The Anatomy of a Runner: Thermoregulation

The body prefers a relatively stable temperature of 97.7– 99.5°F (36.5–37.5°C). Whether shivering from the cold or sweating from the heat, the body is attempting to maintain the core temperature close to 98.6° Fahrenheit. This process is called thermoregulation.

Early studies concluded we have a thermal circuit-breaker (also known as the Central Governor) that trips when we get too hot, and those studies limited sports research for some time. Subsequent studies, however, have shown that trained athletes are able to push their core temperatures higher than sedentary people. In fact, that thermal circuit-breaker seems to be triggered more by a perception of heat rather than the temperature itself, and our perceptions of heat are blunted by the mere presence of competition.

The first event of the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in Qatar was the women’s team time trial, a mid-afternoon 40-kilometer cycling race in temperatures averaging 98.4°Fahrenheit (36.9 C). Three cyclists from one of the teams swallowed ingestible core-temperature-sensing thermometer pills with their breakfast as part of a study to investigate the effects of hot-weather, competitive exercise. The researchers found that the three women had peak temperatures during the race ranging from 105.4° to 106.7°F (40.8 to 41.5 C).

It had long been accepted that if you ask an athlete to exercise for as long as they can in a hot environment, they’d quit when their core temperature reached somewhere around 104°F (40 degrees Celsius). These three cyclists all reached higher temperatures than the perceived threshold, yet they hadn’t collapsed. They won a medal.

CAPO VELO, Cycling Collective

Exercise produces heat that the body must eliminate so that it can maintain a stable core temperature and prevent over-heating. Exercising in hot conditions is even more challenging since the primary source of eliminating heat through sweating is less effective in hot and humid environments. If the body sweats so much that it depletes itself of fluids and salts, there’s nothing left to sustain the evaporation process. And when the process of regulating ceases, body temperature soars causing heat illnesses or even heatstroke.

Studies find that after a period of heat training/acclimatization, however, our bodies are able to produce more sweat and earlier, overall core temperature and blood lactate is reduced, blood plasma volume increases creating better cardiovascular fitness, skeletal muscle force increases, and we get better while training in a wider range of temperatures including cold weather. In fact, purposely training in the heat may be more beneficial than altitude training since we adapt more quickly to heat stress than to hypoxia (oxygen deprivation).

While many of these benefits can be obtained by simply living in the heat, exercising in heat speeds up the process. And there’s ways to mimic heat training, in case your next race is in a hotter climate than where you live.

This post discusses key points regarding the athlete’s response to heat; hydration, dehydration and sweat; heat versus altitude acclimatization; pre-cooling methodologies; and thermotolerance training techniques and guidelines.

Major Players

Brain: an almond-sized portion of the brain (the hypothalamus) is hyper-sensitive to changes in core temperature. If the core increases by even one degree, it reacts by opening blood vessels near the skin and routing blood to the periphery where it can cool. In an environment where the air, humidity, wind and sun feels warmer than 99.5°, the brain will limit contraction of the muscles as a way of telling the body to stop generating so much heat. This forces the athlete to slow down before becoming too hot.

Skin: As warm blood reaches the skin, pores expand and you begin to perspire. The sweat evaporates and cools the blood directly underneath. If the air is warmer than your core temperature, sweat is actually wasted and your condition worsens since the sweat fails to cool but contributes to dehydration instead. Pouring cold water onto the skin will help, but only temporarily.

Heart: When blood is over 98.6°, and more blood is being pumped near the skin for cooling, the heart is working harder, beating faster. Perceived effort will increase and recovery will be longer.

Of Special Note: Data from a multidecade study of 2,300 Finnish men found that those who hit the sauna four or more times a week were only a third as likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s compared with those who took just one sauna a week.

In a 2017 study from Qatar, participants showed a 17 percent boost in muscle strength after 11 days of sitting in a heat chamber at roughly 120 degrees for an hour at a time. The technique might be particularly relevant for injured athletes or those recovering from surgery as a way to maintain their muscles when they can’t exercise. (Alex Hutchinson, OutsideOnline).

Dehydration and Sweat

While fluid plays a role in heat, it is actually more minimal than we may realize. When athletes are allowed to pace themselves in trials where they are limited to small volumes of fluid or do not drink at all, they reach the same core temperature as when fluids are consumed, but they take longer to finish. It’s not necessarily the fluid ingested that keeps us cool, but the metabolic rate, or how hard we are exercising that affects core temperature. The guiding principle here is to always drink to thirst.

Sweat rate also has nothing to do with the rate we burn fat or calories. An individual’s perspiration rate is mostly dependent on genetic make-up, training, and how the body responds to heat stress.

Some people lose more fluids than others, and men perspire more than women. Testosterone can enhance the sweating response, as will anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, allergy, decongestants, and weight loss medications. Caffeine has a similar effect.

Urine color is determined to be a simple way to assess hydration. Observe urine over the course of a day and notice changes in flow and color. Volume and frequency should be consistent and the color should be lighter, or close to clear, toward the end of the day.

Why It Hurts

Core Temperature = Heat Production vs Heat Loss

Heat is produced when muscles contract and is directly proportional to how fast you are running. Run two times faster, twice as much heat is produced. Consequently, it’s the shorter, more intense races that produce higher core temperatures.

