Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Marching On

Since I've last posted (a long time ago, I know) there have been a lot of things I've wanted to write about but I can never put these things into words in a way that does justice to the complexity of my experience of them.  So to break my writer's block, I'm going back to my tried and true expression by quoting song lyrics. Thanks OneRepublic.

For those days we felt like a mistake,
Those times when love's what you hate,
We keep marching on.

We all have those days we feel like a lost cause, like all that we've done will never be enough.  We learn that passion and desire is nothing but painful.  Still, we can't help but make that same mistake of loving and want too much.

For those nights when I couldn't be there,
I've made it harder to know that you know,
That somehow,

We'll keep moving on.

I've certainly been here too.  Those times I kick myself for not saying the things I should.  I'm extremely reserved, most people call it shy, but think reserved sounds better.  Either way it disconnects me.  There are more nights than not that I kick myself for not making a critical connection and knowing that there is no truly acceptably reason I couldn't be there.

There's so many wars we fought,
There's so many things were not,
But with what we have,
I promise you that,
We're marching on,

You may not be reserved like I am.  But we all have our reason for not being who we want.  There are so many things we're not, but we have a lot more than we know.  There so many great things that make each of us who we are, that have gotten us to were we are, and that will keep us in the chase.

For all of the plans we've made,
There isn't a flag I'd wave,
Don't care if we bend,
I'd sink us to swim,
We're marching on,

This is by far my favorite verse.  For all of you that are graduating, or going though major life changes, losses, or failures, this attitude is everything.  You can't learn and thrive from floating along, you have sink to swim. Most things that scare you won't kill you, they force you to grow.  We often bite more than we can chew, but if we wait until we are ready to handle things comfortably we get left behind.

For those doubts that swirl all around us,
For those lives that tear at the seams,
We know,
We're not what we've seen,

For this dance we'll move with each other.
There ain't no other step than one foot,
Right in front of the other.

Everyone struggles with what direction to take with their life. Naturally, we doubt.  At the same time we fear where we are going, we fear, even more, standing still.  Our faith is drawn from one another.  We are never in it alone, everyone is moving forward the only way the know how.

We'll have the days we break,
And we'll have the scars to prove it,
We'll have the bonds that we save,
But we'll have the heart not to lose it.

For all of the times we've stopped,
For all of the things I'm not.

Over the past few months I've been finishing up graduate school, searching for employment, developing as a young coach, observing good friends chase goals, some successfully, others not as much.  I myself have done my share of chasing and failing.  There were times I "stopped."  Failure is paralyzing and it makes you realize how perfect you're not.  Through it all, I've been thinking about my future and the future of those around me, longing for a time when we feel settled when we can float for awhile, not sinking or swimming.  A time when every step doesn't have so much influence over the direction we're moving and the place we'll end up.  But I think this longing is naive.  No matter were you are in life each step makes a difference in where you end up, its just times like these when you're reminded how many paths there are and that we can change direction at moment.  This may sound crazy but knowing that inevitably "we'll have the days we break and the scares to prove it" is reassuring. The things and people I love the most are the ones that I've been through the worst with.  Its the disappointments, the scars, the bonds, that ultimately motivate us to strive for more, for different directions.  Goals won weaken the heart with complacency.  In the end the strength to get up and create bigger and better goals, to move, and to grow are born out of mistakes and obstacles.

Right, right, right, right left right,
Right, right, right, left, right,
Right, right,
We're marching on

For all those renewing the chase

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Records Are Made To Be Broken

Pride is an admission of weakness; it secretly fears all competition and dreads all rivals.
~Fulton J. Sheen

I’m a competitive person. It may not always seem like it. Maybe I’m not outgoing or open enough for my competitive nature to stand out as one of my defining features but for better or worse I continually measure myself compared to others and I hate to lose. Much of the time this is good quality, it is something that motivates me to be the best person I can be. However, while competition may bring out the best in people, it also has the potential to bring out the worst. Some of the most damaging emotions stem from competitive pride; jealousy, resentment, fear, anger. There is a balance between using competition as a motivator and not letting it become about who wins and who loses. I know everyone can’t literally win but I stand by the notion from the Panther cheer “Clear Eyes Full Hearts Can’t Lose.”

