Recently in running Category

Gretchen Reynolds asks, which exercise is best for the brain?

For the first time, scientists compared head-to-head the neurological impacts of different types of exercise: running, weight training and high-intensity interval training. The surprising results suggest that going hard may not be the best option for long-term brain health. [...]

So for the new study, which was published this month in the Journal of Physiology, researchers at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland and other institutions gathered a large group of adult male rats. The researchers injected the rats with a substance that marks new brain cells and then set groups of them to an array of different workouts, with one group remaining sedentary to serve as controls.

Some of the animals were given running wheels in their cages, allowing them to run at will. Most jogged moderately every day for several miles, although individual mileage varied.

Others began resistance training, which for rats involves climbing a wall with tiny weights attached to their tails.

The results?

Those rats that had jogged on wheels showed robust levels of neurogenesis ["the creation of new brain cells in an already mature brain"]. Their hippocampal tissue teemed with new neurons, far more than in the brains of the sedentary animals. The greater the distance that a runner had covered during the experiment, the more new cells its brain now contained.

There were far fewer new neurons in the brains of the animals that had completed high-intensity interval training. They showed somewhat higher amounts than in the sedentary animals but far less than in the distance runners.

And the weight-training rats, although they were much stronger at the end of the experiment than they had been at the start, showed no discernible augmentation of neurogenesis. Their hippocampal tissue looked just like that of the animals that had not exercised at all. [...]

Dr. Nokia and her colleagues speculate that distance running stimulates the release of a particular substance in the brain known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor that is known to regulate neurogenesis. The more miles an animal runs, the more B.D.N.F. it produces.

"The mental benefits of exercise, writes Discover, "have been studied in depth, and go far beyond a clear head and a shot of endorphins:"

Running won't always drastically expand our lifespans. But the study [published in the journal Cell Reports] points to a possible mechanism to fight diseases that break down the connections in our brains, such as Alzheimer's.

The key, the researchers say, is the chemical cocktail that floods our brains after a good workout. They identified a specific protein, VGF, that was likely at play in this case. VGF is released after we exercise, and it had been found to have some antidepressant properties. Based on their findings, the researchers say that VGF also promotes the regrowth of myelin in our nervous system.

Badwater

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The first wave of runners in the Badwater Ultramarathon begins at 6am local time in Badwater, California. Badwater is an endurance running event whose completion is no minor accomplishment. From its below-sea-level start in Death Valley to its finish 135 miles later on the slopes of Mount Whitney, difficulties abound for even the most dedicated runners. Interestingly, though, one of the primary challenges--the region's extreme heat--seems rather less extraordinary in light of recent high temperatures across the nation: it's 84° in Death Valley for the race's start, with a projected high of 108° today.

Here's the trailer from the documentary Running on the Sun (2000) about Badwater:

Outside magazine asks are minimalist shoes good for kids? (h/t: runblogger), and answers by pointing out that minimalist shoes "reinforce the healthy running technique kids were born with:"

...namely, striking the ground with the fore foot, not the heel. Watch a video of a toddler running and you'll see they do this naturally. It's only when we start wearing thick-soled, heavier shoes that we re-program ourselves to run differently; heel striking has been linked to knee, hip, and lower back pain.

A commenter wrote that kids should play barefoot to prevent flat feet, mentioning the study "The Influence of Footwear on the Prevalence of Flat Feet" (PDF) from the British Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery:

The distinctly higher incidence [of flat feet] in children who used footwear suggests that shoe-wearing predisposes to flat foot.

Our cross-sectional study suggests that shoe-wearing in early childhood is detrimental to the development of a normal or a high medial longitudinal arch. [...] We suggest that children should be encouraged to play unshod and that slippers and sandals are less harmful than closed-toed shoes.

The Globe and Mail asks why is walking in the woods good for you?

In Japan, they call it shinrin-yoku - literally, "forest bathing." Here, we might just call it a walk in the park. Either way, people around the world have an intuitive sense of the restorative power of natural environments. The question is: Why?

Scientists have advanced a wide range of theories about the specific physical and mental benefits nature can provide, ranging from clean air and lack of noise pollution to the apparent immune-boosting effects of a fine mist of "wood essential oils."

The physical pleasures may be dwarfed by something less obvious, as "the most powerful benefits, a new study suggests, may result from the way trees and birds and sunsets gently tug - but never grab - at our attention:"

Dr. Berman and his colleagues believe that going for a walk in the park gives voluntary attention a break, since your mind has a chance to wander aimlessly and be engaged - involuntarily but gently - by your surroundings. [...] In contrast, honking horns and traffic lights and crowded sidewalks - and pretty much every other ingredient of modern life in a big city - constantly force you to exert your voluntary attention to react or block them out, leaving you more cognitively depleted.

The piece cautions that "[t]easing out the key variables will take time:"

...and ultimately, it seems unlikely that there's a single magical quality or essential oil that fully explains the call of the semi-wild. For now, it's enough to know that the benefits of exposure to nature are real and measurable. And in an increasingly distracting and distracted world, they're more important than ever.


update (5/31):
WSJ has something to add, courtesy of psychologist Ruth Ann Atchley at the University of Kansas:

To measure the mental benefits of hiking in the middle of nowhere, Dr. Atchley gave 60 backpackers a standard test of creativity before they hit the trail. She gave the same test to a different group of hikers four days into their journey.

