FitnessFest, Weight Loss, and Drastic LIfestyles

 

I just got back from FitnessFest in Mesa, Arizona, where one of my presentations was on weight loss. It’s a hot topic, of course, given that nearly 70% of the U.S. population is overweight or obese. 

Once you lose weight, you want to keep it off. There is little point to going through the exercise (pun intended) of losing weight if you’re just going to regain it. Maintaining lost weight is itself a lot of work, and most diets don’t emphasize the critical aspect of being able to maintain weight.

fat to thin

 

Just as your body adapts to every running stride you take, so, too, does it adapt to the pounds you lose. A multitude of hormones are involved in the regulation of body weight, the concentrations of which are altered after you lose weight. Many of these alterations persist for at least a year after you start to lose weight, even after you have started to gain the weight back, suggesting that the high rate of weight regain among dieters has a strong physiological basis and is not simply the result of lack of willpower or the resumption of old habits. Because most weight-loss studies are of short duration, the only reliable proof of what works for permanent weight loss comes from the people who have actually achieved permanent weight loss. And the studies that have examined those people have shown that no one diet is better than any other. Behavioral factors—monitoring weight, exercising daily—matter more.

For example, in a study by a group of scientists at the University of Colorado–Denver, the physical activity patterns of weight losers in the National Weight Control Registry were examined. Successful weight losers engaged in an average of 41.5 minutes per day (290 minutes per week) of sustained moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, while a control group of overweight individuals exercised an average of just 19.2 minutes per day (134 minutes per week) and a control group of normal-weight individuals exercised an average of 25.8 minutes per day (181 minutes per week).

In another study from the Brown University Medical School and Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, scientists compared the amount and intensity of exercise of successful female weight losers to individuals who had never been overweight. To be in the study, the people in the weight-loss group had to have had a body mass index (BMI) of at least 25 at some point in their lives, but at the time of the study were of normal weight (with a BMI between 18.5 and 25), had lost at least 10 percent of their maximum body weight, and kept off at least 10 percent of their weight for at least 5 years. Conversely, the people in the always-normal-weight group had no history of being overweight or obese (defined as a BMI of at least 25) and had to have always had a BMI between 18.5 and 25. Their weight also had to be stable, being within 10 pounds of their weight for at least 2 years prior to the study. The scientists discovered that the weight-loss maintainers spent more total time being physically active and spent more time doing high-intensity exercise when compared to the always-normal-weight group.

What do we learn from this research? Individuals who have lost weight require more exercise to maintain their new weight and BMI than individuals who have never been overweight and who weigh the same and have a similar BMI as the previously overweight person. In other words, if you’re 200 pounds and you lose 50 pounds so that you’re now 150 pounds, you will always need more exercise to maintain your 150-pound weight than will your friend who has always been 150 pounds. But why? Why isn’t 150 pounds always 150 pounds?

Energy balance, like most of human physiology, is largely regulated by your central nervous system, which senses metabolic status from a wide range of hormonal and neural signals and controls energy intake. In other words, when you’re thin, your central nervous system “knows” you’re thin because of the feedback it gets from specific hormones, and it regulates your appetite and storage of fat accordingly. When you’re overweight, your central nervous system “knows” you’re overweight because of the different feedback it gets from specific hormones, and it regulates your appetite and storage of fat accordingly. When you’re overweight and lose weight, your central nervous system “thinks” it needs to “correct” for your weight loss and it activates multiple compensatory mechanisms (making you feel more hungry, for instance), including changes in circulating hormones and reductions in resting metabolic rate and the efficiency of your mitochondria to produce energy via aerobic metabolism.

These mechanisms all work together to encourage weight gain and return to your original weight. To be a successful weight loser and maintain your new weight, minimize the magnitude of these compensatory adaptations by losing weight relatively slowly, using small energy deficits. In other words, don’t drastically change your life all at once by eating much less than what you’re used to and running much more than what you’re used to in an attempt to lose 5 or more pounds per week. It’s hard to sustain that drastic lifestyle. Let the drastic changes happen over time, a little at a time, so that they become habits and so that your metabolism and central nervous system have time to adjust and adapt to your changing weight.

Running as a habit is very effective at keeping your weight off once you have lost it, because running steers the calories you consume away from energy storage and into energy use. People who don’t exercise are not only more likely to gain weight, it is inevitable that they will.

Excerpted from Run Your Fat Off. To order, go to Amazon or get a signed copy at Run-Fit.com.

