Track and Field for Adults

For people who grew up playing soccer, baseball, or basketball there are usually plenty of opportunities to continue these sports through adulthood. Think intramural or office soccer clubs, church softball leagues, and neighborhood pickup basketball games.

If you were a hurdler or other track and field athlete in high school, though, you may assume that your days of competing ended with graduation. Sure, you can do 5k races and marathons but that’s a huge distance leap if you were a sprinter – and not at all related to your sport if you were a javelin thrower or pole vaulter. So it’s not surprising that many track and field athletes never compete in their sport again.

But that doesn’t have to be the case if you’re over age 30. Masters track and field gives you the chance to relive your glory days.Running track

Masters track and field: 101

Masters track and field involves the same events you remember from high school or watch during the Olympic Games. The only difference is masters track and field is for men and women from age 30 – 95+, and consists of beginners and seasoned athletes alike.

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, the USA track and field masters organization says joining a master’s track and field club may be for you:

·         Are you looking for a way to get fit or lose weight?

·         Do you enjoy watching track and field events on television?

·         Did you participate in track and field as a child and miss it?

·         Do you want to renew your competitive spirit?

The events

To participate in masters track and field, you need to join a local club. Through the club membership, you’ll gain access to group training and coaching, facilities, and track meets. During meets, you’ll compete against other athletes your age – just like you did in high school. Every year, the best athletes from all masters track and field clubs in the U.S. go on to compete in the USA Masters Track & Field Championships.

There are a host of events to choose from — some are only offered during indoor or outdoor track season, while others are offered during both seasons. Many athletes compete in more than one of the following events:

·         Sprints: 60m, 100m, 200m, and 400m dashes

·         Middle-distance: 800m and 1500m

·         Long-distance: 5000m and 10,000m

·         Hurdles: 60m, 100m, 110m, and 400m hurdles and 3000m steeplechase

·         Relays: 4x100m and 4x400m relays

·         Jumps: Long jump, high jump, triple jump, and pole vault

·         Throws: Shot put, discus throw, javelin throw, and hammer throw

·         Combined events:

     – Pentathlon: 800m, 60m hurdles, long jump, high jump, and shot put.

     – Heptathlon: 60m, 1000m, 60m hurdles, long jump, high jump, pole vault, and shot put.

     – Decathlon: 100m, 400m, 1500m, 110m hurdles, long jump, high jump, pole vault, shot put, discus throw, and javelin throw.

How to get involved

There are local masters track and field clubs all around the country. To find one in your area, check out the USA Track & Field’s (USATF) website.

Try not to feel intimidated if you’ve never done track and field before or if it’s been a few decades since you last competed. Many masters track and field athletes are first timers looking to participate in a fun hobby, just like you. If you’re still on the fence about joining a club, spectate a meet in person. It may be just the motivation you need to dust off your old track spikes!


Are You At The Mercy of Your Genes?

We are, in many ways, subject to the genes we were born with. In the fitness world especially we tend to think of our genetics as limiting factors, either for the good or bad. When we struggle with specific trouble spots, we blame genetics. Conversely, when someone has little-to-no difficulty gaining muscle or excels at a given sport, we give their genes the credit. An emerging field of study, called epigenetics, though, is actively changing our concept of how genes affect us and, more importantly, how we can affect them.

What is Epigenetics?

The most basic way to explain epigenomes is to think of them as a series of switches. Although you can’t change the genes that you were born with, epigenomes can control the expression of those genes. Through the manipulation of these switches, it is possible to turn off certain genes and turn on others. This allows the body to adapt to any number of factors including stress, diet and nutrition on a very deep level.

Of course, it is no surprise that exercise changes your body. Anyone who has exercised for any period of time has experienced these changes, so what makes the findings associated with epigenomes significant?

The Power of Epigenomes

Scientific understanding of epigenetics is still relatively limited but several high-quality studies help to shed light on what this new discipline may mean for the fitness world.

A 2012 study published in the journal Cell Metabolism, for example,observed the effects of strenuous exercise on gene expression. After 20 minutes, the researchers saw the DNA expression of cells change in a way that encouraged muscle growth. Specifically, the DNA now told the cells to produce specialized proteins that build and repair muscle fibers.

In the same year, another study explored the scope of these genetic adaptations. By having cyclists pedal with just one leg and taking muscle biopsies from both legs before and after, the researchers hoped to understand the extent to which exercise impacts inactive muscles. Surprisingly, it was discovered that both legs displayed changes to DNA expression.

Although this study only tested the changes in the subjects’ legs, these findings suggest that the benefits of exercise go far beyond just the exercised muscle group. This emphasizes the fact that exercising one muscle group, for example the legs, can benefit your entire body.

But it is true that some people just seem to struggle with weight loss, or muscle gain, regardless of their workout routine. While there are many factors that can contribute to these challenges, including health conditions, genetics usually play a major role.

A new study suggests that epigenetics may be able to help in this frustrating situation as well. This report was published in the June 2013 issue of The FASEB Journal and invested the efficacy of an exercise program on 107 adolescent males. To do this, the researchers measured the epigenetic responses of each of the subjects. Ultimately, five epigenetic biomarkers were identified that could be used to predict what exercise routine will be most effective for the individual.

These findings are still preliminary and more research is needed but this report offers hope of one day predicting what sort of fitness routine you need to follow to maximize your results.

Epigenetics is still a new field of study and more experimentation is needed to fully understand its impact and usefulness. In the meantime, however, epigenetics offers hope that you can overcome the perceived limits of your genes to reach your fitness goals.

Are you fascinated by the implications of these studies? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


Marathon Training With Hormonal Imbalances

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I just finished my fifth marathon last Sunday and my time was horrible.  I’m a 41-year old female with a career and two beautiful active boys. I had breast cancer almost fifteen years ago and had chemotherapy and a mastectomy.  I am very active competing in triathlons and running events. I decided to have the Cancer Gene Test two years ago and unfortunately it came back positive with the BARCA 2  gene. I did prophylactic surgery and had my ovaries removed.  I went on a really light dose of hormone therapy.  I ran Chicago Marathon last October, it wasn’t my best time compared to my two LA marathons and Long Beach Marathon before the surgery. I was encouraged by my Oncologist and other doctors to get off the hormonal replacement, I did right after the Chicago Marathon and it threw me into surgical menopause.  I trained so hard for this marathon, not only running hills, but cross training, squats, weights, box jumps, and spinning. I’m trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  Up until mile fifteen I felt fine.  By mile 17 and 19, I felt like I was going to faint and was extremely sore, but I pushed through to complete the marathon. Do you think having no estrogen has an effect on marathon performance?  Thank you -

 A: Hi, Holly. I’m glad you wrote and thank you for sharing your story. You’re an inspiration. Although there are a lot of things that are out of your control, there are just as many strategies you can employ to get back on track. As women progress in life, they lose their estrogen. Therefore, a shift in how we eat, exercise and live needs to happen to re-balance our energy and hormones. Yours was less shifting and more buttons activated, but nonetheless these actions will help you perform at your best. 

 The symptoms you’re experiencing are likely due to the loss of both estrogen and progesterone from the bilateral oophorectomy and loss of your ovaries. It is important to understand that although your normal training program won’t be effective anymore as it is causing these symptoms due to the stress on the body, there is a new strategy you can employ in this next chapter of your running life. 

 ·         Include three to four quality running workouts per week. Include one easy run done at a conversational effort for 40-50 minutes, one to two shorter, but harder, runs (intervals/tempo) and one endurance run. Any more than that can increase your risk for overtraining and reduce the efficiency of your recovery post workout. It’s more important to get in the quality than the quantity at this phase in your life. This will allow you to get in what you need to improve performance and reach your goals and recover post run to progress throughout the season. Plus, you’ll feel much stronger which boosts confidence, mood and motivation. If you continue to push hard day to day and push lots of miles, it will translate to decreased performance, fatigue and burnout. This is the case for most athletes over the age of 40 as well. 

 ·         Train by your body and by effort rather than pace. The body knows effort. It doesn’t know pace. It can be tempting to train by a pace, but doing so can both over or under train you for qualifying for the Boston Marathon. The key is to optimize every workout and you do that by training by how the body is feeling on every given day. For instance, your long runs should be done at a conversational, easy effort. If you go in thinking you’re going to run it at your usual or calculated 9:30 pace, but the temperature and humidity is high and running at that pace now puts you into the red or hard zone. The result is you struggle through to finish your long run and it takes five days for your body to recover, affecting all the following workouts. 

 You can dig yourself into a big hole when training by numbers. It appeases your mind, but isn’t effective for the body. Tune in, listen to your breath and be patient enough to train in the right zone for the workout. Your long run pace may end up being 10:30 on that hot day, but you get in the miles, stay in your easy effort and recover efficiently so you can run your interval workout a few days later. 

 ·         Run long every other week. Instead of hammering out progressive long runs week after week which can drain you, alternate a long building run with a shorter long run at a different intensity. Here is one example of a long run schedule that includes a variety of long easy runs with shorter moderate intensity runs to prepare for race pacing (this is geared towards advanced marathoners that have a base of mileage and have raced the marathon distance).

Week 1: 8 miles easy effort

Week 2: 9 miles easy effort

Week 3: 10 miles easy effort

Week 4: 8 miles easy effort

Week 5: 11 miles easy effort

Week 6: 8 miles race simulation (4 miles easy, 3 miles moderate, 1 mile hard)

Week 7: 12 miles easy effort

Week 8: 8 miles easy effort

Week 9: 14 miles easy effort

Week 10:  8 miles race simulation (4 miles easy, 3 miles moderate, 1 mile hard)

Week 11: 16 miles easy effort

Week 12:  10 miles easy effort

Week 13:  18 miles easy effort

Week 14:  10 miles race simulation (5 miles easy, 4 miles moderate, 1 mile hard)

Week 15:  20 miles easy effort

Week 16:  10 miles race simulation (5 miles easy, 4 miles moderate, 1 mile hard)

Week 17:  20 miles easy effort

Week 18:  10 miles easy effort

Week 19:  7 miles race simulation (4 mile easy, 2 miles moderate, one mile hard)

Week 20:  Marathon

 ·         Include total body strengthening exercises twice per week. This will help build and maintain active muscle tissue, which is vital for menopausal women to maintain weight, strength and bone density. Strengthening exercises like lunges, planks and push ups are also a great complement to developing and maintaining efficient running form. Optimal core strength will stabilize your core and reduce the risk of injuries from the demands of a high impact activity like running. If you’re in season training for a marathon or other races, avoid high intensity strength workouts as the demands of these sessions will throw off the balance of your training regimen. If you want to perform these high intensity workouts, trade a hard run for a hard run – avoid adding it into the mix as it will affect the efficiency of your recovery. In the off season when you’re not in training and running longer miles, modify your strength workouts to three times per week.

 ·         Train no more than six days per week, sleep and go Zen. Rest is the number one way we adapt after workouts and if we’re lacking in rest, our performance suffers as you continue to train in a fatigued state. When training for your marathon, invest in at least one complete rest day. We live in cycles of sleep and awake time every day. Research supports most people need at least eight hours of quality sleep to function at an optimal rate. When we burn the candle at both ends, our hormones shift out of balance and cause havoc with our health. Olympic Marathoner Deena Kastor once told me she sleeps 10-12 hours while in season training. Put sleep at the top of your list of training strategies as it can greatly impact how you train, adapt and perform in the race. Include one calming activity day where you’re focusing on restorative yoga, easy walking or light spinning. This counter-balances the harder and longer workouts and allows your body to heal and restore mobility and focus. 

 ·         Eat well and modify carbohydrates. Runners are well known for high carbohydrate diets. However, when we shift into menopause, the lack of estrogen reduces the insulin buffering actions, resulting in weight and fat gain. The same amount of carbohydrates we ate at a younger age will induce fat at menopause. A diet lower in starches and fruits but higher in vegetables, fiber and clean protein sources will fuel your training efforts and reduce the stress on your metabolic pathways. This may seem unfair, however once you shift to eating a clean food diet, you’ll feel more energetic, recover more efficiently and perform better. 

 As we navigate through life’s ups and downs, it is important to continue to ebb and flow with what your body is telling you along the way. You’ve done a great job of tuning in and being aware of your performance decline, now it is time to make a few adjustments in your training and life regimen to run your best at this new phase in your life. Take your time in making these adjustments as trying to change everything all at once can be overwhelming. Ease into each change and journal about how it affects your training and energy along the way. You’ll soon find your new training recipe and it will help you reach your goals to run Boston.

Do you have a question for Coach Jenny? Submit your question here.

The Fat-Free Fallacy

Imagine yourself in this familiar situation: You’re at the store considering two similar foods options. They’re roughly the same product, except one boasts “no fat” and maybe even “high fiber.” You’re trying to eat healthy so you opt for the second choice,  avoiding the fat. Sometimes these products are even labeled as the “smart” or “healthy” choice.

But are these low- or no-fat products really the better options?

Where Does the Fat Go?

Fat is a vital nutrient and is contained naturally in many foods. But apart from fueling your body, fat plays two important culinary roles: as a flavoring and a thickener. Unfortunately, fat has gained a bad rap in the nutritional world and people in general have acquired an aversion to it. So, to make up for the negative changes that occur in food when the fat is taken out, manufacturers have come up with some creative, sometimes concerning, solutions.

First, to augment the lackluster flavor inherent in fat-free or low-fat foods, companies generally add enormous amounts of sugar or salt. In fact, the fat-free versions of some foods even have more total calories than the traditional varieties, albeit less from fat.

Peanut butter is a prime example. The low-fat and standard peanut butters both have roughly the same amounts of total calories and only a few less grams of fat.

Several mysterious “fat replacers” have also found their way into our foods. These substances are generally a mixture of proteins, carbs and chemically altered fats. While they haven’t been conclusively linked with any major long-term side effects, they can have strange short-term effects on your body.

For example, olestra, one of the most widely used altered fats passes through your digestive tract completely untouched. Understandably, this causes digestive upset and also limits your ability to absorb fat-soluable vitamins and minerals. People who have a lot of olestra in their diet can even develop a deficiency in these nutrients.

Sometimes, the issue of satiation even drives manufacturers to even more out-of-the-box ideas. This includes the addition of cellulose to make food more filling and to act as a thickener. Put plainly, cellulose is saw dust. This by-product of lumber mills is finely ground and mixed with water until it is white and tasteless so that it has no effect on the final product. As an added bonus, the company can not only label food “low fat” but also “high fiber.”

Other Aspects to Consider

As with most health and fitness related discussions, there’s much more to think about than just how many calories you eat. As mentioned, your salad is full of vitamins and minerals that are fat-soluble, meaning that they have to be eaten paired with a fat to be properly absorbed. Fat-free dressing, then, doesn’t allow you to fully benefit from your meal.

Also, not all fats as necessarily bad for you. Returning to the example of peanut butter, think about the fact that it contains many healthy fats that your body needs. Remember that, ultimately, you gain weight by eating too many calories regardless of whether they come from protein, fat or carbs. Instead of trying to eliminate fats from your diet completely, replace unhealthy fats with the beneficial options found in nuts, fish and olive oil.

Have you found a way to balance healthy fats in your diet? Please share your tips in the comments.


Color, Muddy, Obstacle and More: The Themed Race Trend

Running a race used to be a straightforward endeavor. You trained, set a goal, showed up to the event, put on your running shoes, and ran as fast as you could to reach the finish line to meet your goal.

But nowadays a new crop of races is taking the running industry by storm: themed races.

These events aren’t about running fast and meeting goals – heck, some of them aren’t even timed. Rather they’re about the journey. And, it’s a fun journey at that. One where you can be chased by zombies, doused with colored powders, glowing in the dark, or crawling through mud.

Themed races are drawing a whole new group of people to the sport – most participants are beginner runners and racing novices. Since themed races are usually short distances (most are around 5 kilometers or 5k) and meant to be “fun runs”, they take the intimidation factor out of running. They appeal to average Joes. Someone who may never have considered running may see an ad for a themed race, be intrigued, get off the couch and start training for the event.

That’s exactly what’s happening all across the country. The Color Run, a 5k race in which runners are sprayed with non-toxic, colored powder – held its inaugural event in January 2012. Within its first year, it spread to 50 U.S. cities and had 600,000 participants. This year, the Color Run will hold events in 120 U.S. cities and 30 countries and surpass the 1 million mark in participants.

Here’s the scoop on some of the most popular themed race series:

·         The Color Run. If starting a race in a plain white outfit and finishing  looking like a rainbow appeals to you, check out the Color Run. Race directors say, “the Color Run is a five-kilometer, un-timed race in which thousands of participants are doused from head to toe in different colors at each kilometer.”

·         The Zombie Run. Do you only run when being chased? If so, check out the Zombie Run. In this race, zombies literally jump out, scare you and hunt you down. The race organizers say, “Zombie Run is a 5K obstacle fun run for the end of times. But you’re not just running against the clock, you are running from flesh-eating, virus-spreading, bloody zombies.” Yikes!

·         The Rave Run. This race is held in the dark, but runners literally glow – because they deck themselves out in glow necklaces and bracelets. The race creators say, “The Rave Run is a night time 2.5-3.1 mile fun run where runners, artists and insomniacs unite. Experience a journey through a nocturnal wonderland with stunning lights and music.”

·         Spartan Race. If you crave physical obstacles during your race, the Spartan Race series is for you. Spartan is the ultimate obstacle racing challenge. You can choose from a 3-, 8-, or 12-mile race course, each chockfull of crazy obstacles like fire, mud, barbed wire and “Hell on Earth.” From the Spartan Race directors, “we’re here to rip you from your comfort zone. If you need a road map for each step of the way, then maybe this race isn’t for you.”

Have you ever run a themed race? Are you interested in participating in one?