Health to Allow Running

We are all aware of the importance of fitness and good health to a walker, jogger, or runner. In this page I point out tips about fitness and health that aren't obvious but are helpful as you train to run without injury.

Sleep is for more than Dreaming

I'm a night owl, and I love to stay up half the night working on my projects. The bad news is that society expects me to be up early for my day's activities. The result is that I'm usually in sleep deprivation, and this is a killer for good running (and good life in general). Jim Fixx in his book The Complete Book of Running said

Runners need plenty of sleep. Fatigue tends to accumulate quickly if you don't sleep enough, leaving you listless, unenthusiastic and susceptible to colds. Sometimes, job and family responsibilities, late-night television and a daily running regimen make it hard to find time for enough sleep. If you can bring yourself to do it, turning the set [and the computer] off a half-hour earlier works wonders. -- The Complete Book of Running, Random House, New York: 1977, p. 180

Slow Down Heart, Slow Down!

I've forgotten where I picked up this tip on pulse rate, but it is a jewel! When you first wake up, measure your pulse rate as an indicator of your body condition. The time you wake up is the one time that you can measure your heart rate consistently from day to day. Many of us don't realize that our pulse rate varies according to our body conditions. It increases, or is elevated, when we are sleep deprived or are under fatigue or stress.

When I ran marathons in the early 1980s, my wake-up pulse rate was 44. A friend at work said that was so slow that I had time to go out for a hamburger between beats. One morning I measured my pulse rate at 40. I thought that was a fluke, but it stayed at 40 during the remainder of my marathon training. Now, I'm older and my wake-up pulse rate is 50 and I can still get a hamburger between beats if I hurry :)

As I've monitored my wake-up pulse rate over the years, I've discovered that a night or two of significantly insufficient sleep will raise the rate by 10-20%, and it will probably take a week of proper sleep to bring it down! I've learned that when I run with an elevated pulse rate, I don't have my normal endurance during long runs. I get colds more often. I do dumb things like driving through stop signs. Yes, my wake-up pulse rate is a great indicator of my body-condition.

When I measure my wake-up pulse rate, I walk slowly to the bathroom so I can turn on the light without disturbing my wife. I measure my pulse for 60 seconds, using my watch as a timer. My initial PR is usually 2 or three beats high, due to the walk to the bathroom, but it comes down as I sit quietly in the bathroom. I measure my PR several times until it has stabilized. I use my fingers to feel the pulse at the pressure point next to my left ear (don't use your thumb because it has its own pulse). Some people will measure their pulse for 15 seconds and then multiply it by 4. That method, however, is inaccurate because a one-beat error in the 15 seconds translates to a 4 beat error in 60 seconds, and for long distance runners that 4 beats is close to 10%.

Colds, Colds, what is a Cold?

Before I started running, I would get 3 or 4 colds each year, and it would take a week or more to get over them. After I had been running for a year or two, I realized that I wasn't getting colds anymore. Colds have disappeared from my life, except ... except when I over train or get insufficient sleep. Even then, those colds only last a couple of days. Those colds are how my body tells me to back off and get my life in shape. Heeding those signs has helped me be free of injuries during many years of running. I can't claim that you'll have perfect fitness and won't get colds, but running should help your immune system to be stronger, and your body should have a greater chance of resisting the "cold bug". You should have better health and should enjoy life more.

To read about the stress caused by running, click the link in the navigational bar. In addition, here is an article by Jeff Galloway on getting sufficient rest.


Anonymous said...

Every time I take up running / jogging, despite making more than sufficient time to sleep and rest, the fitter I become the the less I am able to fall asleep or stay sleep, resulting in sleep deprivation. I love running and it's always been one of the best ways I've ever lost weight which is a plus, but I find the effects it has on my body almost negates the positive effects I am trying to achieve. Over a year ago, I caught more colds than I did when I was unfit, I felt more stressed, I was always moody, and I ended up giving it up and putting a load of weight back on. I am trying to get back in and using every bit of advice I can find about ways to relax (I don't believe there is any I have not heard or not tried). At the moment I have been training for a couple of weeks, this second wk gone I did not sleep on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, then I got desperate and bought sleeping pills, I have been taking 25% of the stated dose so it's very mild, but it helped a tiny bit, I am hoping that if what you advocate and advise, that eventually my body will become used to the level of exercise and fitness I wish to maintain. I rest 3-4 days so it's not like I run everyday, so what's my brain's problem? Can you clarify? No doctor has ever been able to give me a reasonable and plausable decision, I would argue that I have tried everything within my power that I am aware of, and sleeping pills is the only option, which is not what I want to be the future for managing this condition.
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Allen said...

We're all different, and what works for me may not work for others, but here are my thoughts about myself.

There are times when I have difficulty sleeping, and it's because I have a lot of stress in my life. There can be a lot of reasons for stress in ones life. Running itself puts a lot of stress on our bodies. Perhaps the intensity of your running is too high? You might try walking more and running less.

When I first started running in the early '70s, one of the world-class runners was a man named George Sheehan. He was known as the philosopher of running. The first article I read in the running literature was an essay by "doc" Sheehan, and I've posted that essay in this site. That essay has been my guide in running. It has kept me from pushing myself too much, and it has helped me find enjoyment in my running. I've posted a tribute to Dr. George Sheehan in this site, and that tribute links to this essay. You will find the tribute in the Archives in the right-sidebar. Please read the essay, and as you read it, focus on his comments how we should feel as we run. Sheehan did run a lot of races, but above all, he ran because he loved running. He said the first 30 minutes of a run was for his body, and the rest was for his soul.

After you've read the essay, read it again. Focus on the spirit of his essay. I think that spirit is the basis for a happy life as well as happy and positive runs. Be positive and non-judgmental with yourself and with others. Remember that it takes time for our bodies and our mind to adjust to new things. Don't try to speed things up by pushing yourself to go faster and farther in running as well as in life. Patience is not only a great virtue, it is necessary for good running and living a good life.

Anonymous said...

I recommend staying off the pills. After years of trouble sleeping, I started them, they are habit forming no matter the dose, and they do not provide the same quality of sleep as natural sleep. To get off of them, just expect to not sleep for a couple of nights and don't fight it (pick a starting night where you don't have that much going on for the next couple of days). I read a book that changed my life:Say Good Night to Insomnia: The Six-Week, Drug-Free Program Developed At Harvard Medical School by Gregg D. Jacobs and Herbert Benson (Paperback - Nov 15, 2021). Read it, follow its advice. It works. Now, when I can't sleep, it's for an obvious reason that I can identify, adjust and sleep well again. For me, I had trouble staying asleep. Afternoon sunshine and afternoon vigorous exercise (i.e., running) was the solution (amongst other things). If you have trouble falling asleep, try morning sunshine and morning runs. Good luck. And get off the pills.