Mountain Grit: Training for the Long Haul

The Simple 7 - Bucket #5: Stoke My Stamina

The Simple 7 Buckets That Build My Buffer: Suppleness-Stability, Speed (Gait), Skills, Strength, Stamina, Specificity, Spirit

We all want to GO and to keep GOING with energy, vitality and resilience for the long haul.

Sucking wind? Short on steam? Huffing and puffing? Is this a good or a bad thing? Well, it depends …. on what I am doing, the load, and how long I am doing it.

Stamina, endurance, is the ability to exert ourselves, to perform physical work over time, resisting fatigue. In the bigger sense of the word, it means to sustain prolonged physical and mental effort, to withstand and recover from a wide array of stressors, like an accident or a virus. Sounds gritty to me! It’s everything to do with tenacity and perseverance, and little to do with natural talent.

As we refill and restore Buckets #1-4, let’s shift our focus to Bucket #5.

Bucket #5 is STAMINA …. the heart and breath of circulation, oxygen, energy and living life.

Who comes to mind as portraying the epitome of endurance?

Nordic skiers, runners, triathletes, swimmers, bikers, ultra-endurance athletes? Yes, they operate at very high intensities for a long periods of time, with little or no load. How about the Sherpas? the court, field and ice sport athletes? the Spartan and Rut athletes? All rely on a full and robust energy bucket.

And the ‘seasoned’ gritter who gets after it all four seasons, in physical labor and leisure-time pursuits? We NEED stamina for decades to come, not only to get work done, but to enjoy the activity at hand, and to not run out of gas in the process.

Our STAMINA bucket is our endurance, our fitness, work or aerobic capacity, the ability of our heart, circulatory and respiratory systems to inhale oxygen, deliver it to the working muscles and extract it at the tiniest capillary levels, all to produce energy and to keep us going. It is an excellent indicator of our cardio-respiratory health, a key player in extending our health span, lifespan, QOL, brain and immune function.

Often over-looked though, is the role of the movement pump in taking wastes OUT, not just bringing nutrients IN. Garbage removal from all the cells and organs is imperative, including the brain; when waste piles up, regeneration of any cell is diminished; this is the underlying mechanism behind aging. ALL movement is brain fertilizer.

“How much for whom, depends on what I want to be able to DO, now and for decades to come.”

What it takes to compete in The Rut, dwarfs what it takes to complete The Rut, which dwarfs what it takes to hike The Rut route at my leisure.

Stamina for health and well-being IS the #1 priority. Stupid risks are NOT an option for seasoned adults. So the robustness of our Bucket #5 is based on preservation of health AND building that extra buffer that allows us to PERFORM well in our game of life.

A heads-up … We are not all built to RUN long distances. Think horses for a moment: draft, quarter and thoroughbred. Which horse is best suited to pull heavy loads, to barrel race, or to run the Derby?

In humans, this also holds true. Some of us are built for strength and power. Others are built to stop, start, turn and cut. Yet others are built to run forever. I may never become a world-class sprinter or marathoner, but that does not mean that I cannot optimize my endurance potential. And by the way, I don’t need to run.

With 40+ years in the movement profession, I cannot count how many times that I’ve heard this: ‘Pat, I hate to run, I’m just not built to run.’ My response, “then don’t run; there are tons of ways to stoke our stamina.”

As for that aging thing … Yes there are age-related declines in stamina due to a plethora of reasons, from thicker, less elastic vessel walls to the heart muscle itself with conduction, size and dimension issues. Our aerobic capacity decreases by about 50% between the ages of 20-80 years, unless we counter it.

Countering is a non-negotiable, based on decades of solid evidence, anecdotes and observations of Blue Zone centenarians and Masters athletes.

“We adapt to what we do or don’t do!”

Bucket #5: Stamina

Why should I care?

• Stamina is energy, vitality, vim and vigor to GO!

• It is central to resilience, robustness and durability of the aging body and BRAIN.

• It is a key player in managing and dissipating the ill-effects of chronic distress, providing a buffer, so that when faced with a fear or threat, we are physiologically prepped and ready to handle it, and to quickly bounce back.

• Endurance-type activities are mother nature’s anti-depressant, especially the mountain, forest or beach variety.

• Stamina is the antithesis to frailty, lethargy and fatigue, and a champion of better moods and a sense of optimism; this can translate to fewer MEDS.

From a physiological health standpoint, the evidence is so abundant, that I will just say this:

• The circulation pumping system is the ‘cycle of life’ for every cell in the body; a decent aerobic capacity reduces mortality and morbidity in adults > 65 years from heart disease, cancers, COPD, CVD, diabetes, etc., allowing us to live longer and better.

• It plays a formidable role in the prevention and treatment of diabetes, obesity, and a good portion of all the risk factors linked to the leading lifestyle-related chronic diseases.

My Stamina Check-Up I will NOT self-inflict pain or injury just to prove I can do it.

YES [1 point]: I do it automatically with ease NO: I suck wind or must stop


1. Walk one mile on the flat in 15:00, that’s 4 mph.

2. Go from task-to-task on my feet all day long, and not even think about it.

3. Provide the necessary care to my pets, kids or elders without feeling wiped out.

4. Climb stairs with ease, or recover within a few seconds.

5. Make a tight connection at the other end of the airport, while lugging my carry-on.

6. GO for help, in the event of an emergency.

7. Go from home to work, from shopping to chores, from hobbies to projects, without feeling whipped.

8. Hike, bike, ski, paddle, dance, and do those things that make me tick.

BONUS: Run a mile in 8:00 or less. Cycle, swim or row the equivalent.

Scoring for Bucket 5:

GREEN: 8+ holding your own, and denying the slide.

YELLOW: 4-7 have started to slide, reverse course now.

RED: 0-3 it’s never too late to start the restoration journey; EASE* back in.

*Let’s use the analogy of a restored moto-cross bike. Moveable parts are now moving. Stable parts are stable. The frame is solid, and the shocks are fine. The gas tank is full and ready to deliver and process the fuel for energy. It’s been checked out by my mechanic, my primary care doctor. OK, it’s time for me to GO!

Common Sense Solutions:

Do physical work where you ‘huff and puff’ and get sweaty at least twice a week.

DAILY, WALK a lot and often. SIT less. Try to accumulate 6-10K steps per day [2K steps/mile on average]. Include 30:00 of continuous BRISK walking. Walk tall and with some spring in your step. Add random steps throughout the day. Walk the dog twice a day or take a stroll after dinner. ALL steps matter. Climb a couple flights of stairs every day, too.

At HOME, do chores and tasks involving multiple positions, speeds and loads. Choose the inconvenient and uncomfortable sometimes. Go barefoot at home, to keep the feet smart.

At WORK, walk away from the chair and the screen every 30 minutes, and reach overhead.

Physical labor can give us a huge bang for our time. Shoveling snow, chopping and stacking wood, or raking stone and gravel all get the heart pumping, the whole body moving, and the brain firing and re-wiring.

At PLAY, its’ all seasons, GO! Choose something that you enjoy, AND that keeps you fit. Mountain bike, hike, skate or XC ski, snowshoe, or DANCE.

TRAIN a minimum of 2-3X/week, especially if you are stuck to the screen, and time crunched.

Here are a few options where we can increase intensity to breathe harder, and get sweaty:

1.Steady state or continuous exercise: 20:00 vigorous or 30:00+ moderate of your preferred large muscle group activity.

2.Interval training: shorter higher intensity bouts mixed in with a steady state pace; include hills on your run, walk or ski; increase the pace for 1-3:00, then resume steady state pace. Check out Fartlek training.

3.HIIT High Intensity Interval Training: short bouts of VERY high intensity work; i.e. 10 secs sprint [an all-out effort in chosen mode] with 20 secs recovery; repeat. See Tabata.

4.Small group training formats involving a mix of power, strength and conditioning.

5.Group exercise classes that mix and match a blend of formats; Zumba and other movement-to-music disciplines fertilize different regions of the brain.

6.Try rucking, hiking-walking with a weighted pack.

If you need a jumpstart, seek out a movement professional that can safely and strategically get you on your way. See for Pat’s class on Thursday at 0930 or contact her through for personal training.

In closing, ponder this: “We get what we train for, we keep what we do!”

Next up on GRIT: Bucket #6: Specificity: Training Me

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