Saturday, 15 December 2012

33 simple rules

Thinking about all the "dos" and "don'ts"of running I thought I'd compile a list to see if they make any sense standing next to one another. I'm not going to cite who said what, other than I've heard each "rule" from more than one source. Obviously the list includes many rules that I don't agree with

1) Make each run last more than 25 minutes. On second thought, make it an even 30.
2) No recovery run should last more than an hour
3) Ingest carbs every 45 minutes of exercise
4) Eat lots of protein no later than 45 minutes after finishing exercise
5) Throw out shoes before 600 miles of foot-travel
6) Run at least five times a week
7) Run 12 times a week or less, but also have one rest day per week
8) Do a long run one per week or every other week
9) Long runs should be less than 2.5 hours (or < 25% of weekly mileage), but more than one hour
10) For a race, train no less than 6 weeks beforehand but no more than 24 weeks.
11) Train "hard" no more than three times per week
12) Train hard at least once per week
13) Stretch well after every workout
14) Don't vigorously stretch before a hard workout
15) Be awake for at least two hours before a hard workout or race
16) Eat within an hour of waking up
17) Tempo runs should last, cumulatively, more than 20 minutes, less than an hour
18) Listen to your body. No, wait. Listen to your brain.
19) Instead of listening to your body, take enough Aspirin that your ears start ringing and push through the pain.
20) Aspirin is for wussies. Get a cortisone shot
21) While cross-training, try to get in a 'running-comparable' workout
22) Don't convert cross-training effort into 'miles run'
23) Just count your miles run
24) Count your minutes run
25) Convert your miles and minutes run into a points system
26) Maximum strength training is important for endurance athletes
27) Maximum strength workouts do not directly influence your endurance capabilities
28) Easy runs must be done at a heart rate above 120 bpm, otherwise junk mileage
29) Easy runs should feel relaxed
30) Losing weight will make you run faster
31) Don't try to purposely diet in order to lose weight
32) Vitamins are essential to your health
33) Multivitamin pills are useless

Well that was depressing to read all at once, don't you think? Forget you saw any of this.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Running statistics and tangents

There Fukuoka marathon finished this morning. It's a pretty competitive race, in that to qualify you must run a sub-2:42 performance. 

Race date: Dec 2012

Race date: April 2011

The Boston marathon cutoff time varies with age. Among young males it was 3:10:59. From 2012 onwards it is/will be 3:05. 

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Advice from Pfitzinger

I haven't read any running books for a while, but I was browsing Run Strong again, a compilation of running advice from twelve running gurus. Browsing chapter 11, on the subject of recovery, I was struck by an apparent contradiction laid out by Pete Pfitzinger. His article lists a series of ways in which to "optimize" one's recovery runs. Regarding daily running frequency (i.e. how often one should run per day) he states
"Many runners introduce two runs per day before it is necessary. If your are preparing for races of 10,000 meters or longer, avoid double workouts until you have maximized the mileage that you can positively recover from in single workouts. Staying with longer single runs builds endurance and gives you more time for recovery between training sessions.
Later, he affirms that
"When your mileage increases to the point at which your recovery runs last more than 50 minutes (or more than an hour during high mileage marathon training), then it is time to switch those days to easy double-workout days. Doing two runs of 35 minutes rather than one 70-minute run is easier on your body and enhances your recovery.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Just how old are you, Mr. Bond?

I just saw Skyfall yesterday. It was a pretty good movie, though I still have a tough time with goofy stunts and improbable villains. Living Daylights is still my favourite Bond movie. On that, I'm in a small minority.  But after 50 years of James Bond movies I wondered how old Bond was (or more accurately the actor playing him) and his 'main' Bond girl.  So I made a list. This plot includes every 'official' bond movie, 23 in all (while skipping the 1967 Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again, etc).

Notice how young Sean Connery played bond, between 32 to 41 (not counting NSNA where he was 53). Roger Moore was 5 years older than Connery in his first movie appearance. This means that except for Lazeny's brief stint audiences were introduced to a yet-older Bond every year between 1962 and 1985. More recently Bond's age has been stabilizing between mid 30s and late 40s. The average age for all Bonds is 43.

Most bond girls -as might have be guessed- are under 30. But not by much; their average age is 29.  There's a slight trend in casting 'older' (relatively speaking), though it's interesting to see that 1964's Pussy Galore continues to be the oldest Bond girl at 39.  

I had no idea Lazeby was only 30 when he joined the franchise (while his female counterpart was 31). That might explain his failure as Bond; he was simply too young! 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Roger Ebert superlatives

From memory (plus a little help from the internets), here are a some super superlative quotes from film critic Roger Ebert, whom I love to read:

An early preview of Life of Pi (2012) "This is the best use of 3-D I've ever seen"

"Fargo (1996) rotates its story through satire, comedy, suspense and violence, until it emerges as one of the best films I've ever seen".

No Country for Old Men (2007) "Many of the scenes in No Country for Old Men are so flawlessly constructed that you want them to simply continue, and yet they create an emotional suction drawing you to the next scene. Another movie that made me feel that way was Fargo. To make one such film is a miracle. Here is another".

Cloud Atlas (2012), "Surely this is one of the most ambitious films ever made."

"Grave of the Fireflies (1988) doesn't attempt even the realism of "The Lion King" or "Princess Mononoke," but paradoxically it is the most realistic animated film I've ever seen--in feeling."

Monster (2004): "This is one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema."

A tale of the american prison system, Into the Abyss (2011) "may be the saddest film Werner Herzog has ever made."

Come and See (1985): "This 1985 film from Russia is one of the most devastating films ever about anything, and in it, the survivors must envy the dead"

The Passion of the Christ (2004) "This is the most violent film I have ever seen."

The Life of Oharu (1952), "Here is the saddest film I have ever seen about the life of a woman".

I Spit on Your Grave (1980): "A vile bag of garbage named "I Spit on Your Grave" is playing in Chicago theaters this week. It is a movie so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it's playing in respectable theatres... Attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of, my life".