Heat loss depends on evaporation, convection and radiation with the environment being the crucial factor:

– high humidity prevents evaporation,

– high air temperature prevents both evaporation and convection from cooling the body.

Runners learn to push through the pain, but to successfully push through the pain means we must also understand the warning signs that would spell disaster in any given situation.

If our perceptions of heat are blunted by the mere presence of competition among other things, overheating could become the unintended outcome. Know the symptoms of overheating: headache, dizziness, disorientation, nausea.

The Gender Gap

In 2011, VF Corporation, the parent company of Smartwool and The North Face, commissioned a 1,200-person study examining how women and men respond to exercise in hot and cold temperatures.

Their findings show that women run warmer than they perceive. In winter, women’s coldest zones are the backs of the hands, the glutes, outer arms, and kneecaps. Women’s upper backs, calves, collarbones, and pelvis emit more heat during stop-and-go cold-climate activities, such as skiing. During hot-weather exercise, women’s legs are markedly cooler than their upper bodies, while men are more evenly balanced. Women’s feet are always colder than men’s, regardless of the outside temperature.

Acclimatization and Thermotolerance

Thermotolerance is the end result of a successful program of heat acclimatization, where an athlete trains with the specific purpose of making the body functional in a warmer climate to which the athlete is accustomed. (Encylcopedia.com)

Acclimatization methods consist of two types: heat and altitude.

The body undergoes a natural acclimatization to warmer temperatures or higher altitudes, known as passive acclimatization. It is possible to speed up this process through a gradual buildup in training volume, known as active acclimization. While both heat and altitude alone are stresses to the body that will contribute to the acclimatization process, heat or altitude without exercise will not be as effective.

Altitude Acclimatization develops the ability of the athlete to better utilize oxygen, which makes them more effective at sea level competition. At higher altitudes (≥8,000 ft / 2,500 m), the body compensates for the decrease in available oxygen by increasing its production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen through the body. Altitude training will increase oxygen capacity by between 2% and 3% in a period of about three months. Although this benefit will remain for several weeks in an ever-decreasing amount, it will be completely lost within three months of returning to lower altitude.

Note: Altitude training is broken further into three types: “live high/train high,” where the athlete both lives and trains at altitude; “live high/train low,” a regime where the athlete lives at altitude but trains at sea level; and sea-level training, where the reduced oxygen environment of higher altitudes may be replicated through an artificially configured house or training “tent.” The extensive scientific research regarding altitude training confirms that all three methods will enhance sea level performance.

In the Heat Acclimatized athlete, cardiac function improves resulting in increased plasma blood volume accompanied by a 15-25% decrease in heart rate. This means there’s more water in the blood stream that can be used by the sweat glands to produce more sweat. Thinner blood means it can also transfer heat more effectively to the skin. (Note: the systems of the body adapt to heat exposure at varying rates.)

Heat acclimatization also reduces muscle glycogen utilization and post-exercise muscle lactate concentration. Chris Minson, a professor of human physiology at the University of Oregon who studies heat acclimation responses in athletes, has also found that changes to the heart’s left ventricle specifically helps to increase oxygen delivery to the muscles.

Hot and dry environments are different from hot and humid environments (desert vs jungle) – sweat rates being higher in humid environments (the rate of sweating influences thermoregulation). Acclimation is also dependent on the volume of exercise, intensity, and how long the core temperature remains elevated.

In a nutshell, heat acclimatization causes the body to shed fluids sooner by sweating sooner, lowering the core temperature, and making the athlete more comfortable – perception of effort being key to exercising longer (a decrease in ‘perceived exertion’ occurs during the first five days of exercise-heat exposure). An added benefit is that many of these adaptations will be useful even in cool weather training.

The human body is very adaptable to heat, and to corresponding humidity, with the major benefits achieved within 10 to 14 days of beginning a heat training program; most athletes will reach an acclimatization of approximately 75% (defined as an ability to perform to 75% of their top level) within five days. If the athlete is not exposed to warm weather conditions on a regular basis, however, the body will require another acclimatization period. On the bright side, re-acclimatization occurs more rapidly than the initial acclimatization when re-exposed to heat (Weller et al., 2007).

The chart below compares the benefits achieved during heat training as compared to passive acclimatization (no exercise) and exercising in cool conditions.

The Central Governor Effect (and sometimes lack thereof)

In a 2012 study, the negative effects of cycling in 89-degree heat were partly erased when the thermometer in the room was rigged to read 79°F. In other studies, athletes react to hot conditions when their skin temperature is warmer to the feel even though their core temperatures were actually lower. There’s also research that suggests our perception of effort is lower in competition, partly because our attention is focused on the competitors rather than our own pain.

Exercise physiologist, Jo Corbett, and a team at the University of Portsmouth put cyclists through a series of 20k time trials in cool and hot conditions, with and without competition. The cyclists hit higher temperatures during the competition than when they were soloing in the heat, although their ‘perceived’ measurements were the same. ”Thermal sensation” (how hot they felt) was the same, as was “thermal comfort” (how pleasant or unpleasant the heat felt). Racing against a competitor created a disconnect between how hot they were and how hot they felt even though they cycled faster and generated more power during the head-to-head competition in hot conditions.

