Tag Archives: medical

Exiled in Paradise, and I Shall Have No Pi

The running gods either love me, or hate me.

A week ago last Thursday, my wife, DD #2 and I flew to Costa Rica. They came for fun and sightseeing. So did I, with the side effect of having to work at our office starting last Monday. (Yes, the company I work for has an office in Costa Rica. Deal with it.)

Costa Rica - Rachel with Macaw - 2We all had a blast over the first weekend, despite a lost passport that had to be replaced, and the ladies departed for home on Wednesday. I was to stay until Friday, then fly home to run the Pi Day race with daughter on Saturday.

What was the Pi Day race, you may ask? Well, as we all learned in school, “pi” is the mysterious number that expresses the relationship between the circumference of a circle and its diameter: (C = D * pi), more commonly known as 3.14159, etc. etc. to infinity.

From USA Today: amazing pi recitation feats. Because, apparently, all of the world's other problems have been solved.

From USA Today: amazing pi recitation feats. Because, apparently, all of the world’s other problems have been solved.

Saturday was March 14 (3-14), thereby the moniker “Pi Day”. Add in that it’s 2015, and it’s 3-14-15 – a once-per-century event. So Epic Races in Ann Arbor organized a little race: 3.14 miles on 3-14-15 at 9:26:53 a.m., thereby snatching the first 10 digits! And to top it off, there was pie (the food kind) at the finish line. Both of us being nerds (she a late bloomer) we signed up right away.

But the running gods had other plans for me.

Volcano eruption - Costa Rica

Thursday afternoon, one of Costa Rica’s slumbering volcanoes decided it was time for a little fun. The ashfall was light and no real damage was done, but they had to close the airport until they could clear it. Which led to incoming flights being diverted, which led to return flights being cancelled, mine being among them. “The earliest I can get you home,” the airline agent said when I called, “is Monday.”

So my part in the Pi Day race was scuttled, and I was forced to spend another weekend in Costa Rica. “Just so you know,” one of my coworkers helpfully told me, “no one here feels sorry for you.”

Well, si la vida te trata limones, haz limonada, I always say. The enforced additional layover allowed me to catch up on some things that I’ve been putting off due to a hectic schedule. Back home, I’d have run the race, then crashed for the weekend, or done stuff around the house. With none of those distractions here, I was free to focus on my backlog. And I got some more running in.

What is this "snow" you speak of.

What is this “snow” you speak of.

My runs have been short here – the longest has been 10K – but it’s included a lot of hill work (inescapable), and I climb six flights to my room several times a day. Plus it doesn’t take much heat to wear me out right now, as I’m still acclimated to below-freezing weather. But I hear it’s already much warmer at home, and spring trail races are coming up. Gotta stay in shape!

Heading home tomorrow – and there’s big news in my running life to share next time. Stay tuned!

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What Would You Trade the Rest of Your Life For?

During a recent run, I was told that a number of world-class athletes had once been asked the following: Suppose there was a drug that would guarantee victories in whatever events you chose, but would also cause you to die in five years. Would you take that drug?

The surprising result became known as Goldman’s dilemma, after the physician who posed the question. Read on for how the athletes answered.

Hey, what if I could take the drug at age 95? By Kuebi = Armin Kübelbeck (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hey, what if I could take the drug at age 95?
Source: Armin Kübelbeck, Wikimedia Commons

One could argue that the question is meaningless, because in reality there is no such drug, and therefore no actual choice to make. Yet isn’t a form of Goldman’s dilemma already in evidence from athletes who take steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, despite the known side effects and risk of getting caught?

And what about NFL players who continue to play despite multiple surgeries, tissue-destroying cortisone shots, and concussions? Many former players are practically crippled or have symptoms of severe brain damage from concussions.

When I was growing up, I was taught that delayed gratification was a good thing. And anyone who works out has heard the phrase short-term pain for long-term gain. But the examples above are doing the opposite – obtaining short-term money and fame in exchange for long-term suffering. This is classically portrayed as selling one’s soul to the Devil.

And over half the athletes asked the “magic drug + death” question said they would take it, willing to take the short-term success in exchange for no long-term at all.

And this disgraced former champion even said he'd cheat all over again. "Lance Armstrong MidiLibre 2002" by de:Benutzer:Hase - Self-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

And this disgraced former champion recently said he’d cheat all over again.
Lance Armstrong MidiLibre 2002” by de:Benutzer:HaseSelf-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I bring this up due to something Randy Step recently posted in the Running Fit Events newsletter. He cited the recent sensationalist articles claiming that running hard is as bad for you as being sedentary, and that life is not prolonged as a result (read a more informed analysis here). Randy’s point is that we don’t run to escape death; we run to enjoy the experience and experience a higher quality of life until we do shuffle off this mortal coil.

“Would you rather be living it up and running every day until you are 80 and then just drop dead,” Randy writes, “or would you rather live a sedentary life, develop congestive heart failure at 80, spend 10 years in a nursing home with multiple disease factors, perhaps Alzheimer’s and no quality of life, then die at 90?”

Fortunately, studies consistently show that people who exercise live longer and also have a higher quality of life than those who are sedentary, so again this is a hypothetical choice. But I’m pretty sure I’d choose the “run every day, die at 80” scenario. Being active is about more than just staying healthy and fit. I believe it is a major contributor to my self-confidence and happiness.

Somehow I don't think Meb is interested in dying early. By Gr5 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a hard runner who I’ll bet outlives any couch potato.
By Gr5 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

As for dropping dead during a run, there have been races where I’ve felt pretty close to it. So far, so good, though. I’ll be sure to let you all know if I make it to 81.

Running Transforms a Town: McFarland, USA

There’s nothing like a story of overcoming adversity to make you appreciate your own life – and make you re-examine your attitude toward many things.

Last night I went to a pre-release screening of McFarland, USA, based on the true story of Jim White, the high school cross-country coach in the town of McFarland, California, and how he built the team into state champions. While there’s plenty of running, the story is more about the characters – the coach (played by Kevin Costner) and his family adapting to life in an overwhelmingly Hispanic community, and the struggles of the kids and their families to escape from the lifelong grind of working as pickers in the Central Valley orchards.

Movie poster (source: Wikipedia).

Movie poster (source: Wikipedia).

Once past the first 10 minutes, an awkward, clichéd “fish out of water” sequence as the White family arrives in McFarland, the story takes off. Jim forms the cross-country team and turns them into dedicated runners, making mistakes and dealing with their frustrations and family challenges, but never giving up on them.

So what adversity did the McFarland runners face? Start with getting up at 4:30 a.m. every day to work in the fields until school started, then after school going back to the orchards to train for 10 miles or more. On weekends, and when school was out, they worked all day, every day, in the fields, along with their families. And they’re up against better funded, better trained teams from privileged schools. Jim uses this as motivation.

“At the end of a race,” he tells them, “it’s all about who can stand the pain. You guys have the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen.” And they prove him right while coming to believe in themselves and their potential not just as runners, but as people.

There are some really good scenes of the kids running through the orchards and up and down tarp-covered mountains of almond shells while Jim accompanies them on an old bike. A low-paid teacher, he somehow finds the funds to equip the runners with shoes and uniforms. To help establish trust with the local families, he spends a day in the fields harvesting cabbage, with predictable results.

Piles of almond shells, like the kind used for hill training in the movie.

Piles of almond shells, like the kind used for hill training in the movie. (See Almond Girl’s blog for lots more about almonds.)

The acting is absolutely first-rate. You’d expect that of Costner, but the other actors, the kids in particular, also shine. I totally bought in. I thought the re-created meets and races were also very well done – long enough to satisfy the runners in the audience but not too long to bore the non-runners. (Let’s face it, if you don’t have someone in the race to root for, watching a race is akin to, well, watching golf.)

As it’s a Disney production, naturally there is a happy ending, but you don’t mind because it actually happened. There’s also a surprise at the very end of the film which I won’t spoil for you, but I have to say was really heartwarming, in the true sense of the term.

Watching the almond-hill climbing reminded me that I’d kissed off my own scheduled hill work last Tuesday, choosing instead to finish an important assignment at work. (That it was dark, cold, and snowy outside may have also contributed to my decision.) Still, what did it say about my own dedication to my training? They did back-breaking work in 100-degree weather and still trained. I get to sit in a temperature-controlled office all day, and I worry about a puny six miles with some hill repeats?

“Well,” my daughter said as we left the theater, “now I feel really good that I went out for my run this afternoon. I don’t have to feel guilty.”

“Thanks for that,” I said.

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P.S. Once calling themselves, “The Heartbeat of Agriculture”, McFarland transformed its image around its runners. Click here to see how.

Bonus: Click here for more talk with Jim White, and a few differences between the movie and the real-life story.

Rx for Recovery: Eat, Sleep, Stretch

THIS NOT RACING IS TIRING ME OUT.

After all my races this year I’m on a recovery break, and I was expecting to feel re-energized, even restless. Instead, I’ve had less energy and been more sore. I asked the head trainer at my gym, Body Specs, about it.

“All year long, running more races than ever, I felt great,” I told him. Now in my recovery time, I feel run down. What’s going on?”

“It’s very common,” he said. “Especially among competitive athletes. They’ve been going hard, working toward their goals, and then they’re done and they don’t know what to do next.” He coaches college athletes and former NFL players, so he sees this a lot.

Body Specs is good at making sure I don't slack off too much.

Body Specs is good at making sure I don’t slack off too much.

“One thing we encourage people to do is to try something new,” he continued. “You know, you train at your sport and never have time to try out other activities you might want to try. Now you have the time.”

As it happened, I was considering trying yoga, both for its body conditioning and for its mental aspect – calming and focusing the mind. The downside I’ve heard is that the extreme stretches can be detrimental to running. We rely upon a certain amount of “spring” in our muscles, and overstretching them – becoming too flexible – can cause a loss of that spring. One fellow runner told me that running strong is “all about how flexible you are not.”

Yoga pose - Drew_Osborne_3 - Wikimedia Commons

Right. Sure. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Well, Running Fit to the rescue! They’re offering a Yoga for Runners class in December and January. And with my Aikido class on break during that time, it fills that spot perfectly. The only drawback is that it’s in Northville, which means fighting rush hour traffic. But Skip’s advice nudged me into signing up. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m making a change to my regular habits as well. I’ve always been a night owl to some degree, but as I get up fairly early for work, it means I get by on about 6.5 hours of sleep much of the time. I’ve started to make myself get at least seven hours. It’s already making a difference in my energy level.

And I’m trying to keep in mind that a rest and recovery period, where I feel less motivated to run and want more idle time, is natural and healthy. Many elite runners take off several weeks entirely and allow themselves to gain a few pounds. Scott Jurek, one of the world’s most successful ultrarunners, does no running at all during his break. I enjoy running too much to stop, but it feels good to just run for fun for a while.

Of course, your definition of "fun" may differ from mine.

Of course, your definition of “fun” may differ from mine.

MORE: Running Times says Give It A Rest: the lost art of recovery between training cycles.

Already bouncing ideas around for 2015. Looking forward to another year of adventures out there!