With the warming weather, running season is upon us. While some Chicago runners are enthusiastically pulling on their new barefoot gear or trusty running shoes and plotting out the day’s route, Dr. Kamran Aslam sums up long, daily runs in one word: “Boring.”
To stave off monotony and get a workout that is even better for his heart and mind, this cardiologist and electrophysiologist at Swedish Covenant Hospital constantly varies his exercise routine — and he encourages his colleagues in the medical field to do the same.
Last year, Dr. Aslam rallied a team of 15 friends, including several physicians, to participate in a Spartan Race. You know, one of those suddenly ubiquitous “extreme” races that not only requires running, but obstacles that may include a five-mile climb up and down hills, sprints through mud pits, scaling military walls, crawling under barbed wire or carrying 20-pound rocks the whole way.
To Aslam’s delight, these races — which put your whole body to test, including your cardiac, vascular, musculoskeletal and endocrine systems — are growing in popularity in Chicago and across the U.S.
“This concept runs parallel to the recently widely popular idea of muscle confusion,” said Dr. Aslam, using Crossfit workouts and the DVD fitness program P90X as examples. “You keep the body guessing, and you may actually reach your results quicker, and maintain them for longer periods of time. Also, the races are a good interplay of physical fitness and mental toughness.”
The American Heart Association recommends exercising 30 minutes a day, five times a week to maintain cardiac fitness. Dr. Aslam echoes that advice, with an additional recommendation of high intensity training with short bursts of exertion. Those energetic bursts are something that naturally come during obstacle course races.
If obstacle courses are not your thing, no problem.
He explained that it is less about the kind of workout you are doing, and more that you are getting a variety of movements and intensity levels. He explained that some form of cardiovascular output is an important part of any workout, but should never be the only part.
“By training yourself for short high intensity bursts, and long distance exertion at the same time, it allows you to exercise the whole variety of muscle fibers your body has—the slow, medium and fast ones, thus increasing your overall metabolism and adaptability to any physical stress,” he said.
Plus, in addition to the mental and physical workout, Aslam said his whole team felt a sense of accomplishment by working through it together.
“It was a team-building exercise,” he said. “We weren’t singing ‘Kumbaya’ and doing trust falls, but it was a matter of getting every person on that team across whatever obstacle there was. No one would be left behind.”
As a physician, Aslam said he considers it his duty to be physically fit.
“If we’re not going to do it, how can we convince anyone else to do it?” he asked.
He added that he plans to run the Spartan Race again next year, as well as another 12-mile Super Spartan Race over the summer.
Some upcoming obstacle-filled races in Chicagoland:
5/20/2012 Merrell Down And Dirty Mud Run and Obstacle Series, downanddirtymudrun.com. Obstacles in this 5 or 10K race include ladder walls, tunnels, marine hurdles, mud pit, water crossing, a cargo net climb and more.
6/9/12 Metro Dash Obstacle Course, metrodash.com. Climb, crawl, jump, swing and scale your way through this 600-meter obstacle course. Fastest competitor wins.
7/21/12 Muddy Buddy Ride and Run Series, muddybuddy.com. Grab a partner and run (or run and bike if you choose) through a three- to four-mile off-road course filled with “military-style” obstacles. Every race ends with a mud pit.
7/28/12 Illinois Hero Rush Obstacle Race, herorush.com. Burn through this obstacle-filled, firefighter-themed 5k in the heat of the summer. When the bell rings, climb to the top of the poll and then slide down, before gathering “victims,” unraveling hoses and more.
Photo credits to Dr. Aslam.
His team members at the Spartan Race included Chris Galvez, David Gomez, Jessica Dorman, Kimberly Johnson of Galter LifeCenter; Nestor Pecson and Dusten Roe of Swedish Covenant Hospital's Cardiac Catheterization Lab, and Dr. Kristin Jones and Matt Wever, also of Swedish Covenant Hospital.