Bonus: the only film Ebert ever walked out of, Caligula (1980): "If it is not the worst film I have ever seen, that makes it all the more shameful: People with talent allowed themselves to participate in this travesty".

Sunday, 30 September 2012


Over the years I've been accused of writing fanciful. Or maybe it's long-winded. I don't know why I write this way, but it could be of fear of running out of things to say. I stare at a blank screen with a thought in my head, then I ask "how can I make this thought a full page, or even a full paragraph?

I stare in wonder how a person sits down and writes a book. A full book, with hundreds of pages of thought. I try to write what comes to my head, but moments of panic make me draw out simple ideas into a very weak tea indeed. My favorite books are the ones you can open to a single page and get as much as you need. Like DNA, or a fractal.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Running questionnaire

Cross country season is upon us. At least for those in school. Pity how XC is focused on high school and university. Us older folks must subsist on a diet of road races.

Back when September meant a new season, I was curious what newbie university thought about running in general.  When I was running XC (in grad school) I saw a lot of different backgrounds in people. And in later years I remember instances when teammates didn't have many answers. Once, on the bus ride home after a race, one guy said he didn't know why we ran many of the workouts we did.

Around that time I thought if I was a coach I'd want to know what thoughts people had about running. So I made up this questionnaire for some future use. Naturally it never saw the light of day. Until now! Sort of.


1) How many kilometers did you run per week, on average, during the summer?

a) ________kms              b) don’t know               c) don’t care    d) did other sports

2) How many kilometers do you want to run this fall?

a) ________kms              b) don’t know               c) don’t care

3) After university how much do you expect to run?

a) ________kms              b) don’t know               c) don’t care             d) Probably won’t be running by then

4) What do you think is your weakest link to running faster? (you can circle more than one)

a) speed         b) endurance               c) body weight       d) technique    e) injuries   
f) health         g) other________________________

5) How many pairs of running shoes do you own?   ______________

6) What’s your favorite running distance/event?__________________________________

7) If you were forbidden to run forevermore, what would you do instead?

a) Mope          b) study more           c) play more ____________ (e.g. baseball, ultimate…)
d) more socializing          e) read more                  f) other_________________________

8) How many hours of sleep do you get per night (including naps)?__________

9) How many years have you been running “competitively’?_______________

10) Have you ever heard of the following people:

            Jack Daniels               Y          N
            Arthur Lydiard           Y          N
            Bill Bowerman           Y          N

11) What are your thoughts on vitamins and supplements?

12) If you knew a teammate who cheated (drugs, manipulation of results etc), what would you do?

13) Why do you want to compete on a running team?
(i.e. do you want to win, enjoy competing no matter the result, enjoy team atmosphere,  other benefits)

14) What injury, if any, do you frequently experience while running?

15) What's your favourite running/sport book/movie/documentary, if any?  

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Fun with Physics, part 2: foot impact forces

This post is a sequel to a previous post about the invariance of running energy expenditure with respect to distance. The topic I wish to cover here is a back-of-the-envelope estimation for total impact force of a running step. In other words, how many G-forces does your body experience with each footstep? Before I get to this question I will recap some of the previous post below.

What I said before was, using some actual physics equations (hence the title), was that faster running does not burn more calories per kilometre*. I derived the following formula

using the assumptions 1) that each step from one foot to another follows the usual symmetric parabolic arc and 2) there is no wind resistance and 3) the take-off angle of each step is 45 degrees (which is a poor assumption but in this simple-minded case gives an energy minimum for running under the given goal of minimizing energy cost). I changed the 'equal' sign in the original equation to a 'less-than' sign, since the true energy cost of running is lower, at about 0.97 kcal/(kg*km). A more complex model would make some approximations of energy transferred using a spring/level system, but I'm not going down that rabbit hole. The ratio of my predicted vs actual calorie cost is 1.17/0.97 = 1.21. Hence I overestimated the cost of running by 21%, which is not bad for a ridiculously simple inequality (containing only the gravimetric constant g).

Monday, 3 September 2012

Ryan Hall

Sometimes the mainstream media can surprise me. Here, for instance, is a piece on Ryan Hall by the New Yorker written in 2008 on the eve before his Beijing Olympic appearance. It goes into some depth. With a long article like this, you can savour the details a simple bio piece would skip. 

I was trying to recall what he had done by August 2008, and I forgot his sub one hour half marathon PB was set in 2007, almost five years ago. How time flies. Now with two Olympic appearances under his belt he's been at the top of American running now for quite a while.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Marathons and the presidency

Marathons and president/vice-president hopefuls have been surprisingly interconnected over the past few years. George Bush Jr. ran a marathon in 3:44 in 1993. Sarah Palin ran one in 3:59 in 2005. In 1997 Al Gore finished the Washington Army Run in 4:54. American presidents are fitter than Canadian prime ministers, that's for sure.

But compare these paltry claims to Paul Ryan, who recently said he ran 26.2 miles in under three hours. Quite nice...except that he didn't do it. Turns out his claims were greatly exaggerated. His best and only marathon time was 4:01, and that was 20 years ago. It's sad to exaggerate claims for even for crap like this. Sadder still is that looking at Paul's general healthiness I could have even believed his claim. He seems fit and healthy now, so in his 20s he might have been quite the runner. And it's not that hard to get someone healthy in that kind of shape. But he didn't do it, end of story. Marathoners don't take kindly towards those who pretend such things, so a smile creeps over me to thing that he even tried. Such things are checked my friend. Then again, making up simple facts is right up his alley.

His personal beliefs aside, something else is seriously wrong with this guy.

UPDATE: Here's a piece in the Atlantic discussing why someone would attempt an obvious lie.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Congrats to Edmund

I wanted to offer a belated congratulations to Edmund Milly on the completion of his cross-country journey from Montreal QC to Vancouver BC.  He ran the whole way. As of today his most recent blog entry leaves hims stranded in the prairies, but his Facebook makes it clear he has safely reached the coast. On a personal note it was fun to have seen him make the first few steps going west. Meanwhile I have moved out east to Halifax, alas, by car.