The results were surprising: The hikers in the midst of nature showed a nearly 50% increase in performance on the test of creativity, and the effect held across all age groups.

"There's a growing advantage over time to being in nature," says Dr. Atchley. "We think that it peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning off the cellphone. It's when you have an extended period of time surrounded by that softly fascinating environment that you start seeing all kinds of positive effects in how your mind works."

How many of us can disconnect for that long?

WaPo looks at raising the profile--and the purse size--of ultramarathons due to their increased popularity:

According to the American Trail Running Association (ATRA), the number of trail races has more than tripled since 2000 to 2,400 events, and the number of participants has grown from 90,000 to 230,000.UltraRunning Magazine reported the number of runners who finished ultra-length trail races increased from 15,500 in 1998 to 52,000 in 2011. Though participation still does not compare with marathoning -- 518,000 people finished U.S. marathons in 2011 -- ultramarathon trail running has grown as much in the last four years as it did in its first 27.

There is a difficulty beyond elite sponsorships and prize money, though--media coverage:

Mountainous trail races present a challenge for the media, and may require innovation when it comes to coverage and broadcasting. But the event could be recorded and edited, then shown later, like the Ironman Triathlon race in Hawaii. "I think ultra can pack the same visceral punch that triathlon does if covered properly," said Tia Bodington, managing editor of UltraRunning magazine.

Although elite runner Anton Krupicka would probably earn some prize money, he partially agrees with the keep-it-small ethos:

"I totally see their point of view, but I think the sport is big enough to accommodate both kinds of races: those with large fields, media, prize money, and a focus on the sharp end and those that are more low-key and grassroots with no fanfare. I enjoy both types of events and hope that both continue to exist and proliferate."

As long as there are plenty of fatass events for back-of-the-pack endurance athletes, I'll be happy--regardless of what happens at the sports' pinnacles.

Barry Bearak's tale of Caballo Blanco's last run is suffused by a poignant melancholy:

For three days, rescue teams had fanned out for 50 yards on each side of the marked trails. Riders on horseback ventured through the gnarly brush, pushing past the felled branches of pinyon-juniper and ponderosa pine. An airplane and a helicopter circled in the sky, their pilots squinting above the ridges, woodlands, river canyons and meadows.

"We're in the middle of nowhere, and this guy could be anywhere," Tom Bemis, the rescue coordinator appointed by the state police, said gloomily. He was sitting in a command center, marking lines on a map that covered 200,000 acres. Some 150 trained volunteers were at his disposal, and dozens of others were there too, arrived from all over the country, eager and anxious, asking to enlist in the search.

Caballo's body was eventually found by fellow runners, not professional search-and-rescue personnel; they also mourned him appropriately. Bearak's description is quite poetic:

The moon was a half-circle. The stars were abundant. Someone had thought to buy beer.

For them, this was a requiem for a dead friend. They ate tortillas and eggs and canned stew, heating the food on an old white stove and subduing their sorrow with laughter. They each had a favorite Caballo Blanco story to tell, or two or three. The past flooded into the present. [...]

His death was terribly sad, and yet there was also perfection about it.

Micah True died while running through a magnificent wilderness, and then many of his closest friends came together to search for him, stepping through the same alluring canyons and forests and streams, again and again calling out his name.

Today is American Hiking Society's National Trails Day:

Through National Trails Day, American Hiking Society introduces people to a wide array of trail activities such as hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding, trail running, and bird watching. Held every first Saturday of June, National Trails Day brings together people who enjoy trails and the outdoors to participate in trail work projects, educational workshops, trail dedication ceremonies and gear demonstrations.

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The NYT discusses a pair of health studies showing that "a person's fitness level at midlife is a strong predictor of long-term heart health, proving just as reliable as traditional risk factors like cholesterol level or high blood pressure:"

"When you try to boil down fitness, what does fitness mean?" said Dr. Jarett D. Berry, assistant professor of internal medicine and cardiology at Southwestern Medical School and a co-author of both papers. "In both these studies, how fast you can run in midlife is very strongly associated with heart disease risk when you're old. The exercise you do in your 40s is highly relevant to your heart disease risk in your 80s." [...]

From the study data, Dr. Berry calculated that a man in his 50s who can run a mile in 8 minutes or less, or a woman who can do it in 9 minutes or less, shows a high level of fitness. A 9-minute mile for a man and 10:30 for a woman are signs of moderate fitness; men who can't run better than a 10-minute mile, and women slower than 12 minutes, fall into the low-fitness category.

The categories make a big difference in risk for heart problems, the study found: Subjects in the high-fitness group had a 10 percent lifetime risk, compared with 30 percent for those in the low-fitness group.

Today is a multiple holiday, bringing not only International Barefoot Running Day but also World Laughter Day (h/t: Disinformation) and International Workers' Day.

update:
Delaware Liberal reminds us that today is also Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah)

Anton Krupicka writes about trail running for Running Times magazine, enthusing over the "fundamental authenticity [of] running through a grove of ponderosa pine trees or beneath a gigantic slab of sandstone turned on end by some ages-old tectonic force:"

I have found that this engaging with the natural world is, over time, very instructive. Running in the mountains creates a space -- through silence, openness, a removal from distractions -- in which I can come to know myself and explore myself.

Krupicka also snagged the cover of May's "Motivation Issue" of Trail Runner, although his head-to-toe New Balance outfit is corporate logo overkill:

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happy trails

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In the NYT, Chris (Born to Run) McDougall talks about being born to be a trail runner. Although "big money has invaded mountain biking, marathoning and the Ironman," he writes, "off in the woods, Fat Asses are flourishing." As he explains:

Fat Ass events are trail races governed by three rules: no fees, no awards, no whining. Distances are typically 50 kilometers or 50 miles, but vary according to a race director's whims or ability to borrow his buddy's GPS device. Fat Ass runs have no lotteries, no expos, no qualifying times, no triple-digit entry fees subsidizing multimillion-dollar "running clubs." [...] The appeal isn't strictly about cash; it's about connection. A Fat Ass is hometown and homemade. It's not Hollywood; it's your high school play.

Running races like these was what really rekindled my love for running over the past few years, and I can't recommend them highly enough. Check with your local running clubs to see what's happening in your neck of the woods!

Dean Karnazes: Run!

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Karnazes, Dean. Run! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss (New York: Rodale, 2011)

In contrast to his earlier books Ultramarathon Man and 50/50: Secrets I Learned from Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days, Dean Karnazes' new book Run! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss is--as the subtitle indicates--a pastiche of incidents rather than a cohesive narrative. A major portion of the book details his participation in the 4 Deserts race series (Atacama, Gobi, Sahara, and Antarctica), but there's more in here than just racing stories. Karnazes writes in Chapter 12 about training Topher Gaylord for the Western States 100, and Gaylord tells his WS100 story in chapter 15. In Chapter 14, Karnazes' wife Julie describes what it's like living with an athlete, and their kids Alexandria and Nicholas present their takes in Chapter 18.

Running Badwater for the eighth time while his father (nicknamed "Popou") recuperated from quadruple-bypass surgery, Karno had an early-morning revelation about "all the emotional deadweight we carry around with us." He and his running partner stripped down to their reflective vests (runners are required to wear them at night) and streaked down the road:

For the first time in days, nothing was chafing me. I had nothing but the shirt on my back (er, the reflective vest on my back), and it felt great. We come into this world bare, and we leave the same way. It would happen to Popou; it would happen to me. Such is the cycle of life.

The best we can do is cherish every moment. If we hold close those we love, their memories will live on within us even after they're gone. It was all about stripping away the complex layers we construct around us and accepting the truth. This revelation set me free. (p. 63)

This freedom makes our limited lifespan all the more precious:

There will come a day when Popou can no longer swing a golf club, just as there will come a day when I can no longer run. But, thankfully, today is not that day! (p. 66)

When a trip-and-fall incident at Leadville hyperextended his knee, Karnazes wrote about his encounter with an orthopedic surgeon at the UCSF Medical Center:

The doctor I was scheduled to see came highly recommended as a sports specialist. After all, he was the team physician for the San Francisco 49ers football squad. When I entered his office, he took one look at me and said, "You're a runner, you're going to have horrible knees."

After seeing me and taking some X-rays, he informed me that I had a torn meniscus. He gave me some pills and told me to stop running. He instructed me to schedule a follow-up appointment in two weeks. I walked out of his office, threw the drugs in the trashcan, and went running.

I never returned. (p. 105)

Whether this is foolhardy bravado or the justified confidence borne of repeated experience likely depends on the reader's own perspective on--and relationship with--running. Prompted by his previous books, Karnazes is sometimes quite eloquent when discussing his love of the sport:

The ultramarathon doesn't build character, it reveals it. It is here that you get an honest glimpse into the soul of an individual. Every insecurity, every character flaw is open and on display for all to see. [...] There is no hiding behind anything; the ultramarathon is the great equalizer. (p. 202)

What's next for Karnazes? He began a Run Across America last Friday, and estimates that he'll arrive in New York City on 9 May. At 2900 miles, this will be more than twice the distance covered in his 50/50 event, with only half again as much time...an average of about 40 miles per day. Next year's planned event is even bigger:

Starting in November 2012, I'm planning on running a marathon in every country in the world in a one-year period. Yep, to embark on a global expedition to hit every country on the planet in 365 days... [...]

There are currently 204 independent nations but there's only one world, and my desire is to have others join me along the way in a show of global solidarity. Regardless of the language one speaks, the god one worships, or the color of one's skin, we can all run together. Let's. (p. 256)

Running with Dean Karnazes may not be "like setting up one's easel next to Monet or Picasso"--as one NYT book review put it--but he seems like an interesting enough guy that I wouldn't pass up the chance to spend a few hours running alongside him.

QOTD

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I don't think any of my reading today is going to produce a gem of greater brilliance than this, so I'm posting an early Quote of the Day:

"Only in our lifetime has running become associated with pain and injury; if you search history, folklore, and mythology, you'll find that prior to our generation, running was always associated with freedom, vitality, and enduring youth."
Christopher (Born to Run) McDougall

Today is National Trail Running Day; I've participated already (a little 8-mile jaunt through a park, a few detours onto some nice single-tracks through the woods, and along a utility road) and I'd like to suggest that others do the same.