An old friend of mine, Elizabeth Yetzer, writes a blog, and in it she recently posted about her roommate and how special their friendships is because they both genuinely rout for each other to succeed despite being really competitive. She writes, “It is so awesome to imagine that if we all really encourage others to be the best-version-of themselves, we will all play the role we are created for.”

I was reminded of this message this weekend while I was coaching at our indoor conference track and field meet. At big meets like this, records are in jeopardy, teams are pitted against teams, competitor against competitor, and often friend against friend. All too often all that separates one performance from another is a tenth or hundredth of a second, or a fraction of an inch. Yet we use the outcome to determine our worth. As an athlete I didn’t like to get to know my competition too well because it was more motivating for me to want to prove myself better than the vilified fictional version of them, than the real one which was certainly “worth” as much as if not more than myself. The game changes when you know the other peoples’ stories and the work do to be their best. You begin to relate to them and care about them…of course you still want to beat them, but it’s different, it’s weird.

It is weird coaching athletes who compete against my friends and former teammates from college. I want them all to be the best they can be but I don’t want them to have to beat up on my athletes to do it. Or even more selfishly, I don’t want their successes to have to overshadow my past success or erase the legacy that my team worked hard to leave. While all these complex emotions mixed together with the adrenaline and excitement of the competitive atmosphere I realized that a legacy by definition is a gift that is given and received. If you look at it in that way, great performances, and records and any other type of success are not really something you can pridefully own, you inherited them for a small time use them as motivation to do better, to be better, and then you pass them on to someone else so that they can be motivated to strive for something even better. A person’s contribution to the legacy isn’t devalued by the betterment of it, but it fact the opposite, the betterment of a legacy proves the worth of each individual contribution by making something worthy of strife.

Stepping back even further, I can see this is happening not just at the level of an individual competition, or an individual track and field team, or a track and field program, but also at the level of the MIAC conference, and the level of Division III, and all levels of the sport, or any sport. And if you really think about it, it’s what redeems competition of any form as a tool for good, rather than a recipe for conflict and war. It’s why we can’t lose when we live with clear eyes and full hearts.

Success is a gift and records are made to be broken.

Leave to a legacy worth chasing,


Monday, November 7, 2011

'ology and 'osophy of the Taper

“Sleep! I feel the need of it. Yet my axe is restless in my hand. Give me a row of orc-necks and room to swing and all weariness will fall from me!”
J.R.R. Tolkien

It seems to be that time of year when everything starts happening all at once and if you blink you might miss something. This is my excuse for my abandonment of this blog. But I figured it would be a good time to share some things I was working on last year when I was to busy to blog. Good luck to everyone in the midst of taper season. Enjoy the restlessness. Bottle it up and then let loose!


Taper Protocols for Distance Runners
Laura Roach

Timing is everything in competitive distance running in which goals are made for a single race or a few championship races. Many effective training strategies in distance runners are based on Hans Selye’s theory on stress adaption in which physiological changes occur as a result of acute stress and recovery. According to this theory, in order to perform optimally the runner must be fully recovered from a succession of training stresses. Many runners and coaches use reduced training, also known as tapering, to increase the probability that they will feel good and perform well on race day. The trick is to design the taper in such a way that you do not lose any fitness gains from training, but are also fully rested with “fresh legs.” Although a large majority of researchers, coaches, and runners hypothesize that decreased training, particularly in the form of reduced volume, improves performance, the popular opinion is not conclusive on the most advantageous strategy for a pre-competition taper. The following review summarizes current theory and empirical evidence on physiological changes due to a variety of taper strategies and applies them to what should be recommended to coaches and athletes in order to boost race performance.


Review of Literature

Types of Taper
The most common elements of a taper include changes in volume (total daily and weekly distance), intensity (percentage of VO2max), duration (day or weeks), frequency (number of runs per week), and type of reduction (linear, exponential, or step). A meta-analysis on taper research in endurance sports showed the highest increase in performance for tapers that involved a progressive (either linear or exponential) 41-60% decrease in volume while maintaining training frequency and intensity (Bosquet, Montpetit, Arvisais & Mujika, 2007). The highest effect sizes occur for tapers 1-2 weeks in duration.  The mean improvement for all taper studies was 1.98% with one study averaging an 8.91% performance gain. At a high-level of competition even very small performance gains can convert to outcome differentiation in important races. For example, Payne, Mujika, and Reilly (2009), point out that the difference between 4th place and a gold medal (1.6%), and between 8th place and a bronze medal (2.0%) were both under the mean 2.2% improvement after tapering found in the Sydney Olympic swimmers.  
Additionally, reduced training should maintain sport specific intensity. While a 7-day high intensity run taper with a 85% systematic reduction in volume improved a 5-kilometer treadmill performance by 2.8± .4%, the same taper volume and intensity on an ergonomically bicycle had no effect on run performance (Haumard, Scott, Justice & Chenier, 1994).

Pre-Taper Training
An important part of an efficient taper is the training that precedes it. In a mathematical model of taper characteristics, an overload period consisting of 40% increase in training for 4 weeks before the beginning of a taper increases the benefits of a progressive and step deduction in training. The model predicted the best performance increase to be 4.2%± 2.3% occurring after a 31 day progressive 39% reduction in training. This model suggests that the more training stress prior to the taper the greater the reduction and duration of the taper for optimum performance (Thomas & Busso, 2004).  

Mechanism of Physiological Adaption to Decreased Volume Taper
VO2 efficiency is highly predictive of distance running performance suggesting oxygen efficiency may be a potential mechanism in which reduced training may improve performance. A study consisting of 6 weeks of intensive training and a two-week taper in track and field athletes showed significant increases in hemoglobin, mean corpuscular volume, hematocrit, white blood cell count, and VO2max (Ashtyani, Mohammadi, Rahimi & Saravani 2006). The greatest hematological and VO2max improvements were seen in a taper involving a gradual reduction in training load compared to a step-wise reduction taper, a 50% step reduction taper, and a 100% reduction taper. Although performance measures were not considered, these results agree with previous studies that indicate performance benefits from progressively decreased training (Bosquet et al., 2007). Alternatively, a study on highly trained middle-distance runners by Shepley, MacDougall, Sutton, Tarnopolsky & Coates (1992) showed that the high-intensity low-volume taper which showed the greatest performance gains had no significant effect on maximal O2 consumption.  Still, significant increases were found in blood volume, muscle glycogen concentration, and strength in this study.
Another physiological mechanism for increased performance could involve recovery from harmful effects of the stress of rigorous training pre-taper.  Reactive oxidative species (ROS) and pro-inflammatory cytokines have been blamed for negative performance during over-training suggesting their role in taper dynamics.  Plasma levels of TNFα, IL-6, and IL-1β significantly declined after 3-weeks of reduced training in elite-level cyclists (Farhanimaleki, zehsaz & Tiidus 2009).  Interestingly, significant performance improvement on a 40 minute time trial was seen as early as 1 week into the taper and improved further after 3 weeks suggesting that anti-inflammatory effects of a taper may be more influential in longer tapers, while other mechanisms may contribute early on.
To date, ROS, unlike pro-inflammatory cytokines, have not been shown to be significantly altered during a taper. Although a 60% load reduction taper has been shown by Vollaard, Cooper, and Shearman (2006) to improve time-trial performance, training stress did not affect resting or exercise-induced ROS markers; oxidatively modified heme, total glutathionine, oxidated or reduced glutathionine. Hence, Vollaard et al. proposed that ROS itself does not directly negatively affect performance.
Muscle adaptations could also explain peak performance after a taper.  A 3-week taper induced a 7% increase in Myosin heavy chain (MHC) IIa fiber diameter, 11% increase in peak force a 9% increase absolute power concurrently with a 3% improvement in 8k cross country performance (Luden, Hayes, Galpin , Minchev, Jemiolo, Raue , Trappe, Harber, Bowers & Trappe, 2010). Transcription markers for genes involved in Type IIs fiber remodeling responded uniquely to the tapered training suggesting a myocellular basis for performance enhancement during reduced training.
Although not reviewed here, other possible contributions to adaptive affects of tapering on performance improvement include but are not limited to alterations in endocrine balance, neuromuscular adaptations involving running efficiency, and psychological recuperation (Lin and Chang, 2008).

