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"Give a man health and a course to steer,
and he'll never stop to trouble about whether he's happy or not."

- George Bernard Shaw


I mentioned in the last entry that Jim and I run more consistently and purposefully when we have goal races to train for -- "a course to steer." That's been true for the 29-31 years we've each been running now. The concept applies just as much in other aspects of our lives, too, but since this web site is devoted mainly to our running and travel adventures, I'll focus on the fitness aspects here.

We do our best to live healthy lives because it makes us feel better physically, mentally, and psychologically. We don't like to get sick, and we rarely do. We exercise regularly because we feel crappy if we don't! A weight gain of five or ten pounds above our best "race weight" makes us feel sluggish and out of shape.

Through many training build-ups over the years, our bodies have learned to adapt and thrive on a high level of fitness. Neither of us particularly likes tapering before a race or recovering afterwards; we feel like slugs, but our brains know that rest periods are essential so we take them. Don't even ask how we felt the times we had foot and ankle surgeries that put us out of commission for several weeks!

We're active because our minds and bodies are wired to be fit.

Cody-pup is just as addicted to running as we are!

Running is our main exercise passion, as you've noticed. Jim and I had a similar running epiphany around age 30 when we realized we weren't getting any younger and we needed to get or remain more fit (note that we didn't meet each other until we were about 50, however). We both began running on roads and quickly added trail running. We both enjoyed success in road races in our 30s and 40s, racking up PRs to write home about. When we tired of road races and needed a new challenge in our 40s, we morphed into trail ultra marathons. We continue to love that quickly growing branch of the sport as we count the months and weeks down to age 60. 

Both of us have also done various types of cross-training to supplement our running over the years. There are several reasons why:

  • Cross-training is fun! Variety is the spice of life. I'd get bored if I only ran for exercise; Jim's pretty happy with just the running/walking part, though.

  • Running uses a lot of repetitive motions, even on hilly, uneven surfaces. It doesn't work all the muscle groups, particularly the upper body. Endurance running like we do stresses the entire body, including our arms, shoulders, and back, so it's important for us to strengthen the muscular-skeletal systems that our training runs don't stress.

  • Some rest is necessary between hard or long runs for running muscles (and other body systems) to regroup and get stronger. Cross-training can be any sport or exercise that allows us to be active when we're giving our running muscles a break. Walking and hiking are very similar but use the muscles differently. Totally different activities like swimming, pool running, cycling, cross-country skiing, kayaking, and other aerobic sports use other muscles and add to overall strength, balance, and flexibility. So do weight training, stretching, and yoga. These are just the most common activities. There are lots more. They're all good. Find some you love!

Over the years we've done all the above activities (and more) except kayaking to supplement our running. In this entry I'll go into more detail about our current level of cross-training and how we'll use it to train for our fall and winter races.


I'd call Jim a "reluctant" cross-trainer (fondly, of course!). He'd rather totally rest on an "easy" day than cross-train. Part of that is his busy schedule. When he was still working he didn't have much time for any exercises besides running and weight machines. Since retiring four years ago he's kept so busy with EMT and fire training and calls, as well as things at home, that he still doesn't have time for much cross-training.

He has a lot more spare time when we're traveling in the camper, but -- you guessed it -- he doesn't cross-train then much, either! (Neither do I.) It's particularly tough to do weight or cardio machines when we're away from home. There is no YMCA in Leadville or Silverton, Colorado, where we like to stay in the summer. We did have access to Ys in the Phoenix area this winter, and we used them four or five times. We regret not taking my road bike and Jim's trail bike out West in December. We would have enjoyed riding on the roads and trails at McDowell Mountain Park (below) near Phoenix the three weeks we were there, as well as Huntsville and Galveston State Parks in Texas. Next time they go with us.

There are great cycling and running trails at McDowell Mtn. Park near Phoenix.

So that's why I call Jim a "reluctant" cross-trainer. In the time he carves out for physical fitness, he prefers to run. He also does some walking but most often it is in conjunction with a run -- warm up walk at the beginning, walking up hills or during the walk portion of a run-walk pattern, cool down walk at the end. Occasionally he'll go for a walk with the dogs and me on a rest day. He tends to walk more on our trips because he's often tapering for, then recovering from, races.

Most of the past nine years that we've been together Jim has belonged to a fitness center and has used weight machines fairly regularly. However, he suspended his YMCA membership during his recent EMT class because of lack of time. He will probably renew in a week or two. If he doesn't, he has some free weights he can use at home.

Jim's not sure what else, if anything, he'll do for cross-training this summer. He certainly gets a lot of "cross-training" doing chores around the house and yard, lifting patients onto stretchers for the ambulance, fighting house and brush fires, etc. I'll encourage him to ride his mountain bike more this summer, but he really prefers to just run!

SUE (and Jim):

Although I won't be running and walking as many miles each week as Jim, I'll probably put in more hours of cross-training than he does. I'll continue my normal routine with weight machines three or four times a week, stretch and do a bit of yoga at home every day, pool run occasionally, and get massages and chiropractic adjustments as needed.

A new twist will be increased road and trail cycling. I've had a nice Terry road bike, shown below, for about eight years but I'm just learning to ride Jim's Trek trail bike. It'd be nice if we each had a road bike and a mountain bike, but we have just the two.

I put a lot of miles on my road bike when we lived in Billings, Montana because there were safer places to ride and we lived in town, closer to friends who cycled. Jim swapped his knobby trail tires for smooth road tires on his mountain bike and mostly rode on pavement with me there. I haven't done much cycling since we moved to Roanoke four years ago. Neither of us feels very safe on the best road to ride, the Blue Ridge Parkway, because people don't observe the 45 MPH speed limit (tourists OR locals). There are no other convenient or safe roads for us to ride locally -- they're either too heavily traveled or too curvy and hilly for motorists to see us quickly enough to react. The best paved option for riding is the very flat greenway system in the city. The longest section is only five miles, so I just go out and back on it for as many miles as I want to ride. When all the sections are connected in several years it will be long enough for a good workout without all the repetition.

Fortunately, the Roanoke area is blessed with many nice trails to run and ride. That's one of the reasons we moved here. So this spring I've been learning to ride Jim's Trek mountain bike on our short paved road and the dirt and paved greenway system. I haven't ridden it on any single-track trails yet. That's the next step after we put the knobby tires back on. Sometimes my knees hurt when I'm pedaling harder uphill. I don't know if that's because his bike doesn't fit me well or if cycling up hills will exacerbate my worn-out my knees. I need to have the sort of "Fit Test" on Jim's bike that I had on mine when I bought it to be sure it isn't causing undue stress to my joints.

Better yet, if I start trail riding a lot more, I'd like to get a moderately-priced trail bike of my own so it fits me properly and we can ride together. Jim can ride his bike on roads with me but I can't take mine on anything except smooth pavement or I get flat tires. (I hate fixing flat tires.)


I was both surprised and delighted a couple weeks ago when out of the blue I received a little pamphlet from the county from which I retired nine years ago. They are initiating a new "Wellness 24/7" program for current employees, retirees, and family members who participate in one of the health insurance programs through the county. Not only are we finally being encouraged to be more responsible for our own health, but they will actually REWARD us for it monetarily!

The goals are to improve participants' quality of life and reduce healthcare costs for the county and its employees/retirees. Similar models of programs in other municipalities have shown substantial cost savings and improved health of the participants, with minimal investment. I hope the initial phase works well this year so proposed benefits that include screenings, body scans, mammograms, and incentives for weight loss will be offered in 2009.

The program rewards folks who are already fit and should encourage ones who aren't fit to get moving -- literally. Even though it doesn't benefit Jim directly (he has his own health insurance through the federal government), it benefits both of us financially. We hope the Feds eventually come through with a similar program Jim can use.

There are only two basic requirements I have to meet:

  • Complete a health risk assessment questionnaire on my healthcare provider's web site to evaluate my diet, exercise, and "lifestyle choices" and identify certain risk factors for health-related problems;
  • Provide documentation from the YMCA (where I already belong) that I have visited the facility at least four times a month for an entire year. How hard is that? I'm in there at least fourteen times a month. They don't even require us to DO anything there! (I'm guessing most people will, after making the effort to get there. I would hope so.) This will be easy at the Y since I have a card that's scanned when I check in. At the end of May next year I will have a staff member verify my attendance and my portion of our membership fee for one year. The county  will then reimburse me for half that cost, up to $300.

