7 min read
4 book recs: two on running and two on living
Running gear for mid-life and the mid-packer
Training, injury-free and effortless
The Army Ten-Miler
Why do I run? I’m not sure I like running, even when I was fit and fast. There’s the pain of it, in the chest, in the knees. It’s different than, say, ripping a tennis forehand down the line; that’s immediate gratification. It’s similar to paddling along the Saranac shoreline on a misty morning. But there’s more to running.
Running is about the body, being outside, the feel of the ground beneath your feet, the damp air on your skin, the movement of trees on either side, the scent of pine and earth. The blood pulsing, the breath quickening, and the intense sensation from foot arches to neck muscles. Arms bent and swaying at your sides as you take in the world, step into it, part of it, like a deer on a trail, natural and effortless.
Running should be effortless. At 54, it is not effortless in the way that it is for the child who sprints with glee in an open field. We were meant to run. Born to run.* We lose this freedom of movement, this connection with nature, in the digital malaise, in the sedentary realities of modern living. Hours and days, weeks and months. The Dilbert years and the body’s atrophy.
At dinner, a colleague talked about the idea of “Healthspan” versus lifespan, to live healthier not just longer. Old age may not be desirable if your health sucks. Books and research abound on the subject: Peter Attia’s Outlive and David Sinclair’s Lifespan.*
Maybe running is about dying. To exert the flesh, to push the limits of physical existence.
What have I learned after running a race seven times? I started running the Army Ten Miler in 2017; I’ve run in the rain, in the heat, in the cold; I’ve run with never-before-or-since gate security which cut off half the runners at the start time. I’ve run a virtual race, twice.
No, a virtual race is not run on the PC–who knows what that would that even look like. A virtual race means I set my own course during the pandemic, which I chose to begin in New York and run through Connecticut to the Long Island Sound.
The weather in Washington, D.C. was a brisk 48 degrees and clear this Sunday, which made for a good morning.
Let’s back up a bit to the Expo. This is held for two days before the race at the DC Armory, a mammoth brick building where runners pick up bibs and packets. Shoe vendors, nutrition supplements, Army recruiters, static displays on the lawn of Special Forces gear with rifles and pistols on display, a heavily modified Black Hawk from 160th SOAR, and soldiers from other units, amid a buzz of runners everywhere.
ON PUSHUPS. Vendors at these events encourage runners with free merch. I found a soft spot on the carpet, shed my Birkenstocks, and pumped out 50 pushups to beat the current women’s max of 40. I didn’t want to exert myself before the race, but I had been doing pushups during yoga practice since I read David Goggins memoir. My son and the other cadets jumped in on the fun, his friend eeking out 110 to break the men’s max of 109. Our form was far from perfect, but the reps indulged us with freebies and updated the whiteboard. The Red Roof Inn rep was watching and gave us 3/4 sleeve baseball shirts with a facial likeness and print: George Washington Slept Here.
ON SHOES AND SOCKS. I picked up my bib and caught up with my group, the cadets perusing the booths. Altra had a sale on its signature wide toe box and zero drop sole–think flat like the ground, no incline. Unattractive would be generous, as modifiers go. I run in Altra Lone Peak 6 which is a trail shoe and I brought two pairs for the race. I trade them out during training and wasn’t sure which to run in. I purchased Altra’s road shoe at the Expo, the Escalante, which is the same as a third pair I carried in my luggage. So, I was a runner with 4 pairs of shoes. Options over fear. I bought a pair of Features socks.
In the Lone Peak 6, I use Dr. Scholl’s RUN insoles in one pair and ProFoot pink-and-black Plantar insoles in the other. I ran in the rust-colored Lone Peak 6 with ProFoot insoles and I wore Swiftwick socks.
ON TRAINING. I was not sure I would be able to run again. Jog or shuffle may be better terms than run, but last year I had an IT Band issue, and hadn’t trained for months, walking half the race. I began to believe I would not “run” anymore. This year I decided on a new approach. My official finish had me at a 10:40 pace and finishing in the top third in my age division. For me, hitting the 10s is a serious run time.
The idea of injury-free running* in form and in cadence was my focus this year. I am a clydesdale or Athena (think BIG runner over 200 lbs for men and over 160 lbs for women) and I need to be careful about joints. Mid-foot strike, shoulders down, lifting the heels, arm swing no more than hitting the midline, head over heart over pelvis. Adjusting form, breathing through the nose, quickening my cadence from 160 to 170 steps per minute.
Elite runners hit an optimal cadence between 170 to 190 steps per minute. I began in July with forms, focusing on running correctly to minimize and adjust for pain. I would do a 3 minute run and 1 minute walk on soft trails. Repeat these for half an hour. Then I increased that to longer and longer forms each week until after a month or so, I cut the walk and was running for 30 minutes.
Not worried about pace or distance, just form and cadence, I ran 5 or 6 times per week. Longer walk-runs on weekends until I peaked around 75 minutes running at 168 cadence. Felt strong at my longest run, likely ran 6 or 7 miles.
What did I learn in this 7th ATM? Weather makes a difference. And a strong baseline of conditioning; this separates the serious from the recreational. The elite run year round. Not sure I’m up for that, but I know that I need three or more months. Friends and family make this race special. I ran the first 15 minutes with my husband and my friend brought a throw-away fleece for me to stay warm pre-race. Love the energy of the Army, soldiers, veterans, amputees, fly-overs, Golden-Knights, the music, the bands, the Sergeant Major speeches at the Pasta dinner with 900 runners. The cadet enthusiasm. Love seeing friends and veterans I served with.
Maybe running at this age is about walking. Until then, until I have no choice. Maybe running is about living.
*Born to Run is a book by Chris McDougall, hailed as a sort of running classic or running bible. It’s good and I appreciated several things that have stuck with me since I read it many years ago. He earned a running nickname of Oso the Bear because of his size which inspires me as a big runner. He also made the anatomical case for why we, as humans, were designed to run. The achilles heel and the nugal ligament. Chimps and pigs do not have either. Guess who does? Dogs, horses, and humans.
*Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To and Outlive, the Science and Art of Longevity are books about fighting the aging process and improving overall health. I listened to both authors and was about five or six chapters into the audio book for Outlive when it returned to the library. I got the general idea and it gets deep on data. I’m 16 on the waitlist.
*Running gear and tips– runners are like hikers and athletes, nearly obsessive about equipment. I’ve stumbled into Altra while hiking, close to a decade ago. Inserts help for overuse which shows up first in my plantar or foot arch and heel. Socks are important because I have tender feet which blister easily, so I find Swiftwick and Features ideal. I run in hiking shorts or running shorts, and I use Body glide to prevent chafing on chest and feet. I carry Advil which I took at mile 8 and wish I had taken at the start of the race. I try not to take medicine, but I will take anti-inflammatories during peak training and on race day, because it makes a difference.
*Chi Running, an Effortless Approach to Injury-Free Running by Danny Dreyer. I read a lot of books on running over the years and I found this a welcome comfort at mid-life, recommended by a friend and police officer now homicide detective. She credited the book with saving her body. It’s a way to focus on how we are designed to run and to do so without pain. I read it a few years ago and revisit the book as I did this year to focus on form and cadence. It sounds simple but as most things, is not so simple. There are many aspects of form and you can focus on arm swing one day, breathing the next, then foot strike. The key or focus is to remain injury free and effortless. Adjusting when you have pain to alleviate or remove the ache, and doing so while controlling breathing or chi, is liberating and freeing when it all comes together. This book and the advice has helped me run again, when I thought that might no longer be possible.