In the past few years quite a bit of research has attempted to discern the optimal training practice to time peak performances during the championship portion of a competitive season for distance athletes.  Most of the research agrees that reducing volume around 50% progressively over a week or two allows for the most improvement in running performance.  This is a practical finding that can be implemented at the end of a season when athletes shift their focus to competitive performance outcomes.  This strategy, however, should only occur after a solid base of training volume and intensity has been built since greater gains should be expected for an overall greater reduction in volume while continuing sufficient intensity.  It is likely that in untrained athletes progressively increasing training load would continue to provide performance improvements without the previously prescribed taper.
Further research on taper could begin to sort out the specificity in taper protocols based on the nature and duration of previous training, the athlete’s gender and age, and the length of the championship season. For instance, coaches and trainers may be interested in how to tailor a taper strategy that to fit their top-7 varsity athletes for a championship season that goes later into the season than the rest of their team, or how to use different strategies for athletes whose volume may already be low due to injury or sickness. Another thing to take into account while trying to alter training to peak for championship races, is how to implement these strategies while traveling to a national or international course. What effects might jetlag, long bus rides, or climate changes have on physiological adaptations just prior to desired peak performance?
As much as it would be ideal to have a completely objective protocol for implementing effective tapered training, like most areas of training, individual psychological response to specific strategies may have a considerable affect on performance outcomes. Experience tells us that many runners are likely to get impatient during tapers and fear that they must be losing fitness.  On the other hand, reduced training might induce a mental recovery from a rigorous training schedule and allow time and energy to be spent on preparing for the big competition. Realistically, coaches and athletes must learn through trial and error what works for them in certain situations.  They may then decide to error on the side of beginning to detrain but being 100% rested, or on the side of not being fully recovered but being sure to maintain their previous fitness. It may be important to weigh which option has more risk, and which has more payoffs and make a decision based on the athlete and the situation and their performance goals.
            Finally, this review shows there is still disagreement on what physiological adaptations contribute most to performance during a taper.  It is very likely that a combination of aerobic efficiency, anti-inflammation, muscle recovery, and a host of other changes account for this improvement. A better understanding of the physiological mechanisms behind training stress and recovery adaptations could help sort out the main contributors to a taper-induced performance enhancement. This knowledge would better inform practical applications in a variety of individuals and training circumstances.

            The research suggests that a standard protocol for a distance running taper involves a 40-60% progressive reduction in training volume, while maintaining training intensity and duration after a training period of 6-8 weeks. The physiological adaption to this reduction likely involves both attenuation of physical stress and inflammatory markers, and adaptive benefits after recovery such as muscle strength and hematological efficiency. Utilization of this protocol will likely increase an athlete’s odds of improving their performance in championship meets. The challenge remains, however, how to most efficiently taper so that improvement is more pronounced than an opponent’s. More research in taper training for optimal performance is warranted.  Specificity of tapers for individual athletes still remains an art.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Life of the "Elite"

In class we have been discussing what elements go into the making of an "elite" athlete.  This of course means we had the typical nature versus nurture debate that ended in the usual "yes, it's both."  In this case, it's usually a hundred percent of both.  Leaving us with 200% of requirements...but I think much more goes into becoming the very best at what you do.  You need the best genes, the best "gifts," the best environment, and the best opportunities, but in the end what separates the great from the best is a touch of serendipity.

Although incredibly corny, one of my favorite songs is Michael Buble's Just haven't met you yet.  The mentality, "I guess it's half timing, and the other half's luck" emerges routinely in my life.  Despite my daily efforts to pursue what I believe my fate should contain based on my talents and environment, God continually reminds me if half is timing and half is luck, and I can do math correctly, that leaves very little room for my plans.  Of course this doesn't mean effort and talent and circumstance don't play a role. Of course they do. They put you in a position to benefit when timing and luck turn your way.

This idea is one of the great lessons athletics has taught me about life.  You work towards your dreams and goals, (whether they be related to sport, or academics, or career, or true love) but not because the end result is make it or break it in defining who you are.  Ultimately, the way in which you pursue these goals and wisdom and genuine experiences is what defines you as a person.  I recently discovered the musical artist M. Ward.  His song Epistemology quickly has become the soundtrack of my life. He references Galatians 5:22 "But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."  A successful life is pretty simple, just keep putting the "right foot in front of the left."

Simply chasing,

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Got the fuel, fire, hot desire, and an unapologetic pile of debt

Over the past couple weeks as I have begun to get back into the routine of the school year; worrying about my grad school assignments, getting to work on time (which is close to impossible with the construction projects on every possible route to anywhere important), paying tuition, and keeping my living-spaces from turning into disaster zones.  However, this year (so far) I've been doing a pretty good job with the balance between keeping up with responsibilities and taking the time and energy to really be observant of little (or big, depending on your perspective) things.  This is a success I owe to a few very good friends, some of whom periodically read this blog, so thank you all genuinely for your perspectives.

In class the other day I had a brief discussion with another Carleton alumn about the "'value" of our Carleton degrees compared to an undergrad degrees at the University of Minnesota.  We agreed that even though most of us were more in debt now than the day we graduated, Carleton had other valuable intangibles.  The conversation was cut short but when I returned to my car they were discussing the new US News rankings on MPR.  Carleton was 6th overall.  They talked about whether the rankings meant anything besides the "richest" colleges or the most expensive.  A Gustavus student called in and asserted that the rankings don't mean anything...figures #81...kidding I have nothing against the Gusties.  I don't disagree that when your talking about the top 10-20, even top 50, schools it's hard to say generally who is the best and who is only 5th best.  It's the same way with preseason rankings in sport, you're really just making a guess based on the pieces they are holding, not necessarily how those pieces fit together and function as whole.

BUT there is a reason people spend the time and money to do rankings, and I'm proud of Carleton (and my favorite xc teams!) for being ranked.  And more importantly, I'm proud of the people Carleton has molded us to be.  The argument has always been that no matter what the rankings say you still have to show up and compete.   Carleton grads may not have "real" jobs but we are both fierce competitors and effective collaborators.  We follow our passions no matter how outwardly impractical.  I recently revisited a graduation speech made by an inspiring friend, Irene Koplinka-Loehr.  It's crazy how much more meaningful commencement advice is a year or two following graduation.  I would link the speech but I can't get it to work, and I would post an excerpt but it sort of needs context so I'm going to post the whole thing.  I hope you don't have this copyrighted, Irene : )

An Average Carl

Speech given by Irene Koplinka-Loehr
Carleton College Commencement, June 12, 2010

On our first day at Carleton, President Oden, in his engaging and syncopated voice, told us of a college admissions manual describing, “the average Carleton student” as one who “owns 1.5 Frisbees.” He went on to say: “There are two things wrong with that statement: most Carleton Students have at least three Frisbees, and there is no such thing as an average Carleton student.”

While I had already experienced that Carleton students were FAR from average, I was somewhat mystified by the Frisbee statistic. Over the years, while wondering what segment of the Carleton population that particular college book had polled, I turned Oden’s statement around in my head. As a dedicated runner—and distinctly Frisbee-less—I often wondered at the purpose of having one, let alone more than one Frisbee. It was only this past winter, when frantically searching the recesses of my friend’s car for an ice-scraper, that I realized the utility of a Frisbee. Suddenly the 175g disc of plastic was transformed into an ideal tool for the removal of an otherwise impenetrable layer of ice and snow. Immediately, the benefit of more than one Frisbee became clear…two Frisbees meant my friend and I were able to clear the windshield twice as fast.

This moment was enlightening in showing the range of Carleton students, but it additionally led me to reflect on the value of a liberal arts education. While somewhat trivial, it is in many ways indicative of what Carleton Students do very well: take the tools we are given and re-invent them within a totally different context. In an article titled, “The disadvantages of an Elite Education”, William Deresiewicz, cites a sense of entitlement, a trend toward socio-economic homogeneity, and a student’s “fear of failure,” as problems that limit the intellectual flexibility of today’s graduates. While some may argue that Carleton fits this mould, I would argue that Carleton is doing something altogether different: teaching students to question. I arrived at Carleton, like many others, intimidated but confident in the person that I was, with the expectation that I would graduate with a hefty résumé and the authoritative clout of a “top-ten liberal arts” college education. Instead I am leaving Carleton in a distinctly better position, not with a résumé and the stable footing of a well-paying job, but with a studio art major, the ability to laugh at myself, and a lot of questions. This, according to William Deresiewicz is the hallmark of a good liberal arts college: to engage a student in introspection and skepticism.

A Carletonian series spanning the past year asked self-identified men to answer the question “What does it mean to be a good man?” In one particularly eloquent response, the author stated: A good man does not only the good he can, but he looks at his own circumstance and does the good that he is uniquely positioned to do. Uniquely positioned to do. These words so clearly identified what we have actually been learning to do at Carleton. We have learned to navigate the world of being both student and conscientious community member. At Carleton we combine our academic interests across disciplines with our extracurricular activities. Daily, as students, we are doing the good we are uniquely positioned for: volunteering as a track athlete at the Special Olympics, helping new freshman transition to Carleton as an Intercultural Peer Leader, supporting survivors of sexual assault through CAASHA, teaching organic chemistry test prep sessions as a TA, or giving Friday flowers to a roommate who had a tough week. We use our voices, toned through a Carleton education, to shape a positive world around ourselves.

While some may chuckle at our Dance and English degrees, what is more important to recognize is that as we have challenged and questioned Carleton, it has in turn pushed us to examine our inner selves. We gained passion and dedication. Having seen injustices, each of us, based upon our educational and societal circumstance, has the ability to stand up to make positive change in this world. Now, balanced on the edge of our futures, I engage you to make a decision as you cross this stage: let us go out from the safety of this small Minnesotan town, grasping the knowledge gained from our four years here, and choose to do the good work for which we are uniquely positioned. As we leave the invigorating, dynamic, beautiful bubble that has been the Carleton experience hold close the words of President Oden: there is no such thing as an average Carleton student.  

Rankings might not mean anything, but Carls certainly do.  Initially, we may come in as just high-potential pieces, but eventually we become positioned uniquely among the best.

Chasing non-monetary value,

Monday, August 15, 2011

Highlights and Lowlights

For those of you who are curious about my studies:
So I lied...This blog was not effective at holding me accountable putting my ideas regarding my summer studies down on paper/the computer screen.  However, that does not mean that I have not been thinking about it a lot.  In fact, I think I might have a workable project for this fall.  If you have any idea what I'm talking about tell me what you think… My idea is to bring cross country runners in to be tested, preferably ones that will compete in the same races, and measure body mass and surface area, maybe do full body comp, and then test their VO2max.  Then for each race calculate their pace in terms of percentage of their vVO2max.  Then calculate their distance from the average percentage of vVO2max of all the participants.  Then for each race do a regression of the surface area to mass ratio and their relative pace.  I want to look whether the race temperature/weather and course conditions influence that regression line.  The problem would be that individual variability in training adaptations throughout the season will surely confound the results.  That's as far as I've gotten.  Hopefully I can come up a with a way account for that without over complicating the study.  Maybe looking at performance pace compared to the velocity of anaerobic threshold would be more pertinent than max oxygen consumption.  I apologize for thinking out-loud, guys, I just kind of want to get a little feedback.

For those of you who have no interest or no clue what I'm talking about:
These past few weeks my life has been especially blog-worthy, but of course that usually means that I have little time or access to post.  So in the interest of my time and yours I will attempt to summarize the highlights, and low lights :)

Northern Wisconsin trip:

Highlight: Running (what else?!) The combination of the northwoods, lake views, cool temps, a cleansing rain, greatly-missed company, a sprinkle of running gossip, and a delicious post-run reward were just what my training desperately needed.
Lowlight:  Not triple crowning our highly contested games of Barbie, Polly Pocket (yes, both of these are in fact board games) and Apples to Apples.  After Poindexter and I destroyed everyone by beating them to the prom by at least 20 minutes, I was only able to exchange gifts for party balloons fast enough to come in second, despite that fact that Kaitlin was riding a cat and I was in a fancy convertible, and as always, no one understood my humor in apples to apples.

