Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Just My Imagination Running Away"

You've seen the image, probably on Facebook, that has two computer drawn brains and the caption reads something along the lines of, "This is your brain before you run, and your brain immediately after you run."
There are some very distinct red, yellow, green, and blue blobs on the runner's brain. Naturally, without any idea of what you're looking at you decide it's a good thing to have a rainbow brain. After all, Lucky Charms, Gay Pride Flags, and the Care Bears have rainbows, so a runner's brain with rainbows is definitely a good thing.

The image that you're seeing is from an Electroencephalography (EEG). Put simply, the subject wears a clear shower cap with funny looking suction cups and is asked to perform some kind of task. The brain's responses are recorded based the electrical activity produced. The image of the two brains is from one of Dr. Charles H. Hillman's research experiments at the Neurocognitive Kinesiology Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Fascinating stuff, right?

So, recntly while driving down the interstate I was listening to Radiolab. As described on their website, "Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience." It's a thought-provoking hour of radio. This particular episode, After Life, is about the never-ending, mostly unanswerable question, "When someone is officially dead?"

One of the articles reports on the findings of Dr. Adrian Owen, a British neuroscientist. The study, "Bedside detection of awareness in the vegetative state: a cohort study." To summarize, Dr. Owen found that when a person in a vegetative state is given a verbal command to imagine playing a sport, in this case tennis, the EEG is almost identical to a person actively playing tennis. The study is, I think, to determine if people that are diagnosed as "brain dead" are actually brain dead. But, that's not very useful for me, as a non-neuroscientist runner. Or is it?

If the electrical output of imagination produces almost an identical electrical output as actually performing an activity should we be thinking about running a lot more? Assuming we want to get better, that is. The study sheds light on the actual effectiveness of gymnast, divers, and other athletes that do a few mental performance runs before they step-up to actually attempt it their event. Lets apply this to running. If anything, it can't hurt. For the next few runs take a few minutes to warm-up your brain by imagining yourself running. Run the route, run with your form, and take note of how you feel before, during, and after. Send me an email with your results, Include: Imagination. as the email's subject line. I'll keep your name, and email completely anonymous when I publish the results. We'll end the project on March 6th. Get your friends, family, and co-workers involved, too.

Friday, February 22, 2013

"You don't need a $400 GPS-enabled, heart-rate tracking, cadence recording, calorie counting ceramic toilet seat."

I uploaded a picture on Instagram titled, "Pre-run Traditions. We've all got 'em." The picture shows my legs, from knees-to-feet, with running shorts wrapped around my ankles and a full cup of coffee sitting in front of my exposed toes. The viewpoint: looking down from a comfortable perch on a porcelain toilet seat. I was taking care of business. We all do it. Don't believe me? There's a great children's book about it: "Everyone Poops" by Taro Gomi.

There was something unique about this digestive cycle, though. -Don't worry it's not going to get crude.- Biologically, this digestion is exactly the same as every other bowel movement. Ingest food, breakdown food, digest the leftovers. The difference with this movement is that it's a part of my pre-run routine. I refuse to run, if it doesn't happen. It's akin to a morning cup of coffee, or brushing your teeth before you go to sleep, or even turning off the lights in a specific order. But there is more to be learned from digestive routines for runners.

Your body isn't exactly fond of running. Your mind, yes. Your internal temperature rises, your veins are forced to dilate the accompanying rise in hear-rate, and your brain releases an endorphin to numb the pain of each stride as your foot slams into the ground. These changes, and more, are all a part of homeostatic regulation. It's a good thing, too. It means your body is functioning properly. Another tell-tale sign that your body is ready to run: bowel movements.

Timing is almost everything. As B.Nelson commented on the picture, "Better than DURING run traditions." Truth. But the crucial piece of evidence you can derive from your bowel movements: If it happens on a regular basis, you're body is functioning properly. I notice major changes in my morning tradition, if I'm sick. If I'm tired. If I'm stressed. Sometimes it doesn't happen first thing, which I associate with fatigue, or I didn't eat enough -or healthily- the night before. Sometimes it happens too frequently. I correct my training: A long run may need to wait until the evening when my body can correct itself. Speed work might need to be put off for another day.

Conveniently, you don't need a $400 GPS-enabled, heart-rate tracking, cadence recording, calorie counting ceramic toilet seat. Just taking a mental note of bowel patterns is really all you need. You could write it down, and to be honest, keeping track of consistency, color, and time from when you last ingested food may produce a more profound analysis. It's up to you how detailed you want to be in your bowel pattern tracking. Bottom-line, don't flush down an easy tell-tale sign of how ready your body is to run.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I Bought A FREE Newsletter

As I pulled into the McDonald's drive-thru, exhaust fumes filling my senses I noticed a man standing on the sidewalk. Lonely, and broken he carried a weathered American flag. Strands of red and white whipped with age through the cold breeze. I placed my artery clogging order, a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, and drove my car around the clean concrete corridor. The man was now face-to-face with his reflection in my car's passenger window. I glanced at the his calloused clothing, full of patches, and crude sewing jobs. Admittedly, I usually cringe seeing people give money to highway exit bums, and other society failures. I don't know why, but there was something different about this guy. It was the desperation in his eyes.

The idea that he's at a point in his life where he's standing outside of McDonald's selling a FREE newsletter to earn money dug a trench into me. I rolled down the window and gave the man a five dollar bill. I know, I know. Why didn't I just give him food? For one thing, what if he didn't like what I bought him? Too many people will instantly turn their noses up at the idea that homeless and underprivileged families deserve choice. I've heard it, and said it myself: "Take what you get." There's plenty of truth in that ideology, but it's too common to take the human out of someone because they're in a different situation than yourself. We all have different tastes, and there's nothing wrong with that.

I have a few special people in my life that have always given me advice that I'll never forget. This particular advice came years ago from an inspiring, hard working, successful single-mother of six: "You can't speculate what happens to the money you give because it doesn't matter. What matters is that you unselfishly gave what you had to give." - K.M.

Why does this matter as a runner? Because running can be life changing. As a community we can change lives. We can help each other stride-for-stride. You don't have to be homeless, or poor to need help. Sometimes people in your life are going through times they could use help with. Divorce, bankruptcy, or even something as simple as their dog dying, or drama at work. The next time you're out on a run, think about it. Maybe you're the one that needs help. Running lends every runner with plenty of miles to be all ears.

Here are several organizations, and events that help others through running. See what you can do to help.

Dock St. Walking & Running. Website
This organization responds to the need for an athletic community that raises awareness of homelessness and self-empowerment. Dock St. Walking & Running serves as a friendly, non-competitive group where people of all kinds run together to be energized, think positive, get motivated, and gain the inspiration to get their life back on track.

Medals 4 Mettle. Website
Medals4Mettle (M4M) is a non-profit organization that facilitates the gifting of marathon, half marathon, and triathlon finishers’ medals. Runners from around the world give their hard earned medals to Medals4Mettle. Our worldwide network of physicians and volunteers then awards these medals attached to a Medals4Mettle ribbon to children and adults fighting debilitating illnesses who might not be able to run a race, but are in a race of their own just to continue to live their life. It is in honor of this mettle and courage in bravely facing these challenges that they are awarded a medal.

Back on My Feet. Website
Back on My Feet (BoMF) is a national nonprofit organization that uses running to help those experiencing homelessness change the way they see themselves so they can make real change in their lives that results in employment and independent living.
The organization’s mission is not to create runners within the homeless population, but to use running to create self-sufficiency in the lives of those experiencing homelessness. The program’s success is measured by how many Members achieve independence through employment and housing.

Can Do 5k. Website
Your registration, donation, or sponsorship provides funds for programs that support the mission of Northwest Special Families and the Northshore YMCA. NSF activities serve over 100 families in the local area, with special needs such as Down Syndrome, sensory integration disorder, autism, cerebral palsy, and genetic disorders, to name a few. We offer monthly family dinners with professional childcare, family outings, special events such as Special Santa, Moms outings, Dads outings, and sibling workshops.

MMRF. Website
Held annually in nine cities across the country -- Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tri-State (New Canaan, CT), Twin Cities, and Washington, DC -- this family friendly 5K walk/run raises both awareness and funds for multiple myeloma. Since its inception in 2001 in Chicago, the MMRF Race for Research program has raised more than $17 million to support the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation’s urgent work. Participation offers camaraderie and knowledge sharing for patients, patient family members and friends, members of the myeloma community, and others.

Monday, February 4, 2013

"Lines for a thousand, Trebek. What is a cowboy state line?"

In elementary school I was never a Geography Bee Champion. In fact, a few weeks ago I made the mistake of identifying Washington's capitol as Seattle. In full confidence, too. It didn't take long for the stunned faces of my friends to make me think, "Was I suppose to answer in the form of question?"

But it got me thinking. On one of my few runs this year I became lost in a train of thought about shapes. An odd segue, but bear with me. This is strange to type, but it's a loose recap of my thought process:

"Shapes have such a distinct, well, shape. We learn, after a few attempts for most, that placing the red circle in the blue triangle slot doesn't work. States have interesting shapes. Counties have odd shapes, too. Georgia has 157 counties. That's a lot. I wonder who got to decide to go around the tree in the middle of the woods. I imagine a cowboy barreling north in the forest with red paint. Tagging trees as his horse twists and turns. Eventually he gets tired and turns east. Yes, all counties are drawn in a clockwise direction. States must be made up in the same way."

After finishing my run, I hurried to upload my latest data from my watch. Looking at the map on my computer page I saw shapes. The outline of my route: bold red; just like a cowboy had been chasing me. Saddle-up, pawt-na. <- phonetic, with a Southern drawl.

<Light bulb Moment>

I'm going to start naming my routes after states they look like on a map. I quickly open up a Google map and start comparing. My first run: Nevada. Okay, it's not perfect. It's Nevada on a diet. Or, somehow Nevada got stretched vertically. Regardless, this simple way of categorizing my routes now affords me a way to easily look-up and compare times over specific routes. It seems like that would be simple, but if you use eight different trails, or a ton of different roads you're left with a huge route name. Or, you're left with some off-the-wall thought like, "Red Triangle Through The Night." With this system you can easily get fifty repeatable routes, and avoid telling your friend to go run, "Loopy Potholes On Sidewalk Beneath A Pine Tree."

But there are a few drawbacks. Out-and-back routes don't get a name. And routes that have two loops connected by straight lines all look like Hawaii. My solution to running the route in reverse, I just add reverse to the route name. Original, I know. Biggest problem: How am I going to run a route that looks like Michigan?