Edmund spent the 14 intervening weeks meditating on rural Canadian life. Read his stories to find out more. Significantly he's an avid listener to music but did not bring an ipod with him. What sort of soundtrack would you add to such an outing anyway? Apparently he did have, however, enough time to read the 1000-page 1Q84 on his journey. Well played sir.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The meaning of blog

I'm reading Wilson's biography of Tolstoy. Not sure why I'm even reading it; I haven't even read Anna Karenina. But I read War and Peace and wanted more perspective. Thought I'd share a tidbit that has nothing to do with running but it seemed like a nice moment in self-refection (or what have you) by the author. Perhaps it has something to do with our need to record events in whatever form we have available, i.e. diary, book, blog, etc.

The passage of which I speak:
It could be said that it was only through the artifice of literature that [Tolstoy] was able to comprehend or impose a shape on the inchoate business of existence. The vast majority of the human race drifts without record from conception to extinction. Their lives go unrecorded, and it is only theology which might make us suppose that these individual lives have any previous or future existence, or indeed, during their passable existence on earth, that they have any identifiable significance. For most, it is a tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing; but, most significant of all, it is a tale which is not told. It is only by telling the tale that we create the illusion that there is a tale to tell...The act of record is in itself an act of artifice.  
I consider athletes among the 'vast majority', who produce so much (and in so little time), yet are hard pressed to keep any record of it themselves.

Ah, the mysteries of life.

That is all.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Simple thermodynamics

I forwarded Alex Hutchinson this and this article regarding 'cooling off with hot drinks'. I was pleased that he posted the pieces, but I feel responsible for complexifying something people weren't event that worried about in the first place: the temperature of their beverages during exercise.

To backtrack, the premise is that if you ingest a warm beverage on a hot day, the extra heat will induce extra sweating which in turn cools you off more. Normally we'd assume that drinking cold beverages is best since it would provide a heat sink for excess heat produced in your body. I got interested in the NPR piece because using a different line of reasoning you can find a reasonable argument leading to a direct contradiction of the 'obvious' benefits of cold drinks.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Random olympic thoughts

In no particular order, some thoughts I had while watching the olympics this week

-I missed watching the opening ceremonies, but for a very good reason: I got married that afternoon. Nevertheless it's such an in-the-moment event I'm afraid to watch them now. Maybe I will see them later, maybe I won't.

-on CTV there's a weird 1812 commercial reminding Canadians we 'beat' the US that year (paid for by the government of Canada). I have no idea if this is to insinuate some olympic-based patriotism, but either way it's a stupid weirdly timed ad.

-CTV's results/schedule interactive graph is really well done. It's intuitive and considering how many sports go on at once easy to navigate. Once you find a sport of interest there are streaming videos linked, the start times are listed for each event, and the results are posted immediately.

-I've noticed swimmers have been getting a tad younger and track athletes older (not to mention cyclists and trampoliners). Consider that from the 100m sprinters to the marathoners, both male and female, those ages 30+ are quite numerous. The trend in older athletes was pointed out in this Globe and Mail article. By contrast swimmer Michael Phelps is retiring at the 'advanced' age of 27. My theory is that swimmers have such crammed-in schedules with multiples races and qualifying rounds that peaking is favoured by those with quick recovery times, i.e the young. Runners have by contrast days between trials, often competing in just one event; slower recoveries but faster times is a typical route to victory.

-On the same note, commentators will remark than an athlete is 'only 17,18, or 19 years of age'. Minutes later they'll note with surprise that someone is 'still at it' at any age over 30. What this implies is how narrow the 'optimal' age is for running, i.e. in their 20s. But since there's so many exceptions it's really not a very useful rule of thumb.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Olympics and participation

If I don't post my Olympic medal plots soon, I'll have wait four more years to make it as relevant. Also my coach John Lofranco was hoping to see this stuff months ago. Life things happened, but at last here they are. Nothing do I hate more than sitting on perfectly good data.

First off, what am I talking about? I posted a while back my thoughts about Olympic standards being too high for Canadian track and field athletes. I believe that if Athletics Canada renounced their A+ standards, and allowed more athletes to participate, it would increase our overall chances to medal. I would say this is intuitive in the sense that lower standards automatically means more athletes, which in turn allows for surprise wins to occur. No more surprising than buying more lottery tickets earns better odds of hitting the big jackpot.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Wedding crossword

Well folks, I'm officially married. Won't go into detail here about all the ins and outs of the day, but figured I could share the crossword I made for the occasion. Go ahead and save, print, try (or simply ignore) it. 

We handed out a printed version to all the guests before dinnerIt was fun to watch people scratching their heads over some of the more obfuscating clues; it meant they were interested in solving it. The trick in designing the thing was to make something relevant but doable for the more distant acquaintances (i.e. not have too many inside references). Interlocking is hard. Lots of wedding-related clues/answers, naturally. Had to bite my tongue not to include more than one mention of something running-related (see 57-Down). 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Post Tely race-mortem

I'll say this much: Waking up for a race at 5:30 in the morning makes for a long day. In short, the Tely 10 race went reasonably well. More on that later. The day after racing I went for a hike along the East Coast Trail, from Cape Spear to Maddox Cove, (then into Petty Harbour and finally into the Goulds). That walk put me over the edge. I'm officially tired. And tonight is a bachelor party of sorts, so I'm avoiding excess leg movement; it's 2 pm and I haven't left the house. That gives my time to write out some memories before they fade.

Let me review the Tely 10 race, both from a personal point of view and more objectively speaking.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Tely 10, round six

Quick personal update: along with getting married next Friday the 27th in St John's Newfoundland, I'm running the Tely 10 on Sunday for the sixth consecutive year. This year will be different, however, as my family will watch me finish. And all of whom are most definitely out of towners.

Different, yet the same story every year it seems, is the record number of racers. 2012 looks to be topping 3600 entries. Last year just under 3,000 even finished the race. I'm glad there's so much involvement, though I doubt Paul McCloy's 47-minute record will fall. A few months ago I wrote a piece about the Tely showing that more runners does not necessarily mean faster runners. But I am glad  this year will be attracting its fair share of competitive guys. Most conspicuously is Matt Loiselle, who will likely win this year's race. His times are hard to beat, usually finishing top three Canadian in big races (often behind Reid Coosaet or Eric Gillis). I might not make it near the podium if more come out of the woodwork. Who knows. I prefer to do some homework (to know of potential winners) but I won't be overly concerned about the who's who of the Tely. It's a 10 mile race after all, not a 1500m. I need to find my own pace then maybe latch on to someone else's if the winds pick up. The rest is beyond my control.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Chi running and beyond: efficiency

I went to a short seminar hosted by the Halifax Running Club on Chi Running. I'm sceptical at heart, and running 'techniques' don't intrinsically sound appealing to me. But I have a rule: I don't criticize something until I've tried it first hand. In the past that has included limiting food intake, manipulating stride tempo and breathing rhythms, taking painkillers, barefoot running, and too many others to start about here. I've only heard by second-hand means what it mean to be a "Chi" runner. My ignorance, my problem.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Empty Olympic dreams, redux

I posted this piece a few months back regarding how tired I was of the Olympics. It was based off a post from the Globe and Mail piece that I'll repeat here:
The history of the Olympics is a history of failures. Every four years, one city is confronted with the world’s largest sporting event, and usually at least one thing goes terribly wrong: Debt, crowding, security threats or bad public image have sent most Olympiads deep into the bronze....
The Australians expected 132,000 visitors for the 2000 Games, and then received only 97,000 tourists during the entire period. That was better than Athens, where organizers expected 105,000 tourists per night and received only 14,000.
But the real troubles in Sydney began after the Games. Australian officials had expected that the Olympics would boost the Sydney “brand,” and overall tourism would nearly quadruple to eight or 10 million people per year in the years after the Olympics. In fact, there was no boost at all: Tourism in Sydney has stayed steady, at about 2.5 million visitors a year even as tourist numbers have risen sharply across the rest of the region.
I compared the end of an Olympic Games to the aftermath of a Gatsby party: all glitz and no memory (coming a theatre near you!).  Not to sound prophetic or anything, but here's a new article from NPR surveys over the remnants Beijing's Bird's Nest.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Starvation, diets etc. for no good reason

I wanted to post something that's occupied everyone's mind at one point or another: losing weight. How does it work, this whole fat burning thing? How much fat is good, how much is bad? I'm not professionally educated in this domain, but that's not important since a lot my criticisms come from simple assumptions. Recently I read an interesting statement from the e-book 'Experiments with Intermittent Fasting' by Dr. John M. Berardi:
the standard North American diet is often hyper-energetic – we eat more than we burn – which leads to weight gain over time.
A good test to see if a statement makes any sense is to declare the opposite and see what comes out. In this case I came up with "A non-standard North American diet is often hypo-energetic – we burn more than we eat – which leads to death". If I had to choose sides, the former certainly looks healthier than the latter.

Even more interesting was that Dr. Berardi goes on to claim that intermittent fasting (in his definition not eating for 20-odd hours) can reverse these 'problems':
Intermittent fasting can be helpful for in-shape people who want to really get lean without following conventional bodybuilding diets, or for anyone who needs to learn the difference between body hunger and mental hunger
Unfortunately this makes no long-term sense: if you burn more calories per day than you eat, eventually you will die. This is not science; it is simple logic. For even a slight negative imbalance your fat reserves will deplete, which could take years, but at some point the reserves run out.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Another week in Hali

I've been living in Halifax now for 11 days. So little time, but busy nonetheless. I ran in Lunenburg two weekends ago. The week was busy with work, predictably. Work is the real reason I'm here in the first place. Re-learned some unix and fortran: Emacs, grep, rm *, ifort, et al. By Friday night I had my first plot of 'real' data. Not a good plot, but it's a start. The plot will thicken.

The little running I did was lots of up and down, just the way I like it. Halifax has nary a flat spot and that's great when you're taking it easy. I discovered Frog Pond lake Thursday night.

This weekend was also busy, running-wise. Saturday I felt antsy for more mileage. So in the morning I discovered Long Lake park. Pretty scenic, and it's only 45 minutes (of running) away. In the evening I found time for my first track workout here. Must be something in the air as I did 5x2km in 6:15 apiece, about 5 seconds faster than I expected. It felt pretty good. Most importantly it meant I was ready to do a 10 km race at the same pace. Or maybe even a 10 mile race. Hmmm.
I ran with the Halifax Running Club Sunday. Great group. I was given a two-tour of Dathmouth and before I knew it had covered 28km and finished with bagels and coffee. I'm sold. But I may have slightly overdone it; I think ran 60k in two days. Borderline silly. Resting today.

Monday, 11 June 2012

In Halifax (and Lunenburg)

I said before I would write less often once I moved to Halifax and began work. Lo and behold I have.

I landed in Hali on Thursday, felt homesick for Montreal on Friday, then felt a little better Saturday. I was running a little here and there around the city to keep myself from losing all my familiar habits. Also it helps to get one's bearings sorted out. Went for a couple tours of Point Pleasant Park (home of many unleashed dogs and alliteration...). With a new job, new place, new city all at the same time I was glad for something usual.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Asics 2140s hacked!

I just bough a new pair of running shoes, the New Balance 890 V2s. I felt a bit like a collector as they're the brand new 'limited edition' Canadian version. More importantly I really like how they feel. Comfy but flexible; the cushioning is noticeable but stays out of the way. The forefoot isn't too wide either (I've had shoes where the laced sides almost touch).

Most importantly here's the flex in the 890s:

 Notice how they flex right through the arch area. This is different from earlier versions of padded shoes, which tended to have a rigid, non-flexible arch (no company in particular, they all did it). Of course all minimal shoes show flex in the middle. It's only the most recent training/padded stuff that's doing the same thing.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Muscles in training

I like this graph. It says a lot about why 'real' sport and sport science don't quite agree. I don't have access to the original paper (Darn McGill U access isn't good enough...). I found the image from this presentation outline: Neural mechanisms are the most important determinants of strength adaptations, which as a thesis statement I wholly agree with. I like the little off-shoot of steroids, clearly implying they work for big muscles. If big muscles are not an option though, going that way is a complete waste.
Original paper: Moritani T and deVries HA (1979) Neural factors versus hypertrophy in the time course of muscle strength gain. American Journal of Physical Medicine 58(3):115-130

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


Most sport documentaries try to tell you the hero's life story. They begin long ago, with how he or she got that way, what they were like as a kid, or how an early childhood experience changed their life. In short, the movie's goal is to explain why they, and not somebody else, became a world-class competitor. The film Senna knows better. There are no simple answers to these questions. Certain individuals seem destined for great things. It is unclear what makes them special at so young an age besides their  intuition and drive.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Shit Gladwell says

Here is an interesting choice for an introduction to a collection of endurance running stories: Malcolm Gladwell wrote the forward to a book called Why I Run, edited by Mark Sutcliffe. Gladwell reveals his run-loving self peaked at age fifteen, which is tragic but typical. This book is about people who did not give up so easily. Perhaps Sutcliffe meant Gladwell to play the part of devil's advocate. Below are some excerpts I find quite revealing:
I remember my [high school] coach asking me if I liked running, and I was utterly bewildered by the question. I had won, hadn't I?...that was always my answer.
to this day [I] regard races at lengths greater than ten kilometers to be acts of lunacy.
Hockey players don't wonder whether they like hockey. Of course they like hockey. Hockey's great virtue is that it is inherently likeable. Running is not.
that a fully grown adult can go out and run continuously and happily for 45 minutes is something that - every time I do it - never ceases to astound me. [emphasis mine]
There you have it. Gladwell has lived his life thus far with idea that running is about winning, not inherently likable (unlike hockey) and doing more than 10k of it is crazy. I worry about this guy. Is he surprised to learn there are people who run for more than the empty promise of a gold medal? Does he really believe there are no hockey players who participate solely due to peer (or parental) pressure? As a teenager did he never meet a single high school runner who said they would rather run than play other sports*? Can anyone besides Gladwell live with this level of naïveté? I suspected Malcolm has spent most of his life playing catch up with the rest of the world; he admits now, at last, that some individuals (including adults) actually enjoy running. Once again Gladwell's writings reveal to me a man young at mind, old at heart.

*I, for one, hated as much as pick-up hockey as a kid but liked running since I was 14. Hell, I liked it before I even knew I liked it. It was necessary to run in the off-season during my cross country skiing days, so at first I resisted running because it sounded like an order. But for me it sure beat playing hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball, volleyball,...
I understand that other people love these sports, and can even see why as I watch them play. To be surprised that not everyone thinks the way you do is, well, true lunacy.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Ottawa 10k

The Ottawa Race Weekend has come and gone. I ran the 10k in a time of 33 minutes on the dot. Not my fastest time but it will do. I need to start some serious speed though if I want to improve further. It's not a confidence booster in itself to run no faster than I was a few years ago but the difference is I can run more volume with less pain. I'm using different muscles when I run; I can feel the difference from a few years ago. Even with that amount of time it's a small distance, time-wise, from there to here.

Also have a little soreness near my Achilles. Could be that tib-post muscle again. I think so. Must be careful not to overdo it. Otherwise healthy. Strangely it hurt less after the race, not more. Today I almost thought it disappeared, like magic. Something CNS-related perhaps, or adrenaline.

In seven weeks I plan to run the Tely 10. We will see what happens. I want to increase my speed now, which has always been a delicate matter. That is, if I run speed too early I get fast, then get nowhere. By speed I mean doing intervals at or near race pace, may a few 150 meter repeats and fast 600s. In other words things that hurt. I figure about six weeks of speed intensity is about right. But I have no guarantees. Maybe this is too early, or too late. Tricking the body to run fast is the way I imagine it.

I'm somewhere in there. Actually, you really can see me.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Sleep (or lack thereof)

I'm fascinated by sleep: sleep cycles, differences between people's habits, the reason we sleep at all. The science is still young and it's fun guessing what reasons people sleep, and why they don't.
Some people fight sleep on a daily basis. They stay up late and wake up early. Unless suffering depression those who practice this are, from my experience, A-type personalities who consider every waking moment is meant for being active. This could mean working insane hours at a job, exercising at 5 am, or (what is often the case) both.

These people think rest is for the weak. Dean Karnazes claims he sleeps 4 hours a day because he's terrified that at 60 it'll mean he slept for 20 of those years. So what? That's life, Dean. Now it's entirely possible that he really does not require more than 4 hours a night (there are documented cases of this), but then again who cares about one person's habits? It's not like he represents an 'ideal'. Sadly his tale is inspiring others, like this poor sod:
I was reading how he trained himself to sleep on only 4 hours of sleep a night and almost without hesitation, I knew I was going to go for it myself.
Fighting sleep is a sick goal. Sleep is good. When I reach that really, really deep level of sleep -sometimes up to 9-10 hours- I feel new, ready, awake. What the hell is wrong with that?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Drugs in sport

I just caught wind of this book Run, Swim, Throw, Cheat, and now I want it. Reading the preface on amazon, it looks to be a good one. Drugs in sports is nuanced area, despite many making it out to be a simple "do it" or "don't do it" dichotomy. From at least one review, it seems this book will provide a pretty balanced approach.

I'm surprised how few running books ever dare talk about drugs. It's a taboo subject, like America's high school approach to sex education or the US military's 'don't ask don't tell' policy. You, the athlete, are considered 'educated' about drugs if you don't take them or know anything about them. Meanwhile those in the know are abusing them left and right. If I coached a high school or college team I'd tell them everything I know about drugs and their use in sport. Problem is, I don't know that much either. As a chemist I want to know more. You'd think I'd know plenty given my background but universities are just as clueless. If it was that easy to find out good information there'd be a lot fewer cheats. My position in my own mind is clear: I don't want to take drugs to get faster (a self-defeating aim in my opinion) but that doesn't mean ignorance is bliss.

Monday, 21 May 2012

What I enjoy about this blog

In the past four months (February through May) I've posted on about 55 topics including personal running updates, crossword puzzles, a movie review, math, philosophy, and various running sciences and opinions. My most popular post is my plot of top running times, but I really enjoyed writing this criticism of the stotan philosophy, which required a trip to the library to copy all those passages by hand.

I'm feel nowhere near finished writing about stuff and things, but I will soon be starting a rather full time job. I want to write about that too, since it's a post doc position in a brand new project. Check it out. However with that job the rate of postings will necessarily decline. Not sure who'd be bothered exactly, but this much I promised myself: not to stop. Just a few less posts, that's all, or maybe as many but keep them shorter. Given the out-of-control length of some topics this could be an improvement.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

We all run about the same speed

Say what? Everyone from old ladies to the super elite run nearly the same speed? Not exactly true, but the idea is that the difference isn't all that big, either.

For instance, what time does a fast runner complete a 10K in? About 30 minutes. And a slow person? About an hour. Therefore most runners complete a distance at speed v or 2v (where v here equals 2.8 m/s). People do take longer than an hour to run a 10k, but they're usually walking for parts of it. More importantly people who are racing (not just running, i.e. trained and pushed themselves fairly hard) will run under an hour.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Thoughts on bronchitis

Good news is that I'm healthy, so this is a random post regarding bronchitis after reading this. Quick thought to pass on then I'm done.

In the last week I've known of two people who've caught bronchitis, one of them a friend of mine, and both were taking antibiotics. Thing is, antibiotics only work when the infections are bacterial-based, not viral. Your run-of-the-mill cold (aka rhinovirus; one of many dozen variations) moves from the upper respiratory tract to the brochi (inside the lungs) and voila, you have bronchitis. Bronchitis is a particularly prodigious cold, probably taking advantage of a weakened organism (i.e. you). Athletes, with their hard breathing are particularly susceptible if over-training themselves. If you caught what looked to be a cold but progressed to more coughing that usual, chances are it's viral. Bacteria infect lungs much less commonly. If bacteria is in your lungs there's a good chance it's pneumonia and far worse than a simple cough/head stuffiness.

So, if you have bronchitis it's probably viral and if you have pneumonia it's probably bacterial. That's how it usually works, as far as I understand.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Yet another crossword

I tried something a little different for this one. Notice There's Something Oddly Patterned about the words inside the dotted lines.

Oh and sorry about the filler; some of it isn't pretty. Here's a google doc version.

Psst: Solutions here.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Back in Montreal, for now...

That was a fast week. From last Tuesday evening to this Monday night I was in Vancouver BC visiting friends and family. I realized about Sunday that I hadn't touched my computer for five days. Never missed it, really. Today I was browsing a few regular sites so that means everything is back to normal until I fly to Halifax for my new job.

So what happened instead of internet trawling? In no particular order...

Monday, 7 May 2012

Traveling to Vancouver

This week I'm off to Vancouver to visit a friend. I'm not sure if I'll have time to write, then again I might have a lot of free time on my hands. The plan is to maybe sit and read some, explore the museums, run around the city, and explore the trails. I have no deep-wooded excursions planned. Rarely in human history has man ever been more than a day's trek from home. Exploring beyond that often meant looking for a new home. Taking the latest technology/Gore-tex/GPC with you into the woods is a rustic experience akin to exploring the moon.  For cross country skiing and running I follow the trails. But I always look for one I haven't tried before. Stay the beaten path, but always looking for new ones to beat. Guess that implies something about me.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Holism versus the model approach

I confess my previous post about recursion left me wanting. I want to explain myself more, and possible better. Better is not always more (R-squared correlation of about 0.5). Re-reading the gist of what I had, I begin with describing the heuristic versus model approach to complex system optimization. That sentence alone is what killed off many a would-be reader. Let me phrase this idea in a more user-friendly way: 'heuristics' is a scary word with a simple aim: to define and manage only those variables that produce controllable results. In the baseball-catching analogy, this would be variable 1 (V1) = gaze-angle of the ball catcher and V2 = his or her position on the field.  By contrast The 'model' method is a harmless sounding idea with complex aims: to assembel as many 'fundamental' variables as can to predict results (i.e. optimize in your favour). In the baseball-catching analogy, this would be V1 = gravity, V2 = wind speed, V3 = ball mass, V4 = ball shape, V5 = launch angle, V6 = launch speed, V7 = initial player position... 

Instinctively, which method would you choose?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Bon Voyage

This overcast Tuesday morning Edmund Milly began his cross-Canada run in the heart of the Montreal Plateau. If all goes according to plan he will arrive, on foot power alone, at the ocean shoreline of Vancouver in late August. He posted his itinerary here.

I wanted to see for myself the start of this epic run. After locating what looked like the rendez-vous point, I found other curious followers, friends and family standing at the corner of Laurier Park. Edmund himself had yet to arrive, apparently having some trouble getting his push-cart (loaded with supplies) out the front door. A few minutes after nine he came, cart and all, ready to start. After some initial farewells to the assembled group (I don't recall any speeches made), away -westward- he went.

Some came to see him off on his journey. Others, like myself, wanted to take in a piece of the action. A very small piece. We headed south towards Old Port, west along the shoreline, then along Lachine Canal. I parted ways with Edmund next to the Atwater market. After 45 minutes of running someone estimated Edmund had completed thus far about 0.2% of his trip. An average of 240 minutes of running per a day awaits him over the next three months.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Running loops: Did you say recursion?