When athletes in one study were equipped with a small electric heat pad tucked in the pocket of their shirt, they gave up 9 percent sooner even though none of the physiological measurements – blood lactate, core temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, stroke volume, cardiac output, oxygen uptake, ventilation – were different. They simply quit because they felt hot.

This doesn’t change the fact that our bodies undergo significant added stress while exercising in the heat, but it may be useful to know that a great deal of the pain is purely psychological.

The Pre-Cooling Option

Numerous studies have shown that pre-cooling before prolonged exercise in hot temperatures may help sustain intensity and speed, however, definitive conclusions on its effectiveness have not yet been established.

Methods of pre-cooling include whole-body cold water immersion (17-30°C for 30 minutes); cold air exposure; cooling garments; cryotherapy; and internal cooling methods, such as cold beverages, ice slurries, and ice bars.

Some athletes follow the low-tech protocol of simply applying ice packs – to the back of the neck, chest, underarms or between the thighs – with preference to areas with the highest blood flow. Because thermoregulating the brain is essential (and ‘perception’ is everything), ice on the neck significantly relieves perceived heat stress. One study also found a 20% increase in cycling power during an intermittent sprint when ice was placed between the thighs.

Nike sent ice vests for pre-cooling to select olympic athletes competing in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. (One of the athletes, runner Meb Keflezighi, won the silver medal at Athens). Here Rafael Nadal is wearing the Nike cooling vest during a practice at Flushing Meadows. Courtesy: rafaelnadalfans.com

Athletes sometimes report feeling heavy or sluggish following whole-body cold water immersion. An alternative is to expose just part of the body to cold water by soaking garments in cold water, or submerging specific active or inactive body parts directly in cold water (such as the hands or legs).

Practicality is a logical consideration when choosing a pre-cooling protocol.

Pre-cooling:

Hampers the performance of sprinters

Better for sports with intermittent sprints

Best for endurance events, triathlons, cycling races or marathons

* Pre-cooling has also been shown to improve performance in lower ambient temperatures.

Pre-Cooling tips:

  • Make a reduction in skin temperature your major goal;
  • Aim to pre-cool for 8-30 minutes;
  • Practice your chosen pre-cooling technique before using it on race day.

Heat Training Protocols

Heat training approaches can be as simple as running outside when it’s hot; using the thermostat to create a hot environment indoors; wearing extra clothing that is certain to make you run hot; or spend time in a sauna, hot bath or hot tub post-workout.

Because heat is an added stress, however, any protocol that separates the stress of heat from the workout allows the quality of the workout to be preserved. When training in heat, training volume and/or intensity would be reduced initially as the body adapts.

A 2015 study shows that using a six-day, 104°F post-run hot tub protocol was effective at triggering heat adaptation, including a 4.9% improvement in 5k time in 91° heat. The advantage of using a sauna or hot tub is that it prolongs the amount of time the core temperature remains elevated (going for a run in normal conditions elevates the core temperature, and the hot tub prolongs this period of time).

Here’s a graph that shows core temperature (38.0 C is 100.4 F; 40 C is 104 F) at the end of a 40-minute hot run before and after the hot tub protocol:

Heat Training Guidelines

The most successful heat training programs will follow a progression:

  • Training volume and training intensity are reduced initially.
    Both volume and intensity are increased as the athlete begins to adapt.
    Exercise extreme care to ensure proper hydration is maintained at all times – before, during and after training sessions. When dehydration or salt deficits exist, cardiovascular and thermoregulatory responses may be negatively affected, and the theoretical risk of heat illness increases.
    Increase the sodium in your diet for the first few days. Sodium helps the body retain necessary fluid for temperature regulation.
    Take breaks to allow the body time to cool down.

Ultra running coach Jason Koop says, “at a certain level, you have to compromise training quality for the heat acclimation. Acclimating to the heat is additional stress [on the body], just like more miles or intervals, so you can’t simply pile it on. Something on the training side has to give.”

If you want to incorporate heat into your workouts, here’s how Koop recommends doing it safely.

1. First, pick a protocol (sauna, hot bath, or exercising in the heat) that minimizes the impact on training, both physically and logistically.

2. Koop most commonly recommends that his athletes use a dry sauna immediately after running. “It doesn’t impact training nearly as much as running in the heat, and the effects are similarly positive,” he says. He often tells his athletes to not drink water during these sessions to enhance the effect. Koop recommends spending 20-to-30-minutes in the sauna, depending on tolerance.

3. Koop says that when he has his athletes exercise in the heat—either naturally or by wearing extra clothing to simulate the experience—it will be on a long, slow day for 60 to 90 minutes. The time completely depends on the athlete’s tolerance and previous experience. But he stresses to not do this on a recovery day, because heat training is an added stress on the body. Koop recommends drinking 30 to 40 ounces of an electrolyte drink per hour during these sessions And for safety, he advises using low-traffic sidewalks and bike paths—not trails.

4. Despite the benefits of heat training, Koop reminds his athletes that running in the heat is extremely difficult and usually replaces a hard day. “You are substituting one potential gain for another one,” he says. In other words, use it carefully.

Know the risk factors of heat illness:

●Strenuous exercise in high ambient temperature and humidity

●Lack of acclimatization

●Poor physical fitness

●Obesity

●Dehydration

●Acute illness

●External load, including clothing, equipment, and protective gear

This post is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding medical questions, concerns, and before beginning any new training regimen.
References and Additional Reading:
The Effect of Head-to-Head Competition on Behavioural Thermoregulation, Thermophysiological Strain and Performance During Exercise in the Heat; Sports Medicine May 2018
Competitor presence reduces internal attentional focus and improves 16.1km cycling time trial performance. Sports Medicine
The Psychological Side of Heat Exhaustion; OutsideOnline, Alex Hutchinson, Apr 2018
Heat Slows You Down, Even When It’s Not Real. OutsideOnline, Alex Hutchinson Feb 2019
Heat Acclimatization to Improve Athletic Performance in Warm-Hot Environments; Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Michael N. Sawka, Julien D. Périard, Sébastien Racinais Jan 2016
Is Seltzer Water Just as Hydrating as Regular Water? The Food Network
How much am I supposed to sweat during a workout? OutsideOnline, Cassie Shortsleeved Jun 2015
The Central Governor and the Athlete’s Clock: Pacing and performance; The Science of Sport, Mar 2011
7 Shocking Facts About Drinking Water Cold vs Room Temperature; Bustle, Carolyn Steber Feb 2019
The Performance Lab Studying How Women Sweat; OutsideOnline, Kelly Bastone Jan 2019
Dear Sports Scientists: Will drinking fluids keep me cool? The Science of Sport Sep 2010
Thermotolerance induced at a mild temperature of 40 °C alleviates heat shock-induced ER stress and apoptosis in HeLa cells; Science Direct, Jan 2015
A Post-Workout Soak Might Boost Performance; OutsideOnline, Alex Hutchinson Jan 2019
How Elite Athletes Respond to Extreme Heat; OutsideOnline, Alex Hutchinson Dec 2018
Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?
The Benefits of Sweat; Care2.com Jul 2015
Exercise and Thermotolerance; Encyclopedia.com
HEAT ACCLIMATIZATION; Lawrence E. Armstrong, Ph.D. Department of Sport, Leisure, and Exercise Science, University of Connecticut
The Surprising Benefits of Training in the Heat. Is heat better than altitude? The science seems to say so. Meaghen Brown Jul 2016
How Heat Therapy Could Boost Your Performance; OutsideOnline Aug 2018
Does Precooling With Whole-Body Immersion Affect Thermal Sensation or Perceived Exertion? A Critically Appraised Topic; Timothy M. Wohlfert and Kevin C. Miller, School of Rehabilitation and Medical Sciences, Central Michigan University
Pre-cooling for endurance exercise performance in the heat: a systematic review; Paul R Jones, Christian Barton, […], and Stephanie Hemmings
A study done in 2006 found that runners wearing Nike Ice Vests before a cross country race had a lower core temperature after the race (Warming Up With an Ice Vest: Core Body Temperature Before and After Cross-Country Racing, 2006. Ian Hunter, et al.).

My Garden Shed

All the shed’s parts and pieces shipped from Canada and arrived several days later on two pallets. The manufacturer’s step-by-step Assembly Manual claimed assembly would take “two to three days to complete with a helper.” Their equation did not figure on me being the helper and surely they didn’t count on the job-site being fourteen steps up.

We had inquired all around town to hire two men for two days. They’d feign interest, after which my husband would send them a video detailing the process, and we’d never hear from them again. Eventually he convinced me we could do this by ourselves, and I believed him. We worked nine days in a row.

Day One

He prepared the foundation on the first day. The floor frame was set onto four 4×6 pressure treated lumber beams, and the plywood floor set atop all of this. It took some time to ensure the whole thing was square and level so I did gardening work that day.

Day Two, Three & Four

By Thursday afternoon we had set the studs and secured all the wall panels, installed the windows, and attached the front and rear gables.

Days Five, Six & Seven

We assembled the two roof rafters down below and carried them up one full piece at a time. Each side slid into place and locked into a groove. We just stood there for a minute marveling how easily they had locked in place. This accomplishment seemed to bolster our confidence regarding the roof – the heaviest of all the pieces. When my muscles still wouldn’t rise to the task, my husband lifted the roof panels onto his back and walked them right up the steps.

The six roof panels with cedar shingles already attached, a rafter support beam, gussets, and 6 Polygal panels on the greenhouse side were attached and secured by Saturday afternoon.

All that was left was to install the door and attach the trim pieces. Never underestimate the details.

Days Eight & Nine

On Day Eight, we hammered a million-gazillion trim pieces into their rightful places. Mysteriously, we had a few pieces left over.

The last day we put together flower boxes assembly-line style and we were done!

The instructions suggested painting the plywood floor, so we checked the ‘oops’ paint options on our next trip to Lowe’s. Sure enough we found a can of high gloss white interior/exterior paint there the next day. I have wondered about the outcome had there been a can of green or blue instead. The white was perfect.

There’s still work to be done on the Kung Fu wooden dummy, the plumber will connect the water and hopefully install a sink, the electrician will wire in an outlet or two, and there’s the delightful chore of filling the flower boxes. Moving in is always a process.

It seemed likely we might die pushing the roof panels in place, I smashed my finger once with the hammer, and he fell off the ladder when it slipped down the hill. Every project has its moments, but hey! We built a shed!

Young Dog, Good Dog, Old Dog

I married my husband later in life when children had already come and gone. It must explain why we have adopted so many dogs.

I’m aware of the stages of a dog’s life from puppy to senior, and that each dog moves through each stage at their own pace. But maybe it’s possible that all these life stages could be narrowed down to just three. A young dog becomes a good dog (usually), and a good dog unfortunately becomes an old dog as time goes along.

We’ve had one dog in each of these stages for the past 2-1/2 years. Bentley is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and our youngest dog. Mr. Boggs is a Great Pyrenees/Mastiff mix and Dudley, a Standard Poodle, is the oldest.

Bentley joined our family with the sole purpose of promoting recovery after the loss of our last oldest dog. It’s as if he understood and accepted this job immediately. He still plays with toys, chews sticks on our best rug, attacks my feet when I walk around the house in socks, and dusting the furniture invokes the very worst of his wrath for whatever reason.

He is the definition of dramatic, which means I can’t help but smile whenever I look into his little face. And he instantly found a friend in our next oldest dog, despite their obvious differences.

Mr. Boggs left his adorable puppy phase to become this oversized teddy bear. True to his breed(s), he’s territorial, protective, fearless, patient, loyal, and stubborn. He’s also a really good dog.

Dudley is one of the most stunning of all dogs, and at 16 years old he’s our oldest dog. This perfectly coiffed exterior, however, belies his inner strength and resolve. He’s fought a bear, a Great Dane, killed countless rodents, and spent days at a time roaming the mountains where we live. I wouldn’t say he’s ever lost a fight, but he has come home slightly ruffled from time to time. Nothing has ever intimidated him.

He went to guard dog school for six months when my husband decided he should stand guard over the back door of my store. He was just six months old at the time. The trainer assured us it wouldn’t change his personality, but warned it could make him more intense. That was true, and it also meant he grew up fast.

We learned to talk to him in German, and he went to work with me for the first few years of his life. Then he retired to the life he loved most.

Sometimes I’d sleep on the sofa waiting for him to come home from his latest adventure – like a wayward teenager. In the wee hours of the morning I’d find him waiting patiently on the porch exhausted, thirsty, and sometimes wounded. He could ruin a $100 haircut in a few short hours, and he did so often.

He was my running partner when I trained for my first marathon, and my hiking partner in his later years. All he ever wanted was to be outside. I could relate. We were kindred souls.

Dudley went to heaven a few weeks ago. His body had traveled as far as this earth would allow him to go. You’d think losing a four-legged child would get easier after all this time, but it never has.

Whether it was the training or how he was born, Dudley was certainly intense – I couldn’t imagine him any other way. He was aloof, but not unloveable. He was passionate about being on the hunt – his sport, and nothing distracted him from doing what he loved. There was much to learn from this child. I think he would tell us to always be brave, follow your heart, and don’t back down.

There was a sign in the room at the Vet’s office: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” It takes some time to get past the don’t cry part. Dudley’s hips got weak and he started losing his balance. This past year he couldn’t stand up long enough to be groomed and he started looking scraggly. Getting old is not always pretty, but he was the same wonderful guy we loved and I’m so glad he happened into our life.

A Garden is Born

The excavation phase of our project is finally over leaving us with a blank slate in terms of gardening, and I have never been more intimidated. One of the songs in my running library is Emmit Fenn’s, “Lost in Space.” It’s the perfect description of my garden.

The area under siege is behind the fence in the photo below. As lovely as it may have appeared, this land gradually climbs to a road up above where most of the trees were dead or dying – in other words, a major threat to the roof of our house. Our plan was to create enough level ground to accommodate a one-room addition to our house while also cleaning things up a bit.

 

We cleared the trees out last December, although the excavator didn’t pull the stumps out until the first day of April. Then they spent the next two weeks moving dirt. Everyone that stopped by to examine our progress remarked on how wonderful the dirt was. Unfortunately, it was that perfect top soil that got hauled away day after day. Underneath was icky, ugly, rock-filled red clay.

Eventually we were left with mulch-covered 2:1 graded slopes from the upper road that also incorporates a swale for drainage, four boulders, and fourteen stone steps that reach a level area at the top where the greenhouse will be positioned. I didn’t completely grasp the significance of landscaping a 2:1 slope until the project was complete. Now I can tell you that gardening on a 2:1 slope is not for the weak spirited.

Water and electricity have been pulled to the upper level for the greenhouse, and all that’s needed are a few good men to help us lug the greenhouse pieces to the top and assemble. It’s easier said than done actually. We’re also thinking of adding a shower up there – it’s really pretty shocking how dirty a person can become while working in all this mulch.

While most informed landscapers will plot and plan their garden design, my husband and I have employed our usual strategy: we stop by the local garden center’s discount rack almost daily to see what we can find. I call it the ‘E.R. Cart’ because every plant is distressed to one degree or another, but if it’s a perennial we bring it home. The hole in this strategy is that you can’t exactly plan your design.

