Imagine as a 50 or 60 year old you can still charge up the up hills and fly down the down hills without pain. Doesn’t seem possible, we all know we get slower and stiffer as we get older. But read on and I’ll share how I found a different approach to training that totally transformed my running.
My Surprising Transformation
When I turned 50, I was feeling pretty good about my running. Then I suffered a heart attack and survived triple bypass surgery! My heart attack was caused by inflammation of my artery causing a blockage. I was never told the source of my inflammation at the time. Fortunately though, I recovered and went on to run over 50 ultramarathons in the next 10 years.
Having coronary heart disease was always on my mind, but my real crisis was when I turned 60. Suddenly I was facing getting old and slow. Some of my friends were already quitting racing and running altogether. They were just feeling too old and beat up to carry on. But I didn’t want to stop. “There’s got to be a way to keep doing this!”
So I dedicated the next two years implementing the latest in training techniques for running, building strength and fueling my body. I joined a Crossfit gym, started doing massive hill workouts and pounded the carbs for energy.
As a result, I got stronger and faster, but suffered another blocked artery!
What was going on?
I hit the books and found my answer in Dr Phil Maffetone’s Endurance Handbook. What I learned was my training regime was causing hidden chronic stress triggering inflammation throughout my body. I was a successful endurance athlete but my training and diet was sabotaging my health!
I immediately went to work removing stress factors from my routine, and started training smart and stress free.
To my surprise, in the next 3 months, I lost that extra 10 pounds I’d been carrying around for the last 20 years, and got stronger and faster. In my last race, a tough Skyrunner marathon, at the age of 62, I had the second fastest time in the 50 year old bracket!
What I found was, by eliminating the causes of hidden chronic stress, I could continue to run long and strong as I got older!
To understand how this is possible, first understand the three main types of stress.
Three Main Types of Stress
The human body is great for adapting to our environment. Sometimes that involves subjecting our bodies to stress. The hormones of the adrenal glands and our nervous system are great for coping with stress, however, when the adrenal glands are overworked, body wide problems can result. There are three main types of stress that can affect your running: Emotional, Physical and Chemical.
- Emotional: I always thought of stress as only being emotional, a mental state that causes tension, anxiety, and depression. Granted emotional stress can contribute to your running pains, but as a runner, there are two other types of stress you may not be aware of.
- Physical: It is easy to understand physical stress when you pull a hamstring or Achilles tendon. It also takes some stress on our muscles to benefit our fitness. The problem comes when physical stress starts building up in our bodies because we don’t adequately recover. Add in poor fitting shoes or an imbalance in your anterior or posterior chain, and you can create not only chronic pain, but also chemical and emotional stress.
- Chemical: Although there are many chemicals in our foods that can cause stress. The biggest cause of stress from food is from sugar and high glycemic carbohydrates. The constant sugar spikes from consuming too much junk food desensitizes your normal insulin reaction and creates inflammation leading to stress.
How can reducing stress help my running performance?
Well first you need to throw away all those printed training plans and start listening to your body in a more holistic manner. You see, many things you are doing now in your running are creating stress. How hard you train, your running form, how you breathe and your diet are some of the big ones. Also, many of things you do or don’t do while you’re not running can have a huge impact on your running. A good example is sitting all day at work.
Let’s take a look at just one source of stress in your life you may not even be aware of, and that is your breathing. This is a good example of how our sedentary life affects our body in many ways.
If you’re like me, you have a day job where you spend a lot of the day sitting at a desk. Spending the majority of your day sitting messes up a lot of your body’s functions, but let’s just talk about breathing.
In the sitting position, your rib cage collapses forcing you to take shallow breaths. These shallow breaths don’t deliver the maximum amount of oxygen to you brain and muscles and trigger the release of the stress hormone Cortisol. That’s why the first step most practitioners recommend for reducing stress is to meditate and work on your breathing.
But there’s more… All these shallow breaths (about 22,000 per day), limits the strength of your diaphragm muscle. Your diaphragm muscle works with your lower abdominals to help stabilize your pelvis. So a weak diaphragm and poor posture can lead to your pelvis tipping forward which then affects many of your running muscles and your running form! So that bum knee you have could have been caused by shallow breathing!
Here are 5 more common sources of chronic stress and a simple fix for each one
1) Not sleeping enough: Exhausts your brain so it doesn’t release enough proteins to repair your muscle cells and blood vessels and jolts your immune system into a stress response.
Fix: Schedule 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Prepare for a restful sleep by following the 10-2-1 rule: Limit caffeine 10 hours before sleep, no eating 2 hours before, and no screen time 1 hour before sleep. Keep the room as dark as possible.
2) Running too fast: Running effort beyond your maximum aerobic heart rate triggers your anaerobic system releasing stress hormones that can lead to chronic fatigue.
Fix: Do a majority of your runs below your maximum aerobic heart rate (180- your age). Jog or walk the up hills to limit heart rate spikes. Practice speed workouts on the downhills.
3) Sitting too much: “Sitting is the new smoking!” Prolonged sitting is linked to greater risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, muscle stiffness and lower fat burning.
Fix: Get a standing work station for work. When ever sitting, get up every 20 minutes and move!
4) Poor running form: Constant over striding creates more pounding on your muscular/skeleton system leading to muscle imbalances and injury.
Fix: Shorten your stride. Measure your cadence ( The number of times your feet hit the ground in 1 minute) and slowly work up to 180 steps per minute.
5) Eating sugar and grains: These foods trigger an insulin response that restricts fat burning and leads to inflammation and stress the more your blood sugar levels fluctuate, the more mood swings you have, releasing stress hormones which cause you to crave more sugar.
Fix: Cut out all processed foods from your diet. Try 2 weeks with no sugar, no flour based products and no grains. Substitute these fat causing carbohydrates with whole vegetables and healthy fats.
What I found is that especially for us older runners, reducing stress is the one key factor to allow us to continue the sport we love as we age.
If you have tried scripted training plans in the past and failed, Let me tell you, It’s not your fault!
If you are willing to take the time to listen to your body and train in a low stress manner, I can show you how to keep running fast as you get older.
To learn more, Take my Stress Quiz!
Learn how to eliminate hidden chronic stress and run like a kid again!