Chronic Endurance

2019-06-17 13.27.54A friend’s question gave me a nudge to flesh this out.

My pal asked, “am I damaging my health by pursing my endurance dreams?”

The science seems clear => you are very, very unlikely to screw up your health by exercising. Most everyone could benefit from exercising a little more often.

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However…

My demographic is different than the general public.

Call us the “screw the limit” exercisers.

What about us?

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I’m fortunate to have a group of endurance mentors that are moving through their 60s, 70s and 80s with many, many, many (!) years of chronic endurance training under their belts. Some of their hearts, and joints, are coming off the rails.

It’s tempting to “blame” exercise for their issues but that ignores the problems they avoided through exercise (high blood pressure not received, depressions not experienced, diabetes not developed, harmful addictions successfully managed).

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That said, whenever I find myself asking a question about excess, the fact that I’m asking is, in itself, part of the answer.

If you’re already exercising daily then you’re not going to find any doctor to advise you that you need to ramp that up by a factor of 2-5x.

…and you may find yourself reaching out to someone like me to get comfort that it’s OK to do a little less.

In doing a little less, but continuing to exercise daily, you will reduce your risk of ruin.

“Ruin” being the loss of the benefits from daily exercise.

Risk of ruin is what encouraged me to do less.

Immune system failure, bike crashes, lower leg injuries, death by avalanche/car accident… each is extremely inconvenient.

In doing less, I discovered unexpected benefits of eliminating chronic endurance => improved sex drive, better cognitive ability, happier joints, less cravings and additional muscle mass.

If you’re under 50, or pre-menopausal, then my benefits list will make more sense in a few years!

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What about that Tour de France study about longevity? (abstract linked)

While extreme, I’m not writing about Tour athletes.

Chronic endurance is about chasing podiums for decades after your elite career.

It’s not surprising TdF athletes live longer than their peers. The constitution required to get to the start line creates a special cohort.

A better cohort to review is “masters age-group champions” across 10, 20, 30, 40 years and compare them to “daily exercisers”.

There’s not much money to be made studying healthy people so I wouldn’t hold your breath on seeing my alternative study!

Frankly, I wouldn’t expect there to be much difference in longevity. You’d be studying two healthy populations.

Our findings underpin the importance of exercising without the fear that becoming exhausted might be bad for one’s health.

Lifespan isn’t the point.

Being exhausted is horrible for our relationships.

Look around and you will see that relationships are what we lack in later life, particularly if our favorite hobbies involve being alone… ūüėČ

Quality of life and keeping a lid on my risk of ruin… that’s what interests me these days.

None of these benefit from chronic endurance.

 

Maintaining Function and Independence

balanceHere’s an effective way to use a few¬†of the¬†hours I saved you with my email tips. It takes less than half an hour a week.

The session takes 12 minutes and will help you maintain your ability to:

  • get out of a chair
  • recover from a fall
  • pull yourself up from the floor
  • cope with your¬†carry on luggage

The above are HIGH on my priority list for maintaining independence and dignity as I age.

Alternate between a lower body exercises and an upper body exercise. Aim for 12 sets total – 6-15 reps per set – I take a minute per set including rest.

  • Lower
    • Squat
    • Leg Press
  • Upper
    • Pull up
    • Dip

Back and forth (upper/lower), rest as you need but if you need more than a minute then reduce weight.

You’ll probably need an assist on the pull-ups and the dips – there’s a machine (below)¬†in most gyms that will help you get going.

Use a wide range of motion – better to go lighter, and slower, with a full range.

dip

Goblet squat is great way to learn how to do the squat exercise. It’s a lot like sitting into, and getting up from, a chair.

The routine is simple but takes effort to do twice a week, every week, forever.

This routine is an effective way¬†to reduce the speed that I will become frail. I’ve been doing some version of it since high school, over 30 years and counting!

When I travel, it can seem silly to pay drop-in fees for 12-20 minutes of exercise.

What gets the wallet out is understanding what I might lose if I take a bad fall late in life.

I also get really sore if I go more than a week without strength training.

So start light and have an expert teach you proper form.

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As an alternative, here is the NY Times’ seven-minute workout.

Staying Young

Following my Endurance Corner article last week, Alan wrote a blog with ideas about what’s required to stay young. Alan excels at capturing the psychological reality of being an athlete.

Specifically… What’s truly driving my compulsion for excessive exercise and performance?

What rang true to me was Alan’s observation about “staying young.” When I think about my fears, and choices, that desire explains a lot.

Past 40, my athletic errors have started to stand out. Some of these errors make me feel “old.”

Would it surprise you to find out that big training screws up my sex drive. I could supplement around the issue but I’ve made a choice to experience things more naturally. This is a seriously adverse side effect from athletic greatness! When I was crushing it, and living alone, it was a weird sort of blessing.

Take home point: if virility is a consideration then high training load will impair off-the-field performance.

Strength training, particularly anabolic phases where I lift heavy on my legs, boost my recovery response, and sex drive.

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When it comes to performance, if you’re focusing on age then you’re missing the point.

For highly active populations, aging isn’t the real concern. I have coached world-class athletes into their 70s, the key thing that screws up fitness is injury, specifically the loss of strength that results from taking a forced break. Injury is mostly caused by bike crashes.

Cycling is the most dangerous thing I do and the statistics greatly under report the injuries that cyclists sustain. I denied the reality of cycling danger because I knew that I had to maintain high cycling volume to achieve my reason for living (AKA my athletic goals).

Tip the balance in your favor by:

  • Becoming a more polite, more cautious, cycling version of your current self.
  • Protecting the capacity to run daily. Daily running is more important than great run workouts. A daily easy run, when combined with twice weekly strength work, captures everything you need from long term sport.
  • Stay strong – the difference between a soft tissue injury and orthopedic surgery is often the amount of lean body mass you have (on impact).

I’ve gone further by shifting most of my cycling volume to a full-suspension 29er (disc brakes and fat tires are safer) and avoiding most highways.

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I also had to face that my ambitious race goals were encouraging me to make poor decisions.

However, I can still remember when ambitious race goals were my top priority.

How to balance?

If performance matters then know that you are playing a game of attrition. To stand out, you must become crafty at managing your total stress load. Injuries, divorce and lack of motivation are, at their root, a product of excessive stress.

Every great athlete that I have worked with has been caught by the season-ending trap of:

  1. Fit
  2. Fitter
  3. Fittest
  4. Totally Blown

You must get crafty!

Specifically, change your focus from chronic load to acute load. If you can keep your life in reasonable balance, and your body ticking along then you’ll be able to “act like you’re 25 again” for 2-3 days a month with your pals. With the realities of our busy lives, that’s going to yield nearly all of the benefits and have minimal costs.

Every few years, the stars will align with your family, job and connective tissue… when that happens you’ll be able to hit-the-gas for a month and get yourself into great shape.

The best case study that I know is Molina’s race report from Ironman New Zealand.

My buddy, Scott Molina, just went 10:10 at Ironman New Zealand, on his 54th birthday. That blows my mind! I know he wrote the race report so he can remember that day for a long time.

When Scott was my age, he used to smile and tell me, “I’d rather look fast than be fast.” More and more, I understand Scott’s decisions.

At the end of my elite career, I felt sore, blown and kinda old. A few years on, I’m grateful to be feeling much better. I can’t dominate my pals but, like Molina, I can sneak in a KOM when they are distracted.

Whatever your current path, remember that it’s OK to change. The tenacity that serves us well as young athletes can cause us to make choices that hurt ourselves.

I didn’t expect to have this much fun from doing this little training.