So far we’ve planted two fig trees, three ‘red hot’ crape myrtles, a cypress, blue spruce, raspberry and rose bush. Six different types of ornamental grasses are planted along the swale while the rest of the slopes are filled with tulips, daffodils, white and pink azaleas, early sunrise coreopsis, two hydrangea, four lemon sunset evening primrose, lilies, iris, red thyme, bellflower, twelve lavender bushes, two bags of wild flower seeds, and several plants that I can’t remember their names.

We found evergreen bushes for $10, big liriope was divided and transplanted from the side yard, and I salvaged a trillium and two additional flowering bushes from the swale minutes before the excavator destroyed them.

Several summer phlox seeds must have drifted over from the native garden next door last year and had sprung up in the front this spring. I’ve transplanted them to the slope by the greenhouse along with a half dozen other plant varieties I bought on Saturday at the native garden’s annual plant sale. I’ve been waiting on the day my husband exclaims there’s no more room for plants! But that’s rarely true in my world.

I wish I had taken a picture before the foundation was poured, but it’s good to see the landscape taking shape – if only in my own eyes.

Some day these distressed and doomed plants will blossom and reach their full potential, and my garden will no longer be lost in space.

A Cottage Update

We were only a few days away from the start of construction last December when I wrote about a planned one-room addition to our cottage. Then it rained nonstop. It was a miserable winter. Exterior work came to a screeching halt, and we spent the winter working on interior projects instead.

The Kitchen

September 2017: the kitchen and living room had been added onto the cottage in the 70s, and never touched again. It’s really better that way I think. The seller had left the cottage furnished, including a rooster in the kitchen – which you can barely see above the door in the photo below. The paneling had darkened around the rooster over the years, and I put him back in exactly the same spot after the remodel.

October 2018: our initial plan was to put the cottage on the vacation rental circuit for a few years. This picture was taken just before we changed our mind and decided to live here ourselves. The kitchen’s footprint is the same, but it seems larger with the wall fully opened to the living room.

I really loved the look of the kitchen, but it had practical issues. It was difficult to completely conceal the patchwork done to the paneling after closing off the original door and window on the back wall. A marble backsplash hides this world of sins.

The next issue was the appliances. Since the refrigerator was not counter depth, it extended too far into the room. Same problem with the dishwasher – when the door was open it was impossible to move around. The ice cream parlor table and chairs are adorable, but miserably uncomfortable and too small for everyday use.

April 2019: Over the winter, we replaced the standard dishwasher with dishwasher drawers, added the Bosch refrigerator with black glass door panels, switched out the chandelier, and exchanged the rug for a cowhide. We also re-stained the vent hood a shade darker than it had been, changed out the table and chairs, and opted for blinds instead of the ‘all-or-nothing’ shade. I’m on the hunt for swing-arm sconces, and a black stove is on order.

Living Room:

September 2017: the living room was in pretty good shape. I’m not sure the fireplace had even been used. I love all of the wood in this room and the large front window. However, the fireplace isn’t center on the wall, which makes me a little crazy. And the paneling had darkened around the bookshelves leaving an outline of the shelves when they were removed – just like the rooster. Eventually we painted the back wall white, and then re-painted it a pale shade of grey-green this winter. With great hesitation, we painted the fireplace too.

January 2019: We liked the fireplace painted white, but it seemed harsh – almost too white. My husband remembered a container of black glaze in the closet from another project, and we used it over the white. This last step softened the white just enough and allowed more of the brick to show through.

We snapped this picture of Bentley playing with Mr. Boggs in January when the wall was still white and before we experimented with the fireplace.

 

After four days of excavation last week the rain started again. Dump trucks came one after the other all day every day to export dirt from behind our house to some unknown location nearby. A couple of days into the process I remembered to ask them to leave some of the rocks for landscaping, and now we have a pile of rocks so large we’ll never summon the strength to move them ourselves. The sheer number of these large rocks leave us all convinced there was a rock wall at some time in this land’s past. Otherwise, the only buried treasures were a handful of old bottles and a tire.

By this time next week, we hope the dirt will be gone, the back yard will be flat – or at least partially flat, and there will be endless days of gardening ahead of me. Said differently, I’ll be in heaven.

Building Proper Posture

Recently I injured my shoulder by exercising poor judgement at the gym. One thing led to another, and I found myself at the mercy of a physical therapist. On my first visit, she explained that shoulder injuries are always treated by first addressing posture deficiencies. . . regardless of age, she hesitantly added. I reminded her that I had sustained my injury exhibiting super-human strength at the gym, not because I was old. She had no reply.

Proper Posture Devolves Over Time

Athletes suffer from the SAID Principle, or Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Any given sport will produce adaptations specific to the activity performed. If you’re a figure skater, you’d adapt to the specific strength demands required for figure skating. For runners to develop the endurance for long distances, we must train by running long distances. Adaptations occur in the muscles and systems that are stressed by that activity.

With repetitive movement (or non-movement such as prolonged sitting), the muscle and soft tissue remodel to become stronger in the direction of stress. This is good as it relates to our sport, but long term repetition can create muscular imbalances that slowly devolve into poor posture. As posture deteriorates, joint movements become restricted allowing muscles to weaken. The joints then try to compensate causing pain, stiffness and loss of mobility.

A quick review of exercises that improve posture yields a variety of core strengthening exercises. Most athletes rely on a strong core, and we already spend a fair amount of time on the effort. However, good posture is not only derived from a strong core, but also from the neck, shoulders and hips. Although my strengthening exercises were effectively targeting the core, they were not targeting these other areas that are also essential to good posture.

The Crossed Syndrome

Photo: Triathlon-Hacks

A cyclist‘s position on the bike causes tightening of some muscles while the opposing muscles lengthen and become weak resulting in upper crossed and lower crossed syndrome. Both have negative effects on posture and efficiency for cyclists.

Pinterest Photo Origin Unknown

Upper Crossed Syndrome occurs when the back muscles of the neck and shoulders (upper trapezius, and levator scapula) become extremely overactive and strained. The muscles in the front of the chest (the major and minor pectoral is muscles) become shortened and tight. Potential injuries include headaches, biceps tendonitis, rotator cuff impingement and thoracic outlet syndrome.

With Lower Crossed Syndrome the gluteals (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus) and abdominal muscles become weak or inhibited, and the hip flexors (rectus femoris and iliopsoas) and lumbar erector spinae become tight. Injuries can include hamstring strains, anterior knee pain and low back pain.

One-sided rotational sports (such as tennis, golf, hockey, baseball…) can also cause this type of muscle imbalance, although all athletes are at risk of injury from muscle imbalances regardless of the cause.

Uncovering Posture-Enhancing Movements

Over these past few months of recovery, I’ve formulated a routine that stretches and strengthens those muscles that cause our posture to devolve over time while also targeting the core muscles that are normally part of a runner’s strengthening regimen. The goal was to create a sequence that was easy to remember, could be completed in about 10 minutes, and wouldn’t require equipment.

There’s dozens of exercises that target the neck, shoulders, core and hips, so it’s easy to add or substitute other exercises to more intensely target one area or another. This basic routine provides a good starting point, however, as to the types of exercises you would want to include in a personalized program.

This program hasn’t completely replaced my regular strengthening program, but it’s been an effective way to build core strength in a way that also helps support proper posture. The 10 movements include:

  1. Standing Half Forward Bend
  2. Camel Pose
  3. Child’s Pose
  4. Classic Plank
  5. Side Plank – Left
  6. Push-Up
  7. Side Plank – Right
  8. SpiderMan Stretch w/T-Spine Rotation
  9. Up Dog
  10. Child’s Pose
Disclaimer: If you are just beginning an exercise program, you’re dealing with a back, neck or shoulder issue, suffer from high or low blood pressure or have other health issues, please consult your physician or a physical therapist before performing this or any other exercise regimen.
Hold each position for 30-60 seconds, for 5-10 breaths, or as long as you can. Perform 1-3 complete sets.

1. STANDING HALF FORWARD BEND

Courtesy: Pinterest

Uttanasana: Sanskrit word combination: ‘ut’ means Intense, ‘tan’ means Stretch, and ‘asana’ refers to Posture.

Primary muscles involved: stretches the hamstrings and low back.

Tips: Keep feet shoulder width apart and parallel. Bend at the hips (not the waist). Beginners should bend the knees if necessary, but don’t worry if you can’t touch the ground. Go as far as you can. Don’t forget to breathe.

Variation: STANDING FORWARD FOLD WITH HAND CLASP

Courtesy blog.myfitnesspal.com

This pose stretches your hamstrings and low back, while the hand clasp opens the chest and shoulders. Keep a soft bend in your knees and use a strap or towel to make the pose more accessible. If you can, keep your torso long and your knees even.

2. CAMEL POSE

Courtesy: yogabycandace.com

Primary muscles involved: Shoulders, Chest, Core, Hip Flexors

Tips: Keep the legs vertical, and push the hips in the forward direction. Bend the head and the spine backward without straining, and don’t allow the shoulders to extend past the feet. Relax the muscles and breathe normally.

Variation: an easier variation of this pose is to position the palms on the lower back while slightly bending the head and spine backward. Relax the muscles and breathe normally.

3. CHILD’S POSE

A relaxation and resting pose that normalizes circulation, and gently stretches the hips, thighs, ankles and spine. Leave the arms stretched out in front, or rest palms beside your feet.

4. CLASSIC PLANK

Courtesy: lifehack.org

Primary muscles involved: biceps, neck, and shoulders

Secondary muscles involved: arms, biceps, core, thighs and gluteus.

Tips: Keep your torso straight and rigid, the body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending. This is the neutral spine position. Ensure your shoulders are down, not creeping up toward your ears. Your heels should be over the balls of your feet.

Variation: TALL PLANK

Courtesy: wikihow

5. SIDE PLANK – LEFT

Courtesy: bodybuilding-wizard

Lean on your left elbow and forearm in a side-lying position, with your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor. Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. Brace your core by contracting your abs forcefully as if you were about to be punched in the gut. Place your right hand on the hip. Hold the position without letting your hips drop.

Primary muscles involved: deep abdominal muscles (obliques, transverse abdominis), quadratus lumborum (muscle in the lower back)

Secondary muscles involved: erector spinae, adductors, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus.

Variation: SIDE PLANK ON HAND

Courtesy: bodybuilding-wizard

6. PUSH-UP (perform up to 30 reps, or as many as you can)

Courtesy: healthline.com

The New York Times says, As a symbol of health and wellness, nothing surpasses the simple push-up. The push-up is the ultimate barometer of fitness.

Starting from the tall plank position, keep the pelvis tucked in and the neck neutral with palms directly under the shoulders. Keep the back flat while lowering the body by bending the elbows until the chest barely grazes the floor. Extend the elbows and repeat as many reps as possible.

Primary muscles involved: chest muscles/pectorals, shoulders/deltoids, back of your arms/triceps, abdominals, the “wing” muscles directly under your armpit, called the serratus anterior.

Variations: bend your legs at the knees to make the pushup easier. If necessary, start out doing the exercise against the wall instead of the floor or from the edge of the kitchen counter.

To make the pushup harder, adjust the position of the hands either wider or more narrow, use the fingertips instead of the palms, or place your feet on a high surface such as a bench to increase resistance.

Advanced: The Hundred Pushups Training Program (a 6-week program)

7. SIDE PLANK – RIGHT

Courtesy: plankexerciseroutine

8. SPIDER-MAN STRETCH W/T-SPINE ROTATION (perform 10 reps each side, or as desired)

Courtesy: skimble.com

According to the renowned strength coach Mike Boyle, the Spider-Man is extraordinary because performing it to one side simultaneously develops mobility in both hips. The movement requires you to tilt your pelvis backward, which prevents your back from arching and forces you to stretch the opposite side’s hip flexors, Boyle says.

Take a long lunge forward. Place fingertips or palms on the ground in line with the front foot. Make sure the knee is on the outside of the arms, not between them. Keep back knee off the ground. Look up and create a neutral spine. Step through and repeat with other leg. After attaining a neutral spine, lift the outside arm towards the sky. Watch your hand as your lift the arm.Attempt to create a straight line between your arms.

9. UP DOG

Courtesy: yogabycandace

Stretches the chest and abdominal muscles while strengthening the shoulders, triceps, forearms, and low back.

The palms should be aligned under the shoulders, the shoulder blades engaged and pulling the shoulders down and away from the ears, the chest open, and the eyes looking forward.

Only the palms of your hands and the tops of your feet should be touching the floor. Push strongly into both.

Primary muscles involved: Chest, shoulders, abdominals, triceps, forearms, low back

10. End with CHILD POSE

Read More:

Yoga For Runners, Darebee.com

8 Neck and Shoulder Stretches to Relieve Pain: Work and play both stress the neck and shoulders. Here’s how to recover; OutsideOnline

5 exercises to correct lower cross syndrome in cyclists, Canadian Cycling Magazine

The End of an Era

A few years ago my husband gave me a choice of getting a new Jeep, or a facelift. Not the everyday, run-of-the-mill decision. The conversation was prompted by his proprietary spreadsheet, which plots out the timing of our major financial decisions. The spreadsheet had told him it was the prime time to replace the Jeep. Or, alternatively, we could take care of a few wrinkles here and there. I wasn’t at all unhappy with the Jeep.

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My husband found it at a dealership in Atlanta, and negotiated the deal by phone during our last few weeks living in Ecuador. When the day came to move back to the U.S., we drove from Cuenca to Quito with our four dogs for a midnight flight to Atlanta. Our first chore after landing the next morning was to pick up my Jeep. I didn’t take it for a test drive. It was perfect, and me and that Jeep have weathered some wonderful years together.

This year seemed like the right time to finally make a change though, and we’ve retired the Jeep for good. My husband cleaned the glove compartment a few days ago, and I thought we might get a kick out of what he found. These contents seem to tell the story of the last 6 years.

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Every good EMT is taught to keep a pair of latex gloves on hand in case of an emergency, and there’s a tube of lipstick that may or may not have been used in several years. Same with the sunglasses, which were last used during kayaking class in 2014.

Occasionally I’ve taken private lessons from my Kung Fu Sifu using a favorite weapon, one of which is the knife. And the dog collar was around Bentley’s neck when I brought him home (in the Jeep).

IMG_2963

My husband insisted on buying the Mace pepper spray to attach to my waistband on long runs. Dogs are plentiful and run free on the quiet back roads of these mountains, and they scare the living bejesus out of me – I never did wear that Mace on my waistband though.

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My long runs have always started at the top of the mountain where I’d leave the Jeep in the Balsam Community Center’s parking lot.

You never know when you might need a pair of gloves, or what degree of thickness may be warranted. And if it was an especially cold or windy run, I’d tie a bandana around my neck. There’s never too much chapstick, and I’d be really mad with myself if there was a little niggle that I had forgotten to tape. Mad money was a staple, whether a couple of dollars or a twenty-dollar bill.

I have to remind myself not to wave at every Jeep I encounter these days – there is a protocol for that you know. And, by the way, I didn’t get a facelift either. You never know though, that spreadsheet could decide some day that it’s the prime time.