It's never too late to be who you might have been.
George Eliot, English novelist
So, here I was, early Tuesday morning, whining like a big baby about how hot it was, how humid it was, how tough I am to get in 4 sweaty miles before work, when reality hit me - 2500 miles away in the middle of the Death Valley desert, at this very moment, 80+ runners are in some stage of the Badwater 135. The Badwater Ultramarathon, considered one of the toughest foot races in the world, starts at Badwater basin, which at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest point in the country, and 135 miles later climbs to 8,360 feet elevation at Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mt. Whitney. The temperatures can rise to an egg cookin' 125 degrees, and there ain't no shade baby. The winner's time was 24:44, which sounds like a good 5k time, BUT THAT'S 24 HOURS!! If you finish under 48 hours, you get a belt buckle, and if you get under the 60 hour cutoff, you get a medal. Know what the overall winner got? - Yep, that's right, a medal and a belt buckle! They do this for the pure love of doing it. How can you possibly explain this to a non-runner? You can't.
The other day, one of our runners asked me if weight lifting is good for marathoners. I'm sure she was influenced by my Sylvester Stallone physique (ok, think pre-Rocky I, not Rambo). Anyway, I definitely feel it'll help as long as you don't get carried away and try to look like "Mr/Miss/Mrs Muscle Beach". The purpose of any athlete lifting weights is to strengthen the muscles unique to their sport to help prevent injuries. Therefore, we don't need to be diving into weights with absolutely no plan. For a long distance runner, you don't need to be targeting the lower extremities - they get enough exercise zipping the rest of your body over hill and dale. Looking at those Kenyans winning races, I doubt they're doing heavy weighted Super-Sets on their legs. Surprisingly, one of the main things that drives your legs are the arms and the all-important core (abdomen, back, trunk, butt). Late in the race, the arms will help drive the legs - if the arms move, the legs will follow. The core acts as the supporting anchor for the legs and the arms to attach firmly to. If the core is strong, the body will stay solid in it's form, and won't be wasting energy by wobbling side-to-side or leaning forward at the trunk when you get tired. Remember a couple of blogs ago, I mentioned the importance of running close to erect for the long distance runner. If you watch a marathon near the finish, you'll see many-a-runner wobbling all over the place like they're losing all their nuts and bolts. When the core goes poof, the energy expenditure shoots sky-high trying to keep you upright. So, without mentioning specific exercises, you need to work the shoulder (anterior - chest press, posterior - rowing, lat pulldown), biceps, and triceps (remember, arms pump...legs go!). For the core, simple crunches are great, but don't forget to also do them to the sides so you get those obliques and not just the "six-pack" muscles. Remember, there's a plan here and when you run, your trunk will twist slightly as your legs come forward. Do this 1000 times per mile and you see why developing the whole core is important. Lying on your back and doing "bridges" are great for strengthening the back extensors. In my job (Physical Therapy), I have all of my back patients do bridges. There are many variations from this (marches, one-legged, no-hand assist, etc) that will really fire up the whole core. If you must do lower extremity exercises, keep the weights low and do more repetitions to target tone and endurance. I think it's funny to walk into a gym and see some runner lifting heavy weights on their legs 30 times and think "Whew! What a good workout". Yeah, a good workout if you work in a warehouse, but what the heck are 30 lifts going to do when your legs hit the ground 10,000 times in a 2 hour run? It doesn't matter if you use free weights, machines, Swiss-balls, elastic bands, whatever. There are pros and cons for all of them. If you want more specifics (like number of sets, reps, amount of weight, etc), email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll be glad to answer you.
Now, in the glad-I-was-alive-when-they-discovered-this department, it was announced by British scientists this week that the chicken did, indeed, come before the egg. Something about proteins in the chicken's ovaries. Ofcourse my theory has always been that the rooster came first, got lonely, God created the chicken, and voila! - The egg! I'm not saying the rooster's name was Adam, but it does make you smile, doesn't it? Yes, it's been a long work week.
OK guys, we've reach the finish line of this stage of the Tour de Al. Stay cool, stay hydrated, but most of all, stay smart. I'll see you on the roads - AL
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