Chasing 42

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Archive for the tag “research”

RRCA Coaching Certification- Just call me coach!

It’s no secret that I love many different aspects of running. Heck, I wouldn’t be writing a blog otherwise, right? Not only do I love running itself, but I love the research that goes into deciding on workouts, races, shoes, nutrition, and many other aspects of running, and I love talking to other people about it. In many ways, I’ve brought the same research skills I use in my professional life to my running life, and they’ve served me well. Over the years, as I’ve learned more and more, I’ve really enjoyed being able to help new runners, and provide advice to friends when it comes to their training, nutrition, race decisions, gear, and various other running-related items. So, when I saw the notice last fall that the RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) would be hosting their annual convention in Des Moines this year, and they would be offering a coaching certification class, I knew I had to sign up. After talking through (and justifying) the expense with the epicurean, I pulled the trigger and registered.


The coaching class (and convention) was held April 23-25, and it was a fantastic experience! Since we don’t have a RRCA chapter in Ames, I haven’t been involved with the organization in the past so this was my first opportunity to not only go through the certification course, but learn more about RRCA and network with folks around the country. The class itself was broken up into different modules and covered a wide range of topics. We spent three solid days learning the ins and outs of coaching while getting to know each other and picking the brains of three wonderful coaches and instructors with countless years of experience. The schedule was broken down as follows:

Day One

  • Introductions
  • Coaching History
  • Types of Runners & their Training Needs
  • Running Physiology
  • Building a Periodized Program

Day Two

  • Coaching Nutrition
  • The Business of Coaching
  • Sports Psychology

Day Three

  • Building Training Programs
  • Injuries, Heat, Altitude, and Running Form
  • Case Study Work- Putting it all together!

It was clear from day one that a great deal of time and effort had been put into designing this course, which made the educator in my very happy and at ease with my decision. The course focused on all levels of running, which was nice to see and led to a very well-rounded experience. My own experiences running have mainly been the result of my own decisions, running with friends, and putting together training “programs” myself without necessarily knowing the “why” behind what I was doing. I can’t tell you how many issues of Runner’s World and online articles I’ve poured over since I started running, and there seems to be a new “go to” workout every month, which can make it hard to decide what is right for you, let alone what is right for someone else. This is where the information on physiology and training needs became very beneficial.


I’ve certainly talked to plenty of runners that ran in high school and college and learned second-hand about some of the workouts they completed. However, that was not a reality for this asthmatic kid, so it never really sunk in. Spending time in this course discussing how to set up a specific periodized program based on running needs and goals was incredibly beneficial and probably the most interesting aspect of the course for me. I feel like I have such a better understanding of how to go about helping folks train for reasonable goals, and how to measure their progress and adjust their training accordingly, which is key when working with folks who have individual needs, goals, and life circumstances. The information on nutrition, business, physiology, and psychology all seemed to provide the “why” and the “how” for making those training plans a reality. The result was an incredibly well-rounded and information coaching course that met all of my expectations and more.

In addition to the course itself, we had the opportunity to attend various other aspects of the RRCA Convention, which only added to the overall experience. It was an amazing feeling to be surrounded by hundreds of people who are equally passionate about running as I am. I was able to make some new friends, share stories, and generally network. Once the course was over, we were required to take an online exam based on what we learned, which grilled us on facts, figures, and challenged us to put our new knowledge into practice. It has been quite a while since I’ve had to take an actual exam, and it was no joke! The threshold for passing is quite high so there was very little room for error, and I definitely felt a sense of relief and excitement when I submitted my exam and received my passing grade (with plenty of room to spare, thank you very much!). We also had to submit our CPR & First Aid Certification, which meant going through a new Red Cross Course. As a former EMT, I knew what I was doing and more, but I had let my certification lapse, so it felt good to get that taken care of before leaving Ames as well.


What’s next? Well, I’d love to see just how I can put my new coaching skills and certification to good use. I am planning on looking into volunteer coaching opportunities, and will eventually explore starting a small coaching business that will allow me to take on private clients. In the meantime, if you are thinking about seeking out some coaching assistance with your running goals, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d love to work with you to help you achieve your goals and continue #chasing42 !

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!


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.


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!

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Passing the Seasonal Baton

For most folks, early May marks the beginning (or at least hopeful beginning) of summer weather, outdoor activities, barbecues, and more comfortable outdoor running. However, for me, this time of year is also a “new year” of sorts. The spring semester is coming to a close, and the summer months are upon us. I’ve lived and worked in an academic environment for the better part of my life, so this change in environment and work focus seems fairly natural and expected to me, and I often forget that this transition doesn’t impact everyone. Granted, most people definitely notice the lack of students in town as the community shifts into sleepy summer calm, and it doesn’t take nearly as long to wait for a table at a restaurant (not that it ever really takes that long in a small town in Iowa), but the work/life structure doesn’t change. However, the summer months mark a sharp change in schedule and behavior for me. My focus shifts from teaching to research and writing, and my schedule becomes far less structured or influenced by outside forces. I spend just as much time working, but my responsibilities drastically shift.


