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.