Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the category “running research”

Running with Circadian Science?

Many folks might not know that I was almost a pediatrician. I spent most of my childhood planning for medical school, and the first three years of my college career taking the necessary courses to achieve that vision of my future. Ultimately, my interests led me in a decidedly different direction, but I never let go of my love of science and the human body. That’s no doubt why I find the biological and physiological side of endurance running so fascinating. We put our bodies through countless trials out on the road and trails. The pain is real, and the criticism is consistent, but we keep doing it. At a certain point, any run of 50 miles or more seems to become a decidedly mental exercise, but our body still needs to function appropriately to keep moving forward. I’ve dealt with all kinds of aches, pains, and general fatigue during races, and often the knowledge that I can and have overcome those hardships is the only thing that keeps me pushing forward.

I’ve come to realize that the most difficult part of long-distance endurance events is often the number of hours I am on my feet at any given time. I’ve always been a bit of a night owl so staying up “late” has never been an issue. Unfortunately, my body’s definition of “late” has gotten earlier and earlier as I’ve circled the sun more and more. Gone are the college days of consistent all-nighters full of productive accomplishment. I’ve accepted this reality, but seem to push it aside when it comes to running. I’ve forcefully convinced myself that I am still easily capable of staying up all night as long as I’m running, and I’ve done it numerous times, which has only served to reinforce my illogical beliefs.

Now, I might have proved consistently that I can continue running at 3:00AM, but that doesn’t mean my body likes it. The pain and fatigue are real, and the digestive issues can’t be ignored (toilet paper should be a part of any ultra-runners race kit!). Thus, I found a recent story on NPR about circadian science fascinating. As the story discussed, we’ve long known that our brains have master clocks that help us maintain our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. Interestingly, researchers have discovered that we actually have clocks in every organ, every cell of our bodies. The story goes on to note:

We humans are time-keeping machines. And it seems we need regular sleeping and eating schedules to keep all of our clocks in sync.

Studies show that if we mess with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle — say, by working an overnight shift, taking a transatlantic flight or staying up all night with a new baby or puppy — we pay the price.

Our blood pressure goes up, hunger hormones get thrown off and blood sugar control goes south.

We can all recover from an occasional all-nighter, an episode of jet lag or short-term disruptions.

But over time, if living against the clock becomes a way of life, this may set the stage for weight gain and metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

The basic idea here is that our body’s clocks are set to expect certain things at certain times, and they react accordingly by releasing hormones, digestive enzymes, and a myriad of other chemicals throughout the body to effectively achieve the desired outcomes. If we take actions, such as eating, at times the body is not accustomed to this occurring, then we are fighting the signals that tell our body not to eat or drink, and we become off-balance.

circadian rhythm

This story got me to thinking about the implications for ultra-running. How many times have we heard stories about runners unable to keep food down during an overnight run, or suffering fatigue in the middle of the night, only to feel their body reawakened and re-energized with the sunrise (hint- ME!). What if these instances were the result of the clocks in our muscles demonstrating their utter confusion and disbelief over the fact that we are running in the middle of the night when we should be horizontal and flowing through REM cycles? What if our digestive issues are a direct result of our stomach, pancreas, and other vital organs telling us that we shouldn’t be consuming calories at 2:00AM. Perhaps the stomach just can’t make heads or tails of pizza and potato soup when it should be replenishing vital digestive acids and enzymes?

The endurance running implications for this research are fascinating to say the least. Ultimately,

“We’d like to be in a position where we’d be able to monitor hundreds of different rhythms in your body and see if they’re out of sync — and then try to normalize them,” Turek says.

We might be forcing these rhythms out of sync intentionally, but the possibility of helping keep them in sync while we running is phenomenal. If my body was as comfortable running at 3AM as it is at 3PM, there’s no telling what I would be capable of achieving. Perhaps we should be paying less attention to the clock on our wrist, and more attention to the clocks in our bodies!

Circadian Rhythm image

Advertisements

Latest Running Research- Listen to your Damn Body!

I just completed a multi-year study of running and endurance, and the findings are going to completely redefine the sport! This study is probably bigger than the Harvard Love Study and the Kinsey Reports combined! Are you ready to be amazed and completely rethink everything you know about running?

Here are the important take-away findings:

1. Speed and distance are inversely proportional: All of my recent PRs have come on the heals of long runs the previous day. Forget what you know about tapering, and head out for that 20-miler the day before your marathon. Watch the magic happen!