This passing of the seasonal baton certainly has an influence on my training schedule and behavior. Most notably, I’m not able to meet up with friends to run more regularly without scheduling conflicts getting in the way. I’ll also spend more time running in the early morning hours to avoid the heat (once it gets here), and my race schedule is finally getting exciting. I truly love the spring and summer months and the opportunities they bring for outdoor activities, work around the house, and being able to sit outside in the backyard with a good book and a few dogs playfully chasing rabbits and squirrels. I also love the flexibility to be able to toss in extra runs or other training activities, and not spend as much time chasing the daylight.

I’ll have a busy next few months ahead of me, between my teaching responsibilities (don’t worry, there are still students here taking classes!), and the various writing and research projects I’ve had on hold, but I’m looking forward to the change of pace. I enjoy working in academia because the days are always different from one to the next, and you have the flexibility to work on a variety of projects at any given time. I know very well that I wouldn’t do well in a job that forced me to do the same few things every day, without change. I suppose that’s the same reason I enjoy running outside so much, and avoid the treadmill. I love the variety and flexibility to pick a new route every day, run at new times of day, in new places, and tackle new races.

Iowa Summer

If I had to describe myself in one word, it would be “collector”. I love to collect information, knowledge, books, and most importantly, experiences. I shrug at the idea of running a race more than once because there are so many other races out there I haven’t yet run. I love looking for new ways to challenge myself and new people to share those moments with along the way. Ultimately, running, for me, is about passing the baton from one season/race/trail/route/climate/location/gear choice to the next. It’s always changing, always, fluid, and always filled with new experiences just waiting to collide with you when the sun rises the next day. So, to all of my running friends, I say Happy New Year! Greet this change in seasons, experiences, and opportunities with open arms. Lace up, head out, and enjoy the experiences and challenges that await you this summer! I know that I will 🙂

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!


Running Research to Consider

I’ve been in school for 26 of the 34 years I’ve been alive. In many ways, who I am has been defined by my presence in the classroom for as long as I can remember. I have three degrees, two certificates, and a nice balance of general and specialized knowledge to show for my troubles. I’ve made a career out of the classroom and enjoy my time there, whether as a student or a teacher. Either way, I’m always learning. Heck, if I could find a wealthy benefactor to support me, I’d probably spend the rest of my life in school. As it stands, I’ll have to “settle” for the joy of constant learning. I always happen to be juggling a dozen different topics in my mind, and my “great” reading list would make Robert Maynard Hutchins proud.

All of this is a long way of letting you know that my thirst for knowledge clearly spills over into my passion for running and endurance sports. This means I end up doing what I can to stay as up-to-date on current running-related research, and pouring over journal articles I’m not technically qualified to interpret. Nonetheless, I pick my way through them, look up what I don’t know, and add it to my bank of training knowledge as I constantly shape and reshape my training decisions. Luckily for me, I live in a university community with a wide range of like-minded academic runners, and we have access to a ridiculous amount of research due to our university affiliation. So, I thought I would share a few articles you may find interesting, and that may (or may not) have an impact on your future choices, or the sport as a whole.


As a mainly qualitative researcher, I’m comfortable with small sample sizes and different notions of reliability and validity. In many quantitatively focused fields, of which I would include exercise science and related disciplines, samples garner a great deal more scrutiny. For this reason, I’ve found it interesting that much of the seemingly relevant literature on running related topics typically involve relatively small sample sizes. There is of course no single definitions of credibility, validity, and reliability. However, I offer this observation as you consider any research you come across.

I’ve also noticed that running research seems to focus on three main areas:

1. The impact of running on health/mortality (generally speaking): this may include specific questions about potential correlations between running and various diseases or physical ailments, or may more generally explore links between running (physical activity) and life expectancy. It may also look at the impact of such variables as heat, cold, and distance on the body or more specific portions of the body.

2. Running Nutrition & Hydration: What products offer the best fuel during a run? How do our bodies process energy while running? Is there a benefit to carb loading the day before a race (probably not)? Is there a perfect fat/carb/protein balance for endurance runners? Should you cut gluten from your diet (not necessarily)? Does the paleo diet benefit runners (not generally)? What is the proper electrolyte balance? How much sodium should you take in during a race?

3. Shoes, Shoes, and more Shoes (and maybe some other gear thrown in for good measure): The debate over the perfect running shoe has been raging for decades and shows no sign of letting up. Companies continue to try and stay ahead of the “next big thing” in running, as they offer minimal, and now maximal products to meet the needs (really, just the interests) of as many runners as possible. Much of this research is (gasp!) sponsored by the shoe companies themselves as they seek the scientific proof that their new, proprietary toe box/sole compound/upper weave, etc. best aids runners in as wide a group as possible.

Photo Credit: Runners Connect

Photo Credit: Runners Connect

Shockingly (ok, not really), the most important thing that all of the reading I’ve done and continue to do has taught me is that running is a personal, individual experience. I can say that it’s clear we’ve lost touch with our bodies over the years as we become more dependent on external products, and less dependent on the ability to listen to what our bodies have to tell us. The only silver bullet that will always universally benefit EVERY runner is training. If you put in the miles, you’ll see results, no matter what your goals might be along the way. Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t see value in the wide variety of running-related research being done. Obviously I do, or I wouldn’t be reading it. I think much of the research being done, regardless of the results, can help us learn how to listen to our bodies, understand our bodies, and become more in touch with our running.

With that being said, here are a few recently published articles that may surprise you (or not, if you already knew this about yourself because you are listening to your body).

1. Researchers found that the level of cushion in the mid-sole of the  shoe had no impact on running-related injury rates. This certainly calls into question various shoes trends, eh?

2. The role of increased carbohydrates on endurance performance is being studied as well. Researchers stated  “We conclude that altering total daily carbohydrate intake by providing or withholding carbohydrate during daily training in trained athletes results in differences in selected metabolic adaptations to exercise, including the oxidation of exogenous carbohydrate. However, these metabolic changes do not alter the training-induced magnitude of increase in exercise performance.” In other words, carb-loading doesn’t seem to have a significant impact on performance.

3. Remember the tales about the impact of running hurting your bones? It turns out that impact may have the opposite effect and encourage bone strength and growth, especially as we age. Run on! On a side note, the title of this article is “Physical Activity and Bone: May the Force be With You”. How can you not love a group of researchers that produce titles like that?!

I’ll try to pull in more research as I come across articles that I find interesting, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you pay much attention to the research? Have you made different running choices? Is there amazing research happening out there that you’d like to share?

Running to the Podiatrist

Ok, so I didn’t actually RUN to my podiatry appointment, but I could have. The clinic is close enough but I decided they probably wouldn’t appreciate my sweaty, smelly presence in the exam room. You may be curious as to why this appointment was necessary in the first place. In all reality, “necessary” is a strong work. However, this is something I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while, and finally got around to acting on.

My left knee and foot have been spaces of discomfort and irritation off and on since I started running. I was diagnosed with patellar tendonitis very early on in my running journey. Several months of physical therapy, along with changes to my stride, better shoes, and much more involvement in my own well-being eventually took care of the knee pain. However, I would still sporadically feel random pain in the lower half of my leg and in arch of my foot, as well as on the top of my foot. It was never consistent or so overwhelming that I felt that I needed to rush to the doctor. At first, I chalked it up to the distances I was running. Arguably, I was piling on more and more miles as my addiction increased, so I assumed some aches and pains came with the territory. The pains would come and go throughout my run, and they typically dissipate during my recovery as my legs deal with the 20 or 30 miles I just put on them. However, the one mystery I was never able to account for was the fact that the pain only ever arrived in my left foot. I could finish a 50k or 50-mile run and my right leg/foot would feel fresh, but my left leg/foot would be killing me. This left me curious enough that I felt like a visit to the podiatrist was in order.

I was pleasantly surprised by the demeanor and openness of the doctor I visited. I explained that I was an endurance athlete, and that seemed to be enough information for him to understand that rest and limiting my mileage wasn’t really an option I would be considering. I knew the tendonitis was gone, and he screened me for plantar fasciitis, which was luckily a no-go. After watching me walk, examining my feet, and testing for sore spots, he left the room for a moment. He came back and handed me a sheet of paper, and indicated that he reasoned he had identified my issue. A quick look at my x-rays confirmed his suspicions. Apparently, my left foot was host to an extra bone!

I bet you're jealous, aren't you?

I bet you’re jealous, aren’t you?

The accessory navicular is an extra bone or piece of cartilage located on the inner side of the foot, just above the arch. It is incorporated within the posterior tibial tendon, which runs down the leg and attaches in this area. Although you are born with this congenital condition, many folks never realize it exists. However, it can become painful when you are more active, especially since that tendon is getting more use than it normally would. The intense pain from the light pressure it placed on the area made it quite clear that a diagnosis of accessory navicular syndrome was spot on.


We talked about options for treating the issue, and he recommended I begin with a pair of orthodics. Much of the pain when I run is the result of slight supination that causes the tendon to rub over the accessory navicular and cause irritation. I no doubt change my stride a bit to compensate for this irritation, which then leads to the random pain in other locations that end up disappearing after a while. I’m not necessarily keen on orthodics because of the potential they have for causing back issues when I’m not wearing them. However, he suggested trying “superfeet” inserts before spending money on custom inserts. I’ll probably give them a try, and only use them for my running shoes. Perhaps this will limit the potential for back pain.

I think I'll go with green :)

I think I’ll go with green 🙂

So, in the grand scheme of things, I’m ok with this issue. I’m always reading about other runners dealing with stress fractures and other much more serious issues, and I was thankful not to be in that category. I’m certainly not a fan of the extra bone in my foot, but it could certainly be worse! Have others dealt with ANS before? Do you use after-market inserts and have recommendations? I’m definitely all ears (and toes) for suggestions 🙂

Running and Body Image

I recently read a blog post by Zoe Romano that talked about the pressures and realities of body image. She was responding in part to an earlier article written by Lauren Fleshman, who received some interesting feedback following a runway shoot in November for some running apparel. Zoe remarked on the myriad of weight-related comments she received after her epic run along the Tour de France route. I found it interesting that after such an amazing journey, one of the first questions on everyone’s mind was “how much weight did you lose?” Even among athletes, a double standard exists when it comes to body image, and these posts do a very nice job of bringing that to light. Additionally, these thoughts come on the heels of Lindsey Vonn’s “skinny-fat” comments concerning other women she encountered at an awards ceremony.

It’s no coincidence that a majority of these stories involve women. Young girls are socialized from a very early age to look at certain way, and that indoctrination continues throughout adolescence and into adulthood. The pressures are extreme, and often lead to various eating disorders. I am guessing that each of us has been touched in some way by the effects of these situations, and our culture continues to perpetuate this “beauty myth”.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
― Naomi WolfThe Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women

For many female athletes, the pressure seems to become problematic in new ways. Until Title IX, young girls and women did not have nearly the access to athletics at the high school and collegiate level. However, that has obviously changed, although I would argue not nearly to the point where it needs to be. The athlete body can be problematic to the unrealistic beauty ideals in our society, however. Eating healthy and exercising inevitably adds muscle mass, which detracts from an idealized image of women that has become increasingly thinner and thinner. Dieting has become more and more popular, and young girls are internalizing these messages at younger and younger ages. In many ways, I worry that the more young girls internalize these messages about beauty, the less likely they are to be active and involved in physical activities, on top of the disordered eating patterns that we know are emerging at younger and younger ages.

Photo Credit: Howard Schatz (
Photo Credit: Howard Schatz (
Photo Credit: Howard Schatz (
Photo Credit: Howard Schatz (

(The photos above, revisited last year by Huff Post Women, provide a perfect example of the diversity of the human body and what it means to be an “athlete”. I take issue with the objectification present, however unintentional, but the message is one of strength.)

Additionally, although it is far less frequently talked about, these messages do impact men as well. I mentioned the double standard before, and it is most certainly alive and well. Men receive far less critique for their bodies, and as a result are perhaps more likely to begin running, among various activities. However, messages about body image have been shown to have an impact on male athletes as well. In addition, the “runner body” that we see among elite marathoners, especially, falls outside the stereotypical norm for men. The muscular male body is objectified alongside the female body, albeit in different ways that still thrust power into the hands of men over women.

The human body is an incredible machine, and it comes in all sizes, shapes, and weights. There should be room in our culture for all of them to do their work and showcase their talent. The media presents a very one-sided image of “beauty”. Although we may logically know that the human body doesn’t need to live up to that image, how often to we speak that truth? A lot has been made of the obesity epidemic in this country, and I agree that it is incredibly important to address. I love seeing program after program emerge that gets young people active and eating healthy. However, we can’t tackle obesity problems unless we also recognize that our misguided notions of beauty and body image are connected. Efforts, such as those by the International Olympic Committee, are a step in the right direction, but more work needs to be done.

Runners come in all shapes and sizes. Some run faster than others, and some from further than others, but everyone is moving. Distance is distance and we need to celebrate each and every one of those accomplishments. We need to remember that being healthy and achieving a level of fitness should be an added bonus for doing something that you love to do. Our bodies will fluctuate over the months and years, just as our training plans will change and our goals will change. However, the only aspect of body image we should pay attention to is the shoes on our feet. The most beautiful runner is the one crossing the finish line, whether at a race or in their neighborhood. These are the images we need to teach young people to embrace and celebrate. These are the body images we should strive towards.

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