Hernias, Foresight, and Symmorphosis

The human body is truly remarkable. Within a few days following my hernia surgery last week, I started to have discomfort/pain on the underside of my shoulder, which is starting now to dissipate. When we have trauma to one part of our body, pain is often referred to another part, perhaps as a safety mechanism to draw our attention away from the trauma site so our body can focus on healing. Even with my PhD, I am still often astounded by how our bodies are designed to function, and how evolution and/or divine intervention​ could have accounted for such traits. Although divine intervention can perhaps see into the future, evolution has no foresight.

transparent-human-body-footage-012623052_prevstill

This issue of my hernia surgery, foresight, and human design takes me back to an interesting concept I studied when working on my PhD—symmorphosis. The theory of symmorphosis, first proposed by Ewald Weibel, proposes that an organism’s structural design is regulated by its functional demand. As Weibel wrote, “…that the quantity of structure incorporated into an animal’s functional system is matched to what is needed: enough but not too much.” The theory of symmorphosis, then, seems to be consistent with the major tenet of evolution—natural selection—because natural selection will only sustain traits that are needed for success. Any “extra baggage” will not be supported and become extinct. For example, under the theory of symmorphosis, one would expect the cardiovascular system to be designed to supply just enough oxygen to the tissues for them to function—”enough but not too much.” However, even during maximal exercise, some of the oxygen traveling to the tissues in the arterial circulation returns to the heart in the venous circulation, and is thus not used by the exercising muscles. It appears, therefore, that the design of the human body, at least in some cases, has added a little in reserve, as if to provide a “safety net” to prevent the system from failing if and when it is overloaded. In this light, the theory of symmorphosis does not seem to be consistent with natural selection, since traits or behaviors do not evolve for future utility; natural selection has no foresight. 

Since symmorphosis implies that it is demand driving the change in structure, the limits of human performance can only be exceeded if the demand becomes greater. Given that modern human’s lifestyle is more sedentary than that from which he evolved, it may be expected, if the theory of symmorphosis is correct, that the limits of human performance will decrease with further evolution.

Or my shoulder pain could just be from the carbon dioxide gas the surgeon used to inflate my abdomen during the surgery so he could see what he was doing. But that’s not nearly as romantic or sexy, so I’m going with my referred pain theory.

Top 10 Marathon Tips

 

1. Pace

The best way to run your fastest possible race is by starting out at the pace you can maintain the entire race. So run the first mile at the pace you expect to average for the whole marathon. You can’t put running time in the bank. You will end up losing more time in the end than what you gained by being “ahead of schedule” in the beginning. No matter how strong your will is, the metabolic condition caused by running too fast too early will force you to slow down during subsequent stages of the race. While it may feel easy, especially in the marathon, to run the first mile of your race at the same pace as the last, your patience will pay huge dividends during that last mile. Ideally, the second half of your race should be equal to or slightly faster than the first half. This requires accurate knowledge of your fitness level, confidence to stick to your plan when others have taken the early pace out too fast, and a good dose of self-restraint. Your workouts are invaluable for providing you with knowledge of your fitness level and for predicting your average race pace.

2. Sugar

Research has shown that fatigue can be delayed if carbohydrates (glucose) are consumed during exercise. The carbohydrates should be easily digestible so they are absorbed quickly into the blood. Carry Gu packs or pick them up at an aid station and start ingesting them before you feel fatigued.

3. Hydrate

Water is vital for many chemical reactions that occur inside your cells, including the production of energy. When you sweat, you lose body water that slows metabolic rate. Your blood volume also decreases and becomes thicker if you don’t replace fluids. The result is a lower stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped by your heart per beat), cardiac output (the amount of blood pumped by your heart per minute) and, ultimately, a decreased oxygen delivery to your muscles. Your running performance starts to decline with only a 2 to 3 percent loss of body mass due to fluid loss.

4. Draft

It’s much easier to tuck in behind someone and let him/her pull you along than it is to maintain the pace on your own, so let other people do the work for as long as possible, especially if it’s windy. The oxygen cost of running (and therefore the perception of effort) increases when you run into a headwind. Let someone break the wind for you. 

5. BodyGlide

When you run for long periods of time, you can get chafed in places you don’t want to get chafed, which can make the marathon miserable. Apply BodyGlide before the race to any place that will be rubbed up against, such as inner thighs, nipples, and below your armpits.     

6. Bathroom

Although the urge to go to the bathroom is often suppressed while running to conserve water, nervousness and anxiety often intensify that urge, so take care of business before the race.

7. Breakfast

Eat a light breakfast of carbs and protein. No fiber, no fat.

8. Nothing New

The day of the marathon is not the time to do anything different. Wear the same clothes and shoes you have been wearing in training. Don’t buy new shoes to wear in the race. Nothing—not even your underwear—should be new. 

9. Divide

It can be overwhelming to think of running 26.2 miles (or 42.2 kilometers!) all at once. So divide the marathon into smaller segments. Focus on each mile at a time. If you’re aiming for a specific time goal, focus on attaining that goal at each mile checkpoint. For example, if you want to break 4 hours, that’s 9:09 pace. So focus on running the first mile in 9:09, the second mile in 9:09, the third mile in 9:09, etc.    

10. Be and Act Positive and Confident

One of the distinguishing characteristics of successful people is their unrelenting ability to remain positive, even in the face of negative circumstances. You often cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to what happens to you. Remaining positive when details before or during your race don’t go as planned will go a long way to keeping you calm and helping you to run a great race. If you go into the race thinking you’re not going to do well, you likely won’t. Even if your training hasn’t gone as well as you wanted, you’re not feeling well, you just broke up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or whatever the negative case may be, when you step to the starting line, remove all negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. You owe that to yourself. When you are at the starting line, none of those negative things matter. The only thing that matters is the run in front of you. So carry yourself with confidence.

For more tips and 20-week marathon training programs, check out the bestselling book, Running a Marathon For Dummies.

Exercise and Your Brain

 

When I wrote The Inner Runner, one of the things I wanted to address is how running changes us on the inside. Exercise doesn’t just affect the heart and muscles; it also affects the brain. It’s an interesting field of science called neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to change.

Running causes morphological and neurochemical adaptations in the brain. It increases the volume of every region of your brain, including the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, parietal lobe, and hippocampus, and prevents the atrophy that often accompanies aging. Conversely, an inactive daily life is a risk factor for brain atrophy, specifically of the frontal lobe—the part of the brain responsible for emotions, problem solving, reasoning, and planning. Specifically, it affects your ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, the choice between good and bad actions, the suppression of socially unacceptable responses, and your ability to determine similarities and differences between things or events. All of these factors are negatively affected with lack of exercise as you age and positively affected by staying or becoming active. Running also facilitates the interaction between the frontal lobe’s prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain’s frontal lobe that helps dampen the amygdala’s fear and anxiety signals. With fewer constraints from fear and anxiety, we can think more clearly and freely.

If increasing the volume of your brain isn’t enough to make you more creative, running does something even more spectacular to your brain. It causes neurogenesis—the formation of new neurons—in specific parts of the brain. Previously thought to occur only in the developing brain of a fetus and newborn, it’s now accepted that neurogenesis occurs even in the mature brains of adults. The primary part of the brain where this neurogenesis occurs is the hippocampus, which is located under the cerebral cortex in the medial temporal lobe. The hippocampus is critically important for short-term and long-term memory, spatial navigation, and the regulation of emotions. Interestingly, it is one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain on Exercise
The hippocampus also contains high levels of glucocorticoid receptors, which makes it more vulnerable to long-term stress than most other areas of the brain. Studies have shown that animals that exercise undergo a sustained increase in neurogenesis in the hippocampus compared to animals that don’t exercise. For example, when mice are given free access to a running wheel for a few months, they have more than twice the number of new cells formed in their brains compared to mice with no access to a running wheel.

Neurogenesis also means that running makes you smarter. Increased interactions between nerve cells means more parts of your brain can communicate with one another. And all this communication fosters what scientists call divergent thinking—what we call thinking outside of the box. A number of studies have shown that running improves fluid intelligence, including problem-solving ability, memory, learning, and pattern recognition. These improvements in cognitive function are even more observable as people age. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that lack of physical activity in the elderly is a risk factor for poor cognitive functioning. It seems that if you want to remain mentally sharp as you age, you had better run, or at least do some form of exercise. Physical activity triggers molecular and cellular changes that support and maintain brain plasticity. Studies have shown that physical activity sustains cerebral blood flow, increases nutrient supply to the brain, and facilitates neurotransmitter metabolism, all of which help you to think better.

It’s likely that the relationship between physical activity and cognitive performance is reciprocal—increased physical activity leads to better cognitive functioning, and brighter people exercise more. I don’t know that I run because I’m smart or that I’m smart because I run, but I know that running enables me to think in ways that I probably wouldn’t if I didn’t run.

And what about that runner’s high everyone talks about? I swear I must be endorphin-deficient because I don’t ever recall feeling euphoric during or after a run. It turns out that the runner’s high is not due to endorphins after all. Endorphins are released into the blood stream from the pituitary gland and can only marginally enter the brain through the blood-brain barrier. Studies have shown that running activates opioid and cannabinoid receptors, releasing these chemical compounds in the frontolimbic region of the brain after sustained moderate- or high-intensity aerobic exercise. There is a high correlation of opioids and cannabinoids to the perceived euphoria of runners. So when you run, your brain is literally on drugs.

 

Weight Gain, Arrows, and Clapperboards

 

A few years ago, I was standing in the diet and weight-loss book aisle of a bookstore, talking to a woman about losing weight. “I walk 2 miles a day 5 days a week,” she told me, “and I’m still not losing weight.” Sounding like she was frustrated, I tried to explain to her how many calories each mile of walking burns and the “calories out” part of the weight-loss equation. If I had had a pencil and piece of paper with me, I would have drawn her this diagram:

 

Weight gain

 

Following the left arrow in the diagram above and matching up the colors, you can see what carbohydrate, fat, and protein are used for in your body. Carbohydrate is used for fuel by your muscles and exists in your body in two forms: Glucose in your blood and glycogen (a branched chain of glucose molecules, which is the stored form of carbohydrate) in your muscles and liver. Any carbohydrate that you eat is used to replenish blood glucose and muscle and liver glycogen. Protein is used to build things like muscle tissue, enzymes, and other parts of cells that carry out specific functions. Fat is an important component of cell membranes and is used as a fuel, as insulation, and to protect your internal organs. Where things go awry is when you follow the right arrow in the diagram above. If your body doesn’t need to carry out the functions to the left, all of the extra calories from carbohydrate, fat, and protein follow the path of the right arrow and are stored as fat. The 2.1 billion people in the world who are overweight are overweight because the calories they consume follow the path of the right arrow. It’s as simple as that.

Your level of physical activity and your caloric intake are tightly coupled over a wide range of physical activities. However, this tight coupling is lost in people who don’t exercise at all, and caloric intake is inappropriately high, which causes people to gain weight.

The big secret to not gaining weight is to never go down the path of the right arrow. How do you do that? You must create an environment that forces the calories to follow the left arrow. How do you create such an environment? I’m glad you asked.

Running lowers your carbohydrate fuel tank, which creates a metabolic demand because carbohydrate is the muscles’ preferred fuel. Lowering that fuel tank is threatening to the survival of your muscles, so any carbohydrate you eat will be used to refill the tank. The synthesis and storage of glycogen—the refilling of the carbohydrate fuel tank—is controlled by the hormone insulin and the availability and uptake of glucose from the blood. Through its effect on specific proteins that transport glucose, insulin draws glucose from the blood into muscle cells to be stored. The glucose is then used to make new glycogen. The higher the blood insulin concentration and the greater the availability of glucose, the faster glycogen is synthesized and stored.

The same thing happens with protein. When you run, you send a signal to build structural and functional proteins and you cause microscopic damage to the muscle fibers, so the amino acids from any protein you eat will be used to build those structural and functional proteins and repair the damage to the muscle fibers to make them stronger and more durable.

To prevent fat from accumulating on those love handles, you must create a metabolic demand so that the calories are used for other, more important needs. Make the love handles wait. If you are always mobilizing energy for it to be used, you’re not storing it as fat. Running creates the metabolic demands, giving you the director’s clapperboard so that you decide where the calories go. And that is exactly one of the goals of the Run Your Fat Off program—to make you the director of the calorie movie, dictating where your calories go and how they are used.

Cardio is Bad for You

Cardio is bad for you.

CoverI was told today that I can’t be interviewed on a podcast about my new book, RUN YOUR FAT OFF, because I would contradict other guests on the show who have talked about the dangers of excessive cardio. This is what I was told: 

“We have to ensure we stay close to our messaging. We have so many experts on the show talking about the potential damage from excessive cardio and running, I think it would be a negative for us (you and us) to have you on the show, because it would come across as contradictory. I hope you understand.”

Seriously? So I can’t be on a podcast because I may contradict what others have said? 

There is a MOUNTAIN of evidence to show the many physical, psychological, and cognitive benefits of running and other cardio. To be fair, there is some research to suggest that large amounts of endurance training—like running many marathons and ultramarathons over many years—can cause fibrosis of the heart, but that is true for such a small percentage of the population that exercises. Most people will not do any damage to their heart by running, and quite the contrary is true: Running (or other aerobic exercise that sustains a high heart rate) is EXCELLENT for your heart, making it a larger and stronger pump and increasing its stroke volume and cardiac output. Make a bigger, stronger heart and you make a healthier person. Because you cannot live very well or very long without a healthy heart.

This is just the latest issue that has been served on my plate from the fitness industry. The fitness industry really has a problem. They tell people want they want to hear (like cardio is not good for you), make exaggerated claims (lose 10 pounds in 10 days with Diet X), and people talk through their asses without any education behind what they say. I’ve had enough.

If I weren’t so deeply passionate about running and what it can do for a person’s life, I would seek a career in a different industry. That’s one big thing I miss about being in academia. I miss being surrounded by very intelligent, highly-educated people, who seek the truth through experimentation and hypothesis testing. That doesn’t mean that all fitness professionals don’t know what they’re talking about. Certainly there are. But not having someone on a podcast because his message contradicts what previous guests on the show have said is ridiculous, especially when that person has the body of research to back it up. 

It’s going to be hard to spend the next 30 to 40 years dealing with crap like this. I hope you get my new book to learn the truth about weight loss, calories, metabolism, and running. It’s worth a read. I donate ten percent of sales to the American Heart Association in memory of my father and Susan G. Komen for the Cure in memory of my mother. 

https://www.amazon.com/Run-Your-Fat-Off-Running/dp/1621453359

Insulin, Boomerang, and Run Your Fat Off

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about insulin. Perhaps that’s because my 19-year-old cat, Boomerang, who has been my companion for 14 years, was recently diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes, which is the most common metabolic disease in the world, is an ironic disease—you have all this fuel (glucose) sitting in your blood, but your muscles can’t use it because of the lack of insulin.

Boomerang

As I write in my new book, Run Your Fat Off, despite what the media may want you to believe, sugar is not inherently bad. Indeed, glucose is your muscles’ preferred fuel, and the only fuel that your aristocratic brain will use. Your brain dines only on the very best. Under non-diabetic conditions, within 30 to 60 minutes of consuming carbohydrate (sugar), insulin increases up to eight-fold in response to the increased glucose in your blood. This dramatic increase in insulin triggers the transportation of glucose from your blood into your cells. It is then that glucose’s fate is determined. If you eat more carbohydrate than your body needs for energy, the excess glucose is either stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver (what you want) or as body fat (what you don’t want).

Although adipose fat (the fat directly underneath your skin) gets all the attention, visceral fat—the fat you can’t see that surrounds your abdominal organs—is even more important. Too much visceral fat has huge implications for your health, including impaired glucose and fat metabolism; insulin resistance; increased predisposition to colon, breast, and prostate cancer; prolonged hospital stays and increased mortality in the hospital; increased incidence of infections and noninfectious complications; incidence of metabolic syndrome; and increased susceptibility to heart disease and high blood pressure. Visceral fat is a bad, bad thing. Research has shown that aerobic exercise is central to reduce visceral fat. Which is one reason why exercise is important for diabetics.

Which brings me back to Boomerang. After watching my mother give insulin shots to my diabetic grandmother for many years, I now find myself giving insulin shots twice per day to my cat to regulate his blood glucose. And given the importance of exercise for diabetics, I’m training him for a marathon. Doesn’t he look excited?

Boomerang2

Only 9 more days until Run Your Fat Off is released by my publisher Reader’s Digest. I hope you pick up a copy. If you are in southern California, come celebrate with me at the red carpet book launch party in beautiful La Jolla, California on my birthday, March 14.    

Book Launch Party flyer 

How to Be a Fitness Expert


Recently, I was browsing the weight loss books in Barnes & Noble and found three books stacked next to each other on the shelf that made the following claims on their covers:

“Lose up to 10 pounds in 21 days.”

“Lose up to 14 pounds in 28 days.”

“Lose up to 10 pounds in just 2 weeks.”

weight loss book

I guess if people want to lose weight as fast as possible, they should buy the one that makes the third claim since that one gives them the most rapid rate of weight loss.

The fitness and weight loss industry is filled with this kind of propaganda. “Fitness experts” and “celebrity trainers” are all over the place, especially social media, and they’re quick to tell you how to lose fat, build muscle, and keep your metabolism revved long after your workout is over. Unfortunately, much of what they say or write is wrong.

When you become a fitness professional, it can be intimidating. After all, you have a direct impact on other people’s health. People pay you for your knowledge. Where is that knowledge supposed to come from when the language of marketing and celebrity obstructs the truth?

The answer, unfortunately, is often buried in obscure academic journals and textbooks that few people outside of academia ever read. Part of the problem is that many scientists don’t know how to communicate with industry professionals. But they have a wealth of knowledge. Professional conferences are another way to educate yourself. Spend time reading, learning, absorbing information, asking questions, and contextualizing the information you learn. This is not an easy or fast process. But it is a long-lasting one.

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started working in the fitness industry was that I thought I knew a lot. Once you have a particular concept set in your head, it’s very hard to open your mind to other possibilities and answers. You get stuck in a rut. But to keep learning and discovering, you have to break the rules that you set for yourself. If you assume something is true or think you know it all, that assumption leads to other assumptions and fallacious ideas. You need to always keep an open mind. Sometimes, it’s helpful to pretend like you don’t know anything at all.

As for those claims made by the weight loss books in Barnes & Noble? Since it takes a 3,500-calorie deficit to lose a single pound, it’s not possible to lose weight (and keep it off) at the rate the books advertise unless you starve yourself and exercise all day long and become severely dehydrated. In my new book, Run Your Fat Off, I tell people the truth about losing weight and keeping it lost for the rest of your life. It’s about time someone told the truth. 

I think my next book is going to say on its cover, “Lose 10 pounds in an hour!” Now that would generate some sales.

Mile, Chasers, and Running Away

On Saturday, I drove up to Lakeside, California in Orange County to run in an All-Comers track meet. I have always loved racing the mile. It’s intense, just like my personality.

These all-comers track meets tend to attract a lot of middle school and high school kids, but not a lot of adults. Adults tend to shy away from the track. I think it’s because of the intensity. Adults tend to get intimidated by intensity. People tend to gravitate toward long and slow over short and fast. Indeed, the half-marathon and marathon are the most popular races in America. But I like to cut against the grain. My whole life has been about cutting against the grain. Ever since I was a kid, I have always done things the hard way.

But on Saturday, there were actually some adults at the meet, and enough masters (age 40+) runners to have a separate masters race. Masters races are fun. We’re like a bunch of old guys trying to recapture our youth. And some are discovering the youth of track for the first time.   

For the first time in a long time, it rained for a track meet in California. I don’t like racing anywhere in the rain, but I like it even less on the track. I like to feel the track beneath my feet.

I’ve been wearing the 2017 version of my high school’s jersey the last few races. The current coach of my high school team gave me the jersey to wear when I met him at a track coaches clinic in New Jersey in December. Running in a track meet wearing the jersey of my high school team brings me back to my high school running days. If I only knew then what I know now…  

About 250 meters into the race, I took the lead from the guy who went into the lead from the start. I often would rather sit and kick, but I felt that his pace was too slow, even in the rain. I ran the rest of the race in the lead. At my age, it’s not often I get the opportunity to lead a race. I feel like I’m being chased, and trying to run away from everyone else.

I ended up winning the race, but I could feel myself tying up in the last 100 meters. There were a lot of people cheering, and I could hear encouragement for the runner behind me, so I knew he must have been close. Over the final 50 meters, I could feel my form falling apart, and I was just trying to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. It was a relief to get there first. But it wasn’t without a huge effort.

But that’s the point, isn’t it?  

trackmeetawards

No achievement—running or otherwise—is meaningful without a huge effort. It is in the commitment to prepare and in the effort of the moment itself that we find true reward. And so my achievement on this day wasn’t so much that I had won a race against other masters runners. It was that I didn’t give up and kept trying to run away—from them, and from myself. As I wrote in The Inner Runner, “I run away from the person I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be that overweight, slow, out-of-shape lazy guy who sits in his La-Z-Boy chair or on a sports bar stool and watches football all day Sunday in his undershirt. I don’t want to be the middle-aged man who looks himself in the mirror and wonders where the good-looking high school athlete went, deciding to run a marathon or race a mile to cure his mid-life crisis. I don’t want to be the person who takes the easy way out and never challenges himself. I don’t want to be the person who lives an ordinary life. So I run away from it. All of it. I run away from becoming lazy. I run away from the guilt of not running. I run away from a bad race I had last weekend. I run away from becoming normal and ordinary. I run away from all of the things I don’t like about myself. I run away from complacency.

When we run, we are free from what binds us, from what keeps us down, from what holds us back. Running helps us cope—with tragedy, with disappointment, with frustration, with sadness, with all of the negative feelings that hold us back from living a happy, fulfilling life. Whether it’s thousands of people running 26.2 miles through the streets of Boston for a common goal, or just you running three miles alone around your block before work, running, on both a large public scale and a small personal scale, gives us hope for our future.”

trackmeetawards2

The Running Stride

Your running stride has two components: stride rate, which is the number of steps taken per minute, and stride length, which is the distance of each step. Running speed equals stride rate times stride length:

Speed = Stride Rate x Stride Length

Over time, as someone runs a lot, and spends time running at faster speeds to work on technique, the body adopts the best combination of stride rate and stride length to make him or her a more economical, fluid runner, giving new meaning to the phrase poetry in motion.

sporty woman jogging on wide sandy beach at bright sunshine

Stride Rate

Although stride rate varies considerably among runners, most runners should aim for 80 to 90 steps per minute with each leg. To calculate stride rate when running, simply count how many times the right foot hits the ground in one minute. If the stride rate is less than 80, most runners will likely benefit from increasing their cadence. With a slightly faster stride rate, the runner will take lighter steps and spend less time impacting the ground, which reduces the chance of injury.

Stride rate is influenced by the number of fast-twitch muscle fibers and the ability of the central nervous system to recruit muscle fibers and move the legs quickly. Fast running is the simplest way to increase stride rate because it trains the central nervous system to recruit those fast-twitch muscle fibers.

After a thorough warm-up of easy running for about 10 minutes, gradually accelerate to full speed and then hold your maximal speed without straining for about 5 to 10 seconds before decelerating. Because the arms and legs move in sync, stride rate can be increased by pumping your arms more quickly. Remember to remain relaxed through the sprint. Do 5 to 10 sprints a couple of times per week.

Stride Length

Have you ever run with someone much taller than you and noticed that he or she takes longer strides? Despite what you may think, little correlation exists between a person’s height and stride length or between a person’s leg length and stride length. Taller runners don’t always take longer strides than shorter runners. Surprising, huh?

Of the two components of the stride, stride length is more important than stride rate. When the pace is increased from a jog to a run to a hard run, stride length increases more than does stride rate. If you don’t believe me, count every time your right foot touches the ground for one minute next time you run. Then pick up the pace and count again for one minute. You’ll notice that you won’t take that many more steps in a minute, despite a large difference in pace.

Stride length explains much of the difference in speed among runners. The subconscious manipulation of stride length and stride rate at different speeds is governed by what is most economical for runners; that is, at each pace someone runs, he or she may have a stride length that’s most economical for him or her to use, while staying at a specific stride rate (or within a narrow range of stride rates) may be what’s most economical for all running paces. The body is always trying to enhance its economy, and it’s a more economical strategy to increase the distance of each stride than it is to increase the cadence of the legs. (Same is true for swimming or rowing—distance per stroke is more important than the number of strokes per minute.) 

Stride length is influenced by the range of motion at the hip—specifically, hip extension—and the amount of force the muscles produce against the ground at push-off. Never reach the leg out in front of your body to increase stride length, because that causes deceleration and braking. As you become a better runner, your stride length naturally gets longer.

Stride length is also influenced by fatigue. Indeed, a shortening stride length is one of the most obvious signs of a fatiguing runner. If you watch the end of a race, you’ll notice that the runner who has the faster stride rate compared to the other runners is the one who usually wins. So, while stride length is more important during the early and middle stages of a race, stride rate becomes more important at the end of a race, when the steps are shorter because of fatigue.  

Learn a lot more about running technique with the REVO₂LUTION RUNNING™ certification. Only a couple days left to take advantage of the New Year’s Discount. Starting at 40% off on January 1, it’s been decreasing 1% every day until it’s gone. Use code NEWYEARDISCOUNTFEB7, NEWYEARDISCOUNTFEB8, etc.
http://run-fit.com/revo2lutionrunning

And if you need continuing education credits for your personal training or group fitness certifications, take advantage of our CEC courses:
http://run-fit.com/continuingeducation

© Copyright 2017 Run-Fit.com