Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ode to Duct Tape

To wear cotton socks is a common mistake,
But a newbie I was
And mistake I did make.

In my clean laundry, not a running sock found,
But sitting innocently in my closet,
Cotton socks were abound.

I had no way of knowing the toll I would pay
For wearing those snugly socks,
Which I rue to this day.

Grabbing a pair that were thick and long,
I nonchalantly decided
To slip them both on.

The Nike swooshes smiled and them innocent I did deem,
Those plush, warm socks...
How much harm could they mean?

The back of my mind worried,
But out the thoughts were shut.
I just hoped this wouldn't later bite me in the butt.

My toes as toasty as bread,
The cotton enveloping my feet,
I set out for my run on the snow-packed street.

For the first several miles
Absolutely nothing was amiss,
And running, as usual, was 100% bliss.

But the pain came on suddenly,
As fast as a twister,
And it became clear I was the victim of a blister.

The next day the blister hadn't improved very much,
As the skin, rubbed raw,
Hurt to the touch.

WHY ME?! I wondered aloud to the running gods (who were in the mood to smite)
But they pointed to the cotton socks with amusement
And the running gods were right.

First I tried covering it with a blister Band-Aid,
But the bandage fell off...
The running gods, I could not persuade.

The next day I was determined to run.
A blister Band-Aid and duct tape around my foot
Was my attempt to reduce the friction.

Miraculously the blister, which had wrought so much pain,
Held up through the miles,
I couldn't complain.
The running gods had had a change of heart!
The fact that duct tape is so useful
Is a message I feel compelled to impart.

There is an important lesson in this tale:
Don't wear cotton socks,
Or with a blister you may ail.

But you needn't worry of blisters; have no fear!
All your problems will be solved,
For duct tape is here!

"Duct tape is like the force: It has a dark side and a light side and it holds the universe together."
- Carl Zwanzig

For additional practical applications of duct tape, see 101 Uses for Duct Tape.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mythbusters of Running

Public belief is like a man: it isn't easily changed, regardless of whether or not its ideas are disproved (no offense to you menfolk *wink*). It is then understandable that a number of myths still exist and circulate amongst the running community as well, whose increasing number of newcomers, although very warmly welcomed, may only further feed the issue of misinformation.

It's time to lay these myths to rest, once and for all. So let's count down to the number one myth of sports science, one that began as a conclusion based on a flawed experiment on frog legs in 1920.

Myth #4: Runners don't need to strength train. To get better at running, one must run more.

It is true that runners looking to improve their performance need to run, there is no getting around that. But we often overlook the importance of strength training in our regimens, whether it be for lack of time, because we don't see it as important, because we're afraid extra muscle weight will decrease running performance, or because we'd rather run than strength train with extra time. But strength is a very important component of running that should not be ignored, for the following reasons:
  • Gains made through increased strength and power output far outweigh the stress of carrying what few additional pounds of muscle mass can possibly be added on top of a high-volume, endurance-based running program.
  • Increased strength can increase running efficiency, and with improved efficiency can come a decrease in running volume. Essentially, you get "more bang for your buck."

  • Issac Newton's Third Law of Motion: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, the ground will only return what you provide it, and strength is what's going to allow you to exert more force on the ground.
Myth #3: Anti-pronation running shoes can help alter ankle pronation.

Early studies used markers on the outside of shoes to attempt to gauge the movement of the ankle. A number of more recent studies, whose findings have excited the claims of many shoe companies by suggesting anti-pronation running shoes alter the extent of pronation, used markers embedded into the shoe in a similar external attempt to monitor ankle pronation.

However, both these earlier and more recent studies were flawed in that they monitored the movement of the shoe rather than the actual ankle bones. The firmer heel-counters of anti-pronation shoes did not distort as much and therefore led to the illusion of corrected ankle pronation (Noakes 765). A notable
study in 1998 concluded otherwise that, "Thus, when bone pins are used to measure the real ankle movements during running, neither running barefoot, running with shoes, nor running with shoes and orthotics altered the degree of ankle pronation" (Stacoff and others 1998). Such studies have led to the modern theory that, while shoes do not change ankle pronation, they do help one optimize their innate biomechanical form (Noakes 766).

Myth #2: A stress fractured bone heals stronger than it was before the fracture.

In the sport of running, the stress placed on the skeleton, although it can stimulate and fortify bones, can also overwhelm them and result in a stress fracture. The injury is unfortunately all too common in runners; in fact, I've experienced one myself. I remember having heard this myth and feeling a sense of elation that the chances of a reinjury were much smaller. However, my bubble was later - and rather rudely - popped when I learned that this was not true.

In fact, after bone cells called osteoblasts heal the fractured bone with new bone tissue at the fracture site, other bone cells called osteoclasts remodel the bone to resemble the old bone before injury. It is therefore no more or less susceptible to a second fracture. However, individuals with stress fracture are often recommended to take calcium and vitamin D supplements, which can strengthen the bone and stave off fractures in the future.

Myth #1: Lactic acid is the bane of a runner's existence - the source of muscle fatigue and soreness.

