I was a competitive runner at the time and often encouraged my clients to join me for a 5K race. Many of them had never completed a race in their lives, and I took it for granted that for them, simply finishing a race was an accomplishment in itself.
We are all familiar with the post race "glow." This is the blend of endorphins and achievement that motivates us to keep racing and reach new levels of fitness. For many of my clients, this 5K led to another. Then they ran a 10K, a half marathon and a marathon until there was a complete change in lifestyle. Not only were they able to achieve their fitness goals, but they developed a change in attitude with a sense of pride and a new realization of their capabilities. This also caused me to switch my coaching methods and ultimately to start my own endurance sport coaching company.
I noticed my athletes--no longer clients--began to immerse themselves in their race culture. They enjoyed learning about their sport and studying new ways to improve. We often discussed the latest equipment or an article in Triathlete or Runners World.
Participating and competing in endurance events became a hobby and way of life for them. Many planned trips around upcoming races and involved their spouses and families in their sport. Others moved on to different endurance sports such as adventure racing, duathlon, triathlon and road cycling. Today we have more options than ever before and participation in endurance sports continues to grow.
Setting and achieving goals is a powerful thing. If you tell someone to spend an hour on a stair stepper, it is more of a sentence than a goal. But crossing a finish line is a real accomplishment--and you get a T-shirt. People need challenge in their lives and endurance sports deliver. Unlike team sports, the achievement is individualized and the individual gets to own the finish, PR or placement. Success can be found at any level and at any age.
There are very few physical barriers in life. I witnessed this in my last race as I watched a double-leg amputee briskly crossing the finish line. Our barriers are mainly mental, and we often need a small personal fulfillment to start the process of change. Setting a reasonable and attainable race or event goal can jump start this process. I have personally witnessed sedentary individuals achieve a complete physical transformation in as little as one year.
The Fittest of the Fit
Something else happened to my athletes along the way. They got fit--really fit. Preparing for a specific event provides the motivation to train longer, frequently and more intensely. This intensity pays dividends off the race course as well as on. Recent evidence shows those who exercise intensely have a significantly lower risk of disease compared to their moderately exercising counterparts, including diabetes and coronary heart disease.
A recent study of 44,500 health professionals showed coronary heart disease risk was reduced by 18 percent in men that walked 30 minutes per day. But men who ran for just one hour per week decreased their risk by 42 percent. The men who engaged in any form of vigorous exercise enjoyed a whopping 30 percent risk reduction. Unfit men who became fit had a 52 percent reduction in risk of CHD.
A Stanford study of runners found those who run often enjoy a relatively disability-free life. Contrary to the popular belief that runners "wear out" their bodies, runners enjoyed a lower disability score at every age level and delayed disability in performing everyday activities by nine years when compared to non-runners.
It stands to reason that the more fit a person is the less risk they will have of developing certain diseases. But it appears that vigorous exercise has specific health benefits. Intense exercise burns more calories and does a better job of keeping weight off. Intense exercise also depletes glycogen stores. This increases insulin sensitivity and decreases the risk of Type-2 diabetes. High intensity exercise also increases cardio respiratory fitness which is directly linked to coronary heart disease risk reduction.
What about the risk of sudden death during intense exercise? It is very low when those with congenital heart defects are removed. The risks associated with being overweight and sedentary are far greater. However, it is important to visit your doctor when starting an exercise program, increasing your exercise intensity or when any cardiac symptoms occur when exercising.
Any exercise is good for the body. Like many things in life, the more you put in the more you will get out. I recently participated in a challenging race that included two rough trail runs up a very steep incline of almost one mile. I was amazed at the fitness level of some of the athletes competing in their 50s and 60s and the fitness and mobility disparity between these athletes and others in their age range. If I had to pick one objective for my own training, it would be to still enjoy competition at their ages. To have this quality of life is a true athletic achievement
Matt Russ has coached and trained elite athletes from around the country and internationally for over 10 years. He currently holds expert licenses from USA Triathlon, USA Cycling, and is a licensed USA Track and Field Coach. Matt is head coach and owner of The Sport Factory, and works with athletes of all levels full-time. He is a freelance author and his articles are regularly featured in a variety of magazines and websites. Visit www.thesportfactory.com for more information or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reference:Peak Performance; number 229: 8-11