Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Keeping up with the Cardio-shians (or how to survive a pollution apocalypse) | PART TWO

My last post discussed the limitations posed by Delhi's adverse environmental conditions on outdoor activities. With winter came an unprecedented rise in particulate matter, and I began to confine myself indoors.

Sometime in January, I had to remind myself that a few months ago when I was fitter, I had expended a decent amount of money to be able to participate in an Olympic triathlon in the beginning of February. I had been trying to be consistent with cycling on Sundays (with a pollution mask), avoiding the early morning haze to the extent possible. And I signed up for a month's membership at Talkatora Stadium just to avoid the dreaded lactate build up that is inevitable when a swimmer enters a pool after a long gap, on race day. (Due to the logistical hurdles involved in using this pool, I ended up swimming only about five times in January - the five most expensive swims of my life!)

The inescapable reality was, however, that running happens to be the third leg of a triathlon. Due to some annoying niggle or the other, I had stopped running regularly sometime in September '15. With a ligament in my knee randomly acting out, I pretty much couldn't have gotten back to it before January. With the air being as toxic as it was, whatever little motivation I had to get back to running was also killed. Everyday there were new reports about how terrible Delhi's air was, the most disturbing among which claimed that Delhi's parks saw particulate matter levels in excess of 5000! I had experienced the toxic quality of the air firsthand, with my lungs taking over a week to recover from running the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. I did not want to put myself through that again.

I was reasonably certain that at the triathlon, I would manage to finish the 1500m swim and the 40km ride somehow, but I had serious doubts about getting through the 10km run that followed. So I knew I would have to resort to some desperate measures in the limited time (and unideal conditions) available to me.

While going through a short HIIT workout at home one day, I did 20 seconds of "running on the spot". And then I paused to wonder (in the 10 second break that followed) whether it would be really crazy to just run on the spot for longer!

My curiosity led me to do a bit of research, and I was delighted to find that there was, in fact, somebody halfway across the world who had employed running on the spot as a method to train for a full marathon (!!!).

"Roodberg, a general contractor with a degree in business from the University of California, is working out in the spacious family room of his home. A lean 5 feet 8 and 150 pounds, he's running in place on a small, thick rubber mat. That's the foundation of his workout, the key to his marathon success. No running over steep hills or long stretches of beach. Just running in place, indoors.
A SONY Walkman is plugged into his ears, playing the same five songs over and over, giving him a beat as he runs in place. The Doobies sing, "Taking It to the Streets," and Roodberg skips 150 times a minute. George Michael sings, "Faith," and Roodberg switches to a nifty two-step, keeping the same pace. A workout lasts an hour, during which time he has heard each song twice and done some 9,000 little jumps, skips and bounces.
"Runners have told me, if I was running, that would be the equivalent of nine miles," Roodberg says.
In preparing for a marathon, Roodberg does the hourlong routine three times a week at either the Westside YMCA or the Sand & Sea Club in Santa Monica. At each workout, he supplements running in place by doing 300 leg lifts, with 70 pounds, on a Nautilus machine. Four-man beach volleyball--he plays nine hours a week--and monthly downhill skiing trips also play prominent roles in his marathon conditioning program."
Emboldened by our similar physical dimensions and love for music, I decided to follow in Roodberg's footsteps. (I later discovered that he has been accused of cheating, and many have been disbelieving of his unconventional training methods.) I also found that there are actual YouTube videos which are based entirely on a combination of walking and running on the spot, so this is clearly considered a legitimate form of exercise.

So here I am, writing about this bizarre method of training. Admittedly, I did not have the mental strength to try it more than 3 or 4 times, or to make it last more than 30 minutes on most of those occasions.

You will need:
1. A pair of legs
2. A yoga mat for some degree of impact absorption (optional, but recommended)
3. Upbeat music or an engaging TV show (optional but recommended)
4. A metronome (optional)
5. Tremendous mental resolve

1. You can do it from the comfort of your living room
The independence offered by home workouts is liberating. You can do what you like wearing what you like, without worrying about outdoor conditions such as pollution or the safety of running in the dark.

2. Easier on the lungs
I was able to manage running on the spot within the relatively less polluted confines of my living room without developing an annoying cough or experiencing particulate matter stuck in my respiratory tract. This was a big win over running outdoors in the winter.

3. It's a good way to work on running form
I kept the metronome on at 180 beats per minute and tried to keep up with that during my run. I think it is easier to run at a higher cadence while running on the spot than it is while running outdoors, so this may well be a good training method to improve cadence. One can hope that after doing a bunch of high cadence indoor runs, the results can translate into higher cadence outdoors as well.

4. Beats running on a treadmill in a gym!
I have made no secret of how much I loathe gyms. In particular, it merits noting that most gyms impose an arbitrary time limit for how long their members can use a treadmill, which can range from anywhere between 15 minutes to 30 minutes. Effectively, there's not a lot of running you can get done in a gym (unless you have the clout to override these rules).

5. It's something.
As mentioned in the pre-decessor to this post, I had pretty much become a lump during the winter. The only time I managed some run/walk time outdoors was on afternoons in the weekend, when the sun was out and particulate matter levels were low. Most weekday morning hours were unbearably smoggy, and not conducive for running in. Running on the spot is not much, but it's a good substitute for doing nothing at all.

6. Strengthen some muscles
All my indoor running happened barefoot on a yoga mat. I felt that this sort of running placed extra demands on the calves and ankles, so the usual claims of barefoot running strengthening certain muscles will probably apply. There is also a concomitant disadvantage attached to this (more on that below).

1. It's mentally exhausting
People complain of the monotony of doing long distance runs on a 400m track (a race format that has recently become rather popular), but running continuously on the same spot is undeniably far more mentally fatiguing. This is one reason why it seems like an unsustainable method to train for long distance running (and one of the reasons critics sought to discredit Roodberg).

2. It's difficult to manage "long runs"
In addition to the mental fatigue, there is, of course, the physical impact of running on hard ground. I would imagine that these factors make it difficult to go on and on on. I personally couldn't manage an indoor run longer than 45 minutes, and the one time I did manage 45 minutes, I had to really push myself (and indulge myself with an engaging episode of Veep to distract myself from the monotony of my movements).

The other problem is that running on the spot is much slower than "real" running. I tried to track my run using the accelerometer-based Google Fit app (basically by holding the phone in my hand while I ran on the spot), and it seems I took 40 minutes to run 5 kilometres, and I would like to believe I'm faster than that outdoors. So the time taken to run a stationary 10K would be significantly greater than running a regular 10K outdoors. And I can't even fathom what a stationary half marathon would be like because just typing those words is giving me a headache!

3. Different conditions
Indoor running does not equip you to handle the conditions prevailing in The Great Outdoors, be it the heat, the cold, or the resistance posed by the wind or the terrain. Since these conditions are an essential part of any long distance runner's training, indoor running will always leave them wanting. (This limitation is also applicable to running on a treadmill.)

4. Different muscles
As mentioned in the "Pros" section, there is greater stress on the muscles you would use while running barefoot. However, running on the spot involves no forward motion. So there is a neglect of muscles which a runner uses to propel himself/herself forward while running outdoors. This makes it a deficient mode of training to run outdoors.

5. No bragging rights
These runs are slow and mind-numbingly dull. They are a creature of necessity, and are nothing to write home about. A GPS watch can't even track such a run! For those who seek rewards for their running in the form of kudos on Strava, stationary running is a no-go. Of course, if you're the kind of person who documents every squat, push up and plank, these trifles will not stand in your way of creating a manual entry.

Go ahead, give it a shot. :-)

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