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Here are the NTRD's "8 Reasons to go Trail Running:"

1. Strengthens your leg muscles that road running does not.
2. Improves balance and agility from running on uneven surfaces.
3. Increases your mental toughness.
4. Biophillia - humans want to be close to nature. Trail Running increases your time in nature.
5. The primal thrill of using your body for what it was made to do, be a long distance, all-terrain vehicle.
6. Reduces injury because running on soft surfaces is better for you joints. Also, the differing steps do not put as much stress on certain parts of your body.
7. Less traffic and cleaner air.
8. Running in the shade is cooler, allowing you to run longer distances and get a better overall work out.

Don't wait--get out there!

Christopher (Born to Run) McDougall has posted the video of his "Reinventing Running" talk at TED from a few weeks ago:

It's a great condensation of the endurance running hypothesis, and McDougall packs plenty of other good bits in there as well...it's 15 minutes well spent!

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Karnazes, Dean, et al. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners: 101 Inspirational Stories of Energy, Endurance, and Endorphins (Cos Cob, CT: Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, 2010)

I know, I know...you're probably wondering why I picked up one of those tacky-kitschy-treacly Chicken Soup books; I was wondering the same thing as I stood there in the bookstore, thumbing through it and asking myself if I really going to buy it. My argument--that it's a book about runners, and I wasn't about to judge it by its cover--was more of a rationalization than an explanation, as I learned when I was mocked (not just once, but twice) by family and friends for buying it.

There are a few names in here that well-read runners will recognize--Matt Fitzgerald, Dean Karnazes, Mark Remy--but most of the authors are the unknown everyman/everywoman runners that are just like the rest of us. In fact, that's the problem with the book--too much familiarity, too little drama. However important the authors' stories are to them, reading a few dozen tends to blur them together into a mass of getting off the couch, losing some weight, and running a first 5K. That said, there are still some intriguing pieces--particularly a story about the Hash House Harriers (pp. 81-83) and another about the first post-9/11 NYC Marathon (pp. 109-112). One of the pieces--Amanda Southall's "Moving Forward" (pp. 43-45) about running in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre--was immediately familiar, and I recognized it as a reprint from The Ultimate Runner (pp. 99-102). Not that I mind the duplication--it's one of the better pieces in either book--but I was surprised that the publishers didn't demand exclusive printing rights. While I'm discussing good writing, here is a pair of quotes that I particularly enjoyed:

"We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon." (p. 216, Emil Zatopek)

"...the real test of a runner is not running for just 26.2 miles. It is running for a lifetime." (p. 266, P.R. O'Leary, "A Lesson in Running")

The religiosity for which the Chicken Soup series is known didn't surface until about halfway through the book. Gil Hannon's "Initially I Was Alone" (pp. 178-179) made me want to puke with its "This was a day the Lord had made...My training partner is always by my side" saccharine sentiments. Later essayists proclaimed "Jesus is the center of my life," talked about singing hymns and praying, and even hearing the voice of god (p. 234) and listening to what "God told me over and over again" (p. 256). What purpose this sort of faith fluff has in a running book is not at all clear to me, except to demonstrate the extent to which religion has a pervasive--although not pernicious--presence.

Even if you're desperate to read a book about running, there are far better options than Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners.

run free

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Someone who's not a shoe manufacturer should do a barefoot version of this ad:

(h/t: Frayed Laces)

Readers of Chris McDougall's Born to Run should remember Dr Irene Davis, who helped set McDougall on the path to running recovery.

In one of those little synchronicity-like coincidences, I spotted Dr Davis in two separate media pieces today; once in this interview by Matt Fitzgerald, and later in a nine-page feature article in Runner's World (not yet online) about a runner suffering from knee osteoarthritis.

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Green, Tom & Amy Hunold-VanGundy. The Ultimate Runner: Stories and Advice to Keep You Moving (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 2010)

Tom Green & Amy Hunold-VanGundy of the Runner's Lounge community website have assembled this collection of stories from runners--everything from the seemingly mundane (getting in shape for a first 5K) to the exotic (running at the Mount Everest base camp or at extreme events like Badwater). Particularly interesting in this regard was Amanda Krieger's piece "Moving Forward" (pp. 99-102) about returning to the Virginia Tech campus after the infamous firearms massacre.

The section of "Must-Know Info" articles that comprises the last third of the book is clearly aimed more toward the beginning runner. Unfortunately, the desire to provide general guidelines occasionally leads misstatements. One is the dietary remark that soy is "the only plant source [that] provides all the essential amino acids--the building blocks of protein that must be supplied by the diet" (p. 208, "Nutrition for Training, Competition, and Recovery" by Lisa Dorfman). The missing word here is proportion. Wikipedia notes the following about complete proteins and essential amino acids in plants:

Near-complete proteins are also found in some plant sources such as quinoa, buckwheat, hempseed, and amaranth, but are higher in some and lower in others. Hence the importance of eating a varied diet.

As stated, the advice would seem to suggest that vegans and vegetarians require soy protein; this is false, but follows from the American obsession with protein. The question "But where do you get your protein?" is one with which vegans and vegetarians are very familiar, but it's been known for decades to be a non-issue:

"It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein. Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often much, protein. [...] Vegans eating varied diets containing vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds rarely have any difficulty getting enough protein as long as their diet contains enough energy (calories) to maintain weight." ("Protein in the Vegan Diet," Vegetarian Resource Group)
"Despite the controversy over protein requirements, vegetarians athletes can easily achieve adequate protein providing their diet is adequate in energy and contains a variety of plant-protein foods such as legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. Vegetarians need not be concerned with eating 'complementary proteins' at each meal but rather over the course of a day...most vegetarian athletes meet the requirements for endurance training without special meal planning." ("Vegetarian Diet for Exercise and Athletic Training and Performing," American Dietetic Association)
Protein needs can easily be met by eating a variety of plant-based foods. Combining different protein sources in the same meal is not necessary. ("Vegetarian Diets," USDA)

Another problem is this recommendation:

Use technical insoles in your shoes. The factory insoles in your new shoes offer limited cushioning. [...] Today's new lightweight, high-impact absorbing insoles offer exponentially more cushion than the factory insoles and can increase comfort to your runs and extend the life of your shoes. (pp. 256-257, "Running for a Lifetime" by Tom Green)

As noted in a recent study, excessive shoe cushioning leads to a longer stride and greater impact from striking the ground with the heel. Those pillow-soft insoles may feel great on novice runners' soles, but may do long-term damage to their knees by encouraging poor form.

In short: the stories in The Ultimate Runner are worth reading, but the advice may lead the unwary down the wrong path.

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Burfoot, Amby. The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life (New York: Skyhorse, 2007)

Runner's World editor and 1968 Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot (website, Wikipedia, RW blog) has collected fifteen "lessons" under the title The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life. One of Burfoot's earliest observations rang truest for me, when he stated "running clarifies the thinking process as well as purifies the body. I think best--most broadly and most fully--when I am running:"

Running is the most vigorous exercise known to science. It forces your heart to pump vast quantities of blood throughout your body--including your brain. So the brain's getting all this oxygen at a time when it doesn't have any work to do. You're just running. You're not putting together business plans, solving quadratic equations, or trying to keep your drive from slicing off the fairway.

No wonder the brain spins out the most fantastical thoughts while you're running. No wonder fresh, creative ideas pop into your head when you're least expecting them. No wonder millions of runners consider their workouts the perfect time to reenergize both their bodies and their minds. (pp. 5-6)

His section "A Runner's Essential Reading" (pp. 121-129) contains an uncommon choice that's an old favorite of mine: Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach--a great illustration of the sort of things that my mind ruminates on while I'm running.

The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life would make an excellent stocking-stuffer for the runner on your gift list, except that you may want to correct this passage about a winter run:

There are no cars on the street, no wind rattling through the bare tree branches. The snow falls straight down, the big five-sided flakes dropping so slowly that I can spot one in mid-descent, run toward it, and stick out my tongue to catch it. I've never tasted anything as pure and coolly refreshing. (p. 64)

Minor faults aside, The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life is a worthwhile read for runners. Here's my Quote of the Day:

We runners are the luckiest of athletes. We don't need any special equipment or facilities or conditions to enjoy all the benefits of our sport. No clubs or gloves or racquets. No pools or courts or country clubs. We don't need to wait for a particular season--summer or winter--to go out and have a great workout. (p. 84)

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Karnazes, Dean. 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days--and How You Too Can Achieve Super Endurance! (New York: Wellness Central, 2009)

A sequel of sorts to his first book, Ultramarathon Man, 50/50 is the story of Dean Karnazes during the North Face Endurance 50: running 50 marathons in 50 states on 50 consecutive days. From 17 September through 5 November 2006, Karnazes ran 26.2 miles each day--eight times as part of the official marathons held in various cities, and the remaining 42 times with a small group of volunteer runners over the official marathon courses.

Amid the usual running tribulations--Karnazes gets blisters, skips showers, and has trip-and-fall incidents just like the rest of us do--he also saw a few less common sights: encountering a gnawed-off moose leg during the Alaska marathon, and watching a fellow runner crawling across the finish line of the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC. His recitations of the marathons themselves (the weather, the courses, his finishing times) tends to blur into one another, but Karnazes keeps the narrative moving by discussing carbon credits for his tour bus, the second-wind phenomenon, diet, shoes, missing his family...all the things that he would probably talk about if you were running alongside him for a few hours.

As the Endurance 50 event neared its end, Karnazes noted that "[m]any people asked me what I was going to do after running fifty marathons:"

I laughingly told them the next Endurance 50 would consist of "Fifty couches, fifty pizzas, fifty beers." But that was just a joke to buy some time. In my mind I was asking myself the very same question. (p. 259)

After finishing the 50th marathon in New York City, Karnazes found his answer:

There had been one minor oversight in all the planning; No one had booked me a return flight from New York to San Francisco. So I decided to run instead. [...] For a month straight, I ran, over mountains, through cornfields, across plains, between cities both large and small. I began running as soon as I awoke in the morning, and stopped when I got tired at night. (p. 260)

After crossing the Mississippi River a few weeks later, he decided to end his run at the site of the first Endurance 50 marathon in St. Charles, Missouri:

In a strange but serendipitious way, the circle now seemed complete. San Francisco was still many miles away, but as I passed over this spot in Missouri, I felt an overwhelming sense of contentment. In a weird, almost Forrest Gump-esque moment, I stopped, turned to the group of runners who surrounded me, and said, "I miss my family. I think I'll go home now." (p. 261)

As noted in the LA Times, this aborted transcontinental running adventure was itself quite a feat: "Karnazes ran nearly 1,300 miles in 28 days. That doesn't include a hiatus in November to compete in a 24-hour race in Texas, where he ran 137.76 miles and finished fourth."

I wonder what he has planned for his next big event.


links:

Dean blogs at Ultramarathon Man

There is a documentary DVD of the Endurance 50 event

North Face is currently sponsoring a series of running events under the name Endurance Challenge

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Chase, Adam & Nancy Hobbs. The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running: Everything You Need to Know About Equipment, Finding Trails, Nutrition, Hill Strategy, Racing, Avoiding Injury, Training, Weather, Safety (Guilford, CT: FalconGuides, 2010)

One of the highest compliments I can pay to a book--besides rereading it--is wishing that I had read it years ago. Without going into too much detail, let's just say that it would have been helpful for me to have read The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running before taking participating in my first trail race [*see note below] last weekend. This tip alone could have saved me a fair amount of effort:

When confronted with rocks, fallen trees, water bars (the barriers that are placed to direct runoff to the side of the trail), and other obstacles that lay across the trail on mountain ascents, avoid stepping directly on the objects. Instead of wasting motion to lift your entire body weight straight up, time your steps to land as close to the barrier as possible so that the next step can easily clear the obstacle and land above it on the trail. (p. 32)

The authors include what appears to be just about everything: a little about acclimation to high altitude, some discussion of ultrarunning, strength training and stretching, trail shoes and gear, nutrition and hydration, injuries and hazards, and even information about organizing a trail race.

My treadmill gets used much less now that seasonally inclement weather has abated, I avoid track workouts as being only marginally more interesting, and I skip roads in favor of trails whenever I can. The authors make an excellent point that trails help runners in ways other than avoiding monotony:

When runners complain of overuse injuries, it's a safe bet to assume that they got hurt from running on roads. Pounding the pavement with little variation in stride or foot strike, mile after mile, just isn't natural. We're simply not made for logging big miles on the streets. (p. xv)

I knew that I had caught the trail bug when I started salivating over an announcement about a 50K lakeside trail race this fall. The rationalizations began almost immediately: I'll still be in good shape from the summer racing season, it's not too far a drive from home, the shaded course offers relief from UV exposure, and--my favorite excuse--it's a great entry-level ultra distance...only 5 miles longer than a marathon!

There's no doubt that I'll be rereading The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running as part of my race preparation.


*note: My first trail race was a spur-of-the-moment decision to add a little adventure to my marathon training--and the word technical has since acquired a much different meaning to me than the one to which I had been accustomed. "Technical rocky descents" and "a nasty uphill finish" left me rather sore for a short course--at this point in my training, anything less than a half-marathon counts as a "short run"--but I'm already looking forward to running it again next year!

Gina Kolata's "To Beat the Heat, Drink a Slushie First" (NYT) observed that those who exercise in the heat can benefit from some new research: "they can delay the time to utter exhaustion by getting people a bit chilled before they start." Citing this study, Kolata says that increasing endurance in the heat may be as simple as guzzling a slushie beforehand:

... young male recreational athletes who drank a syrup-flavored ice slurry just before running on a treadmill in hot room could keep going for an average of 50 minutes before they had to stop. When they drank only syrup-flavored cold water, they could run for an average of 40 minutes.

Now, if we could just find a solution for brain freeze...

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Karnazes, Dean. Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2006)

Ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes (website, Wikipedia) was a promising fifteen-year-old cross-country runner until a squabble with his coach put him off running for the next decade and a half. On the night of his thirtieth birthday, Karnazes took off for an impromptu thirty-mile run. He writes about the event that "In the course of a single night I had been transformed from a drunken yuppie fool into a reborn athlete:"

Every devout runner has an awakening. We know the place, the time, and the reason we accepted running into our life. After half a lifetime, I'd been reborn. Most runners are able to keep a rational perspective on the devotion and practice responsibly. I couldn't, and became a fanatic. (pp. 64-65)

As the title of the book indicates, his fanaticism has taken the form of ultramarathon running--anything (and everything, it seems) longer than a standard 26.2-mile marathon. (Karnazes also enjoys "windsurfing, mountain-biking, surfing, snowboarding, triathlons, adventure racing, and mountain climbing"--but more for fun than fanatacism.) Karnazes' first ultra experience was the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run (website, Wikipedia) in 1994--a race he went on to finish ten more times. This midrace insight is particularly interesting:

Covering 100 miles on foot was more than a lesson in survival, it was an education on the grace of living. Running is a solo sport, but it was no longer about me anymore; I became almost irrelevant. [...] The many supporters who'd provided encouragement and strength along the way didn't really care about me per se--hell, they didn't even know who I was. What they cared about was that a person had taken the time to train, and sacrifice, and dedicate himself wholeheartedly to the pursuit of a dream. It was a powerful message; I was just the host. (pp. 155-156)

A spectacular DNF (Did Not Finish) at the even more grueling 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon (website, Wikipedia) in 1995 didn't break his spirit--Karnazes ran the race again, winning it in 2004. Another race that gets substantial attention in the book is the inaugural (and to this date, the only) South Pole Marathon, which Karnazes calls "perhaps the toughest physical challenge of my life. (p. 183) (He was the only participant to wear running shoes rather than snowshoes.)

Ultramarathon Man is framed by incidents from his first time running the 199-mile The Relay race--solo, of course, rather than as part of a 12-person team. This exchange with a mid-race pizza delivery driver made me chuckle:

"I can't believe it's humanly possible to run 30 miles," he gasped. "Are you like Carl Lewis or something?"
"Ah...yeah," I replied. "I'm like Carl Lewis, only slower." (p. 11)

Although Karnazes has a stronger reputation among ultrarunners as a marketer than as a runner, he didn't slight any other runners here except by omission. I've read slams against Karnazes that he's sexist as well as overly self-promoting, but I didn't see any evidence of that here--in fact, this passage stood out as complimentary toward his female competitors:

There are no "endurance groupies," as far as I can tell. The women in the sport are just as tough as the men. Sometimes tougher. They're more interested in getting to the finish line before me than getting my phone number. The few times I have been hit on, it's been for a PowerBar or some extra water. And if I didn't produce the desired request quickly, they were gone. No time for a man to slow them down. (pp. 212-213)

Self-aggrandizement aside--and this book is a biography, not a history of the sport--it's easy to see why Karnazes is an inspirational figure to many runners. Ultramarathon Man is a readable and enjoyable book, and the ultrarunning movement could do worse than have Karnazes as its best-known participant. If some of the more elite ultrarunners--such as Scott Jurek (website, Wikipedia)--would like to receive their due accolades from the general public, then they will have to play the media game as well as Karnazes does, and put pen to paper with as much determination as they put their feet to the road.

Harvard anthropologist Dr Daniel Lieberman (whose paper on endurance running I mentioned here) has a new study in Nature about barefoot running (h/t: Run Bare).

If you're not a Nature subscriber, check out Harvard's website "Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear." It has plenty of information: clips of shod-vs-unshod footstrikes, discussions of running biomechanics, and an explanation of how modern running shoes have altered our natural gait. It's a great resource that has just become my go-to link for anyone who wonders a) why I run barefoot, or b) what's up with those funny-looking shoes.

Dr Lieberman was also featured in the PBS series The Human Spark; here is a video of him discussing our species' two-million-year experience with endurance running:


update (8:24pm):
Here is another video of Dr Lieberman, discussing much of what is in his paper:

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Romanov, Nicholas. Pose Method of Running (Coral Gables, FL: PoseTech Press, 2002)

After reviewing Danny Dreyer's ChiRunning, the Pose Method was the next major running technique book that I wanted to investigate. When considering several physical activities such as dancing, Dr Romanov applies that skill-based thinking to running, creating the Pose Method as a transition between identical footfalls:

I concluded that the principal pose in the ideal running technique is the vertical S-like stance on one leg. The running itself is performed utilizing the change of support from one leg to another, in the pose of running. (p. 30)

One of several differences I noted between Pose and Chi is that the Pose running cadence increases with speed rather than being constant. Dr Romanov explains "the symbiotic relationship between stride frequency and body lean:"

The faster you change support, the more permission you give to your body to freefall. And the faster you fall, the faster you run. (p. 85)

The amateurish clipart-style illustrations serve to explain the Pose Method well enough despite their aesthetic shortcomings, but they still grated on me somewhat. One seeming anomaly about the method is the high position of the airborne foot. I had considered the work of lifting the foot this high to be wasted effort--at least until I reached this passage:

Further improvement in your technique comes from permitting your knee joint to bend freely during the airborne stage. This has the effect of "shortening" your leg, which in turn reduces the pendulum action of the leg in flight. The shorter the swing of the pendulum, the quicker it moves. (p. 274)

There are many drills in this book, and to an extent I feel bad about reviewing The Pose Method without spending more time trying to master the technique. I'll likely revisit it in a few months when I've had more time to review the exercises and test their application. Until then, I'm glad to note that Dr Romanov is quite positive toward barefoot running, observing that "eliminating the big dead layers of shoes and socks will vastly increase the feedback you get from your feet:"

By increasing your kinesthetic awareness of what is going on beneath you will make it easier to correct mistakes and improve your technique. (p. 206)

[B]arefoot running will help develop local strength around the ankles and feet. Stability shouldn't come from the artificial means of a wide-platform shoe, but from strong muscles, joints and connective tissue. Developing this strength, instead of buying it, will greatly reduce your chances of being sidelined by Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis or other common runners' injuries. (p. 220)

Are there any runners in the audience who would like to share their experiences with either ChiRunning or the Pose Method?

Vibram Bikila

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Justin at Birthday Shoes mentioned the upcoming Vibram Five Fingers Bikila running shoes (named in honor of 1960/1964 Olympic marathon champion Abebe Bikila) last July and October, which I filed away as one of those things to look forward to in 2010. Well, yesterday he posted several more photos of the pre-production version of the Bikila, due to arrive in March:

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I can't wait!

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Dreyer, Danny. ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009)

Danny Dreyer's ChiRunning uses the concept of Chi (or Qi, if you prefer) as the foundation of an "effortless" running technique. As he writes, ChiRunning "is accomplished by (1) maintaining good posture, (2) keeping your joints open and loose, and (3) making sure that your muscles are relaxed and not holding any tension as you run:"

The ChiRunning technique will completely alter the way you approach running because it combines relaxation with biomechanically correct running form. This book is designed to train your mind to direct and monitor your movements so that your body doesn't have to work as hard. (p. 15)

ChiRunning's form-first emphasis has its roots in the idea of running as a controlled fall. The runner's "Column" (comprising shoulders, hips, and ankles) stays in a straight line that leans forward; a greater lean produces a higher speed, and the legs serve as momentary support for the Column as it moves. Dreyer recommends using a metronome to keep a constant cadence, which is an interesting feature of ChiRunning:

In ChiRunning there's one thing that never changes: your cadence. [...] One thing in ChiRunning that does constantly change is your stride length. (p. 62)

Amid all the "Body-Sensing" exercises and other methodology-driven aspects of ChiRunning, Dreyer doesn't neglect the joy of running. He observes that "if you want to see what's really going on with a runner, watch her face:"

If you watch children run, they're generally all smiles. But what I see more often than not in adults is an expression that ranges somewhere between discomfort and terror. Lots of folks leave me with the impression that they're not enjoying themselves. No wonder running has a bad rap. What happened to all those smiles? (p. 9)

Dreyer makes a number of relatively unobtrusive plugs for his other ChiRunning products, often mentioning his DVD and the seminars that are run (no pun intended!) by "Certified ChiRunning Instructors." I don't fault him for seizing the marketing opportunity, though; I'm fairly intrigued by his technique, and have been experimenting with it. New Balance has been working with Dreyer on ChiRunning shoes, but the previous 800 model was rather heavy at 11 ounces. Its replacement, the 801 (men's only so far) is only 9.5 ounces--like the lightweight 905 but with no width options.

Leaving aside all the fuzzy mysticism, I do have one concrete complaint about Dreyer's book. The words introducing Chapter 6

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." (p. 140)

are not from Aristotle, as Dreyer (and many others) mistakenly claim. Those sentences lie between two quotations from Aristotle in Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy:

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; 'these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions'; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit: 'the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life... for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.' (p. 61)

The sentiment is unimpeachable, though, making the erroneous citation a minor issue. Even if the ChiRunning technique doesn't work for you, learning to pay closer attention to your body can't help but be a positive influence on your running. Give it a try!

A new study on "The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques" (text, PDF) notes that "Increased joint torques at the hip, knee, and ankle were observed with running shoes compared with running barefoot:"

Disproportionately large increases were observed in the hip internal rotation torque and in the knee flexion and knee varus torques. An average 54% increase in the hip internal rotation torque, a 36% increase in knee flexion torque, and a 38% increase in knee varus torque were measured when running in running shoes compared with barefoot.

A 6% increase in stride length was observed in the shoe-wearing study participants, commonly associated with a more pronounced heel strike--which is enabled by cushioned shoes. The study's conclusion looks to minimalist shoes as a goal:

The development of new footwear designs that encourage or mimic the natural compliance that normal foot function provides while minimizing knee and hip joint torques is warranted. Reducing joint torques with footwear completely to that of barefoot running, while providing meaningful footwear functions, especially compliance, should be the goal of new footwear designs.

(h/t: Runner's World Peak Performance and BarefootRunningShoes.org)

Time's article on running, "Is Running Bad for Your Knees? Maybe Not," (h/t: Runner's World Peak Performance) talks about some study results on osteoarthritis in runners:

Perhaps because it seems intuitively true, the notion persists that running, especially when done long-term and over long distances, is bad for the joints. [...] But over the past few years an emerging body of research has begun to show the opposite, especially when it comes to running. Not only is there no connection between running and arthritis, the new studies say, but running -- and perhaps regular, vigorous exercise generally -- may even help protect people from joint problems later on.

Some studies even show that "the runners' knees were no more or less healthy than the non-runners' knees," irrespective of mileage:

"We have runners who average 200 miles a year and others who average 2,000 miles a year. Their joints are the same," says James Fries, an emeritus professor of medicine at Stanford, and leader of the research group. The study further concluded that runners experienced less physical disability, and had a 39% lower mortality rate than the non-runners.

In 2007, a nine-year study of 1,279 elderly residents of Framingham, Mass., found similar results: that the most active people had the same risk of arthritis as the least active... [...] And in the same year, Australian researchers writing in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism found that people who exercised vigorously had thicker and healthier knee cartilage compared with their sedentary peers. That suggests the exercisers may have also enjoyed a lower risk of osteoarthritis, which is caused by breakdown and loss of cartilage.

Aside from its insistence on "appropriate footwear"--is none an appropriate choice?--the web-only Running Times article "Running and Arthritis" is a good piece that covers similar ground:

In her practice, Leisz [Marie-Christine Leisz MD, medical director of the Running and Endurance Sports Injury Clinic in Minnesota] is frequently faced with the question about running and bad knees. "People are always asking, 'Am I going to end up needing knee replacements if I run?'" she says. "I want to reassure the seasoned veterans out there. Now the consensus is, no, we don't think so." Rather, the major risk factors for developing OA appear to be obesity, prior traumatic joint injury, and heavy manual labor. In fact, says Leisz, "for those who do not have those risk factors, running may be protective."

That's the kind of news that can put a smile on a runner's face!

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