Workout Hard – But Not Too Hard!

by DavalosMcCormack on February 16, 2010

This past weekend Kevin and I took a hike.  Our original thought was to hike the famous trail in Mill Valley called the Dipsea.  Every summer the Dipsea trail is used for one of the most famous running races in the U.S.  It is a race from Mill Valley up the hill and over what is usually a lovely hiking trail to Stinson Beach.  It’s one of  the oldest running races in the United States, second only to the Boston Marathon.  It’s just 7.2 miles long but it’s not the length of the race that is challenging it’s the terrain.  It’s uphill right out of the gate… straight up a flight of more than 650 stairs – the equivalent of running to the top of a 50 story building – then it’s another  6 1/2 miles of winding, challenging dirt and sand trails with ruts and ditches, dips (hence the name) and ledges.  In short, it’s brutal.

I had lived in Mill Valley for years but never entered the race or even taken the trail, so Kevin and I were interested in lollygagging around at a nice friendly hiking pace and finding out what the big deal was.  After all, over 1,500 people enter this race every year.  7 year olds run it, and a gal named Shirley Matson who is 61 has won 3 times!  Go Shirley!

The race is staggered depending on your handicap, youngest and oldest go first,   so that it’s more balanced,  22 year olds are set loose later and have to pass all the runners ahead of them and that itself is a challenge since the course is so steep and is on a single thin trail; that’s difficult enough let alone having to pass hundreds of other runners to get to the front!  And they do, you see the Dipsea is a first come first served race.  That is, the first one to cross the finish line wins!

Anyway, Kevin and I knew that the Dipsea Trail was in Mill Valley just outside Old Mill Park, so we set off to begin our quest.  I knew that the stairs were the beginning challenge of the race and I honestly thought, “Gee only 7 miles?  That’s nothing!” But finding the start of the trail proved to be more challenging than we thought.

Well after about an hour of hiking up and down trails following what we thought may or may not be the Dipsea we realized that whatever trail we were on it wasn’t Dipsea but what the heck, we were still having fun. We were passing through a forest of gorgeous redwoods, past raging streams and waterfalls. How bad can that be!

In fact, we didn’t find the trail until we were on our way back down the through the hills of Mill Valley, when we saw a sign with an arrow that read, “Dipsea”.  As it happened we found ourselves at the very top of the stair cases that begin the treacherous race.   We were descending, but there were a number of people running up the stairs.  Since we were at the top the first of these intrepid athletes were pretty tuckered out.  Heavy breathing, sweaty, and all  pretty excited to see the end of the last stairway so near.  Most were affable and able to say “Thanks” as we cheered them on!

I would say all and all these folks had taken these stairs before and were in pretty good shape, but about half way down the stairs there was an elderly man, about I’d say between 40 and 65.  I say elderly, because he could be a forty year old in really bad condition, or he could have been a 65 year old just beginning to add exercise into his life.  Whatever he was, he was really pooped.  He could not even say “hi”, he was really exerting himself to the max.  I’ll bet this guy said, “Today, I’m going to get in shape!”  but I wondered how he would feel tomorrow.  I could already feel his pain!

Here’s the thing.  Exercise is something you add into your life and you keep adding in small doses until your mind and your body are ready to really work those muscles.  This guy looked like he was really not enjoying this trek.  I was worried that he might collapse from over-exertion.  So here are some signs to lookout for when you exercise, from Chris Dunn an  exercise physiologist.

You should be able to talk and hold a conversation during the activity, if not, you may be over doing it.  If you can’t finish, you’re overexerting.  If you feel faint or nauseated…you’re doing too much.  If you have muscle cramping or joint discomfort. Stop and consider realistically how you can change your routine.

Did you hear that? I said routine and that is key.  Be realistic, if you haven’t trained for a while take the time to start slow and progress gradually.  Allow time for your body to adapt to your new exercise regime or it will be too painful to do it on a regular basis.

For Kev and I, we’re going to continue walking down the Dipsea Stairs, and maybe someday we’ll turn around and take the challenge.

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