Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.
From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.
From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.
Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.
January 24, 2013
When one trains for a first-time finish goal, or breaks from a longstanding routine to reach for a time goal, the results can be highly beneficial. Physical challenges to the body can arise from this new activity, but it can be hard to differentiate between sore body parts that are an acceptable part of the training and recovery cycle, and the start of an injury that should receive a more cautious approach and perhaps professional attention. When in doubt, runcoach always recommends a visit to a medical professional. Here are some suggestions for self-evaluation:
Is it the same in both legs?
After a marathon, or a hilly shorter race, both quads might be very sore. If that soreness begins to ease in concert or acts the same in both limbs even while acute, there is a greater chance it is a function of a natural recovery cycle. If instead one side remains abnormally painful, then a specific breakdown may have occurred which recovery alone won’t address.
Do you have to limp while running?
If you are literally unable to put full weight on one leg because your body is reflexively protecting it due to acute pain, it is time to stop ignoring it.
Does it persist over a week?
Delayed onset muscles soreness often means that our sore muscles get worse before they get better. However, that process occurs over approximately a 48 hour period following the event. If your “no big deal” sore body part is still similarly sore over a week after the stress, and your usual rolling, stretching, icing routines don’t appear to have eased the pain, a more involved problem might be at play. Even if that only means extended rest or adjustment to the schedule might be required, assessment for your own peace of mind might be a good idea.
Are you stuck in a repeatedly poor, or downward trending cycle of a chronic problem?
If a particular problem continues to reappear on a regular basis, and whereas it used to be fine with ice, now it needs Icy Hot, and requires a mile walk before running and two days off after….well, that no longer is an acceptably resolving issue! Try to keep track of these types of issues in your log, so you can avoid letting chronic issues repeat to the point where you can’t run at all. Instead, investigate with a professional whether or not rest or other treatment in the short term can prevent more time off in the long term.
While these are a few guidelines worth considering, nothing replaces solid medical advice and great preventative care such as regular rolling, ancillary strength work, and adequate rest. Be proactive and hopefully stay a step ahead of the need to answer the above questions very often! Remember the body is a remarkably resilient vehicle. When it is given proper recovery and treatment the results are terrific and a return to running imminent.
January 17, 2013
The terms “core” or “core strength” are some of the most common words / phrases heard around the gym or track in recent years. Many runners would accept the idea that it would be desirable to have a strong core, but rarely do we think about what that really means or why exactly it would be helpful.
What are we actually talking about when we talk about core?
Core strength should not be confused with having a rippling six-pack like a model on an exercise machine infomercial. Although many people with very well defined front abdominal muscles do have a strong core, it is not one and the same.
The core could be described as your body except for your limbs, but thinking specifically as runners, your core comprises the parts of your trunk that help stabilize you to resist forces of gravity and allow you to effectively operate those same limbs (levers) in the direction and at the speed you want to go.
It is all very plane.
The muscles in the core are what we can most effectively manipulate to change how well the core does its job as we stabilize ourselves in the various directions we want (or do not want) our body to go. If we want a slight forward lean when we run, or efficiently move up and down hill, we need to have some control over our movement in the sagittal (back and forth) plane. If we want to keep our balance on rocky terrain, stabilize ourselves with cambered roads, or handle the effects of uneven leg lengths or other forces moving us left and right, we need to have a strong muscles that allow us to affect desired movements in the coronal/frontal plane. If we want to limit or enhance rotation (usually in running, we want to limit trunk rotation), then we need to strengthen muscles that give us control in the transverse plane.
All of these directions and alignment / stabilization needs require us to pay attention to much more than what we conventionally think of as our “core” muscles. Instead of just surface abdominals, runners are well advised to pay attention to their glutes, back, hip flexors, pelvic floor, and deep abdominals such as the psoas. If we stay aligned and so our stride remains true, we give ourselves the best chance to run as efficiently as our given anatomy will allow. With strengthening of the muscles that provide this stabilization and control over the non-beneficial movements we might make (especially as we tire) in the various planes of movement, we allow ourselves the best chance to keep that stride true even as we fatigue and dig deep.
Time to turn the core-ner!
When the core is weak or inflexible, often the ends of the levers (limbs) attached must take on some of the unassimilated gravitational stress. Your sore calf, aching shoulders, tender plantar, or achilles might easily be able to count among its assailants a set of trunk muscles that aren’t doing quite enough to dissipate the forces at play. Whether you currently struggle with an injury or want to proactively get more efficient and improve performance, core strength is always a good priority.
There are many ways to address this via gym classes, videos, and other programs. However, the important common elements regardless of your favored delivery system should be a comprehensive approach that focuses on the wide variety of muscles from chest to upper legs, and a commitment to consistency on your end. At runcoach, we have compiled an easy to understand Whole Body Workout with a series of demonstration videos for exercises targeting core muscles. We encourage you to check it out and use it as your routine or as a starting point for a renewed commitment to core strength.
This year, get on board with a stronger core. With some hard work on your end, you may end up with washboard abs in time for summer, but more importantly, you will hopefully be able to run healthy and long well into the future.
January 09, 2013
Sports massage is part of the regular routine for many top runners. Various myofascial techniques and other treatments can be crucial to keeping muscles recovering on time and effectively for the next challenge. Although many runners’ schedules or budgets don’t allow for regular massage, many tools have been created to help runners address these needs as well as possible on their own. Perhaps you have even seen this bewildering array of devices at your last marathon or half marathon race expo, but were overwhelmed with the amount of choices. Here is a quick guide to a few of the most common devices…
Foam rollers are typically cylindrical sections of foam (kind of like firm pool noodles). The athlete puts body weight on the roller and moves along the muscle, applying pressure to tight spots until they “release” or ease. Foam rollers are relatively inexpensive, starting at $10-$20, and are widely available in various densities. They are likely the most popular tool in this area and often referred to as the “poor man’s massage therapist.” Check out our video on how to use the foam roller here.
The foam roller is excellent, especially for general and daily use, and for runners unused to the sensation (i.e. PAIN) of massage or self-massage on knotty spots. However, when the athlete becomes accustomed to the discomfort or has some more specific / pin-pointed areas of concern, other devices may be able to hone in more tightly on the problem area, or are at least designed to do so. Some of these span from home-remedy items such as the harder cylinders of PVC tubing, Nalgene bottles, and rolling pins, to commercially available tools such as the Trigger Point grid foam roller or Rumble Roller, to smaller hard roller devices with grooves intended to target the bottom of the foot. If your target area is clearly identified, small, and/or deep, these tools might provide more immediate or fully satisfactory relief.
For times when you don’t have the space or appropriate location to lie down on the floor (or when you need to travel with a self massage assisting tool), objects like the Stick or the Tiger Tail provide a handheld alternative. Instead of using body weight downward on your affected body part to move back and forth over the roller, with a Stick or Tiger Tail, you apply pressure manually to the muscle, by holding the Stick with both hands at either end, quickly and firmly rolling the tool back and forth over the affected area to stimulate blood flow and ease tense spots.
While rollers typically move backward and forward, at times, certain spots are positively affected by oscillation in a variety of directions. A spherically shaped object can often provide welcome relief if this is the case. Glutes are a good example of a muscle area where a spherical object can help significantly when a cylinder might have more difficulty reaching the tight spot. Again, household items, such as softballs, lacrosse balls, golf balls, and tennis balls, can provide a wide range of densities that cater to the needs and pain thresholds of various runners and their problem spots. Alternately, commercially designed balls with grooves, bumps, and other features, can meet your needs if they are able to dig in just in the ways that help sort through your tense spots.
Runners can be highly motivated to solve their own injury problems, and from these situations have bloomed many innovative instruments. The R8 roller essentially used rollerblade wheels (four on each side) and tension through a connecting plastic span, to apply pressure on both sides of a muscle at once, without the need for too much elbow grease on the part of the user. Backnobbers work through innovative shapes and oddly formed items to reach parts of the body most difficult to reach effectively through other means. Trigger Point also has developed a Cold Roller, a small roller with a gel core that maintains a cold temperature for an ice bath / rolling combo effect. The Moji 360 takes the Stick concept, subs in ball bearings for the cylindrical loops to facilitate circular motion, and allows for a new dimension to a popular tool concept. For those with a higher pain threshold, various “scrapers” and long tools can be found to simulate an aggressive muscle stripping from a therapist.
As a company that values the individuality of each runner with a personalized plan to match, we also know that these tools will more effectively and appropriate for some runners than others. Many running stores will provide opportunities to try them out, and many runners might find the opportunity to experiment by using the tools of other running friends on an initial basis before purchasing one. With new innovations coming out week to week, we are living at a better time than ever before to address muscle tightness needs by self massage. We encourage you to investigate the best practices for your body, in hopes that 2013 allow you to have the consistent recovery and performance you are hoping to achieve.
January 03, 2013
What is a Runner’s High?
When we exercise, we expect to feel better as a result. We achieve a fitness or time goal and are fired up by the accomplishment. We lose weight and like the result in the mirror. Maybe, we just do something we have never done before and appreciate the new mental or physical dimension in our lives. Some athletes, however, claim to feel better after exercise because the exercise itself makes them feel better. Significantly. Commonly, this is called a “Runner’s High.”
This “high” has been explained through the years as a rush of endorphins, neurotransmitters secreted by our bodies during things like pain, excitement, and sex. Endorphins act a bit like morphine chemically, so the conventional wisdom has been that they feel like it as well.
On the other hand, Jude Dickson and her University of Edinburgh colleagues, in their paper Does Exercise Promote Good Health, propose three hypotheses about the Runner’s High: the distraction hypothesis (it takes our attention away from painful things at the time), the mastery hypothesis (we learn new things and achieve a goal), and the social interaction hypothesis (things are often more fun and seem easier in a group). So, is the Runner’s High a chemical reaction via endorphins, or a psychological reaction that is somewhat coincidental to running? Regardless, all runners have days where we feel better than others, but the feeling of euphoria associated with this phenomenon can be fleeting or nonexistent for some runners, and relied upon as a pick me up for others. But, can it be captured, quantified, and achieved systematically?
Although an internet search of “endorphins” and “runner’s high” yields 70,000 results, that close association has been only modestly borne out by research. For one thing, it is hard to quantify what exactly a “high” is, as the reflections of athletes differ widely as to how a Runner’s High actually makes them feel. Secondly, although endorphin levels seem to elevate after exercise (likely because of the stress or pain the body has undergone during the exercise), that elevation doesn’t seem to have a uniformly positive result on mood, according to Sarah Willett in an oft cited article from Lehigh University.
The strong association between endorphins and Runner’s High in the wider public view persists. However, despite a well respected 2008 study by German researchers which found a strong correlation between endorphin production and the bloodstream of runners during and after two hour runs, not all agree that the correlation equals causation for the elusive high, in part because the large size of endorphin molecules make them difficult to pass the blood – brain barrier. And, after all, if there was such a strong direct result, wouldn’t we all enjoy Runner’s Highs after / during every hard workout or run?
Other relatively recent studies have linked the same type of brain receptors that play well with marijuana use to a naturally occurring endocannabinoid, which appears to be produced in the bloodstream in large amounts during exercise. A 2003 study with Georgia Tech college students yielded this finding, as have several subsequent similar or related studies with mice both in the US and abroad. These molecules appear to be much smaller than endorphins. If they can pass the blood-brain barrier, does this mean that all the times we’ve joked that “running was our drug” we weren’t really too far off the mark?
Ultimately, questions remain to be answered about how a Runner’s High occurs, why, and frankly, what it is, exactly. Runners are like snowflakes. Each of us is at least slightly different from the rest both psychologically and physiologically, and it might not be unreasonable to think that the difficulties science has had in firmly establishing a cause and effect with this phenomenon lies is the infinite amounts of ways in which running can create a positive effect in our lives. While we wait to find out what the chemical cause is once and for all, we encourage you to enjoy your Runner’s High not because of why you have it, but for the fact you have it at all.
December 27, 2012
Whether you have just begun training with us for a goal race some time in the future, or have been a long-time runner who needs a bit of motivation or a new goal, the beginning of a new year is a great time not only to set new goals, but to do so in a way that will stick.
If you have a big goal you hope to accomplish, chances are you will be more likely to follow through if you have a mechanism to ensure that any doubt or lapses will be noted and you don’t get off track. Many times, the term “accountability” takes on a negative connotation, but in reality, a positive motivational tool tied to an accomplished goal can be a decisive element that puts you over the top.
Accountability can take the form of a reward you commit to enjoying upon accomplishing your goal. While that may offer a simple and straightforward way to motivate yourself, consider your rewards in the context of the lifestyle change you are most likely trying to embark upon by setting the goal. So, if your goal is weight loss as a part of your effort to run your first half marathon, having a huge blowout meal at the best restaurant in town serve as your motivator to get through your next long run might not be the best reward. Instead, pick a reward that reinforces the positive changes you hope to make. Of course we don’t want you to become mercenary so a few guilty pleasures from time to time are perfectly acceptable.
Enlist a friend or family member who knows you well enough to nudge or budge you when you are veering off course. All of us have times when motivation is lacking in some way or another, and by asking another person to remind you of your goals and keep you on track, you have already ensured that your will power and motivation need not be 100% all the time. Arranging at least periodic running opportunities with another runner or group will also motivate you to show up and complete your task if for no other reason than the reluctance to stand someone up!
You might not need a big reward to look forward to or need to have others with which you feel comfortable sharing your goals. Many of you enjoy our online training log for that very reason. Many of our longtime members indicate they love nothing more than to see a string of blue days in a row! Another written log or an X on each day of the calendar can be effective tools. Print out your goal race entry confirmation and post it to your bathroom mirror or write yourself a note that pops up on your smartphone calendar on the days of your tough workouts. Most importantly, take some time to consider how you typically respond to challenges - what paves the way for the times your are successful and what stands in your way. Figure out the simple ways you can keep yourself accountable and hopefully next year you’ll be resolving to achieve some new goals.
Oftentimes, the resolutions we make are as a result of leaving difficult tasks undone. Things that have been left unfinished for some time as a result of inertia or procrastination are going to be difficult to all accomplish suddenly because of a simple change of heart. If your goal appears to be an uphill trudge the entire way, look hard for ways to find some fun along the road. Again, if this is a prescription you are giving yourself to jumpstart a larger shift in behavior or lifestyle, you want to make sure the change is something you can live with and enjoy for some time.
Note Incremental Progress
The biggest goals often take a while to accomplish and progress may not always be linear. If your new year’s resolution is a long distance goal race, it might help (we typically recommend this regardless) to run a few intermediate distance efforts to note fitness progress and encourage you that your are slowly crossing the canyon toward your big day. In running, as in many other things in life, your result may be subject to forces beyond your control. Your training could go completely smoothly up until three days before the race, when you catch a cold or turn an ankle. Creating a field of multiple data points will allow you to evaluate the process rather than only having the one race to either make or break your perspective on your efforts.
Above all else, we encourage you to set goals! Reach high, assume you will be successful. Take a step in the right direction today. Making the choice to set a goal to begin with is not an insignificant part of the process. Once you have, we look forward to helping you get there!
Published in Training Tips
December 20, 2012
Will Drinking Alcohol Affect My Running? Yes, We’re Going There
Even if your regular schedule doesn’t include significant regular alcohol consumption, around the holidays the chances that you will imbibe definitely rise. Whether it is the office party, home with the family, or New Year’s Eve, you might want to run well the next day despite having one or more drinks the night before. Does it matter?
Natural ingredients…all good, right?
Alcohol (ethanol), in the form of beer, wine, or spirits, is ultimately a beverage fermented / distilled from natural base ingredients such as grains and grapes. So, it’s carbo-loading from nature’s bounty! Not so fast. The calories (7 per gram, compared to 9 per gram of fat or 4 per gram of carbohydrate or protein) may come in with each drink, but the loss of sodium and potassium via the diuretic impact of alcohol (see below) causes a greater impact. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, orange juice has four times the potassium as beer, for example – so the electrolyte gain to begin with is minimal. Further, since there is no essential need for alcohol in the body (unlike carbohydrates, protein, and fat), it is metabolized first, which leads to a quick release into the bloodstream.
Alcohol is also an appetite stimulant. Combine the chemical impulse to eat more with the slower and poorer judgment in play due to the quick release of the chemicals into the bloodstream and the resulting actions might not mirror desirable, sane, and temperate eating patterns during the period of time when drinking occurs. If the alcohol effects don’t have a big impact, the food consumption impact is also wise to be aware of.
Alcohol, the anti-hydration beverage
In their oft-cited article Alcohol Hangover: Mechanisms and Mediators, Drs. Robert Swift and Dena Davidson write that alcohol causes the body to increase urinary output (i.e., it is a diuretic). The consumption of 50 g of alcohol in 250 milliliters (mL) of water (i.e. approximately 4 drinks) causes the elimination of 600 to 1,000 mL (or up to 1 quart) of water over several hours. Losing 1 quart of water before any serious physical endurance activity is a recipe for major challenges, and obviously at cross purposes with the intent for a successful run, workout, or race. Electrolytes are often drained with that water loss, and the initial sedative effects of the alcohol can often give way to restless sleep. The next morning, drained of water, electrolytes, and quality rest, a cup of coffee or two adds another diuretic to the mix, and a hopeful ibuprofen puts further pressure on the liver. Very quickly, one can anticipate that quality athletic endurance performance is in jeopardy.
Alcohol, between the ears
Dr. Conor P. O’Brien of the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin, Ireland, related to the UC San Diego Athletic Performance Nutrition Bulletin that “many studies have shown that alcohol is actually a depressant that takes its toll on several parts of the body, including the brain. It slows reaction times, delays the thinking process, suppresses the immune system, and affects recovery time from injury.”
So, a night of a few drinks can leave you dehydrated, depleted of electrolytes, underslept, with slower reaction times, a suppressed immune system, and longer recovery time. Is there any good news?
The good news
Over the past several years, a few studies at Harvard and UC Berkeley among others have indicated a relationship between components of alcoholic beverages and good health. Resveratrol (an antioxident found in red wine) has been shown in some studies to have a health impact on par with general calorie reduction over the long term. A glass of red wine per day is said to have an impact on heart health through other anti-oxidents called flavanoids. Plant products called saponins also can block the body’s production of bad cholesterol. Many other green shoots are on the horizon, indicating potential benefits from moderate alcohol consumption. However, not many of these benefits appear to have immediate benefits – on the other hand, Dr. O’Brien states that consumption of several drinks can leave cellular effects in the body up to three days afterwards, and two nights straight of drinking can leave its mark for five.
How to be proactive
Whether drinking is a desired or unavoidable component of the night before running, or part of an unwinding process post-race or run, consider some measures you can take to limit the negative effects alcohol can have on your body and its performance. Make sure you have eaten before you take the first drink, to slow down the digestive process to a manageable rate for your liver and your brain. Drink a glass of water before and between every drink to lessen the diuretic effects of the beer, wine, or spirits. Choose club soda over juice and make sure to include ice in your drink to moderate caloric intake. Alcohol can inhibit your body’s ability to regulate its temperature. Anticipate feeling colder or warmer than normal and dress with that in mind. Practice moderation, stretch out each drink over several sips, and drink at a time of night when you still have a fighting chance for a decent night’s sleep.
As yet one more variable to consider at this busy time of year, the effects of alcohol likely will vary from one runner to another. Remind yourself of your goals before you raise your glass and stay motivated to keep your consumption moderate.
December 13, 2012
Ashley Grosse, Christine Kennedy, and Maggie Visser traveled to Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday, December 8 to compete at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships. As the representatives of runcoach’s newly formed elite squad, they contested the Women’s 40+ team championships over a muddy, hilly, 6K course. Together, they took home the bronze medal as the nation’s third best team among masters athletes in Team runcoach’s debut. Individually, Visser led the team in 7th among all age-groups, with Kennedy in 11th and Grosse 31st. Kennedy, the 2011 USATF Masters Athlete of the Year, individually won the 55-59 age group, while posting the top age-graded time across the entire field.
This week, we caught up with Grosse, Kennedy, and Visser upon their return to training in the Bay Area.
rc: Can you share with our members a bit about how this team materialized so quickly into a competitive unit?
CK: I have raced for the last two years with Tom and he has been very instrumental in me achieving my goals. I wanted to show that behind my success were Tom and his training, and get the word out that other people can achieve their goals in the same way. Even though there were only three of us to start there were enough to score in the masters division.
AG: We formed in the fall. There weren’t a huge amount of opportunities for us to run together locally, so we thought it would be great for team building to go to club nationals. We had all been working with Tom for a long time. At nationals, three score, so we had the chance to really be an elite masters team. It was a great way to gauge where we are at, although none of us necessarily specialize in cross country.
MV: Unfortunately, we had in mind to race the PA champs [the local, northern California championships], but sickness required us to regroup and focus on competing well at nationals.
rc: How did race play out relative to expectations?
MV: We initially had a goal of winning, but that was more of a motivational thing for us. I knew we would be competitive with the Impalas [a historically strong team].
AG: We also knew Club Northwest would be a challenge because we saw them last year in Seattle [at the 2011 meet, where the three competed for a variety of other teams].
MV: The course was deceivingly deceptive. Coming from San Francisco, we are used to running hills. So running the course before, I figured this would be easy – the hills are minor! However, the terrain was muddy and so uneven, it probably tired our bodies a little bit more. After the three-mile mark to the finish, it was extraordinarily hard for me. I did something I never do, and that is look back. We finished and Christine was telling me, “Come on! Come on! Let’s go look for Ashley!” I couldn’t move! It was really, really hard.
AG: I agree exactly with Maggie. That last hill before you wind up for the finish - it was long and it was not pretty. The course was really muddy in a lot of places. Tom had us ready individually, and we were good enough to finish third. Looking at the teams behind us, we did very well. We are very motivated to go to Bend [Oregon, location of the 2013 meet] and bring that club trophy back to runcoach!
CK: Traveling together and sharing a hotel room…It was great to be in that environment: hanging out, warming up together, and knowing we had a lot of competition, but we were just going to give our best. Just feeding off each other…. because the team was so new and strong, we weren’t jealous of each other and my goal was to just stay up with Maggie. We all just wanted to run well and bring it home for our training partners and the guys we see on the track every week. They have really been a big part of this!
rc: What is in store for team runcoach in the spring?
AG: One of the nice things was that when we were at the track on Monday, a lot of the other runcoach athletes were very congratulatory, and they were all excited and felt we were representing them as well. That was a neat feeling. We got behind this because we wanted to support Tom, who had supported us for so long. We are totally behind him and his methods, and we are showing people how Tom has prepared us so well as masters athletes. So far, we have talked about doing the masters half-marathon championships in Melbourne, Florida this February. At the awards ceremony, we were approached by USATF officials about some exciting international opportunities. That was very cool. We are being ambitious about places to race, and we are looking forward to going to Bend next year.
MV: We definitely want to explore growth, because now if anyone is injured we won’t be able to score, or a marathon might interfere with cross country. It is very empowering to run with the other women and to share those experiences, building on our success so far. So, we look forward to growing.
CK: This is a huge step for runcoach to have a team, even it is only the three of us now. We have reinforced to him [Tom] that we aren’t going away. He set us out to do a job, and we came back successfully. We plan to take cross country very seriously next year with a goal of taking first or second. Now we all have goals and want the same thing. We can plan now for the whole year – not each person giving individual schedules, but planning the team goals together.
December 06, 2012
Think Sleep Doesn’t Matter? Think Again!
Runners tend to enjoy challenges. How else to explain things like 50 state marathoners and people running in the driving rain or the dark of night? Many times the daily challenge is how to fit everything into 24 hours, run included (definitely), and sleep included (maybe…some at least). Runners often rationalize the lack of sleep because it is the only way (often waking up early in the morning) that they can conquer this “24 hour challenge”. But, does it really matter if you sleep enough? You bet it does.
Dr. Michael Fredericson of Stanford University, long time team doctor for the track and cross country teams, as well as one of the most experienced medical researchers on running related injury patterns, maintains that when compared to time, money, and effort spent on things like vitamins, minerals, supplements “If you get a really good night’s sleep, it outweighs almost everything else.” To consider why, he encouraged a look at several recent explorations of the effects of sleep on performance for several important points.
Drs. Stephan Esser and Rick Feeney in their recent article “ZZZs for Speed” (Marathon and Beyond, March/April 2012), relate how studies show chronic sleep deprivation can increase the risk of high blood pressure, depression, certain cancers, and diabetes…just for starters. It also increases an appetite-stimulating hormone, which might challenge the efforts to use running for weight loss. Yikes!
Sleep has a demonstrable effect on your athletic performance.
We have all survived days or longer periods where we have been sleep impaired. College or high school finals might come to mind. However, if you are looking for a PR, extra sleep is more than a marginal concern. Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic (along with famed sleep researcher William Dement), conducted a study on the Stanford Men’s Basketball team, where their performance on sprints, shooting accuracy and other measures were charted based on their levels of daily sleep. Those who slept more during the course of the study found significant improvements in their time on sprints and their accuracy on shooting improved as much as 9%. Imagine even just a 2-3%% improvement in athletic execution in your next goal race and a 4 hour marathoner gets to the finish line almost a half mile faster!
Don’t just take it from basketball players, though. Esser and Feeney also cite studies that have found a cyclist getting twice as much sleep during a 4800 kilometer event could make the top 10, while spending much less time in the saddle than the other nine. Another study found that one night without sleep caused an average of an 11% drop in time before exhaustion with a spread of 5-40% (in other words, some folks fell much further off than the average)!
Even if you can make it on less sleep, the running usually feels much harder.
Perceived exhaustion also spikes like crazy when sleep is elusive. Most busy people can attest to this – when the 2pm meeting feels interminable or the key workout just feels more like “5k pace” than the “80% pace” written on the training plan. David Martin’s oft cited study enforces that believe that even one night of reduced sleep not only decreases time to exhaustion, but time until perceived exhaustion. Other literature cited by Esser and Feeney indicates that mental fatigue can greatly hinder the drive needed from our brains to require our musculoskeletal system to continue moving. The limbs might still be able to keep moving with less sleep, but the brain is less inclined to require them to do so, and feel much less inclined more quickly.
Lack of sleep also results in the slowing of glucose metabolism, resulting in a lesser ability to draw needed sugars from the muscles during that next bout of exercise following the short night’s sleep. Most of us in this fatigued situation then turn to some simple sugars to help flood the system and get what we need right now, even if it is not helpful energy for the long term. You can guess where this leads in terms of diet…..
Sleep to recover from and prevent injuries….You can’t run if you can’t run
While your bones are constantly remodeling during the day, important amounts of this protective and ameliorative process take place during sleep. In one 2008 study cited by Esser and Feeney, bone resorption was increased by 170% when sleep was increased among army recruits under a consistently challenging physical demand. If stress fractures are a concern, sleep might be a particularly huge and important variable for you.
OK, OK, OK….I get it! Now what should I do?
Most people need 6-8 hours to function regularly and healthily. However, your individual needs may vary. If you are using remedies (coffee, sugary foods, 5 Hour Energy, Red Bull) to alleviate sleepiness on most days, then it probably is appropriate to track your typical patterns for several days. Seek to improve upon your amount of sleep if even temporary adjustments result in an improvement on performance or perceived level of exertion. Even if change is difficult to come by due to structural forces beyond your control, a healthy dose of mindfulness about nighttime habits might yield a more quality level of sleep during the shut-eye you do get.
Read Esser and Feeney’s entire article here.
Read a detailed summary about the Stanford Basketball Sleep Study here.
November 29, 2012
Will Running on Cement Injure Me?
Many runners run in urban settings for years, logging mile after mile on cement and other hard surfaces without any apparent problems. Other runners swear by the trail and believe it has prolonged a running career and mitigated many risks of injury. Still others do the exact same thing, and still fight injury after injury. Who is right?
Force = mass x acceleration
Conventional wisdom would indicate that the hard surfaces found in cement (your average city sidewalk), or asphalt (black top road surface) would increase the risk of injury for runners. After all, the body creates 2-3x its actual weight in force just during the heel off phase while walking. This increases to 5-8x body weight during running due to the increase speed and the fact you are (for some of us, very briefly!) completely airborne before each foot lands. Cement is about 10x harder than asphalt so it seems reasonable that cement would be an absolutely horrible surface on which to run.
If all your concerns related to problems that occurred due to force alone, then perhaps abstinence from cement would be a wise idea, and indeed, many runners opt for the street instead of the sidewalk, or go long ways out to find trails and grass surfaces. However, many of the injuries runners suffer have a more complicated genesis. Are your shoes appropriate for you? Does your foot strike the ground efficiently? Are you hips in alignment or do you have muscle imbalances and weaknesses that have left your joints and ligaments vulnerable to forces that your body has not been able to dissipate? All of these factors come into play, and have been much more easily researched as injury culprits than the surface itself.
What is good for the bones might be tough on the ligaments
Likewise, the even, but forgiving surface of a golf fairway (when rarely available) might provide a luxuriously feeling run, as does a well- manicured forest trail. But when does that desired effect dwindle when the trail become rocky and uneven, or muddy and slippery? When the grass is long and mushy, or the bark trail too soft, such that you sink perceptibly on each step, or the blacktop road so cambered that you are running on a slant instead of a flat sidewalk next to you, do you receive the same benefit?
While these surfaces might provide relief from the abrupt forces of cement, they often demand a great deal more from stabilizing muscles and ligaments and present their own challenges to your goal of staying injury-free. If tendonitis, muscle strains, or other soft tissue ailments are your kryptonite, you might risk more by continuing to run on these surfaces all the time and may benefit from a steadier ride on a hard surface.
Running is healthy for the spirit as well as the body
One of the reasons pavement and cement may get the blame for many maladies is the correlation with the environment where these surfaces are typically found. Not many runners would prefer the start and stop of a sidewalk interrupted every hundred yards with a stoplight, complete with honking, speeding cars and loud noises, crowds, and the like. The peaceful environment of a trail deep in the forest, around a lush and green grass field, or along the ridge of a slowly descending dirt path sounds much more reparative to the soul. Studies show that the body is best prepared to run hard late in the afternoon, or early in the evening. Potentially a study might show that those who run along peaceful dirt paths can extend their running careers later into middle age and beyond. But just as not everyone has the luxury to knock off work or family obligations for a 60 minute run in the hills at 4pm, not everyone can get to an idyllic nature setting for their daily run, whenever it occurs. For them, running along a busy street or the best bike path available most definitely is better than not running at all, and that may mean running on cement or non-ideal surfaces.
Look at the whole picture
Rather than automatically assume the risk of the surface one way or the other, a more thoughtful approach is in order. Consider your problem areas, where injury trouble tends to start or flourish, and then work through each of the other variables: shoes, foot striking pattern, known muscle weaknesses or misalignment issues, sleep, stress, nutrition, hydration, etc. It may be that a change to soft surfaces may be in order, but the investigation may uncover other areas where change may eliminate the risk or problem, even if the ground under your feet remains the same.
November 13, 2012
Adam and Micheline Kemist own On Your Mark, a running specialty and performance store. A certified Pedorthist and Kinesio tape practitioner, Adam provides personalized biomechanical feedback and orthotic services along with retail services. In this edition of Ask the Practitioner, we talk to Adam about an often over-looked element of our everyday running - socks.AK: Socks are the item actually touching your skin so you want them to be working harder than your shoes at keeping your feet comfortable. Technical running socks are designed to keep your feet comfortable and dry. When this happens your feet will have less swelling, fewer hot spots and fewer blisters.
rc: We often spend a lot of time considering the right pair of shoes, but we wear socks just as much! What are the main functions socks can provide (either well or poorly)?
rc: As an avid runner and running retailer, what do you feel are some of the recent innovations and improvements for socks?
AK: Two of the best innovations are anatomically shaped socks. This means some socks are made specifically left and right. This puts the padding and durability in the high wear areas and softer materials in non-critical areas. Another innovation in running socks is a high stitch count. Basic cotton socks are typically stitched at about 72spi (stitches per inch), but a good technical running sock will be at 174spi with some of the best at 210spi.
AK: Try to buy your socks from a specialty store like On Your Mark in Los Altos, California. The staff will know how each of the socks are constructed and can guide you. Look for socks by companies that only make technical socks like Balega and Feetures, or running shoe manufacturers that have branched out with socks like Asics and Brooks. Choose a medium weight sock to start. As you start to feel the difference, then branch out and try other brands and thicknesses.
rc: If you aren't sure what kind of socks would be best for you, what are some tips for ways to find out?