is a direct quote from Dr. Cathy Utzschneider referring to recent research on masters athletes. A professor of physiology and competitive performance at Boston College, Utzschneider’s ground-breaking book, Mastering Running is the culmination of knowledge gained during seven years’ doctoral study and her personal experience as a competitive athlete and coach for Liberty Athletic Club with members ranging from their 20s to 70s.

She is also the author of MOVE! And contributes regularly to National Masters Running News. “You want to keep training when you know that exercise can increase the size of your brain’s frontal lobes controlling decision-making, multitasking, learning and memory,” Utzschneider said.

She didn’t run seriously until after the birth of her first child when she was forty, yet has racked up seven national masters track/cross country championships, a number 5 in the world age group ranking, and this year an indoor national 3k championship for women age 55.

On the national scene, evidence that older runners are thriving and maintaining speed ranges from facts like 49-year-old Colleen DeRueck’s qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Marathon trials at age 49, Kathy Martin’s 40:10 10k at the USATF National Masters Championships at age 62, a pending American record, not to mention 95-year-old Olga Kotelko’s record as a track champion.

At age 91, Hariette Thompson of North Carolina recently completed the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon in a record time of 7:07:42, then went home to celebrate with Sydnor, her husband of 67 years.  “I feel wonderful,” she said. “I feel very relieved and I feel very anxious to take a shower and then fall into bed. If I’m around, I’ll be back next year,” she promised. Any way you cut it, seven hours is a long time to spend on your feet, whatever you are doing.

Seventy-one year-old local runner, John Hagin, veteran of more than 100 marathons (He’s quit counting.) followed up a 54-minute time in the Bolder Boulder less than a week later with a 26-plus mile jaunt at the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon. He was one of fewer than 100 “Legacy Runners” who have done every race in the event’s 17-year history. He beat his 2014 Boston Marathon time of 4:10 by two minutes. “I did not run as fast as I wanted to but probably faster than I am going to next time,” he said. “I’m just enjoying the running and rocking and rolling.”

And isn’t that what it’s all about: Keeping on keeping on, not because you’re going to get faster but because you love what you’re doing and you want to do it as long as you can. My guess is that unless you’re passionate about putting one foot in front of the other, you’re not likely to keep it up over time just because it’s good for you.

Older runners just may have more fun. Giving up a few seconds or even minutes to Old Father Time doesn’t bother them as long as they can stay in the game. In the words of Runners World editor Amby Burfoot, “…there is no failure in running, or in life, as long as you keep moving.”

Mastering Running is available online at Amazon and in local bookstores.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What to do with finishing medals and awards?

So, you’ve been running for years and you’ve never entered a race? Maybe that’s a good thing. It means you don’t have a drawer full of heavy, metal finishing medals complete with big wide ribbons that you wore proudly for 10 to 30 minutes after a race but haven’t figured out what to do with since you took them off. Have you ever seen anyone wearing a finishing medal other than right after a race?

If you find yourself in the winners’ circle at times, you may have more than a few medals to settle in to a permanent home.

Awards come in all shapes and sizes and every single one is appreciated. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t a problem at times.

Local potter T. S. Berger has made the awards for the Fourth of July 5k race in Fort Collins for longer than I care to remember. They’re useful—everything from platters and bowls to canisters and containers of all sorts. I love and use them all.

Over time I’ve won everything from a genuine walnut toilet seat to a Kokapelli figure mounted on a rock. (I have two of these.)  I have a lifetime supply of trivets, tiles and plaques, a moveable action figure, and a set of four tinkling bells, all different sizes, from long-ago Bonnie Bell women’s races.

I also have two tiny silver charms from Freihofer’s Women’s 5k race in Albany, NY which are my idea of the perfect award: small, beautiful and wearable.

I treasure every item, but I struggle with housing them. My house is small and I feel a little uncomfortable featuring running trophies front and center. Most of them reside in a bookcase at one end of my dining room.

A series of circumstances, mostly to do with my ancient age, found me the recipient of not one but two enormous cups after competing in two “doubles” races last year. What to do with them?

Hopefully without disrespecting this award, I moved one of the cups (It came on a huge stand) into a corner of my bathroom where it holds bars of soap. It’s visible—at least to anyone in my house that uses the facilities, and it is serving a useful purpose. The other cup is still in limbo, awaiting a suitable home.

What do others do with their medals? One friend tried removing the ribbons and hanging them on her Christmas tree, but they were too heavy and caused the branches to droop.

The Flying Pig 5k, held in Fort Collins in April, gets the prize for uniqueness. They gave away tiny packages, about 3 by 5 inches. Compressed inside is a pair of 100 percent cotton jersey magic boxer shorts with winged pink pigs all over them. The directions say to put the package in water for a short while until it grows into shorts.
I haven’t soaked mine yet.  I’m waiting for a special occasion. I’m not sure just what it will be, but I’m a little nervous as I see there’s an “L” on my package which must  stand for large. I ‘ll have to find a clever way to hold them up.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

No longer a dream, Frisbee Dreams is now for real

It’s been a long time coming, but my middle-grade novel, Frisbee Dreams, is now a reality. Here’s what it’s about:

Lauren Luster, youngest in a raucous five-kid family, couch potato and cartoon fanatic, has given up on sports because she won’t compete with her athletic siblings. Instead she spends hours in front of the TV with her beloved dog, Rupert, eating Pop Tarts.

Things begin to change when Lauren retrieves a Frisbee from under her mother’s monster houseplant where it’s doing duty as a drip tray. With Rupert’s urging, Lauren heads for the beach near her home on the coast of Maine and begins to learn how to handle the disc.

On the beach she meets Sterling Rushworth, a famous football coach who is writing his memoir. He jogs on the beach daily, encourages Lauren’s increasing skill, and then gets hooked on Frisbee himself.  During his recovery from a heart attack, Sterling and Lauren spend time learning the history of Frisbee and eventually return to their practice sessions.

As Lauren’s confidence grows, she does better in school and quits biting one of her nails—the one she needs to do a special Frisbee trick. She and Sterling do a series of Frisbee demonstrations at area schools.

Months later, Sterling collapses on the beach and Lauren must get him help. His problem requires surgery that prevents him from participating in a national Frisbee event with her.  At his insistence, she reluctantly agrees to go without him. She discovers that even without her coach, she has what it takes to do her best.

A newspaper story describing Lauren’s prowess with a Frisbee raises her status among her parents, siblings and “former best friend,” Cara. Now sleek and muscular, Lauren has transformed herself.

Sub-plots deal with sibling rivalry, girlfriend issues, and attitudes toward sports. As the story unfolds, the reader is introduced to Frisbee techniques, the power of intergenerational friendships, the joy a dog can bring, and the possibility of fulfilling athletic activity without the pressure of teams, uniforms, and the stress of a competitive atmosphere.

It’s available on Amazon, in Fort Collins at Trimble Court Artisans, and from Libby James. I’d love it if you’d “like” Frisbee Dreams on Facebook where a page has more information about it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Food: Deciding What to Eat

Anyone who has been running for a while has developed some strong opinions about the food they eat and when they eat it before and after training runs and races. By trial and error they have learned what works best for them. Not surprisingly, given the way attitudes and theories on most any subject have a way of changing over time, “professional” notions of how and what runners should eat have run the gamut over the years.

I remember reading a Runner’s World article, “Running on Empty” suggesting that the best way to approach even a very long race, was with an empty stomach. There have been coffee advocates insisting that a jolt of caffeine is helpful prior to a race. I remember reading about a top Ironman competitor who fueled up with a dozen potatoes.

Carbo-loading prior to a race has stood the test of time. Many races sponsor spaghetti dinners the night before an event and there’s usually a meat and non-meat version of the accompanying sauce. Complex carbohydrates provide slow and steady fuel for long runs. A pre-race meal should go easy on fat, which takes a long time to digest and fiber that can cause bloating and intestinal problems during a long period of exertion. One runner says she’ll eat “anything but eel” before a race but insists on the importance of a glass of wine. My choice is a whole box of macaroni and cheese.

Runners burn about 100 calories per mile and to function most efficiently in action, their muscles need extra protein. Good sources are eggs, nuts, fish, chicken and tofu. The healthiest fats are found in olive, flaxseed and canola oil and avocados. Eight cups of liquid consumed evenly during the day is recommended. Water is the number one choice but other liquids, as long as they are not dehydrating like coffee and soda, count. One runner inhales a whole batch of tapioca pudding after long runs.

Quirks and superstitions around eating prior to and after a race are common. Early on race morning, my choice is a bagel with peanut butter. During a race I drink three small gulps of water at every aid station and at mile eight of a half-marathon I suck on a gel cube.

On race morning runners choose from: oatmeal with milk and dried fruit,  energy bars, a waffle with syrup, or a bowl of rice. Smoothies, fruit juice and sports drinks are popular.  Before surgery for a painful hip, one runner consumed coffee, a Power Bar and four ibuprofen. He’s dumped the drugs and now favors peanut butter toast and a banana with his coffee.  It’s important not to try anything new and drink plenty of water along with whatever you eat. Practice a pre-race eating routine and discover what works best for you.

After the race, refuel within 30 minutes as the body utilizes nourishment most efficiently during this window. At the end of an event you’ll find everything from beer to burritos, barbecue to bananas. Go with whatever looks best to you.

“You are what you eat,” may be a true saying. Also true: “Variety is the spice of life.”

Aging Up

“The end of an era,” my 49-year-old daughter said with a smile, turning her head to address me as she approached from behind. We were on top of a hill less than halfway through a snowy Horsetooth Half Marathon in April. “I’m sticking with you until the finish,” she announced.

I didn’t say anything. That was because I couldn’t. I was busy breathing.

We ran side-by-side for a while. I’m concentrating hard on just maintaining my fairly pathetic pace. My feelings are mixed. It’s high-time my youngest kid beat me in a half-marathon. She outraced me once in a 5k, then promptly threw up at the finish line and vowed never to do that again. So here she is, at it again.

I want her to beat me. I really do. At least most of me does. I’m okay with ending an era. Every era must end, right? But I’m not giving up on this one for free. She’s gonna have to earn it fair and square.

There are several grandsons who have not considered me any sort of competition for several years now, as well they should not. Granddaughters? They’re working on it.

My oldest daughter has it figured out. She runs regularly and well. She savored the New York Marathon last November and has another planned in Oregon this fall. She’s a true lover of the sport and I honestly believe she does not have a competitive bone in her body when it comes to running. For her, the pleasure is in the journey, in the tight relationship she has with her best running buddy, and in the way running makes her feel and look and approach life.

After a while, the snow didn’t stop but, small blessing, it quit blasting us in the face. And it wasn’t freezing cold. My kid, in her motheaten, brown, recycled cashmere sweater and no gloves, seemed more than elated with what she was doing. After another plodding mile or so, she disappeared from view.

The first two miles of HTH are such an uphill grind that exhaustion sets in early. The later and somewhat less intimidating hills provide diversion, but the last few flat miles on the bike path into the finish at New Belgian Brewery, seem to go on forever and have always been the toughest part of the run for me. There are no obstacles to divert one’s attention from the fact that 13 miles is a long way to run and getting longer with every year for me. And so I plodded on, more a mind game than a leg game at this point.

I didn’t see her at the finish line. I knew she had a plane to catch and would dash for home the minute the race was over. Soggy and cold, I hung at the finish, searching for friends and wondering where my daughter was.

I didn’t hang for long. She was hard to miss in that stylish outfit and only three minutes behind me. Fast enough for third in her age group. The good news is, by the time you read this she’ll be 50 and have aged up.

Running is the sport where you love to get older.