Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Great Equalizer

The Great Equalizer

“Are runners different from other athletes?” I asked of my running buddy as we set out early on a Sunday morning. A good bit of chatter and a couple of miles later, Dave Klibbe and I decided that we thought they were.

The week before we’d experienced two Fort Collins traditions, the Mountain Avenue Mile and the Run for Hope 5k, events that reflected special caring and camaraderie.

“In what other sport,” Klibbe asked, “do the top athletes regularly compete with the middle-of-the-road and back-of-the-pack competitors? Could be that on off-days LeBron James has pick-up games with local high school basketball players, but I doubt it.  I’m betting he doesn’t shoot baskets with the guys on the corner who stop to catch their breath after every shot.”

Klibbe went on, as I struggled to keep up with him. “Every weekend top runners line up at hundreds of running events across the country, to compete with weekend warriors and the run-walk-run crowd pushing strollers and tugging or being tugged by their dogs. Every time, you’ll see the winners warming down along the last yards of the course, cheering on their co-runners as they make their way to the finish line.

“And when the race is over, participants don’t hurry home. Instead they hang around rehydrating, snacking and re-living the race with friends and strangers alike.”

We asked ourselves what it was that caused these people to bond. Is it that everyone who runs understands the effort involved, no matter what the pace? When you run as fast as you can, the degree of effort is similar, regardless of the end result.

Klibbe recalled a time during the Colorado Run 10k when the course finished on the oval on the Colorado State University campus. As he approached the oval, he came upon an unlikely woman muttering to herself, “Come on legs. Come on legs.”

“By this time I could hardly breathe, much less talk to myself,” he said. “My respect for this lady was growing, but I was not going to let her beat me. At the finish. barely ahead of her and gasping for air, I watched as she joined friends in animated conversation. That was the moment when I began to appreciate running as a great equalizer. That conclusion has been reinforced many times over.”

Perhaps the talented few who make running look easy to the rest of us are genetically blessed freaks of nature. Yet, they are human and must train, eat with care and deal with injuries as every runner must. And they too embrace the camaraderie.

The nature of what they do, more than often not, creates within them camaraderie with other runners that doesn’t exist in other sports. They recognize and honor the effort that must be expended by any runner determined to do their best.

This understanding may be why running is a great equalizer—why champions cheer on every runner, and why those infected with the running bug are convinced that runners have a relationship with each other that is unique.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The joy of recovering from an injury

I just got back from a fantastic, memorable, totally wonderful, extremely slow 3-mile early morning run. I didn’t take a watch. I have no idea how fast I went. My experience was noticeably different from my usual self-prescribed run. I’m icing my left leg as I write this.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been injured, but last week-end I had to gimp two-miles plus to get home from a planned six mile run because the muscle in my left calf  so much.

On Monday I did nothing. “Time for a break,” I told myself, although I really had no choice. I hit the ice hard. By Tuesday I could walk a mile and here it is Friday and I’ve run three miles. With every step, I was aware of my sore muscle, but it became less noticeable as I went, letting me know that I probably wasn’t doing any serious damage. It was letting me run.

I finished these few miles with great appreciation, reminded once again of the amazing healing ability of the human body. If we’ll only respect it a bit more than we do.

I used to be an avid and consistent stretcher before I ran, but then pre-run stretching went out of style and I wasn’t going to argue with that. These days I do a few random stretches at no particular time and at least once a week I do a Pilates workout. Maybe not enough, I’m thinking.

The more you run, the tighter muscles seem to get until the day comes when they say, “Whoa! Tend to me.

I’m planning to do some small amount of stretching every time before I hit the road in the future, and a little more afterwards—and maybe up that Pilates routine to twice a week.

And I’m contemplating some cross-training. My bike is in sad need of a workout and a hike in the hills is calling.

Danger lurks, I know. It is too easy to fall back into old patterns. Running has the allure of being so accessible—right out the front door—so simple—just throw on a pair of running shoes—and so efficient—40 minutes and you have “exercised” for the day.

But it’s a good thing to mix it up. Take the time to drive to a favorite trailhead, lace up the hiking boots and soak up the fall colors. Or pump up those bicycle tires and ride.

The choices are endless. A tour of the foothills, a bicycle trail that lets you ride almost all the way to Greeley minus traffic, or a spin around the Fort Collins network of trails.

Meanwhile, as my mistreated muscle slowly heals, I’m loving the opportunity to run slowly sans watch, pausing to check out road construction progress and appreciating the joy of temperatures that make early morning running such a great pleasure.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Can you really be..."Fast After Fifty?"

One day more than three decades ago, my son Jeff came home from Rocky Mountain High School to report that his history teacher was planning to run in the Denver Marathon that spring. So was I. That was when I was first introduced to Joe Friel.

This week a book arrived in my mailbox. Fast After 50: how to race strong for the rest of your life, is Friel’s twelfth book about athletic training and it’s a winner. I was touched by his hand-written words recalling the longevity of our friendship and the fact that it mattered to him.

What’s a history teacher doing writing nationally acclaimed books about the art and science of training for sport? Turns out Friel is over-the-top qualified. He holds a masters degree in exercise science and before he developed a reputation as an elite triathlon and cycling coach, he owned Foot of the Rockies running store in Fort Collins. During 30 years of coaching he trained national and world championship athletes such as Olympian Ryan Bolton, winner of the 2002 Ironman Triathlon in Lake Placid.

As his expertise grew, Friel began to write about what he’d learned coaching. His publications include the training bible series for cyclists and mountain bikers. This guy never stops. During this time he co-founded Training, a web-based software company and TrainingBibleCoaching with his son Dirk, a top-level bike racer. These days Friel travels internationally giving seminars, clinics and offering training camps. In his own right, he has been a Colorado State Masters Triathlon champion and a perennial USA Triathlon All-American duathlete.

Friel describes his latest book as a present to himself on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. “I was afraid of rapidly deceasing athletic performance,” he admits. “I decided to read all of the research I could find on aging and endurance.” He began by posting blogs on the subject on They were so well received that he knew he had to write a book about what he was learning.

The result covers myths about aging, how normal aging differs from athletic aging, how exercise affects us as we age, the roles of nature and nurture and what we can do to slow or even temporarily reverse changes that occur. He makes specific and concrete suggestions about training routines, recovery, sleep, diet and nutrition. All his statements are backed up by meticulous research.

The best thing about Fast After Fifty is that it’s fun to read. Friel’s personality comes through on every page. He’s done his homework. He’s a techie kind of guy who loves delving into research. He pulls no punches, acknowledging that there are still areas where the answers are not cut and dried and will differ with the passage of time as more and more athletes move into older age groups. “Everyone is different,” he says asserting that the volume and intensity of training regimes and diet must be tailored to the individual. In this business one size does not fit all.

You’ll have to read to the end to learn about Friel’s personal vulnerability and why he’s working harder than ever to take his own advice these days.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Food Confusion

 Are you confused? I am. Confused enough that I’ve just spent a few hours researching two sets of vastly divergent dietary claims, one derived from Dr. David Perlmutter’s  book, Grain Brain, touting the consumption of fat and proteins from meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and nuts, the other advocating eating only foods derived from plants, cutting out all dairy products, eggs, fish and meat.

Fans on both sides claim that they’ve the discovered the secret of maintaining health and well-being through adhering to a specific diet. Beyond that, they disagree heartily and say they have the scientific facts to prove it. I’ll say this much: they agree that sugar’s bad and nuts are good.

Are they both nuts?  Who are we to believe? What should we be eating if we want to feel good, avoid Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and diabetes, maintain a healthy weight and have enough energy to go for a run now and then?

Two of the healthiest, most athletic and energetic men I know eat from opposite sides of the spectrum and they’ve each been adhering to their plant-based and Paleo diets for a very long time. I wish I could get them to confront each other. If we are to assume that you are what you eat, these examples don’t help much when it comes to deciding what to put into our mouths every day.

Neither of these diets are easy to follow. On what turned out to be a short-lived plant-based kick, I came home from a trip to grocery store sans eggs, cheese, meat and milk. Two days later I was back at the store again, to fill in the blank spots in my fridge. I figured I was a failure. 

At a recent annual banquet for a national running club, I was more than a little surprised to see that an enormous hunk of prime rib was the central feature of the meal even though a major race was scheduled for the following day. Now that slab of meat looked good and smelled good, but I knew that if I ate it, I could say good-bye to a decent race the following morning. I managed to con a kindly waiter into bringing me the vegetarian alternative for which I was extremely grateful.

Knowing what to eat used to be much easier. We asked few questions. We ate what was put before us. The goal was to clean our plates, waste nothing and remember little children around the world who went hungry. No one questioned the nutritional value of Cheerios or hamburgers, peanut butter or Velveeta cheese.

How is it that we survived? More to the point, how are we going to survive confronted with so many difficult choices? Our fruits and veggies often come to us from far away and sprayed with chemicals. Our meat is shot through with growth hormones and antibiotics. Gluten lies hidden in places we never suspected making digestion problematic for many of us.

It’s a knotty problem, but take heart. Eat nuts, stay away from sugar, and go for a run, bike ride, walk or swim whenever you can manage it. As far as whatever else you consume—you’re on your own. For some helpful advice see Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (