Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Project Me: Update # 1

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can certainly refresh that dog's memory concerning the tricks he used to know but may have forgotten. The first and most important lesson any runner learns-- and that any veteran runner has had to repeatedly re-learn on his/her way to becoming a veteran-- is that stress without adequate recovery is simply stress, and not training. Training, we can never forget, is stress followed by adaptation, or physical overcompensation for said stress. Training entails introducing the body-- a conservative thing when it comes to the allocation of resources-- to a new condition, that of aerobic distress and glycogen depletion, in the hope and expectation that it will progressively morph itself into a system better able to cope with that new condition. Ordinarily, it will do just that, after a period of time that varies from individual to individual. And it will do it more readily when it is younger, and more readily equipped hormonally for growth and adaptation. When it is older, it can still be encouraged to allocate some resources for adaptation to training-induced stress, but it is more reluctant. Whether old or young, however, the body ranks the stresses to which it will respond, with those that most immediately threaten the well being of the organism coming first. Threats to the immediate health of the body-- typically those posed by inadequate nutrition, sleep, or psychological/emotional trauma-- trigger a primitive fight or flight response in the body, a central component of which is the release of cortisol, the "stress hormone". It is well known that the presence of high levels of cortisol in the body is associated with poor health and shortened lifespan (tellingly, the poor typically have higher average levels of cortisol than affluent).

Runners hoping to benefit from all their hard work, and particularly those of us who are older, ignore this reality at our peril. If we add the stress of training to an already stressful life situation-- one in which we are already hormonally compromised-- we can expect poor results, both in terms of our training and overall quality of life. While no one can completely eliminate the typical cortisol-spiking stresses of modern life, runners can learn not to add to them by repeatedly making the mistake of eating poorly and not sleeping enough, or unnecessarily putting themselves into psychologically stressful situations (did you REALLY need to freak out at that guy who cut you off on the way to work this morning?). We can also learn when these sorts of stresses are running abnormally high, and adjust our training stress accordingly. In fact, if we're really attuned to our level of life stress, we can actually use our running to help us reduce its negative effects. A certain amount of easy aerobic running can actually help reduce cortisol levels and raise dopamine (the "pleasure" hormone) in stressed people. If we're realistic enough in our assessment of how our life is going, and nimble enough in adjusting our level of training stress accordingly, we can not only get through periodic difficulties more successfully, we can hang onto more of our hard won training adaptations-- which, for serious runners, it itself a cause for greater happiness.

As for yours truly, I made my decision to embark on a new/old and more ambitious training regime at the very beginning of what I knew would be-- because it always IS-- my busiest and most stressful time of year (although, in my defense, the fall is also the best time of year weather-wise to train long and hard). Add to this some unexpected personal stress and the entirely predictable result was that I caught a virus late in September that, because I could not reduce my life-stress levels, and would not reduce my training stress levels, progressed to a bacterial infection (my old nemesis, the sinus infection, with which I was plagued all last winter and early spring). The upshot in terms of race results what that I ran a personal worst over 5k in Syracuse (15:59 on the fastest course in the east), followed by a couple of better but hardly inspiring X-C outings in October and this past weekend on the home course in Kingston. Granted, I got a little older over the past few months too, but not enough to justify losing 30+ seconds over 5k since late June! I'm still hoping for a good result in my final couple of races of the season, but I have relearned a lesson I should never have forgotten-- live well, train well, race well. I'm not ready to fire my coach just yet, but we'll be having a serious end of season chat! I have no plans to back off on my training, but will readjust my heaviest loads to the times of year (early spring to late summer) when I anticipate the lowest levels of overall stress-- a moving target, to be sure, but that's life itself!

Stay tuned for the P-K Performances of the Month for September and October (i.e. after I have had time to actually review results!).


Blogger Dan Moriarity said...

Thanks for the reminder. At 44 I find I'm having to re-evaluate and adjust my training. Mostly I need to really relax on my daily mileage runs to recover properly to be able to handle the weekly interval and tempo sessions. The good news about being past my PR days is that I don't worry nearly as much as I used to if I don't hit my typical paces for daily runs or workouts. Wish I'd had that wisdom when I was younger.

28 November 2012 at 16:23  
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