A favorite blog of mine, Mike the Mad biologist (he is indeed a trained biologist), discusses the difference between how a modeler would view catching a baseball versus an actual outfielder. Here are two ways to approach this (complex) problem:

1. Bottom-up models
2. Top-down heuristics

The bottom-up model approach tries to account for every relevant variable (i.e. wind speed, gravity, ball shape, initial ball speed, flow dynamics affecting mid-air wobbling et cetera), place all of these characteristics into a set of differential calculus equation, then decide where an outfielder should stand in order to catch it (time limit: two seconds). This approach, though complex, is tantalizing because of that feeling of total control for the expected outcome (if it works, you'll get the right answer every time). In theory the 'model method' is purely deterministic but in practice it's weak: The list of significant variables is long, the input equations are massive and small input mistakes can (and do) lead to large errors. Problems arise easily:"Oh no a gust of wind, my calculations are off!"

Montreal 21.1k

This past weekend I was in Ottawa for my engagement party, which was a great time to see family & friends, and, of course, loved ones :) 

The only downside is I missed Sunday's Montreal half marathon and 5k. I live not far from Montreal's Jean Drapeau island (where the race is held each year) so it's been a spring staple to watch it, if not run it myself, as often as possible. The Montreal Endurance squad was out in full force, and I'll copy/paste John's recap of the team's excellent results:

Friday, 27 April 2012

Golf swings, running gaits

Apparently there is some symmetry between golf swings and running gait. In both cases natural form wins over 'perfect' technique. Reading this article in the Montreal Gazette yesterday titled "Tiger Woods should get back to natural swing". Woods, it seems, has been in real trouble since changing his swing. No surprise that his personal life is in shambles, but look what his former coach (Butch Harmon) says:
If he ever asked me what I thought he needed to do, I’d tell him, ‘Look, go on the practice tee without anybody – without me, without Sean (Foley, his current coach), without (Hank) Haney (his former coach), without a camera, and start hitting golf shots...“Quit playing ‘golf swing’ and just hit shots.
According to those who know, Wood's swing is now very 'robotic', and lacks the naturalness that was his original gift. Not so coincidentally his injuries piled up around the same period.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

AC women's Olympic cutoffs

It's Olympic season, so why not another Olympic-related post?

There has been some recent discussion whether Canada's two women Lanni Marchant and Krista Duchene (who ran 2:31:50 and 2:32:06 marathons at Rotterdam, respectively), should go to the Olympics. Why or why not? Their times were well under the 2:37 A standard set by the IOC, but slower than Canada's own standard of 2:29:55. Simple, yet complicated.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Burning fat

I just completed an invigorating 110 minute run in some interesting weather (rain, sunshine, hail, wind). Finally checked out Montreal's north shoreline. Don't know why I waited six years to see it, but there you go. Whatever. Run felt awesome.

Since this was a longish run I had time to think about this and that. From my previous post I showed how you can estimate the calories you would burn per kilometer run per kilogram body weight. My ballpark figure was 1.17 kcal/(kg*km). The 'real' value -from an actual study- was 0.97 kcal/(kg*km) for a group of practiced runners. Note that the unit 'kcal' is the same as Calorie (the ones on food labels) and that 1 kcal  = 4.184 kJ. I decided when my run was finished I'd use this empirical number to find how much fat you burn after running a given milage D (or vice versa).

To take a specific example, I want to know how far a 145 lb (66 kg) person would have to run to burn one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body fat (To put that in perspective, if that same person had 8% body fat (what many a distance runner may have) they'd have 11.6 lbs (5.3 kg) total fat). Spoiler alert: the value for D is going to be surprisingly large.

Monday, 23 April 2012

NHL playoffs

I'm not a big fan of hockey, but since it's playoff season I'm watching a few games.

Given the recent loss of the first-place Canucks I checked some stats and noticed just how weakly regular season play is related to Stanley Cup victories.

Consider past President's Trophy winners (for the best regular league points record): Of the 26 winners, only seven won the Stanley Cup (27%). Were the Cup doled out randomly among playoff teams they'd win about 6% of the time. Then I did some quick number crunching. It turns out a conference-winning team survives the playoff's first round 76% of the time (since 1982, when the modern four-round system was implemented). Not the worst odds ever, but perhaps revealing how lower ranking teams win so often; one in four times a conference leader is upset by an eighth-place team. The odds of both first-placers making it through are about 57% (but the odds of neither making it through are 6%, which might happen this year for the first-ever time). I'd like to compare this trend to other sports' playoffs... later.

Thursday, 19 April 2012


I think I'm sick of the Olympics. Not the sports but the games themselves. I am not an Olympian and likely never will. I like running, cross country skiing, and walking. Something broke in me yesterday, and waking up this morning the halves drifted even further apart.

When I was going into grade nine I wanted to be a weightlifter. Not sure why, but it was that month's dream. I learned to do the clean and jerk in my basement. I started in May lifting no more than 70lbs but by August when the Atlanta Olympics were underway I could lift 140. My motivation was the Olympics. Every day I would face off again the barbell and keep trying to lift more and more. Once school began I put my dreams on hold indefinitely, so it would seem.  I never thought realistically about my goal, except that weightlifting was, for a few months, a passion.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Fun with physics

They say that for every equation you add, you lose half your audience. For the number of readers I usually receive, this post is intended for at most 1/128th of a person.

I’m going to show why no matter what speed you run at, you spend the same amount of energy per kilometer. That is, running 1,000 meters will burn about the same number of calories no matter how fast you get there:

From Novacheck's 1998 article The Biomechanics of Running 
Here’s how.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Eating my words

Dylan Wykes ran a super race on Sunday with a time of 2:10:47. This is well under the Athletics Canada marathon standard of 2:11:29. Awesome job.

And now for me to fess up. In an earlier post "Raising the Bar" I stated "Dylan Wykes will (probably) not go to the Olympics". Well there you have it, Dylan is going to the Olympics, I am undeniably wrong and in the best possible way. Having a full roster of men is going to be great for aspiring runners. They might even focus on the distance in pursuit of their own Olympic bid.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Running thoughts

I have begun reading Run Strong (2005), edited by Kevin Beck. Each chapter is written by a different author. Chapter 1 focuses on running mechanics and penned by Jack Youngren. His expertise lies in the field of cancer cells and insulin production in humans. Gleaning over his resume I see his BA and MS is in human kinetics.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Easy runs

I love easy runs now. It was all about slowing them down. I also learned, finally, that after a hard workout not to trust yourself the next day. 

If you wake up after a race or tough run and feel too sore to run, it may be wrong to not run at all. If you feel like you could fly, eventually you will stall. Tried flying on easy day a few times and the next day was guaranteed a fail. So simple, so deceptively simple. Like tight-rope walking: can't go too fast, can't stay still forever. Plus focus. Maybe that's why headphones don't work for me; escaping from an easy run seems redundant.

Ever see "Man on Wire"? That's part of running. You don't see that guy listening to much music either. Complete concentration, yet he's relaxed at heart. I'm no funambulist, but at least I can strive for imitation. 

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Tely 10: A case study

I have heard it said, more than once, that if Canada had more people participating in running we would find more talent. The idea -in theory at least- is simple: increasing the number of participants should increase the talent pool. Even if there isn't a perfect correspondence we might expect some degree of correlation. I here use the Tely 10, a 10 mile road race, as a test case for the claim that participation is correlated with quality results. I will first outline the race's history, which comes into play in this analysis.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

A few lessons

I've learned a few running lessons over the years, most of them the hard way. That's why I know I've learned them. To paraphrase Boss Jim Gettys (Citizen Kane), I needed more than one lesson, and I got more than one lesson. Here is my summary of those lessons which I take with me wherever I go. Pocket sized ideas, very portable and sometimes they even save me money. Here are some of those unwritten rules, written:

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Back to normal, or better?

I'm going to run a one-mile time trial tomorrow. Nothing spectacular will happen, I imagine. I hope to run somewhere in fast, but no-one-cares range. Avoiding injuries is still high on my list. The run is at McGill University, my soon-to-be ol' stomping grounds. McGill Olympic is hosting, so to speak, though it's not a race. That means no race entry fee. Joy.

Sadly I learn this is not secretly a beer mile. Haven't run one of those in a while, though I miss them. My taste in beer is so different from what it was then. I may have forgotten how to chug one. I digress, the mile is tomorrow.

Monday, 2 April 2012

10,000 hours, 10,000 questions

I read Malcom Gladwell's Outliers and now feel bad for such a waste of perfectly good paper and ink. Having avoided purchasing a copy, I am still hoping to have my library history expunged. It's a mockery of critical thinking, however thinking for yourself was probably the last thing on Gladwell's agenda. In fact I cannot be sure what was even the first. I found no properly supported line of reasoning, nor any shade of doubt cast on some rather contentious issues.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


I was thinking about Sotanism again, which was advocated by Percy Cerutty as a combination of Stoic philosophy and Spartan methodology. I considered it to be an imperfect philosophy. But despite my misgivings Cerutty got results from his athletes. It is evident he was an observant coach, correcting running form and other such physical details in his athletes. But he was also a thinker, and gave his athletes a lot of mental preparation: He may have obtained impressive results in part by keeping the minds of his student-athletes distracted.

But isn't it the job of a coach to keep an athlete focused?

Monday, 26 March 2012

Hamilton: there and back again

Sunday's race is over and I'm tired and sore. The race, 30 kilometers in length, did not go especially well (1:48, far worse than my last two marathon splits at the same mark). I did not pass those I would normally would. But overall I am pleased with the weekend for a few reasons.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

'Round the Bay I go

I haven't given a personal update since this one last month whilst still injured. I am not currently injured (woot!). Feeling good in fact, and a little under-trained (not a bad thing; beats the alternative). My shins were getting a little sore after the extra land-based running so I'm taking this week easy. Nevertheless, I will race this Sunday. The lead-up will involve plenty of pool time. And rest. Rest, rest, rest.

As hinted by the title, the race I will be running is Around the Bay (30km) in Hamilton, Ontario, and for the first time. I signed up months ago therefore mighty pleased my injury has faded. I suspect that around 30 km is my ideal race distance, well at least if I were in ideal shape. Right now the goal is to run (mostly) for fun and avoid any new injuries. I'll aim for 1:45 or thereabouts.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

A happy thought

I was pool running today and had a thought about fast versus slow twitch fibres: Simple logic says that every single person on earth is perfect for some running distance. Why? because you are either gifted in a high percentage of fast-twitch (FT) muscles or slow twitch (ST) ones. Since we are talking about percentages, a lack of ST means an abundance of FT; the following formula applies to all people:

%FT + %ST = 100%

The best sprinters are gifted with the most FT fibres (FT = 62%) and ultra distance runners have the maximum amount of ST ones (ST = 82%) [souce: this book, p.18]. By the pigeonhole principle* your body's muscle composition must be perfect for some distance in between. Now perhaps your 'ideal' distance is non-existent, like 17.3 kilometers, but who cares? You are absolutely perfect for it. You were born for that distance. You are an ideal specimen for distance X. Even though I have never met you, the statement is an undeniable fact. You can also change you ST/FT ratio slightly depending on your life-long exercise regimen, but what I'm stating here makes the point moot.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

New team racing game

I was walking home yesterday when an idea for a two-team competition popped into my head. It's a new variation on the race idea I mentioned at the bottom of a previous post. I don't want to just yet claim I invented this game without more research, but as far as I know there's never been mention of it. Here's how it plays out:

Equipment needed: two standard racing batons, one for each team.

People needed: Five per team (Why five? It's what most running teams are used to in cross country. Otherwise it's arbitrary. More per side might be fun). 

Setup: The two teams (of five runners) start on symmetrically opposite sides of a standard 400m or 200m race track, as shown below. When the start pistol sounds, the teams run in the same direction about the track (i.e. both move counter-clockwise)
The object of the game is for the team member holding the baton to pass the opposing team member in possession of their teams' baton. There are a few important rules that keep things interesting. Read on.