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.