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.