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.