Friday, April 15, 2011

Back in the groove

Several thousand years ago, the Roman poet Juvenal wrote "orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano" from which we derive that now famous quote about a healthy mind in a healthy body.

For a variety of reasons, recently, I confess I have kinda let my body and fitness slide. This has become unacceptable. Not from reasons of vanity: it's not just about the physical, there is a mental cost component as well. Mentally, I've noticed I've slid a bit too.

Of course, we all know there is a strictly limited number of hours available in a week. So, one of these reasons is purely a resource limitation. It's easy to crowd out time for physical recovery. I should know as a cyclist who used to train systematically with a powermeter, getting stronger is a feature of recovery, not the actual workout. Spacing the workouts out appropriately is crucial.

Trying to recapture my halcyon New Jersey ping pong days of a decade or more ago, I've concluded I've gone a bit overboard. This has crowded out basic fitness. I find ping pong somewhat frantic and mentally challenging. I love a good challenge but it doesn't have that mind clearing, mental relaxation aspect that accompanies a good long run (or a steady bike climb up Mt Lemmon), where endorphins enhance and subtly flavor the rhythms of one's own body: for example, the flow of breathing while teasing up again and again against the anaerobic threshold, the sheer pleasure of the mechanics of footfall blending with a moving center of gravity. It all accelerates and relaxes at the same time, footfall eventually becoming so brief and light it almost blurs into the desert landscape. And before you know it, it's 10 kilometers or 10 miles. And you smile and you smile...

Rather than attempting to wax obscurely about that state of body and mind, it is time to get real, and review and renew my basic fitness vows, to ensure that baseline I have promised myself in the past I would make time for and maintain. Simply stated:
  1. To be ready to run a marathon at any time.

    When I first started running about 4 years ago, I achieved this standard in 3 months. I'm not talking about running a Boston qualifying time. I'm simply talking about the ability to smoothly run a marathon without injury in under 4 hours.

  2. To be able to swim a mile.

    When I spent a semester at the MIT Stata Center (see my off-blog entry here) back in 2007, I swam nearly every day there. With the friendly encouragement of the lifeguard, (I don't even remember his name except he was a bit on the large side with a somewhat unforgettable Boston Irish accent and demeanor), I achieved the mile mark briefly despite horrible swim mechanics, and the real fear of having to be fished out before being able to count up to 37 laps or whatever it took to surpass the so-called "swimmer's mile".

  3. A third secret benchmark.

    Maybe I'll expand on this in a later post, but for now allow me to leave it unclarified.

These are a set of actually rather modest minimal standards. Once achieved, they take little effort to maintain. Once let slip, they are hard to achieve, especially as life passes by. I have achieved the run and swim baselines before (but not at the same time). And if I don't get back to them, one day they'll be unachievable from scratch.

To be ready to run a marathon at any time

I've promised myself before that I'd run one marathon a year as a reality check and spur to not let myself slide.

However, it has been more than one year since I've run a marathon, see post here. I achieved the fitness to do 3:44:42 despite cramped and difficult training conditions. Basically, I ran a bunch of 10Ks in the gym and around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. So 10Ks, (crucially) doable in under an hour of spare time, can be the cornerstone of such a training program.

Yesterday, I ran a 7 miler with the running club at the university. See my Nike+ data below. Suffered some (as the heart rate stats indicate), some mild stirrings of rhythm latent, but by the end it felt good to be back on my feet again. I need to do this twice a week.

I've also done an hour occasionally on the treadmill when I am not able to run outside. It's not as nice as the outdoors, but not as bad as it sounds, especially with music playing over my iPod. And there's the opportunity to work on core muscles and upper body on the machines in the gym afterwards as part of the cooldown.

[I haven't said anything about weight yet. Obviously, weight is critical for running (it can be shown there is a direct effect) but not at the expenses of needed muscle mass. Before restarting my runs, I had been steadily losing muscle yet gaining weight despite trying to eat less. A kind of strange spiral and the wrong approach. With the metabolism rejuvenated through workouts, as of April 16th I'm down to a 18 month low of 68.7 kg (from 73 kg) with significantly better muscle tone. I hope my weight will eventually stabilize just under the 70kg mark.]

And occasionally, I need to substitute in a half-marathon weekend morning for one of these runs. Maybe once a month. A total of just 2 to 3 hours a week. I should be able to do make this happen.

To be able to swim a mile

To be honest, and probably to the casual reader's surprise, this one is a much more daunting prospect to me. Although my freestyle technique has improved since MIT 2007 (not difficult since it was so impoverished), I still get winded after swimming 50 or 100m, and I have to stop and catch my breath. It's strange that I can run a marathon without stopping but not swim more than 100m. I need to swim almost daily. And put in the laps (volume) to develop those swim muscles. Initially, perhaps just limited to 30 mins at a time. Again, the time commitment is small and I should be able to make it happen.

Since the university pool here has re-opened after refurbishment, I have lost my last excuse for not visiting the pool. Hmm, maybe I need a gadget (toy) incentive here. I have my eye on a lap counting swim watch. After all, my iPod Nano with Nike+ was reward to myself for getting out to run...

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