Grinnell Iowa trip:

Highlight: Meeting Joe Vigil and learning some super helpful information about biomechanics was cool and all, but I think the highlight goes to winning a free pair of Asics.  The guy next to me won so the misconceptions of probability were against me but I WON! right as I was commenting on how I never win anything.
Lowlights- discovering how cool Grinnell College is…don’t tell anyone I said that.  Haha, no really Will Freeman definitely impressed me, their campus is unreal, and the running there beats just about anywhere except of course the Arb.  Good thing Grinnell is Iowa and most people wouldn’t be caught dead living there ;)

Boundary Water trip:

Highlight: Swimming, a lot.  Normally I have to aquajog for hours on end when I’m up there which is preferable to aqujogging anywhere else, and to not working out at all, but now I can swim! not well but I’m getting better.  We stay on a lake with lots of island so I could swim between then and feel like I was making progress!  And the weather and the water were wonderful!
Lowlight:  Escaping to my tent the first night.  While I was unsuccessfully trying to catch up on sleep, the bugs apparently transformed into brilliant galaxies of stars.  My wonderful little brother thought it acceptable to notify my sister in the other tent but not his lovely tentmate.

Appleton, WI trip:

Highlight: Cuddling with my bestie and our favorite blanket the night before the beautiful bride married her perfect match. Another highlight was learning that some guys actually do talk to other guys about girls and love, and not just butts and love-making.
Lowlight: Leave it to a storybook wedding to expose those little emptinesses you work hard to forget.  In a moment of weakness, slightly regretting focusing my life on sports and running instead of working on making myself attractive to boys (or more preferably men), I was jealous of my best friend, and the man who now has her full heart.

And to hopefully cover me for a couple weeks:

Expected Highlight:  Goal setting- by the time I start school and coaching I will have a finalized training plan and plan for moving forward toward completing my masters degree, I’m pumped for working hard at both but need to give my excitement a little direction.
Expected Lowlight:  Realizing how I have taken advantage the free time I’ve had this summer, and finally making attempts to appreciate not having overwhelming responsibility before my life explodes with activity.

Chasing a little more summer,

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Science of Dehydration

This summer I have begun working on my master's thesis for my degree in exercise physiology.  It has brought back fond and less than fond memories of the comps project I completed no more than a year and a half ago.  Grad school sure flies by!  Here is a hilariously accurate portrayal of my experience with science. http://getrealscience.com/katelyns/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/sciencerage.png

Not surprisingly to those who know me the project is progressing at a modest pace.  In order to motivate my reading of the literature and to restrain myself from becoming that little face on the left side of the cartoon, I plan on blogging my findings, thoughts, questions.  That said, warning to those of you who are looking for traditional scientific style writing, free of gramatical errors.  This is not meant to be a review of literature or to agrue a standpoint, or to be used for any other purpose besides brainstorming questions and ideas.  Please, let me know if you know of any good articles or if you have a concern or different perspective on the topics.  Don't be shy.  Even if it may sound like it, at this point, I have no hard stance on the issues I just want as many perspectives as possible.

My research this fall is looking at temperature regulation and running performance across a cross country season.  So I want to start with a post on hydration.

A lot of the popular assumptions about temperature regulation relate to hydration.  The reason for this is that in many laboratory studies conducted in warm and humid conditions, athletes who consumed fluids during the exercise had lower core temperatures and lower heart rates compared to dehydrated subjects.  As a result, a general consensus confirmed by the ACSM's position stand is that proper hydration (often thought to be maintaining weight loss under at least 2% of pre-exercise weight) can prevent heat-related illness, and improve performance.

Still, there has been no solid evidence to suggest the hydration status is linked to heat-related illness.  More likely, these conditions are related to a failure in the bodies ability to sense injurious temperatures and react accordingly.  This failure of homeostasis is often a result of previous infections, genetic predisposition, or consciously overruling the bodies defenses against excessive heat production (pacing) and storage (ie. wearing a helmet and pads in football, or a sweat suit in the sauna to make weight in wrestling).

Like I stated earlier, many of the early studies that looked at distance races and fluid consumption revealed that the more water weight an athlete lost, the higher their core temperature and heart rate.  But an aspect of these studies that has been over looked is that the top athletes were the ones with the highest core temperature following the race.  There is little evidence to suggest maintaining weight throughout a competition will improve performance.  In fact, in competition durations of over an hour glycogen levels noticeably deplete.  Glycogen in a sense stores water in the muscles, so if you were to maintain weight throughout a marathon you would be considerably over-hydrated due to the lowered water storage capacity of depleted muscle glycogen.  Realistically, maintaining weight throughout a marathon would be considerably uncomfortable and near impossible for anyone running under four hours in a moderate to warm climate.  On the other hand, now that marathon running has begun to appeal to a much larger range of abilities, runners who stop at each aid station and are not "working up a sweat" could easily get themselves into trouble with hyponatremia, a condition in which excessive water intake dilutes the fluids in the body and can have disastrous health consequences.

Until relatively recently marathoners held very different attitudes about hydration.  In fact, fluid consumption in the first half of a marathon would have been considered weak and a sign of poor fitness.  Fluids were not recommended until the final miles because it would pull blood from the muscles to the intestines to absorb the water, hence slowing the runner's pace.

Finally, when we talk about dehydration we often confuse the real issue which is water balance.  The reason heart rate is affected by fluid loss is because when we sweat the volume of our blood (more accurately plasma) decreases.  This means our heart has to pump faster to maintain pressure in our blood vessels.  Our core temperature rises because the loss of plasma volume and blood pressure does not allow for additional blood to flow to the skin to dissipate into the environment.  (Side note: a criticism to a lot of the literature on core temperatures during different intensities of exercise in different climates are that studies are conducted in a laboratory setting in which participants perform without the usual air/wind resistance and convective heat loss.)  A common counter-attack to this reduction in plasma volume includes sodium loading.  A sodium gradient resulting from increased intake allows for two things, increased absorption of fluids in the intestines and increased ability to retain more water within the plasma. Carbohydrates in fluid (ie. sports drinks) can also increase fluid absorption in the intestines and at the right concentrations have definite performance enhancing ability for long duration activity, but that’s a topic for another time.

Most of these thoughts reflect my reading of Tim Noakes and his former student and Johnathan Dugas, whose ideas I have considerable respect for.  I believe they make strong cases against some unquestioned conventional wisdom of our understanding of exercise physiology.  Alternatively, I believe their arguments can lead to misunderstanding in translation and unqualified rash changes in athletic applications.  As a coach I would never encourage athletes to enter races dehydrated, however, I may question them if they consistently carry around gallon jugs of water because someone on tv said that we need at least 64 ounces of water a day (show me the research on the 64 ounces rule and then I might believe you).  Excessive water intake during exercise is not going to keep you from slowing down in the heat and excessive water intake throughout the day is only going to over work your kidneys.  That said yes we need water.  Yes, stopping at the water fountain on a hot day is only going to make your run feel easier, but if you really want to cool your core temperature in the heat dumping water on your head will be more effective than dumping it in your stomach.

For those of you who are still with me, here are the simple practical applications I would recommend from my current understanding of hydration, thermoregulation, and fluid balance.

1.      On really hot sweaty days, either consume sports drinks in place of water since they are specially formulated to be optimally absorbed and mimic the composition of sweat, or add sodium to your diet if you don’t already.
2.      Don’t force yourself to drink water because it’s supposed to be healthy, remember to consider your thirst and drink when thirsty.  Alternatively, don’t ignore your thirst, or get to busy to drink.  Carrying a water bottle is good because it reminds you when you are thirsty, but it is not necessary to get in a habit of drinking just because it is there.
3.      From the weight control stand point pay attention to the caloric value of the fluids you drink throughout the day, you can drink a lot of calories without ever feeling full.  This is good if you're training really hard and cannot keep up with your calories, on the other hand of course if it becomes a habit in the offseason it’s probably going to get harder to balance your caloric intake with energy expenditure.
4.      If you are not working up a sweat, you shouldn’t be overly concerned about hydration.
5.      Hydration during competition should be a balance of maintaining plasma volume, limiting intestinal discomfort, not carrying excessive weight, and improving your perception of exertion.
6.      Following competition it may take awhile to return to pre-competition weight due to the lag in glycogen resynthesis, however, if you, like me, are a urine color detective you can attest to the importance of rehydrating in the hours following a hard effort.
7.      Not a hard and fast rule but I still love it: urine should look like lemonaid not apple juice

If you are still loking for more here are some great recent blogs on the topic: