by Hugh Johnson
I was young once, aspiring to be a fast cyclist and even a fast runner. My knees said no to anything resembling a hard or long run, so I learned to run for fun and bike as well as walk a lot more. I was a pretty fast cyclist in my youth, but then I started having problems with my hands on a road bike. This slowed me down even before I got old. I found the discomfort frustrating and even thought about giving cycling up. I hit the re-pause button, got a hybrid, slowed down and now am biking more than ever! Why? Because now I enjoy it again, biking more slowly and usually not on excessive hilly terrain.
This year will make 50 years that I have been keeping personal biking records. A surge of mileage happened when I retired in 2016, with more time to bike!
We all hear of many ways to train to run and bike faster, tempo runs, interval training, etc. This is all good stuff! However how many of us heard of doing an easy run to help train? I am already a master of easy biking, doing it most days.
Even if speed is your goal, an easy run might benefit you. Most experts say a day off or two is good. However, why not have one run per week where you leave the Garmin at home, or just don’t worry about the speed. Take a meditative run, at a ten minute or more, a mile pace?
I have read a book called “Haywire Heart” by Christopher J. Case and others. I highly recommend it. Basically, it states that even if you are in tip top shape, you can overtax your heart producing a dangerous arrhythmia, if you persistently push yourself to your cardiac limit. In this case it is not about the cardiac plumbing, but wiring.
Perhaps even more disturbing was research done by a heart surgeon names James O’Keefe, Cardiologist. He discovered that top notch runners, even young ones, had a surprising amount of heart disease. Apparently, the blockage (plumbing problem) is the result of plaque from inflammation, not excessive cholesterol. Also, the strain of a long hard run or bike ride can tear the muscles of the heart, especially as we age. Think of driving a car at its limits all the time. How long would your car last? Probably a lot less than you bargained for. You can watch James O’Keefe on YouTube, (Google James O’Keefe overexercise) about 25 minutes long.
I personally know someone who was very fit, athletic, not old and had a stroke while she was intensely exercising. Luckily, she should fully recover but she is one of those folks who always needed to push herself to the limit. Hopefully now she will not.
We all exercise for different reasons, and I bet longevity is not necessarily the top one. However, there is enough science out there to suggest that pushing yourself day after in any exercise could actually shorten your life. Moreover, it could yield to burnout and of course significant injuries.
By taking a day to run slower, even walk for that matter, you get to do the thing you love, but give your body a chance to repair itself. Let’s make no bones about it, a hard run, bike ride or even swim will cause some breakdown in the muscles including the heart. Rest is important although we also know excessively sitting is no good either.
Perhaps a good goal would be do a hard run two or three times a week, a rest day in between and slow run or walk, one day a week. You might just find the slow run more enjoyable and might want to do that more.
Sticking to a good exercise program is about balance and personal preferences. No one formula is exactly right for everyone. If you honestly feel good about your program stick with it. Just keep in mind, if you are running too much or hard, you might be hurting yourself more than you think. It’s all about getting the maximum bang for the buck, perhaps not even longevity but quality of life.
Enjoy your stroll!
Hugh Johnson is a retired meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Albany who loves to hike and bike, stroll and run. He loves snow activities and hiking on beaches in Florida. His dream goal is to hike the Camino de Santiago.
Click here to explore what he has written for The Pace Setter.