Race-train by alternating fast and relaxed running

FITNESS CLINIC

November 23, 1993|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,Contributing Writer United Features Syndicate

If you have been jogging a while and would like to try to enter a race, take some clues from the training methods used by many top runners. You can't compete effectively just by going out and running a few miles every day. Training requires that you stress your body with an alternating routine of very fast running followed by more relaxed running for the next few days. This will allow the muscles in your legs to recover and feel fresh again.

Do not try this training method until you can comfortably run at least 25 miles a week. First, check with your doctor to make sure that you don't have any conditions that may be aggravated by fast running. Once you've gotten the OK, begin a routine in which you run very fast on Tuesday and Thursday and long on Sunday. The other four days are for recovery.

On Tuesday, try to run short intervals that take less than 30 seconds each. You can run repeat 50-, 100- and 160-yard sprints at close to your maximum speed until your legs start to feel stiff and heavy. Many runners can handle between 30 and 60 repeats of these fast, short runs.

On Thursday, do long intervals. Try to run four to six half-miles almost as fast as you can run. This will be a very difficult workout. On Sunday, try to run for one to two hours at a reasonable clip, or enter a race. On the other four days, jog slowly or take them off. Most of the best runners in the world use some variation of this hard-easy method.

Q: What should I eat and drink on a long bicycle ride?

A: Eating and drinking during exercise will increase your endurance whether you're on a long bicycle ride, walking, or playing 18 holes of golf or several sets of tennis.

Your muscles are made up of millions of individual fibers. Each fiber contains stored sugar, called glycogen, as its primary energy source. When a fiber runs out of stored glycogen it cannot contract effectively, and your muscles feel heavy and you feel tired. You can retain glycogen by taking in extra calories while you exercise.

You also sweat and breathe off water while you exercise. No matter how much you drink, it is extremely difficult for you to take in as much fluid as you lose. So don't wait until you feel thirsty to drink. By then, you will have already lost 2 to 4 pounds of fluid and will never catch up. If you plan to exercise for more than an hour, you should drink a small amount of any fluid at least every 15 minutes. It doesn't make any difference what you drink. It can be carbonated or not, warm or cold, sugared or nonsugared.

Can you take in enough calories from sugared drinks so you don't have to eat? It's possible, but if you are going to exercise for more than an hour, you are better off eating solid food. That's why bicycle race courses are littered with sandwich crusts, chicken bones, and orange and banana peels. It doesn't make any difference what you eat as long as you can digest it.

Q: I'm a 62-year-old woman, and my doctor wants me to start exercising. Aren't I just a bit too old?

A: If you haven't started an exercise program because you think that the only time you can benefit from exercise is when you are young, you better find another excuse. Studies at Harvard University and the University of Michigan have shown that varsity letter-winners do not live longer than their less-athletic classmates, but people who exercise regularly as they age live three to seven years longer than non-exercisers.

PTC Reversibility is a basic principle of exercise. Every measurable gain from exercise is quickly lost after you stop. Muscles that are enlarged by lifting heavy weights return to their previous size soon after you stop lifting, but if you continue to lift, you continue to be strong. People who do aerobic exercise have slower heart rates and a markedly increased ability to take in and use oxygen. Within one week after they stop, their pulse rates increase and their oxygen carrying capacity drops. However, if they continue to exercise as they grow old, they continue to have a slow heart rate and increased oxygen-utilizing capacity. Even the weight gain of aging rarely affects habitual exercisers.

It's never too late to start. An exercise program can put you in far better shape than Olympic champions and other famous athletes who have retired and no longer exercise. Older people who don't exercise often have health conditions -- such as obesity, high blood pressure and some types of heart disease -- that can be improved with exercise. Pick any continuous exercise, such as walking, dancing, swimming or riding a stationary bicycle, and try to gradually work up to 30 minutes of exercise three times a week.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

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