My only problem is going to be when we leave town to travel. Instead of suspending our membership while we're gone as we've done previously, I'll have to maintain my part of the membership, use out-of-town YMCAs (at no extra charge) at least four times a month, and have them document my visits in writing. If there are any attendance or membership gaps during the 12-month period, I lose -- I won't get reimbursed at all. So it's pretty strict in that regard.

I really hope the other employees and retirees take advantage of this, for everyone's sake. Maybe it will eventually save us some money on my health insurance. My coverage is pretty good but the cost goes up significantly every year. It remains my best choice, however. Jim and I are grateful that we have health insurance through our former employers but we'd prefer to see the whole industry privatized.

OK, Sue, get off the Libertarian soapbox. Just what do you guys do at the fitness center?

Lots of fun stuff!


I've always done more weight work and aerobic activities at fitness centers than Jim does. (He'd rather be running, remember?) I like variety in my workouts, especially now that I have to limit the miles I run. And we found a gem of a place to work out in Roanoke:

Main lobby of the Kirk Family YMCA

Of all the fitness centers I've used the last 27 years in Atlanta, Billings, and now Roanoke, this is the first YMCA to which I've belonged and I can tell you it's el primo. I'm sure my family has noticed the irony, but it's far classier and less expensive than any of the private gyms in the Roanoke Valley. So are the other new Ys in nearby Salem and Smith Mountain Lake.

We joined the main branch downtown right before the new building opened in 2004. This beautiful facility is spacious, bright, and clean, the wide variety of machines and equipment are promptly repaired, there are numerous fitness classes and other activities for kids and adults, and the staff is genuinely friendly and helpful. So many people have joined in the past four years that a large expansion is planned to accommodate everyone. Sometimes we have to wait for machines, but it's not a major problem for me.

Despite its name, men and women of any faith (or none) can join the Young Men's Christian Association. I can't even tell it's run by a religious organization. I appreciate the way their facilities are managed around the country. The differences between this Y and the private clubs to which I've belonged are pretty obvious: the way staff and members treat each other, how equipment is arranged and maintained, free programs and classes that are offered, what member contracts entail, etc.

Instead of trying to lock members into expensive long-term contracts, our Y has a low (or no) joining fee, bills members from month to month, promptly terminates contracts when members leave, and allows us to suspend our membership temporarily at no extra cost when we're out of town. The Y offers as many "scholarships" (free memberships) as possible to low-income members. It also encourages people to visit often, actively participate, and take charge of their health and wellness. Imagine that! I'm guessing this is a general philosophy of YMCAs everywhere in the country.

In contrast, the private clubs I joined previously like Ballys and 24-Hour Fitness seemed to extract as much money from members as possible. Equipment was not maintained as well or repaired as quickly, weight and locker rooms were crowded and not as clean, the pools were very small, etc. The clubs made out royally when new members showed  up for three months, got discouraged, quit -- and still had to pay on their contract for another two years. They appeared more interested in making a profit than benefiting their members. I hope there are other private fitness centers that are more user-friendly than the ones I belonged to; I don't mean to castigate them all.

So yeah, I'm real happy to have such a great club to visit at a reasonable cost. I look forward to every workout there, even though we don't use as many of the features as we could. Here's what we do use:


If the weather's really crummy Jim will sometimes run on a "dreadmill" or the Y's inside track, but he'd much rather run outside or simply wait for better weather. We also sometimes use the recumbent or upright stationary bikes.

Jim doesn't like using step or elliptical machines, and I rarely use them, either. Like Jim, I'd rather run outside. It's nice to have them available, though. I've sometimes used them during rehab when I can't run, as after an ankle sprain or foot surgery.

Twelve treadmills at the Y, more coming with a new addition

I use the treadmill more than the other cardio machines. It's great for training myself to walk faster because it forces me to focus on my stride and maintain the pace I've chosen. Outside I tend to get more distracted, gradually slow down, and lose my purposeful stride. I also like to do occasional speed workouts on the 'mill for the same reason -- it's more structured and harder to fall off the pace. If I do, I'll fall off the dang treadmill! That's never happened, but I've come close and it's not pretty.


I also do pool runs occasionally. This Y has a beautiful lap pool that's deep enough for most of its length to remain vertical without touching bottom:

I don't really like to swim, so I mostly use the pool to "run" with a flotation vest to keep my head above water (I still have to move my arms and legs in a running motion to stay afloat, however.). I used to do more pool running before my knees started giving me trouble last fall. Now after about 20 minutes they hurt. You'd think this exercise would be good for someone with arthritis, but I guess the pressure of the water on my knees is too much. If it remains really hot here all summer I'll probably try it again to stay cool and see of my knees still hurt. Maybe a different leg motion would be more effective. I realize swimming may be my best aerobic option when I can no longer run, but I'll wait until then to learn more strokes.

Room with whirlpool and second pool for kids and water aerobics classes

Jim tried pool running a couple times but he really doesn't enjoy it. Every once in a while he'll swim a little if I'm in the pool. He uses the whirlpool a lot more than I do. I realize that's not really an "activity," but it benefits his back and helped prevent back surgery a couple years ago .


We never do any of the numerous "aerobics" offered at classes at the Y. Jim dislikes classes for a number or reasons and we both figure we get plenty of aerobics running and walking. We did a couple of the noon-time cycling classes when we first joined the facility but it's just not an indoor activity we really enjoy. We did spin classes more frequently in Billings because of snow and ice. Here we can just go ride outside most of the year.

Stationary bikes and motivational mural in the cycling room at the Y

I liked taking yoga in a small class at a studio run by my massage therapist in Billings but I haven't found the right "fit" since moving to Roanoke. I took some free yoga classes at the Y that were too large, too aggressive, and not individualized enough to suit me. I'm so inflexible, despite regular stretching at home, that I felt self-conscious. My excuse is logistical for not attending my current massage therapist's small, individualized classes, which I'd probably enjoy: they are at night and her studio is twenty miles from home. They just aren't convenient. My solution is to do some yoga moves at home in my daily stretching routine.

My body may not be flexible, but my fitness strategies are! I adapt the best I can to circumstances.

This brings up a couple of important points about exercising to stay fit:

  • You need to really enjoy your primary exercise or sport.  If you're just beginning a new activity it may take some time to be "fun," but it should become increasingly pleasurable and habitual as you master the activity and start seeing  positive results. It helps if your secondary activities are fun, too! Variety is good.
  • The primary aerobic activity needs to be relatively convenient for you to do so you'll do it regularly. If it's a hassle (like flat bike tires are for me), too inconvenient for any reason, too expensive, too whatever -- you won't do it often enough for it to benefit you. That's why walking is the most popular exercise. It's inexpensive (good shoes required, but not a club membership), it can be done almost anywhere (out many folks' front door), you can do it any time that fits your schedule, you can go at whatever pace suits you, you can do it alone or with other people, and results are pretty quick to see. Running is similar, but some people really shouldn't run. Any other activity has a bigger hassle factor than walking and running but if it's satisfying, the hassle is worth it.


The main reason both Jim and I use the fitness center is for weight work. I've never learned to use free weights properly but I love the Life Fitness resistance machines. Jim uses them regularly, too, and has noticed a difference since he stopped a few weeks ago. If he decides not to renew his Y membership for a while, he'll start using his weight bench and free weights at home.

I do a lot of light- to medium-weight repetitions for my arms, legs, back, and abdomen, usually eleven muscle groups that take 45-60 minutes to complete. Jim does fewer repetitions with heavier weights for his core and arms. He's done in half the time because he doesn't do the leg machines. He figures he strengthens them plenty with all the miles he runs.

There are about two dozen Life Fitness resistance machines in this space now (photo taken in 2004)

I admit I may run the risk of wearing out my leg muscles sometimes, but as an aging female I firmly believe I need to keep my muscular-skeletal system strong and balanced to prevent osteoporosis and falls, both of which are hazardous to an older woman's health. I'm running fewer miles than I used to, so I've been doing more strength work to compensate -- and I have more time to do it with less time on the trails.

Since we returned home in February I've increased my sets and reps up to a max of about 70,000 pounds during a one-hour workout three times a week. That's a lot, but a few other women at the Y lift even more than that. I know that much weight will interfere with my running as I increase my mileage this summer, so I'll back off the weight and number of reps as needed.

Specificity of training has its merits: to run faster, longer, and more efficiently I need to, well, RUN.