It's unfortunate that Otto Fritz Meyerhof's experiment, which mistakenly used frog legs that lacked circulation and therefore energy and oxygen, led to the formation of a theory that was long accepted by scientists and running coaches alike. As more recent studies have shown, lactic acid is actually an energy source. Muscles convert glycogen or glucose to lactic acid, which is then used for fuel. Lactic acid is absent from your muscles within an hour of exercise, so that soreness one may feel 24-48 hours after an intense workout is merely a case of
DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).

If you listen closely, you may be able to hear the great sighs of relief from exercise physiologists everywhere. Lactic acid's mistaken role in energy pathways has long been seen in a negative light, and to reinform nearly a century's worth of people is certainly no simple task.

Although it is difficult to change beliefs long held by the running community, or even society as a whole, it is certainly not impossible. It serves as a good lesson in maintaining some amount of
healthy skepticism when presented with any idea - to "take everything with a grain of salt." Science seemingly contradicts itself on a daily basis, so it is small wonder people have difficulty deciphering its findings. The best one can do is take an educated stance on any given idea, whether highly-contested or accepted as common belief, and roll with it. Perhaps you don't agree with the aforementioned ideas I have deemed "myths" and/or "truths," and that's absolutely okay. Healthy debate is always welcome. But the moral of the story is to be careful when taking any statement at face value; even Runner's World magazine contradicts itself rather frequently from month to month.

(1) Stacoff, A., Reinschmidt, C., Nigg, B.M., van den Bogert, A.J., Lundberg, A., Denoth, J. and E. Stüssi. Effects of foot orthoses on skeletal motion during running. (2000) Clinical Biomechanics 15(1): 54-64.

(2) Tim Noakes, M.D. Lore of Running. Southern Africa: Oxford University Press, 2001. 765-772.

Friday, October 30, 2009

When Everything Goes Wrong

Oh. Crap. The alarm didn't go off. Where's my race bib? Yikes, there aren't any bananas to eat! Most of my running clothes are dirty. And where on Earth did I put my running shoes? I could've sworn they were right here...

Fast forward 10 minutes...

Uh oh! Low fuel tank! I hope this car can run on fumes and get me to the race. Just my luck. I think I'm suppose to turn here...wait, no, I missed my exit! I'm going to be late.

20 minutes later...

No warm-up, nothing but a mere swig of Gatorade in my system, and I'm standing at the starting line. What am I doing here?! Just to make things worse, my stopwatch's battery is dead. Oh, I better double-knot these shoelaces! What was my goal for this race again?

We've all probably heard the saying, "When it rains, it pours." Why does everything seem to go wrong at once? Is it karmic retribution? Maybe a bad "omen?" Or even, are the running gods just out to get you? Perhaps they're in a smiting mood? Take it from someone who's undergone far too many multiple-choice standardized tests in their lifetime - this is probably one of the few times the answer actually is "none of the above." (And remember, when in doubt, fill in letter C!)

Statistically speaking, races have a 50-50 chance of going well or, well, not so well. So the bad news is that you're doomed to have a bad race at one time or another. But don't worry, I saved the good news for last! Preparation and some mental fortification can pull you out of, or even better, prevent, the spiral of negative, self-fulfilling prophesies.
  1. Stay calm. You don't have to sit at the starting line in a yoga pose, but there's no need to lose your head. It's easy to say, but much harder to do. Next time "everything" seems to be going wrong, remind yourself to stay as level-headed as possible.

  2. Prepare as much as possible the night before. Yet another thing that's easier said than done, especially if you're trying to squeeze in a good night's sleep amidst a busy life and nightly routine. But gathering all your race gear, pre-race food, and other things will reduce race morning stress level significantly.

  3. Hit up the Porta-Potty! This one is pretty self-explanatory. I certainly won't go into detail, but if you don't make time for this vital preparation, the race could get ugly.

  4. Keep in mind things you may potentially regret. No one wants to look back at a race and have regrets. For example: As tasty as the prospect of that Continental breakfast may seem to the taste buds, the remorse following a race in which that Continental breakfast comes back up would be much worse.

  5. Fortify your mind. You know the race is going to be insanely uncomfortable, even approaching painful. Don't psych yourself out, but rather, welcome that uncomfortable feeling. It's a fact of racing, and no amount of dread, fear, or doubt will change that. So instead of trying to change things you can't, change the things you can, starting with your mindset.

  6. Remember to have fun! Despite any bumps along the way (which one is sure to encounter a number of times if they race with any amount of frequency), try to enjoy yourself. Soak in the race atmosphere and the excitement of the crowd. If you're feeling worried, tired, unenthusiastic, unmotivated, or all of the above, force yourself to smile. At the risk of sounding shamelessly cheesy, turn that frown upside down! *groan*

And with that, folks, I wish you all a happy finishing stretch of your fall racing season. Remember to keep your head tacked on tightly in the face of adversity, think happy thoughts, and pull through without any nagging regrets. It's hard to move forward in life with a sagging chin and eyes stuck on the ground, so keep your chin up and raise your eyes to see the big picture. Better races and workouts, statistically speaking, are sure to come.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Runs (Not Dances) With Wolves

Okay, so maybe not wolves. But your friend Fido, depending on his/her breed, might enjoy going for a run with you every now and then. Especially if you have a larger pooch, running with them may be a good option for both you and the dog. You'd have a protective running companion (who needs to arm themselves with pepper spray when you have a dog would could take off an arm?) and man's best friend would have an opportunity for some exercise and fresh air. It's a win-win situation, no?

Before fitting your chihuahua with booties and hauling him out to the nearest wilderness trail, know that not all breeds make good running companions. As my toy poodle sits in the adjacent room atop a couch, I'll have you know she is far from a fit running dog. I'm sure she's as much aware of that fact as I am. A couple loops around the living room at bullet-like speed and she's had quite enough.

So what breeds, then, do make good running companions?

Here is a list available from Run the Planet that includes dogs typically fit for running. However, this does not necessarily mean a dog of a listed breed should come along for the ride, nor does it mean a dog not appearing here shouldn't join you.

Other tips to take into account when deciding whether or not you and your pup would be suitable running partners:

Be aware of the temperament of a dog in addition to their breed. If you have a hyperactive or highly untrained dog, he/she might be distracting and/or unruly on a run. It may be difficult to restrain them if they see something of interest.

Remember that dogs do not sweat via their skin. That's right. Instead, their cooling process consists of panting and sweating through their paws. So if it's 90 degrees outside, let Fido continue to gnaw his bone inside. You don't want to make your dog a "hot-dog..."
If you live in a warmer climate, aim to run in the early or late hours before or after the sun rises, and bring enough water for both you and the pooch. Signs of overheating include excessive panting, increased salivation, red gums, increased heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness. If your dog begins to show these symptoms, stop immediately and slowly cool them down with cool or tepid water.

Age matters. It is not recommended dogs under two years of age, essentially puppies, run long distances. Wait until they are at least this old, and start them out very slowly. First, develop their fitness with a moderate walking program, about 10-15 minutes one to two times daily. Once they are ready to begin running, start conservatively with a half a mile and, like a human would, use the 10% weekly increase rule-of-thumb. Give them ample recovery time - ideally one day off for every day they run.

Notice the surface. Unless you're a barefoot runner, your shoes protect you from the wear and tear of whatever surface you run on. A dog has nothing but their paws, so try to run with them on grass, dirt, or other softer surfaces that won't inflict damage. Over time, pad wear can occur, so take them to the veterinarian if you see them exhibiting signs of soreness or difficulty standing up.

Don't run with a dog who has pre-existing health problems. These could include a heart murmur, heartworms, arthritis, gait abnormalities, etc.

Be aware of traffic. Don't run on roads with dogs. Stick to trails or other places without the danger of passing cars.

Keep a firm grip! Some dogs are especially excited by runners, bikers, or walkers that pass by. Make sure you have a tight grip on the leash and stay aware of holding on. Maintain some amount of slack on the leash for space purposes as well. If you can't control your dog should someone pass by, the dog's temperament probably isn't well-suited to being a running partner until he/she is better trained.

Watch diligently for signs of your dog's discomfort. Unlike a human, a dog cannot vocalize if something's wrong. If you see them visibly struggling or tiring, allow them to stop.

Overall, if you use common sense and keep the above points in mind, transitioning your domestic defender to a dependable running partner can be painless and rewarding for both man (or woman) and animal. Run, Fido, ruuuuun!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hakuna Matata!

I'm just popping in today to shout to my fellow bloggers off the cyberspace rooftop:

I'm still here!

Now comes the time I will resume my temporarily stunted running blog and you can expect more posts to come. Life got a bit hectic for a while, and I'm sure you all are likely familiar with the phrase, "So many things to do, so little time." But do not fear, the Breadcrumb Runner is here! I have not forsaken thee.

So, to borrow a classic phrase from The Lion King, hakuna matata ("No worries").


Friday, July 31, 2009

Spectatorship For Dummies

Dear seemingly innocent spectators,

It has come to my attention, throughout the past several years of my racing experiences, that although sometimes your choice of encouraging words is impeccable, at other times, it is down right deplorable. Near the end of a 5k in which every muscle in my body feels dead, each sweet breath I take can barely sustain me, and I am suffering in every meaning of the word, the absolute last thing I want to hear is, "ONLY A HALF A MILE LEFT!" I'll have you know that after having traveled on foot at around 6:00/mile (10 mph) for 2.6 miles, I have to dig deep to continue this pace or faster for 0.5 mile. Therefore, all this particular individual has alerted me of is the fact that the hardest part of the race is ahead. The average Joe may think, It's only half-a-mile! At the end of a race, it is an endless, beyond strenuous half-a-mile that can only be described as hell on Earth. If such words have ever been issued from your mouth, and you're wondering what would've been a better choice of words, it's perfect timing seeing as I am about to tell you just that.

Discouraging Phrases That Guarantee an Instant Spot on a Runner's Hit-List:
  1. The aforementioned "You only have so-and-so-distance left!" or "You're almost to the finish!" I've noticed different spectators have widely varying ideas on what it means to be almost-to-the-finish.
  2. "Go faster!"
  3. (Directed at a fellow competitor) "C'mon, beat him/her! You can take 'em!"*
    *Note: If I hear this phrase, you will, without a doubt, undergo the wrath of my death stare.
  4. "Looking good!" (No, I am running my guts out. I had better not look good. In fact, I had better be the epitomy of unattractiveness.)

Make-Over Time...

  1. "Dig deep, you can do it!"
  2. "Great pace, crank it out!" or, in the final stretch, "Kick it! Kick it!"
  3. There simply is no made-over version of the third statement. Just don't go there.
  4. If you know their name, "Go so-and-so!" If not, you can use something on their shirt to define them. For example, if the runner has on a Minnesota Gophers t-shirt, it would be appropriate to say, "Go Minnesota!" Unless they are unaware dressers or their mom still picks out their attire, they should know you're referring to them in your encouragement.
And lastly, there's always the tried-and-true "WHOOOO!" or loud whistle that can get a runner's spirits and adrenaline up. The louder and more excited the crowd, the easier it is to lose oneself in the noise and truly gut it out.

Not only do the runners in the race need to concentrate on their difficult task at hand, but the spectators must also do the same. Word choice, although subtle, can make a big difference in the largely mental aspect of racing. One should say it like they mean it and be sure to belt it out if they have any chance in being heard amongst the boisterous clamor of a mob-like crowd. Be careful in what you say because, although imperceptible to the orator, it can have an impact on the runner's performance. Make it a positive impact and help them on their way to a PR.

The Breadcrumb Runner

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Side B...Er, I Mean, Side Stitches.

You're running along your route on a hot day, not a care in the world. But, all of a sudden, *OW!* It feels like someone is sticking a knife in your side. If you've ever felt the notoriously gut-wrenching pain characteristic of a side stitch, it's something you probably never want to feel again. What exactly is a side stitch?

There's a fancy name for everything. Technically, a green sea turtle's scientific name is Chelonia mydas. So, to similarly complicate things, I'll have you know the technical term for a side stitch is "exercise related transient abdominal pain" (ERTAP). ERTAP's exact causes are not known, but believed to be the simultaneous combination of running-induced jarring along with inhalation and exhalation. This repeated stretching of the ligaments around the diaphragm and internal organs can result in those sudden spasms we associate with a side-stitch. Interestingly, ERTAP is more common in runners whose exhalation and right-foot strike coincide, which is likely due to ligament stretching caused by the downward jarring of the liver as the diaphragm is moving up.

Just like injuries, prevention of ERTAP is key. A stronger core lowers the chances you'll be affected by a stitch. Breathe more deeply if your breathing tends to be shallow. If you're running after you eat, allow plenty of time for the food to digest (ideally 1-2 hours, but experimentation is always necessary to account for differences in each individual). And, along similar lines, stay hydrated not only for optimal performance and health, but to lessen the chances of a side stitch as well.

Okay, I get it. But how do I stop this ERTAP when I'm in the middle of a run?

Sometimes taking deep belly breaths and switching to a left-foot strike with exhalation will ease the tightness until the stitch disappears. The majority of people (70%) strike with their left foot while exhaling, but if you're part of the minority (30%) of right-foot-strike-exhalers, it may take a little conscious deviation from such tendencies. Deep breathing helps the diaphragm fully rise and lower, allowing the ligaments to relax. However, in the case that said things don't release you from your suffering...

Runners don't usually like to stop. Traffic lights, dead ends, obstacles on the trail - these can all make us (grudgingly) come to a stop. Sometimes, attempting to run through a painful side stitch will result in only more pain until you're forced to halt. So if the first suggestion fails, your Plan B is to: stop. (But don't drop and roll at the risk of making a spectacle of yourself. I know what elementary school teaches about fire safety, and it certainly doesn't apply here.)

Next, push up on your side just under the ribcage to lift the liver slightly. Stretch the affected side by raising your arm up and leaning to the opposite side, and massaging the area may help ease your discomfort, too. Of course, some stitches are more severe than others, in which case you should resume exercise with great discretion.

But I'm in great shape. This doesn't apply to me.

Oh, yes it does! Even the best runners can get side stitches, as a large number of factors can cause distress of the abdomen in even the most physically fit athletes. Speed demons can't run away from stitches any more than the average joe. Some estimates suggest as much as 70% of the runner population has suffered ERTAP in the last year. Never say never!

So, I end this post with a friendly reminder to be proactive and prevention-minded. Happy running!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Never-Ending Story (Not the Movie): Running vs. Jogging

The word "jogging" strikes fear in the hearts of runners everywhere. My mother says on occasion, "I saw you out jogging yesterday," at which point I give her a look (see image below) and she responds by quickly correcting herself, "Oh, I mean running." Non-runners may think the two disparate terms are synonyms. So why is it such a big deal? It just is. According to Merriam-Webster, as an intransitive verb, to "jog" is to "run or ride at a slow trot; to go at a slow, leisurely, or monotonous pace; to trudge." That "trudge" really causes me to cringe. One trudges through snow, sand, and mud, but not on the sidewalk, track, or dirt surfaces most runners use. As a competitive runner, I shun this word, as it infers slow, laborious, tedious movement. On the other hand, in the context in which we use the word, Merriam-Webster defines the intransitive verb to "run" as "to go steadily by springing steps so that both feet leave the ground for an instant in each step; to go rapidly or hurriedly; to make a quick, easy, or casual trip or visit." Running obviously has a more positive connotation and describes a more fluid motion - one we would all like to believe describes our own.

This literal comparison of running and jogging brings about an argument of the more subjective variety: Is "running" defined by how fast an individual is moving, or by the effort level at which they are moving? Clearly, what might be a running pace to me might be a jogging pace to world-class elites such as Deena Kastor. While Ryan Hall's PR London marathon pace was 4:49/mile, the mortal runner might struggle to sustain this for a mere half a mile. According to my Garmin 205's Training Center software, 4:49/mile is in pace zone 9 and therefore dubbed a sprint. Yet, I highly doubt Hall, or for that matter, anyone, could sustain a sprint-level effort for the duration of 26.2 miles. *sigh* And the plot thickens.

Let's dissect our perceptions of the following statements.
  • Individual #1: "I jogged 7 miles yesterday. I felt like I was going so fast!"
  • Individual #2: "I ran 7 miles easy yesterday."

Individual #1, despite the comment, "I felt like I was going so fast," comes across as the recreational or novice runner (or jogger?). The second individual, although claiming to have gone at an easy pace, is perceived as the more competitive and advanced of the two. The word "jog" truly can evoke a sense of slow, aimless running, even though the person who "ran 7 miles easy yesterday" could just as easily have been moving at the same speed as his/her jogging counterpart.

After presenting all the evidence, it becomes apparent that there is both a technical and psychological difference separating the acts of running and jogging. Nobody wants to claim themselves as joggers, but are quick to log slow, easy miles of "running." There is a recovery and training purpose in taking it slow (AKA jogging), but for some reason we simply can't bring ourselves to use the correct term in all its seemingly lack of glory.

I, as well as many others, will likely continue to ostracize the word "jogging" while glorifying "running," but hopefully you have become more enlightened on the matter and will not judge any brave souls who raise their hand and embrace the seven-mile jog they embarked on this morning.

As of June 10, 2009, 10:22 AM, the English language officially added its one-millionth word (specifically, "Web 2.0," a technical term meaning the next generation of World Wide Web products and services) to its already vast supply. Chances are, I don't know and/or have not used 75% of them. Thus, we needn't boycott the verb "to jog" or expel it from the English language altogether. But at the same time, I see no pressing reason to utilize it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dressin' With Compression

What defines a serious runner? It's safe to say the man pictured above is not, but they come in all shapes and sizes. A runner can be serious about their sport whether they're pulling 6-minute or 10-minute miles; it's defined by one's mindset. You've likely seen the countless racks of Under Armour, Nike, Adidas, and other brands' top running apparel lines. If you're even remotely serious about running, I encourage you jump on the bandwagon and try some compression gear. You'll likely be surprised what a piece of clothing can do for your mindset, performance, and goals.

Firstly, if you live in an area that receives frigid winter weather, running leggings or tights can greatly increase your ability to run through the brunt of the season. They keep you warmer and conserve heat better than would loose-fitting pants in the midst of strong, bone-chilling winds.

Compression gear exists in a large number of forms, including (but not limited to) leggings, long- or short-sleeved tops, arm sleeves, and calf sleeves. Although in a less obvious way, marathons not only serve as competitions, but also as running "fashion shows." It's likely you've seen many of these new items being sported at marathons by the elites running down the 26.2-mile runway of the course. If you saw Kara Goucher's 3rd place performance for the women at the most recent 2009 Boston Marathon, for example, you might remember her self-described "awesomely obnoxious" compression outfit complete with rather beastly arm sleeves (see picture at upper-right).

Because compression gear has become a widespread trend of the world-class, upper echelon of runners, mere mortals sometimes shy away from wearing such clothing for fear of appearing like a "wannabe." However, there are proven benefits to compression gear, like better muscle stability, less muscle fatigue and soreness, increased endurance, improved circulation and temperature regulation, reduced wind drag, and sun protection. Wanting to reap these benefits does not make someone a "wannabe" by any stretch of the imagination, so don't rob yourself because of self-consciousness.

Before you go out on a compression gear shopping spree, I suggest you evaluate your needs. For instance, if you live in a tropical climate that doesn't know the true meaning of winter or chilly temperatures, you likely won't be in need of tights and other compression gear designed for cold weather. "Compression" gear is also a wide term used to label a vast range of fabric qualities, variety of weaves, elasticity, durability, detailing, anti-microbial material, wicking performance, moisture management, and anti-allergens.

Prices also range greatly, depending on all of said factors. Such garments are almost always more expensive than their non-compression counterparts, so do a little research and read the tag before purchasing, as you want to spend money on practical things that are applicable to you personally.

If you're skeptical and determined to stand by your tried-and-true cotton or loose-fitting clothing, you will be no less of a runner because of it. But if you're looking to give yourself a little psychological and performance boost, or even just try something new, that compression gear at your local fitness store is just waiting for you to try it on.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Wii Not So Fit?

Chances are, unless you have no computer access, don't own a television, or live in a bubble, you've heard of the Wii Fit. It's recently picked up a storm of media amidst the widespread obesity epidemic, as well as video game consumers eager for the "fun" fitness it promises. Among the Wii Fit's games, of which there is a myriad to choose from, include boxing, tennis, bowling, yoga, snowboarding, and skiing. Oh - and running.

According to Nintendo's website, "Wii Fit is a combination of fitness and fun, designed for everyone, young and old. By playing Wii Fit a little every day, you, your friends, and your family can work towards personal goals of better health and fitness." Hm, I'm not so sure about that. Indeed, otherwise sedentary individuals may find it helps build a basic level of fitness, but for runners and other participants in more rigorous exercise, replacing such a workout routine with that of the Wii Fits would be quite detrimental to one's performance.

The "running" game requires the user to hold onto the Wii remote as they essentially hop in place, with the options of simultaneously watching TV, exploring the 12 virtual trails in the game with either your trainer or a dog, or accompanying a fellow gamer on a two-person run.

Perhaps it's the dedicated, hardcore runner in me, but after watching this YouTube video of the Wii's so-called "running," I feel calling it this almost makes a mockery of the sport. In fact, the movements of this game much more similarly mimic the motions of jump-roping.

Yet, the Wii Fit also presents itself as a very light cross-training possibility. If it's a rest or recovery day, playing a couple matches of tennis or boxing with a friend might be a viable option.

I suppose the plus to "running" on Wii's trail network is that it's just about impossible to get lost, mugged, stuck in sticky situations, caught in hazardous weather, or stopped by intersections and traffic lights. But then where's the fun in running?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Run A Marathon, Save 1.8 Lives

That's right, folks. The media tends to concentrate on the deaths that occur in marathons, focused on the danger of running 26.2 miles rather than the celebration of so many of the finishers' accomplishments. It's rather ironic when the same media touts the results of the opposite end of the spectrum, which is America's obesity epidemic and the adverse effects of being sedentary has on individuals. But having examined a particular study in the British Medical Journal, it is now safe to say I'd much rather be running a marathon than driving a car.

This experiment showed that, out of 26 marathons totaling more than 3 million participants over the course of 30 years, more deaths could be attributed to vehicle crashes than marathon running. Researchers recorded the number of sudden cardiac deaths after each marathon and compared them with the numbers of motor vehicle deaths along the route during the same hours one week before and one week after these 26.2-mile races. They also looked at routes outside the marathon to account for any spill-over traffic (traffic that was forced to navigate around the blocked-off roads).

The results? Across the 30-year duration, 26 cardiac deaths occurred in the marathons. Put another way, this statistic is equal to a rate of 0.8 deaths per million hours of exercise. In contrast, approximately 46 lives were saved in motor vehicle accidents that would have otherwise taken place had the marathon not closed these roads. The re-routing of traffic could not account for this lower death toll.

Thus, researchers Donald A Redelmeier and J Ari Greenwald found that running marathons has a 35% less relative death risk than that of driving, which "amounted to a ratio of about 1.8 crash deaths saved for each case of sudden cardiac death observed."

Of course, as with every study, there are critics who search for flaws in the methods used by researchers. One such critic, Graeme D. Ruxton, proposed, "...if [Redelmeier and Greenwald] are correct that marathons lead to a reduction rather than a redistribution of road traffic accidents, perhaps the reason is because marathon runners are intrinsically dangerous drivers and the key function to society of marathons is to keep these people off our roads for a few hours!" As a runner, such a statement cannot help but slightly offend. However, it is merely a different (and less direct) interpretation of the results, which are rarely definitive matters.

Despite critics, the main purpose of the experiment was fulfilled with Redelmeier and Greenwald's conclusion that, "Organised marathons are not associated with an increase in sudden deaths from a societal perspective, contrary to anecdotal impressions fostered by news media."

Therefore, I encourage all of my readers to run marathons! It saves lives! And it most likely won't be at the expense of your own.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Running Away From H1N1

H1N1, more commonly known as the swine flu, has been attracting increasing national media attention this past week. Even though we're runners with minds and wills of steel, our physical bodies are none the less mortal and therefore equally as susceptible to catching such viruses. We often run in isolation, but the combination of long runs, which can weaken the immune system, and time spent in crowded areas like the gym or races, where the chances of being exposed to such contagions is much higher, means runners must heed the advice of the medical community with special diligence.

First, to all you gym rats out there, beware! In the effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle, gym junkies in their natural habitat of fitness and health clubs everywhere are often surrounded by germs in vast numbers. If one really thinks about it, this makes sense. People wearing minimal clothing, groping the workout equipment with their sweaty bodies as they make strides towards their fitness endeavors, is not exactly the equation for optimal sanitary conditions. Though most germs are harmless, gyms are breeding grounds for harmless and pathogenic germs alike.

According to an ABC News study, areas that experience a high number of people in a short amount of time and thus are oases for germapalooza include dumbbells, bike seats, and weight lifting benches. Next time you use such equipment, think about both applying disinfectant to the equipment before use and washing your hands after the workout. If you have any open cuts or scratches, which are wide-open invitations for infection, be diligent by properly cleaning them and covering them up with band-aids prior to going to the gym. And, before you pick up that post-workout snack, remember to wash your hands.

But the area that was found to be the greatest germ hot-spot, as one might suspect, was that of the showers. Saunas, hot tubs, and steam rooms are also areas with high concentrations of bacteria, as their warm, moist environments are perfect breeding grounds for these microscopic creatures. In these areas, avoid going barefoot - instead, opt to wear water shoes or flip-flops. To anyone who discredits this idea as "fashion suicide," I must inquire, would you rather be a healthy dork or swine-flu-inflicted, barefoot fashionista? At the gym, we're not by any means walking the red carpet! Thus, the obvious choice for me would be the healthy dork...and proud of it.

Secondly, many runners know their immune systems are suppressed up to 72 hours following the intense exercise that constitutes many long runs or marathons. Although runners are healthier in the long-run, this period is an open window of opportunity for any illnesses. During this window, simply be careful (but not paranoid) about avoiding excessive hand-shaking or other contact that could lead to the transmission of contagion.

Sunday, May 3, at the Pittsburgh Marathon where a turn-out of 10,000 runners is expected, marathon officials will be keeping a close eye on any H1N1 symptoms. In addition, the Flying Pig Marathon (which, ironically, has little to do with pigs) in Cincinnati, Ohio, which takes place the same day, is worried about the misleading label of "swine flu" having a negative impact on attendance. The Flying Pig Marathon organizers are encouraging the expected 23,000 runners to maintain their participation because, according to the race's medical director Dr. Jon Devine, "The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has not told travelers to change any plans. Because these running and walking events are held outside, and the crowds are not confined to one hotel or one inside area, the chances of coming in contact with someone who is sick are remote."
Thus, it is clear the outbreak of H1N1 is having an effect on runners. To track its spread, you can go to the New York Times' Interactive Swine Flu Cases Map. But there is no need to become a frenzied, overnight convert to germophobism! Basic hygiene is the best way to avoid this flu, as well as most other contagions that could put a damper on your training plans. One should be cautious, but not overly so. Combining our running speed with anti-bacterial soap, we runners just might be ready and set to go out-run this H1N1.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Bony Issue

Are you a habitual loser? Do you constantly find yourself losing things and desperately searching every nook and cranny of your surroundings? On several occasions, I've lost a contact in the process of putting it in my eye, scrambling nearly blindly on the ground to find the transparent little bugger. Perhaps you've lost your keys, or even the T.V. remote, on numerous occasions. Next time this happens, remember that things could be much worse. You could lose your bone mass.

Main Entry: os·te·o·po·ro·sis
Pronunciation: \ˌäs--ō-pə-ˈ-səs\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural os·te·o·po·ro·ses
: a condition that affects especially older women and is characterized by decrease in bone mass with decreased density and enlargement of bone spaces producing porosity and fragility

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis affects more than 200 million individuals across the globe. Many know that running, which is high-impact, can help increase bone-density as the bones respond to the great stress under which they are placed. However, one important study (in the British Journal of Medicine), performed on 52 female runners who ran a great range of weekly distances, found the women who ran the most to have the lowest bone density. While it is true that osteoporosis is often associated with older women, this research done on female distance runners has proven that this problem is not solely a condition of old age. Being one who truly puts the "long" in long-distance running, this certainly caught my attention.

What was the reason for this result, seemingly counter to the very physiological principles of increased work load and response? It was found that many of the women who had higher training volumes were not eating adequately to fuel the expected bone response to such mileage. Of course, a lower bone-density makes much more likely the possibility of stress fractures and/or osteoporosis, even when safely bumping up training at the 10% per week rule-of-thumb. Thus, maintaining a balanced diet that provides enough energy to sustain physical activity, with adequate calories to promote the building of muscle and bone, is of great importance.

Another possible reason for these findings is the fact that estrogen, a hormone that has a great impact on bone health, is typically lower in female athletes who participate in vigorous exercise like running.

Additionally, if you are guilty of commonly skipping other upper-body resistance exercise (like weight lifting), bone-density in these areas will be unaffected by concentrated efforts in the predominantly lower-body sport of running. Therefore, even though a runner may harbor doubts as to whether or not weight lifting and other such workouts will help cut a 5k time, said exercises would certainly be in the best interests of bone health.

Weight lifting isn't just for meat-heads, as everyone who wants to show some love to their bones should give it a try. You don't have to bench-press 100+ lbs. to achieve better bone density or become a better runner; rather, 2-3 sessions of moderate weight lifting per week will suffice.

And lastly, I will remind all my fellow runners to eat up and fuel well! It's not one's outer "bony" that matters - it's the inner "bony" that counts.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Join the Arm-y

If you've ever watched the Olympic sprinters perform, it's likely you noticed their pumping, domo-arigato-Mr.-Roboto-like arms. Of course, this contrasts starkly with their marathoner counterparts, who swing their arms in a much more loose, relaxed manner. But what do the arms really do for a runner? For a sport that relies so greatly on the lower body, less attention is given to the mechanics of the upper body.

What Role Do Arms Play in Running?

Certainly, arm movement is a factor in how an individual runs. If you don't believe me, I suggest you step outside, tuck your arms behind your back, try to run (potentially at the expense of looking rather insane to the neighbors), and then profess any remaining skepticism. Many associate "pumping arms" with stronger, faster running (like in the case of a sprinter). However, contrary to popular belief, the arms really play little role in forward movement because they are not propulsive mechanisms. Rather, they serve to counter-balance the legs, moving conversely with the opposite leg, as well as each other. They react to our movement to maintain equilibrium. This explains the intense arm movement of a sprinter, who is generating an immense propulsion with their legs that must be balanced with an equally aggressive arm swing.

The arms are also perceptual appendages in that they constantly, and instinctively, gauge our perception of falling. When someone begins to fall, their reaction is to outstretch their arms to brace themselves for the ensuing impact with the ground.

For Running, What is the Proper Arm Movement?

To those guilty of frequently monitoring their running form, you can rest assured that you needn't consciously think about your arms (unless, of course, you're a baby-stroller-pusher). Their tension, swing, and angle will all adjust themselves in accordance with your leg cadence and running speed. Therefore, the notion of a "proper" arm movement does not exist, just as there is no one-size-fits-all "proper" running form. Because everyone has different body mechanics and thus runs with very individual forms, various arm movements will result to complement one's unique style.

Although a universal, proper arm movement is non-existent, remember to relax your hands and shoulders, which are common points of unnecessary tension. Even while racing, when the last thing you want to do is relax, avoid tensing up these areas, including your face. An added bonus might be a more attractive racing picture, because honestly, no one wants to buy a concrete memory of themselves with an awkward facial expression.
Whether your a Styx fan or not, pumping one's arms in a robotic fashion is unnecessary unless the running event calls for it. Let the arms be free to do their own thing, but don't allow them too much leeway lest they produce tension in other areas of the upper body. As long as you don't run with arms flailing overhead like you're on a roller coaster ride (see below), you should be okay.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dress To Impress!

*Ch-ch...BOOM!* And they're off to the races! No, really. Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, the sun is shining gloriously - and so begins racing season. You've likely seen several goofy, decked-out runners at a race, donning costumes of many varieties. Perhaps you've even been one of said nuts. If you're looking to try something new and spice things up a bit, I've compiled a list of the most and least encumbering costumes for your viewing pleasure. However, I must warn you that when wearing such clothes, a PR is not a likely event. One is, however, bound to receive a number of amused smiles and entertained looks.

Also, many of the silly costumes you see in races, high-profile marathons in particular, are worn for charity fundraising. Money can be raised for various causes online using sites such as Just Giving. Of course, if you really are planning to run a race in costume, it is only appropriate that you practice with it on beforehand. I recommend you do this on more remote or lesser-traveled trails, as embarrassment might ensue on public sidewalks with numerous, ogling cars passing by.

Most Encumbering Costumes (That, Although Amusing, I Wouldn't Necessarily Recommend Wearing)

We all know peanut butter is a staple in many runners' diets. But it is a new day and age when one can proudly wear the essence of peanut butter in costume form. However, this is an inflatable costume, and could understandably cause difficulty in races of greater distances.*

*Please note that Breadcrumb Runner is not in any way responsible for damage inflicted by fellow, potentially peanut-butter-crazed, competitors. I thoroughly caution you in donning such a delicious suit, and if you choose to do so...well, your life is in your own hands.

This Pacman costume (at right) brings new meaning to the phrase "devouring the competition." Every time the pictured individual passed someone in his/her less-than-inconspicuous outfit, he or she must have been hearing a mixture of triumphant, pitched "beeps" that constitute Pacman's theme music. I imagine the task of running 26.2 miles in this costume was much more difficult than maneuvering the yellow pixels that are Pacman with a game controller.

DUH-DUN...DUH-DUN...DUH-DUN, DUN, DUN, DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN! With this extremely intimidating, Jaws-esque costume, you will strike fear in the hearts of every fellow racer you spurt by.

Now it's time for another...inflatable costume! I can't imagine what joy running 26.2 long, sweaty miles in what is essentially an oppressive blow-up suit, but surely dressing in one of the Kool-Aid man would make it a more enjoyable experience. However, if running a race with this ruddy, ballooning piece of material, it is mandatory that one reciprocates each confused expression with a boisterous, "OHHH YEAHHH." Make Kool-Aid man proud.

Less Encumbering Costumes (That, if You're Just Crazy Enough, Are Viable Options)

First up for our less encumbering bunch of outfits is that of an upside down clown. Be careful to not scare the spectator kiddies! And, if you're lucky, you just might impress a couple people from a distance who miss the illusion aspect of it or have been slacking on regular eye appointments.
Although the movie was, shall I say, quite skull-numbingly dull, one could rock a marathon in this Napoleon Dynamite costume. Be careful to not cover up the give-away tag-line "Vote For Pedro" with your bib number, though! And look. This outfit comes complete with the coolest pair of massive, astronaut-like, Napoleon-Dynamite-style moon boots! What more could one ask for?

Or, you can be clever like this individual on the left by throwing together a number of old, simple clothing items in an odd manner. The result, when paired with a box of chocolates (for mid-race fuel, of course) and a beard (they make fake ones, ladies), is a make-shift Forrest Gump costume!

What is there to lose? Many fellow racers are typically absorbed in the mental aspect of their own race, and spectators of the non-running variety already think we're crazy. Racing in costume can be for charity, or merely a fun, sociable experience. In the end, it doesn't matter what potentially strange or humiliating clothes you donned. Beneath all the material is a runner, and beneath the athletic exterior is an individual who wishes to push their limits and pound the pavement to probe the heights of human ability.