Recently, I was reminded of the virtues of simplicity while weight training at the local gym. A group of women and one man were involved in what appeared to be resistance training on a small 15- laps-to-the-mile track that circles the weight training area. Some were hunched forward pushing 25 pound circular barbell weights, made slide-able by a towel underneath in an inverted “V” posture that seemed to lend itself to back strain. Another participant was pulling a couple of these same weights with a makeshift rope and belt combination attached to her waist. My impression was that this complicated endeavor had something to do with improving leg strength.
While trying to figure out what they might be trying to accomplish, Ed Whitlock’s deceptively simple words popped into my head. “Run as much as you can!” is was what he told me when I asked him for advice. And then another thought, variety for its own sake, is the mother of ridiculous inventions. One place where odd physical challenges are at home is the community picnic, summer camp or team building activities. During this busy summer we’ve had our share of those, along with the hilarity and laughter while taking part.
At the Toronto Japanese Community Picnic, despite my protests, I found myself in a three-legged race with a brother whose strategy was to go out hard and if we get in a groove well great and if not . . . Well, you get violently pulled to the ground by your out-of-synch bound legs, experience near concussion and scrape your face as I did and still come up laughing. Of course this was recorded by numerous family members on video, footage I’ve yet to see.
My husband and I were the winners of the egg-on-your face award during the egg toss competition. Couples toss an egg back and forth, at increasing distance until disqualified by a broken egg or a grassy landing. My husband got egged by the splatter from the couple next to him and I got splattered by his inaccurate toss, causing great laughter. I have fond memories of summer picnics and park track and field days as they were the scene of my earliest running victories. My memory is that my skinny self never went down to defeat in the short dashes we took part in as kids.
My husband and I were at a camp in the Muskokas this weekend and took part in various team challenges which included a relay race where you had to spin around five times at the turnaround point, causing utter disorientation on the homestretch, a tug-of-war and wild multi-age soccer and volleyball games. My two camp mornings started with a multi-age run, as all were invited to join me on my laps of the dirt track surrounding the playing field. I ran 5 miles the first morning and 6 miles the next morning with companions dropping in and out. The first part of my run involved going round to each cabin and bunkhouse to do wake-up calls at 7:15 a.m. Never did my morning run feel quite so useful.
But going back to Ed’s advice, he’s telling us to RUN not cross-train or push weights around on a track but run. His regime of 2-3 hours a day of running gives testimony to the amazing capacity of the aerobic system to improve à la Arthur Lydiard. If injuries limit how much you can run, that is the time to look for strength and flexibility training to increase your capacity to run. In addition, “as much as YOU can” points to the wisdom of Matt Fitzgerald, author of Mind, Body, Running who advises that to improve as a runner the role of all the other stuff should be to strengthen your vulnerable spots, those the keep you from running “as much as you can”.
Apart from taking up an inordinate amount of space on a track meant for running or walking, the complicated weight pulling and pushing activity seems wildly off the mark in anyone’s total fitness package. Grandmaster Ed’s advice points us all in the direction of better running but also vitality and quality of life. Advice well demonstrated by the natural instincts of toddlers as they enjoy their first years on their feet.