Here's a fun little twist some fitness centers and other organizations use to get more people to exercise regularly:

Our YMCA uses the FitLiinxx system to keep track of participating members' "fit points" from weight machines, free weights, cardio machines, swimming, and all the classes that are offered. Members also accumulate points by inputting outside workouts like running, walking, cycling, and dozens of other aerobic activities (even yard work!). The system is also used by hospitals and rehab centers, the military, high schools and colleges, corporations, residential facilities, even hotels. Jim and I started using it when it first became available at the Y a couple years ago.

Members voluntarily join the free program and are assigned a 5-digit PIN to program into the computer on each weight machine (photo below). Staff members initially spend about half an hour adjusting the weight, number of sets and reps, seat height, arm length, etc. to each person on each machine they want to use, then they're on their own every time they work out. When I punch out at the end of a workout I can see how many pounds I lifted. I wait till later at home to log into the web site, record my other workouts, and periodically check my various stats (so I don't tie up the computer kiosks at the Y).

Photo of computer monitor on machines courtesy of FitLinxx web site

The amount of information generated about our workouts is incredible. FitLinxx tells us not only exactly what we did on every machine (including how well we stayed within our correct range of motion) and in every activity we logged, it also tells us how we rank compared to everyone else at our facility who uses the program in regards to fit points, cardiovascular time, calories used, and weight lifted. We can compare ourselves with everyone else in those categories on several levels -- overall, by sex, within our five-year age group, and for the current and past month, current and previous years, and since the program began at our facility ("lifetime").

And you could spend half your lifetime on their web site digesting all this information! It's lots of fun in moderation, though.

The program is a good motivational tool for individuals who need a bit of a nudge to get to the gym on a regular basis and/or do other physical activities. About 1,200 people -- approximately a third of the adult members -- use FitLinxx at our main branch of the Y.  Staffers know that the program encourages many members to come in more often and do more fitness activities -- they get all those stats, too.

I've been using weight machines and doing other workouts several times a week at fitness centers in Atlanta, Billings, and Roanoke since 1982. I'm a highly self-motivated person, not the type that joins a club in January and quits by March. I don't need something like Fitlinxx to get me into the gym more often. Same for Jim. But the program has its benefits for us, too. It's probably most useful to us because it's individualized to show the proper range of motion on each machine. If we go too far one way or the other, it lets us know and dings our scores. More importantly, it helps prevent injuries.

Part of the Wolf Creek Greenway where we often run, walk, or and ride our trail bike

What's really fun for us -- and would be even more fun if we knew the names of more people there -- is that it feeds into our competitive natures. When we're not on the road and I'm able to do the weight machines, I'm usually in the top ten among the women at our facility in the three categories they post on the bulletin board each month -- out of several hundred women in all age categories. Not bad for a 59-year-old! The last few months I've been first, second, or third in all three categories (total cardiovascular time, fit points, and weight lifted) but I'll probably drop in the standings some when I back off the weights this summer and fall.

I've also been in the top twenty for the month, year, and "lifetime" (almost two years) when you also include the men -- i.e., all ages, both sexes. Today I'm in 6th place overall (see below) out of about 1,200 people. With that many members in the program, I'm in the top 100%. And that's being gone for about nine months since we started using Fitlinxx two years ago -- and not using weight machines, just recording cardio workouts those months.

Imagine if I was here all year . . .

This is the best cut-and-paste job I can do for today's overall "lifetime" standings and Fit Points for our facility from the FitLinxx web site:














Facility User












Facility User





You have to be a FitLinxx member to access the standings charts on line. Those are our user names above. They put our real names on the monthly lists they post on the bulletin boards.

Jim's usually pretty high on the men's list for total cardiovascular (CV) time and fit points, but not the weight list.  As in races, he has more competition among the men than I do among the women and he doesn't lift near as much weight as many of them (or I) do. He's fine with that. With all his running miles and CV time, he had about as many "lifetime" points as I did until he suspended his membership a couple months ago. 

It's fun to try to maintain our standings, so I guess FitLinxx IS a motivator even for dedicated fitness buffs like Jim and me. After all, I can't let "Hikerchick2" catch up to me . . . she's #11 above and often has more cardio time than I do. She's never on the weight chart, though, so I usually have more fit points than she does. Cute name, and she's in my five-year age group.

See what I mean? Competition's fun!

Next entry: Younger Next Year -- taking charge of your health and fitness


"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil