Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

52 pickup

Posted by boakley59 on September 15, 2011

Time for the ritual stock-taking after another tour ’round the sun. A year ago, I was wrapping up a grand stretch of good health, happy reunions and magic moments on Memory Lane. Still, I worried that I was only clearing a low bar and was not particularly robust, though better than I had been for a long time. I did not wish to celebrate overmuch such a small victory.

A year later I’m here to say: Raise the roof! This has been a fantastic year.

I have had no hospital time except as chauffeur for others having tests or low-risk procedures. I have been able to return to jogging, though I had some early minor bleeding around scar tissue. Through jogging, I have connected with a number of less experienced runners and have gotten a big boost from coaching them and sharing in their enthusiasm and triumphs. I get to use what I know to help others. I can keep them from painful mistakes; I can soften any blows just by letting them know someone else has been there, done that and gotten through; I can encourage so that they have light in darkness.

I’m considerably slower and less durable than I used to be, but coaching gives me a connection and a purpose that is every bit as good as racing. Suzy and I have gotten closer, too, as she has taken to running in the past several months. Jogging in good company has helped her relieve stress, lose weight and have fun. She was self-conscious and didn’t want to slow me down in my racing days, but now that she has seen me working with other learners, she appreciates my coaching and encouragement. We have found something to do together, and it helps me to have her along as I return gently to what I had lost for a time.

And I have so enjoyed bragging on my trainees: Everyone has been faster, fitter and seemingly happier; one has lost 25 pounds; one is breaking state records; another is starting a running club at college. Seems like we’re at the heart of a little running boom in the area, and I’m expanding a circle of friends as I volunteer at races, blog about running and post on group forums.

We’ve also put walking and fighting disease together as we continue to serve the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America through its Take Steps walks in Arkansas. Suzy and I have worked with the Arkansas CCFA office since shortly after its formation in late 2009. Two walks in Little Rock and a third in Bentonville have raised $200,000 to fight my disease and help patients. My computer and editing skills have helped a few of us do some heavy lifting to make these events a success (the next one is Oct. 29 in Bentonville). I also played guitar and sang (more or less) at two local fundraisers, and I even wrote a potty-humor song about my condition. Friends have rallied around us, donating to the cause and providing venues, support and music for these fundraiser concerts. Heartwarming to have support, uplifting to be able to offer it to new patients.

Through my volunteer work, coaching and limited, low-stress part-time work, I have also been able to test the depth of my disability. I still wear down too easily; I still spend a day in recovery if I push too hard. I try to keep myself to no more than four hours of strain in a day and even that only a few times a week. If I do four hours of hard work, I try to scatter the load with easy chores over six or eight hours of clock. I am enjoying being useful and productive, but I still recognize that I absolutely cannot be the constant mover I was.

The part-time work has eased the financial burden as our North Little Rock house remains unsold, but we remain one short step from ruin. We are holding on, we are giving back, we are far more fortunate than most — but we live at the edge of a cliff.

This year, though, the sun is out and I am dancing on the rocks, not shivering in the wind worrying I’ll be blown over the edge.


Posted in Health, Personal | 2 Comments »

A turn to tables

Posted by boakley59 on June 20, 2011

I’ve summarized numbers for weekly mileage and daily water needs, applying principles mentioned in earlier posts and explained in detail on various running sites (see advice links at Run-Coach). At these tables you can see when you are putting too much on your running plate and whether you need another glass of water.

The Safe weekly mileage increase table shows what your new mileage should be each week as you build from 9 miles a week by adding 5% or 7%. I am a bit more conservative on this than the oft-cited 10% maximum increase. I have rounded my calculations to the nearest quarter mile for easier matching to road routes.

If you are already running more than 9 miles a week, find the figure closest to your mileage (nearest 5-mile multiples in bold) in the 5% or 7% row and start from there instead of “Week 1.”

Safe weekly mileage increase
Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Add 5% 9.00 9.50 10.00 10.50 11.00 11.50 12.00 12.75 13.25 14.00 14.75 15.50
Add 7% 9.00 9.75 10.25 11.00 11.75 12.75 13.50 14.50 15.50 16.50 17.75 19.00
Week 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23
Add 5% 16.25 17.00 17.75 18.75 19.75 20.75 21.75 22.75 24.00 25.00 26.25
Add 7% 20.25 21.75 23.25 24.75 26.50 28.50 30.50 32.50 34.75 37.25 40.00
Week 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34
Add 5% 27.75 29.00 30.50 32.00 33.50 35.25 37.00 39.00 40.75 42.75 45.00
Add 7% 42.75 45.75


The Daily water needs table follows the advice that women need to drink [(Wgt in lbs) x .31] ounces of water a day to be properly hydrated. Men need to drink [(Wgt in lbs) x .35] ounces. This is the normal day-to-day load. When you exercise, you must replace the lost sweat as well, so you drink more than this. The table covers five-pound increments from 100 to 235, and you can double those figures to cover higher weights.

Your body inherently calculates its needs and you feel thirsty when you need water: Obey your thirst, but sip; don’t guzzle. Your body also has a built-in indicator: Your wastewater tends to darken from yellow toward brown when you are dehydrated, and to lighten toward clear when you are overhydrated.

Male/Female daily water needs
Weight (lbs.) (F x .31) oz. (M x .35) oz.
100 31.00 35.00
105 32.55 36.75
110 34.10 38.50
115 35.65 40.25
120 37.20 42.00
125 38.75 43.75
130 40.30 45.50
135 41.85 47.25
140 43.40 49.00
145 44.95 50.75
150 46.50 52.50
155 48.05 54.25
160 49.60 56.00
165 51.15 57.75
170 52.70 59.50
175 54.25 61.25
180 55.80 63.00
185 57.35 64.75
190 58.90 66.50
195 60.45 68.25
200 62.00 70.00
205 63.55 71.75
210 65.10 73.50
215 66.65 75.25
220 68.20 77.00
225 69.75 78.75
230 71.30 80.50
235 72.85 82.25


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Against a sea of troubles

Posted by boakley59 on June 15, 2011

They say there are two kinds of runners, those who are injured and those who will be. If injury is inevitable, though, it can also be rare and need not hurt so much or so long.

To keep our legs right, we can take a bit of Shakespearean advice and “take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.”

Here is a quick summary of thoughts on injuries and prevention, building upon a talk I gave recently (6/13/2011). I’ll expand on the key ideas in later posts.

A few catch phrases cover the territory:

• “Know thyself.” (Body type, mentality, fitness level, pain tolerance.)
• “It’s gotta be the shoes.” (Get the right kind for your foot.)

See my Best foot forward or click to view foot/shoe images from The Sporty Runner for an explanation. On The Sporty Runner page, notice the difference in the soles of the shoes from heel to arch:
Motion control shoe: A solid block of support material (usually in a different color on the inside heel) under the arch
Stability shoe: Not quite so full a block of support material (different color on inside heel) with a notch or wedge out at the arch
Neutral or cushion shoe: Minimal band of support material (main color) from heel to arch.

• “Obey your thirst.” (Get your fluids right.)
• “Always be prepared.” (Know how to build flexibility and strength.)

Build flexibility by always warming up, then do dynamic stretching (active limbering-up moves rather than slow, stationary stretches) before a workout. Walk or jog slower to cool down after the workout, then do the static stretching.
Build strength through basic exercises to avoid the five most common running injuries:
° Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS): Side leg raise.
° Shin splints: Heel walk, big toe raise.
° Runner’s knee: Half squats on a decline board.
° Achilles tendinitis: Calf drops.
° Plantar fasciitis: Arch raise with big toe-little toe-heel tripod.

• “Train, don’t strain.”

° Increase weekly mileage slowly, steadily (5%-7%).
° Allow for recovery: Fast or long runs should be followed by easy, short runs or rest days.
° Be careful when changing terrain (from grass to roads or sidewalks) or topography (hills to flat to trails).

• “The P-R-I-C-E is right.”

When you do have a problem, the treatment usually is Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. No shortcuts: The best way to Protect is usually to Rest, which is the step the competitor or mule in each of us wants to skip.

Posted in Health, Running, Sports | Leave a Comment »

Efficiency in a nutshell

Posted by boakley59 on May 21, 2011

Beep. Roadrunners. I’ve noticed it’s been more like “buh…” around here, since I wrote a month ago On Balance, the “B” in “beep,” and have not moved on from there. So, with that glaring example of inefficiency before us, let’s see if we can’t “BE” better: Today’s topic is “Efficiency.”

I did take a few baby steps in this direction in First steps and On balance, discussing mechanical efficiency. That means your arms and legs are generally tucked in tight, strides and arm motions are compact and focused forward with little side-to-side motion and little extension in knees and elbows.

But as with balance, efficiency has a dual nature. It is an attribute and a target or approach. Your stride is efficient or not, but if it isn’t you can apply straightforward (!) techniques to make it so.

Concentrate on the description above: “Compact,” “focused,” “tucked in.” We tend to think of power and speed as big things. We think running fast means stretching way out with big arm and leg motions; a knockout punch is a swinging haymaker. But martial artists know that power comes from minimal motion as direct to — and through — the target as possible. Same with running. Same with most things.

Most of us, even experienced racers, tend to overstride trying to be fast. This puts the mechanical burden on the wrong tissues, slowing us and also leading to breakdown and injury. If you want to go faster and breathe easier, shorten your stride until you feel the power as your thighs do most of the work. If you can’t tell what’s happening while you’re thinking of your legs, think about your arms. Keep your elbows tucked tight to your side, moving your forearms straight up and down. Your elbows move only slightly forward and back from the plane of your shoulders. Your legs will go along in compact motion, and you’ll move faster while working less. Efficient.

Efficiency is more than mechanical, though. It takes attention and practice to move with mechanical efficiency. Attention and practice require mental efficiency (few distractions) and practical efficiency (time management). You need a schedule that allows you to practice without rushing or worry. You need a clear head to focus on the messages your body is sending — better fitness and more oxygen to the brain may help you solve problems you “ignore” while you focus on running.

Efficiency is knowing your route before you start (study a map or walk/jog a race course before you compete), laying out your gear the night before a race or even a workout, setting your training schedule months in advance according to a realistic goal. Efficiency is finding the best technique and learning it so well that it becomes automatic, seemingly natural.

Watch a track championship or road race on television and see how smooth the leaders look, especially early on: Their heads seem unmoving, neither bobbing up and down nor swaying side to side, and their feet seem to spend no time on the ground though they cover great distances with each stride. Despite gobbling the ground, they are not reaching forward so much as springing forward. So powerful, so graceful, so natural — so many years of efficient practice!

Ironically, you can train yourself in efficiency by pushing yourself through inefficiency. When I practice or run solely for fun (and ultimately we want it always to be for fun, even if fitness or competition is a short-term goal), I always take the long way around a corner. I hug the outside shoulder on a road course or use the outside lanes on a track. When I race, I take the shortest allowed route, following the tangents on curves in road races and staying inside on a track.

If you don’t have an efficient stride, run short bursts as fast as you can — your body will teach you to become compact. You’ll feel the difference when you’re efficient rather than flailing. If you don’t breathe efficiently, run longer workouts and you’ll develop lung capacity. You’ll breathe easier on short runs.

Remember as you’re working on Efficiency that you cannot “BE” better without Balance first. Eat well, rest as necessary, don’t overdo.

BE smart. You’re getting closer yet going farther every day.

Many small steps.

Beep beep. Roadrunner.

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On balance

Posted by boakley59 on April 20, 2011

Beep. It begins with B and that stands for Balance. As we said last time, that starts with the feet and proper shoes. Now that we have our feet on the ground, so to speak, let’s talk some more about this notion of balance.

Balance is an attribute, the kind of grace that allows a circus performer to walk a tightrope or a gymnast to cavort on a four-inch beam. Balance is also an action, an equalizing of weights and burdens, physical or philosophical. You balance the scales, your workload, your time with friends and family.

We are built for balance while running. Our arms and legs, muscles and tendons work together to keep us moving forward over uncertain terrain and in various postures as obstacles arise. But distance runners must also balance this natural ability with effort and conditioning, because we lose grace as we tire and we suffer breakdown or injury in a variety of ways.

So, we carefully construct training plans to teach ourselves to endure running far or fast, sometimes far and fast. These plans themselves require a balance of distance training and speed training, hills and tracks, rest and exertion. They also must balance the desire to improve against our current capabilities. You may want to run five miles, but if you’ve not yet run a quarter mile, you must build up to the target over the course of weeks.

Every training plan also includes warm-up, cool-down and stretching before and after. This balances muscle building with muscle readiness, making muscles supple as well as strong.

All of the BEEPing elements — Balance, Efficiency, Effort, Patience — are in constant interplay, in such balance that they become indistinguishable as the fabric of fitness. Effort and Patience are in balance when you build slowly from a quarter mile to five miles over the course of weeks. Efficiency for a runner means Balance is evident: Stride is compact without wobble or flailing, posture is upright, head is steady.

For some of us, it’s much easier to improve by thinking of balance rather than speed, time or comfort. If we focus on lap times, a high number disappoints. If we focus on muscle pain or difficulty breathing, panic may shut us down. Fear and doubt upset our balance, and we will run less efficiently, which will feed our fear and doubt, which will … You get the idea.

A mechanical rule of thumb: What one part does, others must balance. For our purposes, we’ll say, “What your arms do, your legs must follow.”

This is one way to control your effort on hills. Think of your arms, not your legs. Running uphill, you bring your arms in tight and pump hard in a compact motion. You keep your elbows close to your body, moving them very little, and you don’t reach out forward with your arms. Most of the motion is concentrated up and down. This forces your strides to be mostly short with higher knee lifts, meaning your powerful thigh muscles are doing the hill work. This is the efficient way to power up a hill. (For those of you who think better on your feet — rather than on your arms, if you catch my drift — shorten your stride and drive with your thighs. Your arms will tuck in and pump to match.) It also helps to lean into the hill because this keeps your motion tight, stopping you from reaching too far forward and making stretchy tendons and ligaments do what muscles should.

Going downhill follows the same principle with the opposite application. You let your arms flap freely in a windmill motion reaching forward, which lengthens your stride and makes gravity do most of the work for you. You’ll want to be careful to maintain your balance so as not to go flat on your face at downhill speed! (For those who think of your legs first, extend your stride and your arms will flail in sync.)

Another rule of thumb: Build weekly mileage by no more than 5%-7%. If you’re running 10 miles a week, you can add half a mile to your total each week the next five weeks. When you get to 15 miles a week, you can add one mile a week, and so on. You can do this by adding a little bit to each workout, or you may wish to consider just adding the whole distance to your otherwise easiest day. Again, we’re talking about balancing the effort to increase endurance with the tendency to break down under stress. We’re avoiding overuse. If you add the distance by chopping it up a little each day, you spread the impact of the change so it’s small on any given day. If you add it whole to your easiest day, you are building that into a harder day and balancing your overall weekly effort.

On balance, I think that’s enough for today. Oh, and don’t forget a balanced diet.

Feel free to ask questions, demand fuller explanations or suggest topics.

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Best foot forward

Posted by boakley59 on April 9, 2011

Beep. Balance. Efficiency. Effort. Patience.

Beep — it starts with balance, and for a runner, that means the right shoe.

Linda Starr, director of the Women Run Arkansas clinics and owner of The Sporty Runner in Conway, addressed the Batesville group Thursday evening, April 7, showing plastic models of feet with different arch types and discussed the appropriate footwear for each type.

For those who didn’t see the plastic models up close or haven’t learned elsewhere how to determine your arch type and best shoe choice, here’s a quick summary. Your foot, depending on your arch type, will land flat or it will roll to the inside or outside. The roll is called pronation. Runners with high arches underpronate (also called supinate); runners with low arches (flat feet) overpronate. This affects wear on your shoes and can lead to injuries. So you want shoes that correct your tendencies and induce neutral motion.

The diagram sums it up. Your footprint will match one of the types below more closely, and you should get the type of shoes suited to your arch.

Arches/shoe typesA specialty running store will have sales staff to assess your feet and put you in the right shoe. The chain athletic shoe stores more and more have pressure plates that will measure your motion as you walk, but you will want to do your homework if you’re not going to have that live expert you’d find in the specialty store.

Running shoes are meant to be ready to wear walking out of the store — no breaking in. If anything is the least bit off or uncomfortable in a few seconds walking in the showroom, consider how that will feel after 15-45 minutes of continued rubbing when you’re sweaty and stressed! Get new shoes after 500 miles — that’s about six months at 20 miles a week. The soles may not be worn out by then, but the gel/air/cushioning material will have been pounded into uselessness.

Fuller discussion of the topic is readily available on the Internet. A few good pages that I have recently visited are: — This is an excellent page with clear definitions, helpful diagrams and straightforward clinical explanations, with additional tips on shoe care and proper lacing techniques. (Yes, even the way you lace your shoes makes a difference when you’re running miles and miles!) — Most of the major shoemakers offer similar pages that tell you how to pick the shoe suited to your foot, with selection tools to point you to those models in their inventory. Other brands include Nike, Saucony, New Balance (more products with additional widths than some others offer), Brooks, Mizuno.,7120,s6-240-319–4615-0,00.html — The page helps you determine your shoe type and links to its shoe finder covering all the major brands. The magazine also presents a yearly buying guide with reviews of new shoe models, and the site is a great place for a broad range of articles and information on all things running, categorized for easy navigation and research. also covers foot type and shoe selection. The Women Run Arkansas website notes that The Sporty Runner in Conway and Gearhead Outfitters in Jonesboro offer WRA club members a 10 percent discount. The right shoe can even reduce the pain in your pocketbook and make it easier to balance your checkbook!

Balance — that comes first. Beep.

Feel free to ask questions, demand fuller explanations or suggest topics.

Posted in Health, Running | 3 Comments »

First steps

Posted by boakley59 on April 7, 2011

Beep beep. Roadrunner.

That’s me, or at least it was once upon a time. Crohn’s has taken most of that capacity away from me, but in the last several months I have been able to make a vicarious return to my glory days by helping less experienced runners enjoy fleeter feet.

Now Suzy has joined the Women Run Arkansas series and I have tagged along, offering advice and encouragement to eager beginners looking for any tips on making running easier, less painful and even fun. Suzy has “Gone Public” with her own effort to lose weight and improve fitness, committing to daily posting on her journey, so I am committing to a series of my own focusing on running for fitness.

Back to the Roadrunner: Beep beep!

If you’re going to do a lot of running, for fitness or competition, you want to find playful joy in doing it. I know — if you’re just starting and trying to drop 50 pounds, it’s miserable: You’re sweaty, sore and struggling. Hard to imagine where the fun could be. But you have more control over your attitude than over most any other aspect of the equation. You can’t be taller, you can’t be 20 pounds lighter in a snap, you can’t bench press 400 pounds on a whim. But you can look at the blue sky and smile and say, “This is a good day.” You can be sweaty, huffing and puffing, and still realize, “Yesterday, I couldn’t go this far this fast, and tomorrow I’ll do better still.”

We’ll talk more about training yourself to be positive, but if you’re a beginner, latch onto something that pleases you: Being out in nature, a song you can listen to or sing in your head as you go, thoughts of a sleeker, faster you — anything that will balance the toll that unfamiliar effort takes on your body and willpower.

Beep beep. If the gloom catches you, you’re through.

I mentioned balance, and that’s the “B” in “Beep” — the first principle for easy running. Your body works in balance. One of the earliest lessons from my racing days in high school is to drive your arms to go faster up a hill. What your arms do, your legs must follow to balance. Pump your arms and your legs must move faster. If your arms flap from side to side, your legs will wobble in counterbalance. If you want to run efficiently, tuck your arms in and do compact movements, and your legs will move in short, powerful steps.

Efficiency is the first “E” in “Beep,” the target of all your mechanics and planning. As I said, tuck in and go straight, with small but powerful movements. Don’t waste effort in big motion or in making tendons and ligaments do muscle jobs. Learn to breathe well, not frantically or shallowly.

Effort is “E2” in “Beep,” because the goal is for running to become easy and fluid. Even though running is natural in a body made for balance, once we leave childhood we learn bad habits that only patient effort can overcome. We also tend to become soft with inactivity, and we need to work to be strong and efficient. We even have to relearn to breathe well, especially as we pile on stress.

Patience is that last character in “Beep,” since all of this rediscovery of childhood joy and natural efficiency takes time. The principles are simple, the movements are natural, but the years have been unkind to us. We have gained weight, lost muscle tone and lung capacity, stopped eating or sleeping well and made a mountain of work for ourselves to regain fitness.

If you’ll be patient and stick with me, we’ll step out together on the road to health and happiness.

Beep beep.

Posted in Health, Running, Sports | 1 Comment »

With reservations

Posted by boakley59 on September 14, 2010

A long time ago, on a blog page that seems so far away …

I looked into the looming mist of 2010, preferring not to make resolutions, yet offering something more than observations. I called these not-quite-resolutions/observations my “reservations” for the coming year. I hoped they would turn out to be more like dinner reservations than like reservations about bungee jumping. I’m back to tell you that 2010 has been a feast of fun!
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A little help

Posted by boakley59 on March 6, 2010

Friends, I’ll be contacting many of you shortly for support against Crohn’s disease. Here’s a bit of lead-in to that upcoming message:

I love basketball. I can explain that it’s because speed and quickness are advantages but endurance and consistency are equally important, that a racehorse type has no more or less chance of success than a draft horse, that the game’s ebb and flow give a player with the grace of a dancer hope against one with the brute power of a boxer. But if you don’t play and relish the game as I do, you probably won’t believe all that.
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An age of wonder

Posted by boakley59 on November 9, 2009

I like to say that I know the exact day I became old, because I remember the awards dinner Suzy and I attended in Dallas 11 years and two days ago. I remember the first sniffles and sneezes of an infection that weekend that marked the beginning of my life with Crohn’s, putting me in intensive care a few weeks later.
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Posted in Health, Personal, Philosophy/Life Lessons, Writing | 1 Comment »