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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
WHAT A CONCEPT!
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
- 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!
CROSS-TRAINING AT THE YMCA
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
In contrast, the private clubs I joined previously like Ballys and 24-Hour Fitness
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:
TREADMILL & OTHER CARDIO MACHINES:
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
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 .
YOGA, OTHER CLASSES:
We never do any of the numerous "aerobics" offered at classes at the
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
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
- 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
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
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
Specificity of training has its merits: to run faster,
longer, and more efficiently I need to, well, RUN.
COMPETITION AT THE "Y"
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
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,
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
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
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
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil