shea and friend

So You’re Middle Aged With a Torn Meniscus: What to Do?

by Bob Howells

In our previous post, we cited a number of recent studies that resoundingly concluded that arthroscopic meniscus repair among middle-aged patients is pretty much useless. Yet more than 400,000 middle-aged and older Americans a year undergo this surgery.

What are we middle-aged athletes with knee pain to make of all this?

We turned to an expert who happens to be one of us. Kevin G. Shea MD (pictured above on the right) is an orthopedic surgeon based at St. Luke’s Clinic in Boise, Idaho. He’s 53, a trail runner, XC skier, road and mountain bike racer—and chairman of the Evidence-Based Quality and Value Committee for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons—the group responsible for issuing clinical practice guidelines to the academy.

We focused on the benefit, or lack of, meniscus surgery among middle-aged athletes—who, when experiencing knee pain, are very likely suffering from osteoarthritis. They hope that a meniscus repair will somehow put their knee pain to rest. Are their hopes in vain?

TMA: Given these recent studies, are orthopedic surgeons backing away from meniscus surgery?

Dr. Shea: There’s slow but progressive recognition that osteoarthritis patients are not going to benefit from meniscus surgery. Many, if not most, orthopedic surgeons have moved away from routine arthroscopy in these patients. It’s fair to say that if there’s a fair amount of arthritis present, the knee won’t get better from arthroscopy in most cases. People in their 40s and 50s with significant osteoarthritis probably won’t benefit from surgery.

TMA: Are the clinical guidelines regarding meniscus surgery likely to change soon? Will orthopedic surgeons be getting (and giving) new advice based on these recent studies?

Dr. Shea: It’s a high-priority topic for us (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons), but it takes about 18 months to generate new guidelines.

TMA: Okay, so I’ve got a torn meniscus and a lot of knee pain. I show up in your office. What do you tell me, and what should I do?

Dr. Shea: Well, first, my job is not to tell the patient what to do, but to present the options. Much depends on the level of arthritis. In the middle-aged patient, arthroscopy is the third or fourth choice of treatment. We need to get better at communicating the alternatives. An appropriate therapy program, activity modifications, and weight loss may be just as effective as surgery, with lower cost, and lower risk. For older, active patients without significant osteoarthritis, treating symptomatic meniscus tears with surgery may be very beneficial in carefully selected cases.

TMA: What are other alternatives?

Dr. Shea: Sometimes it’s weight loss, or changing the physical activity. Go to cycling, elliptical training, or swimming instead of running. Or reduce the amount of running, and replace it with lower-impact fitness and cardiovascular activities.In many cases, meniscus symptoms may go away with time. There’s typically no time urgency. So I’m here to help patients know what their options are.

TMA: Are the days of “let’s go in there and clean it out a bit” over?

Dr. Shea: For the most part, yes. If you’ve got significant osteoarthritis, “cleaning out a knee”—trimming away loose, torn bits of meniscus or worn fragments of bone cartilage—is not a good idea. At one point we thought it was of value, but most of the time, for most patients, cleaning it out is not indicated.

TMA: But are there times when a meniscus repair is still indicated?

Dr. Shea: It may be indicated for acute symptoms. If a 40- to 50-year-old doesn’t have any osteoarthritis, we might treat them like a 20-year-old. Surgery may be indicated. In Idaho, we see see a fair number of 40- to 50-year-old skiers and mountain bikers with acute traumatic ACL and meniscus tears. Many of these patients may have better knee function with ACL and/or meniscus repair surgery. Furthermore, many of them do not have significant osteoarthritis. But I would still suggest options like switching activities for a while, especially for those with osteoarthritis.

Kevin Shea concluded the interview by recounting his own experience with a suspected meniscus tear. About four years ago, a couple of days after playing soccer, he suddenly felt popping and intermittent pain in one knee. He thought he had a tear of the outer meniscus. When it didn’t improve after a month or two, he went to a surgeon friend and said, “Hey, want to scope my knee?”

His doctor suggested an MRI first. It turned out that Shea simply had a small, loose piece of bone cartilage in his knee, possibly from an old high school injury. He opted for a couple of steroid shots to address significant swelling. And time.

“I stopped running almost completely for four months,” Shea says, “but continued cycling, swimming, and some elliptical training almost immediately, but at reduced intensity and volume. At one year, I resumed a more normal running program, and have had no return of symptoms over the last four years.”

Kevin Shea MD, orthopedic surgeon, middle-aged athlete—and poster guy for the benefit of shunning the all-too-common practice of meniscus surgery.



Meniscus Surgery for Middle-Aged Athletes Is Pretty Much Useless, Studies Show

by Bob Howells

If you’re a middle-aged athlete who hasn’t had meniscus surgery, you probably feel left out. It seems like most of your friends have, and many of those who haven’t are considering it.

But recent research and a growing medical consensus are telling us that this rite of passage for aging athletes is probably unnecessary and very likely useless for most of us. What might be indicated for younger athletes may well be useless for those of us with aging, and likely arthritic, knees.

Yet 400,000 Americans a year undergo arthroscopic meniscus surgery, according to a recent New York Times article.

Quick anatomy lesson: Meniscus is your knees’ shock absorber—the cushion that keeps your femur and tibia bones from painfully rubbing on one another.

Meniscus damage and wear/tear is common in our middle-aged cohort. Thirty-five percent of us who are past 50 have some degree of damage. Fortunately, two-thirds of us experience no symptoms at all.

But another one-third of us with meniscus damage endure pain, grabbing, popping in the knee . . . and it’s those athletes who go looking for a fix. Hundreds of thousands of us find their way to a bone doc who goes in with an arthroscope and trims back or repairs the meniscus tear.

But here’s the deal: A significant number of those middle-aged athletes have osteoarthritis of the knee—a condition that afflicts 9 million of us. And when that’s the case, meniscus surgery is virtually useless, especially in cases of more advanced osteoarthritis.

The Evidence Against Meniscus Surgery

Here’s a quick summary of the mounting evidence against meniscus surgery in middle-aged patients:


    • “Considering the enormous volume (of meniscus surgery among middle-aged to older adults), it is natural to think that there is compelling evidence for the procedure being beneficial. Remarkably, this is not so,” the BMJ goes on to report.


Let’s see…PT or cut the knee? Same outcome. Which would you choose?

  • Maybe even more eye-opening is this article in the BMJ titled Arthroscopic Meniscal Tear Surgery Is No Better Than Sham Surgery, Study Shows.” The title says it all. The article describes a trial that compared arthroscopic meniscus surgery with a completely fake surgery and found “no clinically important difference between the arthroscopic and nonoperative groups with respect to functional improvement or pain relief over a period of 24 months.” (Emphasis added.)

So if you’re a middle-aged athlete with knee pain, significant osteoarthritis, and a torn meniscus—and this apparently useless surgery is offered up as an option—what should you do?

That’s exactly the topic of our next post.



Be Like Jack (LaLanne, That Is): The King of Fitting It In

OPMD* 5: Perseverance

By Andrew Tilin

Some days we’re far richer in inspiration than time. So how about we share—via a little fitness nostalgia and video of a 90-year-old pushup monster—a reminder that you can squeeze in some physical activity at almost any time and  age?

Deep breaths at the desk; 20 minutes of walking or hitting some stairs during a coffee break; a gentle stretch of those tight shoulders while cooking; or perhaps 22 pushups before taking your bedtime shower.

Today’s memory-fueled OPMD (Old Person Move of the Day) comes courtesy of Jack LaLanne (RIP) and his wife, Elaine LaLanne (still kicking; and honest, that’s her name). According to the couple’s eponymous and swaggering website, LaLanne (who died in 2011) was “The Godfather of Modern Fitness.” So why shouldn’t the site strut? LaLanne was a very impressive turnaround project, going from a junk food–eating teen to Mr. America, to, for 34 years, a pioneering, feisty, tireless, unitard-wearing fitness instructor beamed by television camera into America’s homes.

There’s so much more of a LaLanne story to tell, and we here at TMA are suckers for inspiration. So figure that from time to time, we’ll celebrate this fitness legend. He was the ultimate masters athlete. And today, whether  breathing or not, he can take us middle-aged athletes to new places.

For now, why don’t you think about dropping down and giving us—and yourself—22. Or even 10. Five.

You could never tell the ever-salty Jack LaLanne that you were too tired, too busy, or too old.

“Don’t talk age!” LaLanne once barked to  writer Don Katz. “Age has nothing to do with it.”

Apparently, it really doesn’t. Here’s 90-year-old Elaine LaLanne, recently pumping out 22 pushups.

*Old Person Move of the Day


Oksana Chusovitina by Thomas Coex, Getty Images

Rio’s OLDlympics, Where Middle-Aged Athletes Reigned

By Andrew Tilin

We here at The Masters Athlete enjoyed a significant game-within-the-Games during the just-concluded Rio Olympics. We’re talking about the Oldlympics—brilliant performances by middle-aged competitors. The drama was plentiful, and impressive.

Over the course of these 31st Games, middle-aged athletes not only reminded us that people over 40 can enjoy world-class fitness and skill, but also admirable passion and grace. “Gratuitous,” however, the graybeard contingent was not. These are the Olympics; you don’t earn a national-team slot by reminding your coach of some treasured auntie.

The 40-plus crowd came to Brazil looking for podiums, and some of them took home hardware. But our TMA gold goes to 41-year-old Uzbekistan gymnast Oksana Chusovitina (pictured above), who finished seventh in the women’s vault. For various reasons, we—and many others—think that the five-foot, 100-pound Chusovitina stood ridiculously tall.

“How many out there do you see like her?” says Jeb Tolley, a one-time elite gymnast who has owned Gymstrada Gymnastics in Virginia Beach, Virginia,  for over 40 years.


Back Back Back in the Saddle

For middle-aged athletes, the 2016 Summer Olympics started beautifully. Only five days after the opening ceremonies and just hours before her 43rd birthday, American cyclist Kristin Armstrong (unrelated to Lance Armstrong) earned her third consecutive gold medal in the women’s individual time trial. Making Armstrong’s feat even more impressive: The mom with a day job rode hard for a good portion of the 88-mile women’s Olympic road race only three days earlier. The amazing Armstrong, who in a testimony to her talent, wisdom, and training had only come out of cycling retirement in early 2015, essentially called the road race a warmup.

Other great middle-aged moments emerged. Equestrian medalists included Germany’s 48-year-old Ingrid Klimke and 52-year-old US athlete Phillip Dutton. Dutton was competing in his sixth Olympics, and came from as far back as 15th place during the competition to win bronze in individual eventing. The shooting competitions were dotted with 50-somethings, too, and 41-year-old Hoang Xuan Vinh won the 10 meter air pistol event. The victory was Vietnam’s first ever Olympic gold.

Honor on the Track

And when lung power mattered at least as much as firepower? Statistically speaking, American marathoner Meb Keflezighi, 41, who won silver a dozen years ago at the Athens Games, finished a dispiriting 33rd. But Keflezighi—who courtesy of bad luck and a bad stomach ended up vomiting, dry-heaving, and falling his way to the finish, did not complain. Instead he saluted the event and his competition, and performed pushups at the finish line. Aussie Scott Westcott, 40, finished 81st.

American Bernard Lagat, who at 41 participated in his fifth Summer Games, won bronze in the men’s 5,000-meter race, and then he didn’t: Lagat crossed the finish line a credible sixth and, briefly, moved up to third when runners ahead of him were temporarily disqualified for technical infractions.

“To disqualify people when they didn’t gain an advantage is not the right spirit,” a respectful Lagat told reporters. “I like to know I earned my medal.”

Jo Pavey, the 42-year-old British runner who finished 15th in the 10,000-meter final (and two years ago won the same event at the European Championships, 10 months after giving birth to her second child), told that her athletic achievements nowadays come without visiting a gym. She’s got kids.

“I do exercises in the lounge, often while multitasking, or with children sitting on me,” said Pavey.

That same excellent story largely focused on the increasing potential of aging bodies. An equally informative story addresses age-related performance of notably young and old Olympians, citing how older endurance athletes have become increasingly adept at maintaining their cardiovascular capabilities. In short, they work hard, and take their rest and recovery very seriously.

“The trick for the older elite endurance athlete,” wrote Mayo Clinic human-performance expert Michael J. Joyner on, “is to keep the intensity of their training up and at the same time avoid injury.”

A Gymnast Older than Grandma

But with sincere nods to our impressive cohort of aging endurance jocks—as well as equestrian and pistol-wielding Olympians—our top Oldlympics honors still go to gymnast Chusovitina. Rio was the Uzbeki athlete’s seventh Olympics (during her career, she has competed for several countries—it’s a long story). She won a gold for the former Soviet Union in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games.

What makes Chusovitina singular is that she is truly singular. According to research cited by Joyner, while Olympic track and field athletes continue to trend older, Olympic gymnasts keep getting younger. In Rio competitions that were packed with teenage girls, 22-year-old US gymnast Aly Raisman answered to the nickname “Grandma.” Chusovitina’s son Alisher, meanwhile, is 17.

How does Chusovitina do it?

“She has to condition every day,” says Tolley, the longtime Virginia Beach gymnastics teacher, who has sent many students onto collegiate gymnastics programs, and has worked with national team athletes. “It’s constant training.”

Tolley says that Olympic-caliber gymnasts often train twice daily, frequently logging seven hours of gym time before going to bed. They work endlessly on speed, power, balance, flexibility, and yes, chutzpah.

Chusovitina told The New York Times that she only trains once daily for as little as two hours, and that she frequently fuels herself on coffee and dark chocolate. Over the years—the decades—she’s also had remarkably few injuries, and yet in Rio Chusovitina still attempted arguably the hardest vault of them all. The Produnova consists of a front handspring followed by 2.5 somersaults. Many gymnasts won’t attempt it.

Chusovitina didn’t nail the landing, but thankfully she also avoided mishap. She finished seventh out of eight vault finalists, and yet still won wide praise and media attention.

“Holy Geez… and I Can’t Even Touch My Toes,” tweeted none other than an admiring Sarah Palin.

“Chusovitina’s skill level has risen some, but she’s staying pretty much the same,” Tolley told me. “But hey—all I know is, when I was 41? I wasn’t competing.”


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Quiet Your Creaks With a Foam Roller

OPMD* 4: Body Maintenance

By Andrew Tilin

You age, your body’s key connective tissue steadily degrades, and you purchase a piece of curious therapy equipment to become more pliable. Then you quickly surmise that your new foam roller delivers thumbscrew-intensity levels of torture. Soon the roller sits upright and unused in a corner of your room. It becomes a mini coat rack.

Rescue that roller! Growing proof indicates that a foam roller effectively soothes a middle-aged athlete’s groans and creaks. It really can make you feel better. The key is to familiarize yourself with the tool—we’ll help ease the introduction—because according to researchers, you’ll feel looser and less sore after strenuous workouts.

Foam rollers and their related technologies, which come in the form of stick-rollers, massage balls, and other self-massaging devices, all at least partly exist to perform one duty: myofascial release.

Fascia is like both a second skin and an internal framework—membranous connective tissue that works invisibly to stabilize, position, anchor, and protect muscles and organs. But over time or due to injury or stress, areas of our fascia can become tacky and uncooperative. Aging muscles and fascia can stick together, sort of like overcooked pasta. These adhesions cause tightness, strain, and pain.

Research argues the case for rolling. A small, recent study demonstrated that, following intense exercise, foam rolling reduces muscle soreness. A 2015 review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy (IJSPT) surveyed more than a dozen peer-reviewed studies on self-myofascial release (SMR) and found that such work largely, if not temporarily, provides relief. Businesses and websites preach SMR therapies as cornerstones of fitness.

But the more important foam-rolling question is, how do you best do it? Unfortunately, no definitive methodology for foam-rolling and other self-massage exists. To some extent, our bodies are the dough and the devices are our rolling pins. Flatten those lumps.

“Due to the heterogeneity of methods among studies,” wrote the authors of the IJSPT’s 2015 review, “there currently is no consensus on the optimal SMR intervention.”

Two established foam-roller companies, however, are in agreement on key SMR strategies.

“Don’t wait to roll until you have a big problem,” says Addaday’s Chelsea Sodaro.

“Some foam rolling,” says TriggerPoint’s Janelle Ronquillo, “is better than none.”

Indeed, bodyworkers frequently prescribe rolling or other forms of self-massage about every other day, even for just 10 concentrated minutes at a time (consider rolling while you watch TV).

Back to that initial pain. If the act of rolling really hurts—as it does for many knotted-up folks—start with less rolling per session. TriggerPoint suggests that beginners might give the therapy but one minute at a time.

Also, consider a relatively soft roller (Melt Method’s Soft Roller ($70),TriggerPoint’s CORE Roller ($30-$60)), or a gentle massage stick (Addaday’s Type A+ Ultra Roller ($47)).

The more you roll and/or self-massage, the less painful the process becomes, the firmer the tool you might consider (Addaday athlete and two-time Olympian Kara Goucher is pictured above  on the knobbier Nonagon ($45)).

Here are some additional guidelines, and a couple self-massage how-to videos, to get you started.

Self-Myofascial Release at a Glance

  • Work your way up. Perhaps roll as little as one body section per session: calves (lower legs), quadriceps (upper legs), glutes (butt), and back.
  • Massage particularly tender and knotted areas in at least two directions—up and down, and side to side.
  • In order to relieve a single point’s acute pain, try pressuring that one point for anywhere from several seconds to half a minute. But rolling should never equal suffering. Roll around any points that create intense discomfort.
  • Breathe deeply while you roll, as if receiving a massage. You’ll move more slowly (some fitness instructors recommend only an inch rolled per second). You’ll also better relax muscles—which is particularly key when rolling out your lower back.
  • Ideally, roll before and after exercise.
  • With experience, dig into other areas like the pectorals, hamstrings, and upper arms. And simultaneously stretch while applying pressure to problem areas.

Roll out your lower legs:

Take a massage stick to your lower back:

*Old Person Move of the Day



Zwift Gets Some Running Shoes

By Andrew Tilin

Try as they may, sometimes Robin Roberts and Matt Lauer don’t feel like welcome company. You’re at the gym and on a treadmill, squeezing in and sweating out some miles ahead of another workday, and the whole endeavor feels solitary. No matter how many Today show smiles you see on the club TV just above you, the televised folks just aren’t breathing hard. No matter that you’re running alongside a guy pushing through a workout on the treadmill next to yours.

But the lonely days of indoor-running might soon end. And the advantages of an emerging technology might even make you think twice about running outside on any but the nicest of days.

Why? The answer is Zwift, a gaming app that for two years has turned indoor cycling into a video game played around the world by at-home riders pedaling their avatars over virtual mountains. Now Zwift may soon come to running. Earlier this month, reported that Zwift lead game developer Jon Mayfield has been running fictional roads—via treadmill—that until now have been dedicated to cycling. Check out the screenshot of Mayfield’s avatar, above.

I believe that Zwift could very well overhaul the experience of indoor running. It certainly has transformed the experience of indoor cycling. I’ve spent the better part of a year cycling on Zwift, and my story about the experience will appear in the October 2016 print edition of Outside magazine.

Here’s how Zwift works. I set up my own bike on a trainer and position it to face my computer screen—as do Zwift “gamers” from around the world, all of us riding together on one of several courses that are exotically scenic and surprisingly realistic (Zwift rotates the venues).

Thanks to a bit of wireless wizardry delivered by Bluetooth and ANT+ technologies, pedaling gets harder when I’m climbing a Zwift hill, and easier when I descend. When I’m chasing a bunch of other Zwift riders, whether or not they’re real, I think less about the effort and more about keeping up. I’m exercising, having fun, and weird as it may seem, feeling like I’m part of a community. Barrier to entry has its costs, as a “smart trainer” can run many hundreds to over $1,000. Zwift membership costs another $10 monthly.

Mayfield’s Zwift runs haven’t been some poorly kept secret—he posted his workouts, plus images, on the sports-oriented social networking site Strava. Obviously Zwift is working on the requisite technology, which likely involves considerable communication between running treadmill and software. Since Zwift already employs electronics to control the resistance on that stationary trainer for cycling, it’s a safe bet that they can pull off the same effect on a treadmill. You could run hills at home.

Zwift runners would enjoy more than community during their workouts. Not to sound old and a little paranoid, but imagine runs where you don’t have to worry about dogs, cars, or cyclists. Where you never trip on bad or broken pavement. Zwift roads never have black ice, and you won’t have to carry pepper spray, no matter what time of day you run. Run any pace you like, and you’re guaranteed to go, uninterrupted, as long as you want, and past trees and beaches. You’ll probably be able to wave at other runners, who like you never before thought that gaming and exercise could successfully co-exist.

Company insiders say more running-oriented news from Zwift should come in the next two months.


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Five Reasons to Stay Fit in Middle Age That Might Surprise You

by Bob Howells

Middle-age fitness undoubtedly enhances our daily quality of life, but there are other less-heralded yet excellent reasons for older athletes to become or remain active. Surviving a shark attack or heart attack, to name two. Read on…

1. Survive Shark Attacks

The shark didn’t know who it was messing with.

When Maria Korcsmaros, 52, was wheeled into the emergency room after a Newport Beach shark attack over this past Memorial Day Weekend, she had tooth marks and lacerations from shoulder to pelvis, plus an open chest wound and rib fractures. She had lost a pint of blood. After three hours of surgery, the doctors said that Korcsmarcos survived because she was fit. Read the Los Angeles Times account here.

If Korcsmaros hadn’t been in good shape, she arguably would have never reached the ER. But the personal trainer and triathlete was able to tread water after the attack until she was rescued. Despite the shredded skin and trauma.

“[Her] wounds would have bled a lot, and she was able to tread water and hold her own until help arrived,” an attending E.R. doctor told the Times. “That’s pretty remarkable.”

Not that we want to go around taunting great whites. But if one decides we look tasty, apparently we have a better chance of surviving by entering the fray with a triathlete’s level of fitness.

2. Cope With Heat

Ever notice that your more sedentary friends wilt in the heat quicker than you do? We’re not just talking during exercise; we’re talking about while mowing the lawn, walking the dog, or rocking in the porch swing.

Those workouts of yours have made you more than strong. You’re a trained sweating machine.

Perspiration is one of the body’s most effective cooling mechanisms. Your body dilates blood vessels near the skin to transfer core heat to the skin, and the heated surface dissipates heat and aids in the evaporation of sweat. The entire process renders you cooler. Unfortunately, the process becomes less and less efficient as we age.

However, as longtime elite cycling coach Chris Carmichael points out in this excellent Web post, fitness at any age facilitates the functioning of our natural cooling mechanisms. Heat transfer to the skin happens quicker. Sweat volume amps up.

Acclimation is a big help in the heat, too. But fitness has a way of mimicking acclimation. “Training induces a lot of the characteristics that you typically see in somebody that is actually heat-acclimated,” says Heather Wright, a research officer in the Flight Research Lab at the National Research Council Canada in Ottawa.

Don’t get cocky. You still need to hydrate, dress appropriately, maintain your electrolyte levels, and so on. But being fit gives you a real edge when the temperature soars.

3. Deal With Pain

Anyone who exercises regularly knows about endorphins, that exercise-induced release of feel-good chemicals in the body that temporarily alleviates minor (and sometimes major) discomforts. But this New York Times piece by our friend Gretchen Reynolds cites a study that suggests there may be something more significant going on.

The cited study showed that a group of exercisers was far more tolerant of pain than a control group of non-exercisers. The induced pain was unrelated to exercise, by the way. And the more that the test subjects exercised, the more they could live with the pain. Reynolds implies that the relatively modest study (two-dozen subjects) can’t be called definitive. But scientists think that such results pose hope for people with chronic pain—something that dogs plenty of us in middle age.

4. Survive a First Heart Attack

Heart attack? You’re thinking, I exercise to prevent a heart attack!

Bravo. But whether you’re an exerciser or a sloth, it could happen, and if it does, your chances of surviving afterward are greatly enhanced if you’re of the non-sloth persuasion.

This Johns Hopkins survey, based on the medical records of 2,000 men and women (average age: 62), showed that exercisers were 40 percent less likely to die after a first heart attack than other, less fit subjects. Sadly, one-third of those with lower fitness scores died within a year of their first heart attack. Fitness, in this survey anyway, was defined by the intensity with which the surveyed subjects could exercise.

Considering that about 550,000 Americans a year experience a first heart attack, the numbers suggest that it’s time to get up off the couch.

Study author Dr. Michael Blaha said that this research also bolsters the evidence that regular exercise reduces the risk of a heart attack, as well as death from all causes.

5. Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

Zombies are ubiquitous these days, and their taste for human flesh suggests another very strong reason to get in shape. Just because we skew above the average age in the human population is no reason to think we oldsters are automatic zombie fodder. Not if we’re smart. According to the folks at, that means first and foremost being hard to catch.  Favor the fast-twitch approach. In other words, work some sprints into your regimen, because those first 40 yards are so may make all the difference. It’s unlikely you and the zombies will be toeing the line for a 10k.



Why We Should Follow in the Footsteps of Ultra-Marathoner Dean Karnazes


By Bob Howells

Fifty-three-year-old Dean Karnazes is singular among his fellow-ultramarathoners, which to the rest of us means he’s as far out as Mork. Karnazes has run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days; 350 miles non-stop (in about 81 hours); and a marathon at the South Pole. Now he’s in the news again—a summertime, 12-day jaunt, The New York Times reports, of 326 miles that follow Central Asia’s foregone Silk Road. “…when I first looked at it [the trip agenda], I thought, ‘They’re going to kill me,’” Karnazes tells the Times.

Should we aspire to be anything like this middle-age mileage monster? Turns out that Karno and his runs aren’t all about bragging rights. Past Karnazes ultra-efforts have raised awareness and money for pediatric organ donation. This time none other than the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs asked him to run the Silk Road as a sign of “sports diplomacy.”

“Running’s a great democratizer,” Karnazes tells the Times.

He isn’t entirely masochistic, either, as we learned in our own edited Q&A with him about mortal (and relevant) topics like diet, aging, and rest. Herewith, a few reasons for us to follow in at least some of the rambling Karno’s footsteps.

The Masters Athlete: You’re over 50 now. How many years have you been an ultra athlete? Do you feel you’ve made any concessions to age?

Dean Karnazes: I’ve been doing this now for more than 20 years and still love it as much as ever. I wouldn’t say that I’ve made concessions to my age. It’s more like realizations that some things aren’t what they used to be.

TMA: Tell us about those concessions.

DK: Now that I’m in the “afternoon of my life,” I’ve accepted the fact that I’m just not as fast as I used to be, and that I’ve got to work twice as hard to maintain the same level of fitness.

TMA: What hurts when you roll out of bed in the morning? What do you do to relieve the pain?

DK: I still feel pretty good when I roll out of bed. It takes me a bit longer to get going. Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blend coffee is a best friend.

TMA: A lot of middle-aged runners either back off running or give it up altogether, but you just keep running farther. Do you have some joint-saving secrets you can share with us?

 DK: I don’t buy into the adage that you only have so many foot strikes until your joints break down. I see men and women in their 60s, 70s and even 80s at marathons, and they look great. To help preserve my joints, I do lots of cross training to build leg strength. I also train my core and upper body to help maintain proper running posture. Having a strong all-around body is critical for preserving your joints.

 TMA: What about diet?

DK: Extremely regimented. I’ve eliminated all refined and processed foods. Nothing in a package or bag. No wheat, rice, oats or other grains, which can cause inflammation and joint pain. I’ve been eating cold-water fish all my life, principally wild Pacific salmon. Omega-3 fatty acids are very beneficial for joint health.

My idol, Jack LaLanne, said, “If man made it, don’t eat it. And if it tastes good, spit it out.”

I do have one weakness, and I indulge myself. Chocolate covered espresso beans are the bomb!

 TMA: Is it true you only get four hours of sleep a night? No study or coach champions that practice.

DK: Sometimes five (laughter). When I’m feeling lazy.

TMA: You wandered away from fitness for quite a while, then started running again at age 30. What is your advice to people who have been sedentary but are now, in midlife, sensing that they better start getting fit?

DK: It’s never too late. Another one of my idols, Walt Stack, was a smoker and a drinker until age 50. Then he became a remarkable runner, logging more than 60,000 miles in his lifetime. He also had an endearing quote: “I start slow, and taper from there.”



Heart-rate information, straight from your wrist.

Mio Velo Proves Wrist-Mounted Heart Rate Monitoring Has Come of Age


by Andrew Tilin

Technology curmudgeons unite—and officially bid farewell to your conventional heart-rate-transmitter strap. Finally, courtesy of Mio’s Velo wrist-mounted heart-rate band (among some others of its ilk), you are now forever liberated from chest-transmitter bondage. No more suffering from cruel chest-strap antics. You know—restricted breathing one day, fighting a saggy fit the next; or the electrodes peel, the battery dies, or the buckles make you feel stupid with every attempt to adjust strap length.

I put up with all of this, you say, and I’m a technology curmudgeon?

Hold that thought.

The Velo is no longer brand-spanking new, but it’s worth celebrating because its success represents a coming-of-age for new heart-rate monitor technology. The Mio is sophisticated, and it represents a good buy. Just so you know, you’re a curmudgeon because early adopters first slipped on wrist-mounted heart-rate transmitters, from Mio and many other companies, three years ago. But, it turns out, you’re certainly a wise curmudgeon.

At its essence, the Mio Velo, which is faceless, is a heart-rate transmitter strap that wears like a watch. Put it on, ask your heart-rate monitoring watch or bike computer to “discover” a heart-rate transmitter in its usual fashion, and after everything connects you experience the familiar. Your heart-rate data pops up on a screen or watch face.

The Velo itself has an LED indicator that changes between steady illumination and flashing modes, and also changes color, to indicate info like battery strength, your level of effort, and whether the device has successfully paired to a smartphone.

The Velo can be further programmed via Mio’s proprietary “Go” fitness-tracking app—software that has become de rigueur in the tracker hardware industry. But for me, fitness apps have begun to gather on my phone like flotsam and jetsam. How many programs does one need to be kept apprised of their recent miles run or ridden? Frankly, I liked the Velo because soon after strapping it on and powering it up, the device went about its work invisibly.

What’s to dislike? The hit on wrist-mounted technology has long been imprecision—that the sensors on the devices’ undersides, which use light to track blood flow optically through your blood vessels, deliver inconsistent and sometimes inaccurate data. Critics claim that chest straps, and their tried and true electromagnetic technology, work better.

I’m not so sure anymore. The Velo, worn snug on my wrist just above my beloved Garmin fenix 3 watch/heart-rate monitor/cycling computer, repeatedly delivered consistent data. (I later reviewed it on my Strava account.)

No doubt, you can find dissenting opinions on the Web, but you might also notice snowballing support for the technology. The optical sensors continue to improve, as do the algorithms that work behind the scenes.

Yes, the technology occasionally disappoints with a hyperbolic reading—especially if the sensors aren’t snugged up against your arm (while riding, per Mio’s recommendation, I wear mine “facing out” on the inside of my wrist). Chest-straps, however, also occasionally (and literally) slip. Or they’re too dry to properly detect heart-rate. Or they conk out, without warning, midway through a workout. The water-resistant Mio recharges via USB, runs about eight hours per charge, and bridges between devices that might only communicate via Bluetooth (like an iPhone) or ANT+ (like many cycling sensors).

One more argument for the Velo, and its less cycling-centric sibling, the Mio Link: They currently list for between $79 and $99, which makes them more affordable than Garmin’s high-end chest-transmitter straps. How about that: Today you can buy comfier, cheaper, and increasingly streamlined transmitter technology.

Nobody will call you funny names for making such a smart purchase.


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Five Ways to Make Middle-Age
Fitness Fun

by Bob Howells

I have this reputation for being disciplined.

“You work out every morning?” my friends and family have asked me for years. (Not exactly every morning. But, yes, most.) “How do you do it?”

“You’re amazing,” my wife always tells me before I head out. I humbly accept the praise, then go out the door, frankly shaking my head. For I’m about to have a blast.

Deep into middle age, I stay fit by employing a simple secret:

I make it fun.

My god, if my workouts were the ordeal that many imagine, I probably would never get off the couch. But honestly, my rides and runs themselves are much more akin to play than they are to work. The element of fun, of play, is deeply embedded in all of my workouts. No intervals-or-die masochism in the Bob Howells Middle-Age Fitness Universe.

And yet, I’m plenty aware that for some, a body in motion, fresh breezes, and/or the greeting of some sweet, 6 a.m. light, are not enough. So may I suggest a few more ways to grease the workout gears. Motivation will be a recurring theme here at The Masters Athlete, and what follows is the start of an ever-evolving list of ideas, recommendations, and strategies. Remember: Enjoy yourself.

Listen to Music
As long as I’m bike riding on a path as opposed to trafficked roads, I’m frequently plugged in to my iPhone, listening to music I love. I have some hard-driving playlists, but more often I just shuffle and let the fates decide what I listen to. It’s all good, all uplifting, all invigorating.

Listen to Books and Podcasts
I sadly have little time to read. And I don’t drive much, so I rarely listen to the radio or to podcasts in the car. But again, when I run, work out indoors (treadmill, Spinning bike), or ride my local paths, I alternate listening to music with listening to books, courtesy of Audible, and to my favorite podcasts, courtesy of iTunes. I thoroughly enjoy National Public Radio’s This American Life and Fresh Air. By bike or by foot, I remain one well-informed, well-read dude.

Set Little Challenges
My 10-year-old self used to throw a tennis ball at a strike zone chalked out on a brick wall 60 feet, 6 inches away. For hours. It didn’t get me to the big leagues, but I loved the challenge, and made up mini baseball games that I’d win or lose depending on my accuracy. Or I’d shoot hoops in a sequence around the key and 20 feet from the basket (pre-three-point arc)—and start over when I missed. As a righty, I’d run left-handed drills. Again, some might call some of this stuff discipline. I called it fun.

Today I relive those days, albeit in an evolved manner.

Perhaps I run nearly all-out, for 100 yards, on a stretch of trail. Or spot a rider ahead of me on the road, catch up, and sprint by. No wheelsucking. Just pure Peter Sagan–style prowess. (That’s Peter doing his Bob imitation in the photo above. Heh.) Or I do three push-ups with every burpee instead of one. Ouch! But hey, this is about me vs. me. I’m just playing.

Feed Your Strava
I’ll admit that I’m a latecomer to Strava, and used to wonder why on earth anyone would care about viewing my workouts, or vice-versa. But I’m into it now, and understand the motivational aspect of posting my rides and runs, and giving kudos to my friends. I love seeing what Andrew and Aaron are up to, and enjoy it when they kudo me for a new personal record, even if it’s just that 0.1-mile sprint to the Boneyard (our local dog park).

IMG_4495Use a Fitness Tracker
I’ve recently acquired a spiffy fitness tracker and heart-rate monitor—much more about that in upcoming posts. Therein lays a whole universe of figurative chalk-strike zones and around-the-horn shooting contests. Time my laps, stay within a certain heart-rate zone, review my stats, set mileage goals… and more.

I’m not answering to anyone. Just having fun.



Tools and Inspiration for Lifelong Fitness