Posts Tagged ‘Running’

Aquatic Therapy & Training Made Me a Better Athlete

December 9, 2008

Growing up, I was never a “water person”.  In fact I was the only one of my friends who wasn’t on the local swim team – even though I was the only one with a pool in my backyard. My sports and physical activities were strictly land-based — soccer, running, tennis and ballet. The only time I took to the water was to cool off on a hot summer day. Furthermore,  I had almost drowned twice by the time I was 2 years old – so an aquatic environment was not exactly my comfort zone. Frankly, if someone had told me back then that I would eventually earn much of my living by working in a swimming pool I would’ve laughed!

My passion for aquatic exercise and therapy began out of personal necessity. As a former competitive runner, I discovered the benefits of aquatic therapy and training 25  years ago after suffering from many running-related injuries (partly due to my idiopathic scoliosis for which I wore a back brace for 3+ years in high school). Rather reluctantly, I began running and exercising in the deep end of a warm swimming pool wearing a flotation belt to take the stress off of my injuries. Much to my surprise, the pool not only became a refuge for me, it became a great cross training tool, by enabling me to exercise hard while helping my injuries heal. It also helped me maintain my sanity during that frustrating period as an athlete.

In addition to healing power of the warm water, I came to discover the performance benefits of aquatic training. For whereas most athletes leave the pool behind when their injuries heal, I continued training in the deep water even as I transitioned back to land running with great results. In fact, upon my return to competition I knocked 20 minutes off of my marathon PR (personal record) and later qualified and placed 31st in the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials. Furthermore, I became a faster, stronger, more resilient runner and . I used to call the aquatic workouts my “secret training weapon” because it gave me an edge over my frequently-injured competitors by both improving my overall strength and conditioning and preventing injuries.After finishing my masters in exercise physiology in 1996 I went on to study aquatic therapy and become an aquatic therapist specialist and today  I spend many hours a week in warm water helping others heal as well as achieve their competitive goals. With the exception of falling during a race!,  I’ve never had a major running-related injury since I began performing aquatic therapy exercise and, though I no longer compete, today I still run regularly at age 50. Furthermore, despite my scoliosis, aquatic therapy exercise has also enabled me to enjoy other physical activities besides running that have become passions of mine, including: ballroom dancing, tandem cycling and power yoga.

Bottom line:  I would never have experienced success and longevity in my running career or enjoyed other forms of physical activity pain-free had it not been for the water.

Be Well,


Get Back Up and Start Running!

November 24, 2008

Times are tough for everyone right now. I don’t know a soul who hasn’t been adversely affected by our current economic crisis. Others are focused on even more pressing issues such as a family health crisis. While strength can come from adversity, it’s usually only in hindsight that we appreciate the grit we gain from struggling. In the fitness industry we used to say “no pain no gain” but I prefer to say “no challenge no change”. Sometimes it takes a significant challenge to facilitate necessary change in our lives.

I’ve experienced this transformation-through-tribulation process many in times in my life, but perhaps the most dramatic occurred 12 years ago. I was racing a marathon in Japan when my heel was clipped from behind on a downhill and I fell hard on my right hip and elbow.  Ironically, I had taken a similar fall on the same hip and elbow when I hit a patch of black ice while training in the dark a few months prior to the race. As I hit the ground, I was first stunned and then angry. How could I possibly have fallen again!  And, much to my dismay, no one even offered me a hand to help me up or even inquired whether I was seriously injured. Instead, when I looked up, all I saw were the backsides of runners racing away from me. 

Pumped up with adrenaline and anger, I picked myself up off the pavement and started to run and run and run until I was not only back in the race but actually the lead woman! I not only ended up winning the race I had one of the most incredible weeks of my life! But it never would’ve happened had I not gotten up from that fall. Today I am grateful for that fall – for it showed me what I was made of and it truly changed my life. It also gave me an experience that I can draw upon today when Iife knocks me down. If you’re curious, check out the post-race interview on U-Tube at

Where in your life have you fallen down lately?  Get, up, start running and get back in the race!

Be Well,


Hyponatremia: The Dangers of Overhydration

November 21, 2008

Most  physically active individuals don’t go anywhere without the proverbial bottle of water. And most drink far more than the prescribed minimum eight glasses a day. But is it possible to drink too much water? Yes, says the medical community, noting an increasing incidence of a life-threatening condition known as hyponatremia among recreational athletes participating in endurance events and activities.

What Causes Hyponatremia?

Hyponatremia, defined as an abnormally low concentration of sodium in the blood, is being linked to illness and even death in marathons, ultramarathons as well as lengthy hiking trips and military outings. While the cause is technically unknown, an overconsumption of water and/or underconsumption of sodium is believed to increase the risk by diluting the blood. The combination of losing salt through perspiration during an endurance event combined with drinking copious amounts of water can alter the appropriate sodium concentration of your blood with potentially serious consequences.

Symptoms of Hyponatremia

Ironically, many of the major symptoms of hyponatremia are similar to those of dehydration, including:

1.  nausea and vomiting

2.  muscle weakness

3.  headache

4.  disorientation

5.  bloating and puffiness of the face and fingers

6.  seizures (in severe cases)

7.  loss of consciousness (in severe cases)

Even mild symptoms should not be ignored as some deaths have occurred hours after participants completed an endurance event.

Who’s At Risk?

“Middle-of-the-pack”, recreational athletes are more prone to hyponatremia than are elite athletes because they take hours to complete an endurance event and may be taking in too much water and/or too little sodium. For example, one victim, a 43-year-old woman, died after completing the Chicago Marathon – her first – in more than four hours. Woman, in fact, are particularly susceptible to hyponatremia. In fact, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reported that approximately half of the women but only 14 percent of the men participating in the New Zealand Ironman triathlon developed some degree of hyponatremia. Researchers speculate that women may drink more water than men in relation to their body size and needs and/or they may avoid salt in their diet to prevent water retention.

Treatment and Prevention

So how much water should you be drinking to prevent dehydration but avoid hyponatremia? The American College of Sports Medicine recommends imbibing 17 ounces of fluid two hours before exercise and then drinking at regular intervals to replace water lost through perspiration. But individuals vary in their “sweat rates” so determine yours before participating in an endurance event according to the following formula. Weigh yourself before working out for a half an hour at your anticipated pace and under the climactic conditions you expect. Then weigh yourself again and for every pound you lost (yes, it’s all water) plan to drink a pint per hour during your event or activity. For further insurance, drink a sports beverage containing electrolytes at least part of the time. A recent study showed that hydrating with sports drinks helps prevent hyponatremia by replacing the sodium as well as the fluid lost through perspiration, keeping the proportion of sodium to water content of your blood balanced. Aim for between 50 and 100 mg of sodium per eight-ounce fluid serving — what you find in most commercial sports drinks. An even better choice than Gatorade and its counterparts (most of which now contain high fructose corn syrup) is Recharge, an all-natural electrolyte replacement drink available at Whole Foods and most health food stores. You can also order it in bulk on I recommend the lemon flavor.

It’s also possible to become both dehydrated and hyponatremic when you try replacing the fluids you’ve lost, but because your blood sodium concentration is so low, the water you ingest isn’t absorbing as efficiently. So, in addition to drinking a lot the few days before your event consider adding a little sodium to your food. And, when participating in any endurance activity longer than four hours, ingest food or fluid containing salt as you go.

Sodium actually enhances fluid absorption and retention. Recent research from the University Medical School in Aberdeen, Scotland had 12 male volunteers ride stationary bikes while ingesting drinks of varying sodium concentrations. The researchers found that subjects urinated less when they consumed proportionately more sodium (i.e., they retained water better). Depending on your sweat rate and the weather conditions, ingesting one or two grams of salt per hour during your event should be adequate to prevent hyponatremia

 Guzzle and Shake

When training and participating in any endurance activity it’s absolutely important to hydrate – but don’t over do it. And, in addition to drinking up, reach for that salt shaker. 

Be Well,


Blogging While Jogging

November 20, 2008

Years ago when I was in college, if I sat at my typewriter unable to write a term paper, I would just lace up my running shoes and head out the door.  Inevitably, during the course of my run to the “Dish” on the Stanford campus, the paper began to write itself in my head.

These days when I can’t blog – I jog. By the second half of my run the creative juices start flowing and the only challenge my now 41-year-old brain faces is remembering the ideas I come up with! (I’ve yet to devise a method of carrying pen and paper with me without getting the paper sweaty. One of my clients recently advised carrying my cellphone and leaving myself a voicemail – I’ll have to try that).

If you’re stuck in a creative rut – head out the door and move.  Walk, jog, cycle, swim – choose your favorite mode of solo physical activity. When the body is training in a familiar, repetitive physical activity (i.e. swimming or cycling), the mind has the ability and the tendency to take a vacation, a phenomenon known as dissociation. So don’t make the workout too hard – instead get into a semi-automatic pilot mode with your body – and you’l lunleash your mind up to create and problem-solve. Also, leave the ipod at home.  You won’t be able to fully free your brain for creating if it’s having to multi-task. Steady-state, cruise-control exercise with minimal distractions will best stimulate those fantastic ideas you’re going to have.

Remember: when you’re stuck in writer’s block….just take a walk!

Be Well,