Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An Explanation

I want to apologize to the readers for disappearing for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, my Mom passed away unexpectedly from a stroke two weeks ago, and I had to go down to Florida for a week to help my Dad make arrangements. This was followed almost immediately by a work trip to San Diego and then by several days of digging out from under a mountain of work.

While my Mother was not athletic (she abhorred exercise), she was very proud of my running and blogging. I came across a number of pages that were printed from my blog when I was going through some books in her room. Although she never commented on a posting, it was nice to know she was reading. As usual, it was running that kept me sane during that difficult week. I wrote her eulogy in my head during runs on the Dunedin causeway in the early mornings while feeling the sun rising at my back and contemplating the waters of the bay on either side of the trail. The causeway trail runs from Dunedin to Honeymoon Island, an area not as developed as other parts of the West Coast. It was the perfect atmosphere for contemplation and remembering my mother’s life. She will be greatly missed by her family. Back with more in a little while.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cold Feet

Winter’s icy grip hasn’t loosened this past week. I’m still running inside, except for a 6 mile outing yesterday that felt surprisingly challenging. I say “surprisingly” because it wasn’t any different from the route I usually take but it felt like I was running through molasses. I thought I might have been experiencing the effects of overtraining, but today I got on the treadmill and flew through four miles while barely breaking a sweat. I was probably just tired. Erin and I bought a latex mattress about a year ago that totally collapsed in the center, so every night it’s a battle to find a comfortable position. Sleep has been elusive, both due to the bed situation and the kids coming in during the wee hours. I bought a new bed the other day and it arrives on Saturday. Hopefully that will alleviate some on the sleepiness.

I had an email exchange with Amby Burfoot from Runner’s World the other day. His most recent blog posting took a look at the questionable science (and motives) of some recent studies that concluded that running shoes might contribute to running injuries rather than prevent them. Anyone who has been following the recent trends in the running community have no doubt encountered an article or two by proponents of barefoot or minimalist shoe running.

The book Born to Run by author Chris McDougal has ignited considerable controversy on the issue of whether running shoes do more harm than good. I read Born to Run when my running and training were at a particularly low ebb. The idea that man was evolutionarily developed for distance running resonated so strongly with me that I changed my running stride and shoe selection and really started enjoying running again. While many of my lower mileage training runs for the Philadelphia Marathon were in Nike Frees (a so-called minimalist running shoe), my distance runs were all in my trustworthy Sauconys. Man may have been Born to Run, but he wasn't born to run on pavement. The barefoot proponants may have a point, (my intermittant knee and back problems disappeared once I changed my form and started using minimalist shoes) but their unecessarily strident tone can be off-putting. However, I think the editor of a magazine who’s principal revenue source comes from shoe companies advertisements should exercise a little more care when questioning the motives of a particular study’s author: “Richards has a stake in a minimalist shoe company. I'm not calling Kerrigan and Richards liars. Far from it, I agree with Richards's conclusion. But we should understand the motivation behind their writing and their research projects.” Yes, of course, but publishing your own article without a similar disclaimer about Runner’s World’s own pecuniary interests is at least as disingenuous. Amby responded to my comment in a personal email and argued that RW stands to earn even more advertising dollars that it would lose: “a decrease in running injuries, if this occurred through barefootin (sic), could possibly increase RW circulation, profits, etc. Since fewer injuries would presumably mean more runners and RW readers.” Well, I don’t buy it, but I appreciate the fact that he responded. I think the science on shoes could go either way at this point. Time will tell.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cool Running

The Northeastern United States has been experiencing some severe weather this winter. After an early blizzard the week-end before Christmas, we’ve been treated to freezing cold temperatures accompanied by blasts of arctic winds. The combination of icy roads and sub-zero wind chills have kept me off the roads and on the hamster wheel at the gym for the past couple of weeks. I’ve made a deliberate effort to run outside as much as possible, but once the mercury drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, I throw in the towel. In my younger years I simply layered in more clothing and braved the elements, but then again, in my younger years I couldn’t afford a NYSC membership so I really didn’t have any other options.

All this cold weather got me thinking about the body’s response to exercising at low temperatures. I always thought that you burned more calories when working out outside in the cold, figuring that the body had to burn more calories to maintain core temperature than it does in the summertime. Surprisingly, it turns out that the reverse is true. When the ambient air temperature is hotter, your heart has to do extra work to prevent you from overheating. More than 70 percent of the energy produced by your muscles during exercise is lost as heat. The harder you exercise, the hotter your muscles become. In hot weather, not only must your heart pump extra blood to bring oxygen to your muscles, it must also pump hot blood from your heated muscles to your skin where heat can be dissipated.

On the other hand, in cold weather, your heart only has to pump blood to your muscles and very little extra blood to your skin. Your muscles produce so much heat during exercise that your body does not need to produce any additional heat to keep you warm. Curiously, this may help to explain why people find the pounds creeping on in the wintertime, even when they stay active. (Of course, it couldn’t have anything to do with elevated consumption of Christmas cookies and egg nog)

I guess running on the treadmill at the gym, (which is mercifully kept at a temperature much higher than freezing), actually helps you maintain your weight during the winter better then running outside. If only it wasn’t so terribly boring.