2. Hydration and gastrointestinal Distress are related: I’ve been playing around with my diet for quite some time, trying to figure out why the threat of the runs occurs on my long runs. Then, it hit me. Hydration! I’ve consumed water every single time I’ve had to make a pit stop at a gas station, in the woods, or behind a dumpster. The obvious solution is to simply stop drinking water. You’re welcome, internet!

3. Wind impacts pace: You’ve probably all thought about this anecdotally, and now you have the scientific proof to back up those hunches. Your pace does in fact decrease when running into the wind. That is, unless you push harder and increase your pace to compensate.

4. Bodyglide suppresses lactation in men! This was a rather unexpected finding, but the facts don’t lie. I do my best to avoid chafing on longer runs and apply my Bodyglide consistently. Surprisingly, I’ve never lactated on those days. Now, to my knowledge, I’ve never lactated period, but we’re just talking about running here.

bodyglide-detail-group-original

5. Black socks make you run faster: We all know that darker colors absorb more energy from the sun, and solar energy is becoming more and more important as we rip through our remaining coal reserves. It then stands to reason that the solar energy entering my legs is providing more power and energy, and I’m running faster as a result. I went back and looked at race pictures, and sure enough, I’m wearing black socks for all of my fastest races.

Now, you’ve probably figured out by now that these findings aren’t EXACTLY scientific, but they are none-the-less true…at least for me. Sometimes. In the right conditions. If I think hard enough about them. My point here is more of a response to what seems like a constant onslaught of articles, commentaries, and studies that suggest running will do this or that to your body, or running too far will hurt your body, you need this much recovery, or you need to eat this balance of foods. The messages we receive are endless in a media-saturated, social-media intensive society. What’s more, we’ve been trained by Western medicine to assume everything is objective, has a solution, and more than likely involves a pill.

I hate to break it to you but there is no such think as objective research. Everyone involved in every research study made decisions about how to go about their work, what and who to include, and what questions to ask (and thus what questions not to ask). The reality is that humanity is amazing, infuriating, sometimes terrifying, and mostly beautifully diverse. Thus, there are as many “ways” to do something as there are people to do them. Running is simply one of those things.

We’ve gotten away from listening to our bodies. Really stopping to pay attention to not only what hurts so we can tell our doctor, but what feels good, how long something lasts, and what differences exist when we try new things. The beauty, of course, is that we can start doing this any time. It may take some time to flip that switch in your mind, but the benefit is well worth the time. Just as we invest time in hill work, speed work, intervals, and endurance training, we should invest time in listening to our bodies.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with reading the articles that flood our news feeds every day. The trick is not to get so wrapped up in what other people are saying that we stop trusting ourselves to know what’s best for our running, our goals, and our bodies. The findings of that study may just surprise you, and will certainly prove more beneficial to your overall performance!

 

 

Race Across the USA: VA-Style!

I’ve been giving my 2015 race schedule a great deal of thought over the course of the last few weeks. My planning has been mildly complicated by the fact that the beautiful epicurean and I will be moving out to the East Coast in May for new opportunities (more on that later!). Thus, a whole new section of the country will be within driving distance, and that means researching some amazing races that weren’t economically feasible before, but now are within reach. I’m doing my best not to go crazy and register for every exciting race I see, but it’s definitely going to allow me to cross quite a few new states off my list and do a lot of exploring on trails and roads I’ve never seen.

A few months ago, I read an article about the Race Across the USA. I was immediately intrigued by the possibilities and quickly navigated to the route to see if it would be passing near Iowa. Alas, they were taking a southern route, but they were ended the journey in Virginia, and I happened to have some amazing friends in Virginia that might just be up for a little challenge. The entire race serves as a fundraiser for childhood obesity initiatives through the 100-mile Club. If you feel so inclined, I would be eternally grateful for any donation amount toward those goals! In addition, the small group of runners completing the entire 3,080 mile journey are being studied as part of a research project to examine the physiological effects on endurance athletes. Additional participants have the opportunity to join this core group of runners across the various states, either tackling an entire state, or running 4 back-to-back marathons. Although the though of covering an entire state did cross my mind, time wouldn’t permit. However, I am excited to be able to run the last 4 marathons of the entire race, across Virginia, and ending at the White House!

RAUSA-Map-v2-1024x576

I was able to convince my amazing Virginia friends to join me, and I can’t wait for the experience. As it so happens, I’ll now be able to drive out there instead of fly because we’ll be living out there by the start on May 30th. My plan is to treat this experience like any other 100K or 100-mile event (we’ll be traveling a total of 114 miles), and train accordingly. However, I’ll be throwing in a few more back-to-back training runs, and I’ve added a second two-a-day to my weekly schedule as well.

RAVA Logo

I’ve got some other great races in the mix for 2015, but you’ll have to wait until next week for the official unveiling! It’s going to be a busy year, but things are already off to a great start. Be on the lookout for more information about how you can share your race stories with Chasing 42 as well!

Donate Here!

Sex and Running: Endurance Activities Collide

“Sex makes you happy. Happy people do not run a 3:47 mile.” – American Running Legend Marty Liquori

The debate is as old as the Olympics themselves. What impact does sex have on athletic performance? The supposed answers are about as contradictory as any debate out there, which is in part why the subject is just so darn interesting. Plato urged athletes to abstain before competition as early as 444 BC, whereas Pliny the Elder famously proclaimed in 77 AD that “athletes when sluggish are revitalized by lovemaking”. Mohamed Ali would famously abstain from sex in the weeks leading up to a fight, whereas Ronaldo has claimed that sex before a match makes him better. I won’t even bother talking about the supposed sexual exploits of the likes of Joe Namath and Wilt Chamberlain. The opposing strategies seem to both end up working pretty well, but these stories leave us no closer to answering the question.

For years, coaches in all sports have urged their athletes to abstain from sex before competition. If you’ve ever been on an organized team, you’ve no doubt heard the recommendation (or mandate), and perhaps even broken it! It turns out that this bedroom tapering isn’t quite so cut and dry. In truth, this discussion is part psychological and part physiological. Luckily for us, there are always intrepid researchers out there exploring these burning questions (pun intended!).

Physiological Considerations

The endurance-related effects of sex on men and women are quite fascinating. Generally, research has found that having sex the night before a race has no noticeable impact on fitness measures, such as VO2 max, heart rate, or oxygen pulse. A study of 2,000 London marathoners found that those who “stretched” more vigorously the night before the race performed better than those that abstained. Additional research has uncovered increases in longevity, increased levels of immunoglobulin A (essential for the immune system), and decreases in heart-disease.

In women, researchers have discovered that two of the areas of the brain that are active during orgasm are the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula, both of which are associated with pain. This may suggest an analgesic effect. Perhaps the take-away message here is that the best recovery technique is a good orgasm. I’ll leave the method up to you, but will add that only 1/3 of women are capable of orgasm via penile-vaginal penetration. Other than that, I’ll refrain from pointing you in the right direction. In men, the impact on maximum workload has been shown to be minimal.  There has also been plenty of discussion about testosterone as a performance-enhancing drug. Just ask Floyd Landis. Researchers have found significant increases in testosterone levels following sexual intercourse. Interestingly enough, the study also found increases in testosterone resulting from watching others engage in sexual intercourse. Did I mention that the researchers collected their data at a swingers club in Las Vegas? I can only imagine how that IRB meeting went down!

Psychological Considerations

Running is clearly a mental game, as we all know. Mental training is sometimes the hardest aspect of endurance sports to master. For years, much of the conversation around abstaining from sex related to the perceived distraction it may cause for the athlete. The other “bonus” associated with abstaining prior to competition was added frustration and aggression, which could be released during the event. However, research has shown no impact on mental concentration. The same study also showed a decrease in attention two hours after sex, however, so plan accordingly! Other researchers have found limited self-reported negative impact among long distance runners who engaged in sexual activity prior to an event. Ultimately, everyone’s brain responds to sex differently but it only really has the potential to have a negative psychological impact on your performance if doing so is out of the ordinary, and stresses you out in some way. These are decisions I’ll leave up to you.

You may have noticed that I left out perhaps the most glaring physical concern- fatigue. Well, I hate to break it to everyone (ok, mainly men), but this isn’t really something to be worried about. The average sexual encounter lasts about 5 minutes, and burns about 50 calories.  A 2013 study did, however, indicate that sex may burn as many calories as 30 minutes on the treadmill, so don’t abandon hope just yet. Not surprisingly, 98% of those studied also felt that sex was more pleasant than their time on the treadmill. I’m shocked!

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: