Tag Archives: running

Who’s afraid of the big bad coyote?

800px-Coyote-face-snow_-_Virginia_-_ForestWander

Photo of an Eastern Coyote, from http://www.ForestWander.com

 

Many people in New York state, apparently. And they certainly have the right to be concerned. Due to recent coyote sightings and attacks on pets, New York state issued a rare coyote advisory, telling people to take precautions in areas where coyotes are prevalent. While coyotes have long thrived in rural areas and even the suburbs, they are increasingly being sighted in urban areas, with one yuppie coyote being spotted in Manhattan last year. Though precautions may be necessary in certain areas, people who think we need to start killing them are overreacting.

Since coyotes almost never attack people(except very small children), these precautions are more about protecting pets. Cats and dogs have been known to disappear when left unsupervised in coyote country. In the south-west U.S, house cats are a favorite meal of coyotes and this is also the case in some parts of the eastern U.S. In the north-east, what we call coyotes are actually coy-wolves, a hybrid of coyote and wolf. Coy-wolves are significantly larger than their western cousins, though not necessarily more dangerous.

As far as adult runners, hikers, and other outdoorsy people go, there is little to fear from coyotes or wolves for that matter. I occasionally see coyotes during trail runs, but they always quickly disappear into the dark wilderness, way too fast for me to stop and take a photo. If you see one and they don’t run away, wave your arms around and yell to scare them away.

It’s estimated that there’s around 20,000 to 30,000 coyotes in New York state, far more numerous than a few decades ago. This highly adaptable species has also expanded its range well into the NYC metro area, with a significant presence in Westchester county. I know some people who were terrified when they saw them for the first time in their idyllic suburban neighborhood where nothing interesting ever happens, though the coyote didn’t attack and just quickly ran away.

As predators, coyotes are a vital part of the ecosystem, especially in areas where the deer or lawyer population is exploding(which in New York is everywhere). Rather than living in fear, I believe peaceful coexistence is the best way to deal with them, and taking extra precautions if you have pets or small children. Whatever you do, don’t feed them! If you’re a runner in Westchester county or live in an area with a lot of wilderness, I don’t think you should cancel your trail running plans just because of coyote sightings.

 

 

A Spring Breakthrough

The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail several weeks ago

The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail several weeks ago

It’s an understatement to say that the winter we just experienced here in the northern U.S was especially brutal. As soon as one wicked snow storm passed through, another quickly followed, often dumping several more inches of snow on the several inches already on the ground. To make matters worse, the extreme cold greatly slowed the melting process, seemingly making large snow mountains permanent features of the landscape. For all the problems the snow caused, it was often beautiful to look at.

As snowy and brutal as it was, I managed to defy Old Man Winter’s ruthlessness. Isn’t the whole point of fitness being able to meet a challenge anyway? So I managed to joggle for hundreds of miles, mostly by running in loops around the few precious areas where the snow was cleared. At times the brutally cold wind sounded like Old Man Winter was laughing, but I persevered.

The snow, ice and very cold air greatly slowed me down, but Screenshot from 2015-04-17 11:36:25I figured that my persistence would eventually pay off once spring arrived, and I was right. At first I merely wanted to match my pace from autumn of last year, but I did better than expected and joggled a half-marathon in 1:39:17, my first sub 1:40 half-marathon or 13.1. I dropped twice. This wasn’t even a race, it was a training run. Sure, I’m not nearly as fast as Michael Kapral(1:20:40 half-marathon), who was recently featured in Runner’s World for his incredible joggling achievements, but it’s an improvement for me.

To improve my speed, I didn’t drastically alter my diet(vegan as always) or training, or take any supplements, except that I am doing less upper body strength work these days. I think once a week is better than twice. All the hill training I do is really just a form of strength-training for the legs.

Let this be a lesson to everyone that persistence pays, when it comes to running or anything else in life.

Great article about joggling in the Huff Post

The Invention of Joggling, the Goofiest Sport in History, by Kevin Bell, is one of the best articles about joggling I’ve ever read.

Not only does this Huff Post article cover the interesting history of this “goofy” sport, it also features some familiar faces who are the current super-stars of joggling. In the article, Bell describes joggling as “running while juggling”; I usually prefer to call it “juggling while running”. What do you think sounds better?

It’s always great when the sport of joggling and accomplished jogglers get the recognition they deserve.

How to joggle an entire marathon without dropping

Screenshot from 2014-01-02 22:06:36

Although I have touched on this subject before, I keep getting asked how it is possible to joggle an entire marathon without dropping by both fellow jogglers and non-jogglers alike. Although I have only completed one marathon without dropping(I dropped at the other 2 I did), these days I can often joggle for 20 miles without dropping. I hate to sound like I’m bragging; there are other jogglers who can joggle entire marathons without dropping, and I’m not a world record holder. So what is my secret? Here is how I do it:

  1. Get plenty of practice. I usually joggle 6 days a week, which adds up to about 40 to 50 miles of joggling per week. Even on the days I don’t joggle, I practice juggling for at least 20 minutes.
  2. While joggling, relax, and always maintain your posture. Take deep breaths. Approach joggling as an active meditation. Keep movements smooth, think of it as a form of dancing, or martial arts. It’s inevitable that people will try to distract you while you’re joggling, but stay focused on what you’re doing.
  3. Strength-train your upper body. In order to build endurance in your arms to enable you to juggle for many hours, you will have to strength-train your upper body about once or twice a week. I mean exercises like push-ups, curls, and pull-ups. Doing a little core work like bicycle crunches or planks may help too. I find that just a few minutes is sufficient for improving muscle endurance and circulation in my arms.
  4. Occasionally practice juggling(or joggling) with heavy balls. This is almost the same thing as #3, except it combines improving muscle memory with endurance work by targeting the muscles you use for juggling. Juggling with heavy balls for a few minutes is also a great warm up exercise before joggling, since it increases circulation to your arms.
  5. When practicing juggling, work your way up to juggling 4, 5 or more balls. Just about all jogglers are 3 ball jogglers, but if you can juggle 4 or more that will help improve your arm speed and hand eye coordination. Once you can go a few minutes without dropping, try occasionally joggling with 4, 5 or more balls. I often practice with 4 balls as part of a routine I like to call “juggle chi”. It’s basically combining juggling with T’ai Chi movements.
  6. While training, learn to do lots of tricks while joggling. This will improve your hand-eye coordination and balance. At races, keep tricks to a minimum, if you’re doing them at all, unless you’re really good at them.
  7. Joggle with fruit occasionally. This can really challenge and improve your hand-eye coordination to the point that you won’t even feel like you’re joggling when you go back to joggling with regular balls. To take it to the next level, joggle with different types of fruit or fruit of different weight and do tricks with them.
  8. Do balance work. When juggling at home, stand on one leg. Better yet, juggle with heavy balls or do lots of tricks while standing on one leg while spinning around. Or combine balance work with strength training by doing planks or other exercises on an exercise(stability) ball. Balance and coordination go hand in hand, since you are more likely to drop if you are off-balance.
  9. Hit the trails, especially hilly ones. This is the ultimate joggling challenge since hilly trails can challenge everything all at once. If you can master this, joggling on flat surfaces becomes a piece of cake. Once you become proficient at this, take it to the next level by joggling trails with fruit or heavy balls.

Are ultra-runners less pain sensitive?

As a runner, I often wonder if ultra-runners are more pain tolerant than ordinary runners and non-runners. We’re talking about people who consider a marathon to be a “short” run, compared to the 50+ miles(80 km) they normally run. Although I haven’t run a marathon yet, I’ve been beyond the 20 mile(32 km) mark a bunch of times and I remember it felt awful the first few times. Actually, it is a little more complicated than that, since you can feel wonderful while at the same time your legs almost feel like they are getting tortured. Everyone has their own unique reaction, and as a joggler I do know my legs feel far worse than my arms toward the end of very long runs.

How some people can run beyond 50 or more miles is mind boggling to me. Do they just not feel pain as much as others, or do they feel it but don’t react to it as much? Or are they masochists? Is this due to genetics or is it the training?

Research into this is complicated by the fact that pain is a subjective phenomenon. It is virtually impossible to measure pain objectively.

That said, I did manage to find some fascinating research that attempts to answer some of these questions. According to the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology, University Hospitals Ulm, Germany, in Ultra-Marathon Runners Are Different: Investigations into Pain Tolerance and Personality Traits of Participants of the TransEurope FootRace 2009:

CONCLUSIONS:

Personality profiles as well as pain tolerance of our sample of TEFR09 participants differ from normal controls and-as obtained in previous studies-probably also from chronic pain patients. Low pain perception may predispose a person to become a long-distance runner. It remains unclear, however, whether low pain perception is cause or consequence of continuous extreme training.

It looks like what many of us suspect about ultra-runners is true – they are mutants! They do seem to experience pain differently, they don’t seem to feel it as much. But we still don’t know if this is due to genetics or training. Or a mixture of both. There is so much more to learn when it comes to the glorious sport of running.

The “dangers” of running and the availability heuristic

IMG_1232I really wish that writing this wasn’t necessary, yet on a regular basis I run into misinformed people who believe that distance running is the most dangerous thing a person can do after BASE jumping. Sometimes even family members plead with me to stop running, because they believe I am slowly killing myself. The fact that I am a vegan makes them even more concerned, but that is another issue that has already been covered.

Why do so many people assume running is dangerous? To a large extent it is due to media reports. Every now and then, someone drops dead during or after a marathon or a long run. This makes news; what doesn’t make big news are all the millions of marathon runners who cross the finish line without any serious issues.

It makes really big news if a prominent runner dies. Last year it was ultra-runner Micah True. A few decades ago it was Jim Fixx, who helped popularize marathon running and even wrote a book about running. True, who died at the age of 58, appears to have had a heart defect, and Jim Fixx, who died at 52 from a heart attack, appears to have had similar problems, besides having been a heavy smoker, and had serious weight problems before he took up marathon running.

Indeed, most deaths during marathons are due to pre-existing conditions like heart-defects and/or combined with improper training. Yet statistically, marathon running is not associated with an increased risk of death. On the contrary, according to the British Medical Journal:

Results The marathons provided results for 3 292 268 runners on 750 separate days encompassing about 14 million hours of exercise. There were 26 sudden cardiac deaths observed, equivalent to a rate of 0.8 per 100 000 participants (95% confidence interval 0.5 to 1.1). Because of road closure, an estimated 46 motor vehicle fatalities were prevented, equivalent to a relative risk reduction of 35% (95% confidence interval 17% to 49%). The net reduction in sudden death during marathons amounted to a ratio of about 1.8 crash deaths saved for each case of sudden cardiac death observed (95% confidence interval: 0.7 to 3.8). The net reduction in total deaths could not be explained by re-routing traffic to other regions or days and was consistent across different parts of the country, decades of the century, seasons of the year, days of the week, degree of competition, and course difficulty.

And this doesn’t even cover all the health benefits from regular exercise and the deaths prevented by it – being a couch potato is much more dangerous for your health than distance running.

But why do so many people continue to believe otherwise? In part I am sure that laziness plays a part in why sedentary people say ridiculous things about the “dangers” of running, but there is something else going on. I thought it would be more helpful to generalize why this is, even at the risk of getting overly technical, since I originally did not want to cover this topic again. By generalizing this, you can see that this anti-running bias is really one manifestation of a very prevalent cognitive bias called the availability heuristic. What is the availability heuristic? According to Wikipedia:

The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that occurs when people make judgments about the probability of events by how easy it is to think of examples. The availability heuristic operates on the notion that, “if you can think of it, it must be important.”

It’s the same phenomenon that leads people who ordinarily have no problem driving in automobiles to have a debilitating fear of flying in airplanes. Even though, statistically speaking, air travel is far safer than driving in a car. Those catastrophic plane crashes that happen every so often make big news, and are permanently etched into the minds of many people, leading to this bias. The thousands of planes that take off and land safely every day are not newsworthy.

It’s the same thing with running. To a very large degree it is a safe activity, though older runners should be a little more careful. Yes, many people may injure themselves while training or running the marathon, but deaths are extremely rare and usually due to pre-existing health conditions.

If you have or suspect you have a serious heart condition, marathon running may not be for you. If you don’t, you have little to worry about.

The benefits of HIIE, a new approach to cardio

IMG_0811If there is one thing that fitness enthusiasts, researchers, and doctors are all singing the praises of these days, it is HIIE(high intensity intermittent exercise). Even jogglers like myself have joined the chorus, even if I can barely carry a tune.

What is HIIE? It is very short bursts of intense cardio at VO2 Max that is as beneficial or probably more beneficial than moderate intensity cardio for 30 to 40 minutes, according to recent research. It may be more beneficial for losing weight and improving insulin sensitivity than moderate cardio.

Getting fit from doing 4 minutes of cardio? I know what you’re thinking, but look here – The Unbelievable 4-Minute Cardio Workout.

A closer look at the science behind this in the Journal of Obesity:

In conclusion, regular HIIE produces significant increases in aerobic and anaerobic fitness and brings about significant skeletal muscle adaptations that are oxidative and glycolytic in nature. HIIE appears to have a dramatic acute and chronic effect on insulin sensitivity. The effects of HIIE on subcutaneous and abdominal fat loss are promising but more studies using overweight individuals need to be carried out. Given that the major reason given for not exercising is time [64], it is likely that the brevity of HIIE protocols should be appealing to most individuals interested in fat reduction. The optimal intensity and length of the sprint and rest periods together with examination of the benefits of other HIIE modalities need to be established.

That’s neat! So if you can’t do 30 minutes of cardio a day at a moderate pace due to lack of time, just do 4 minutes of intense cardio. But then don’t sit for too long, or, I believe, most of the benefits will vanish. This is great information, but don’t use HIIE as a replacement just yet for your daily 30 minute cardio workout if you have time to do it. Do HIIE in addition to, not as a replacement for moderate cardio, which is still important.

You can do HIIE while running, cycling, jumping rope, joggling, and some forms of dance cardio.

When I joggle, I sometimes go all out for 30 seconds to a minute in intervals. It is so exhilarating, sprinting while juggling very fast. Rhythm is very important here so that I don’t drop the balls. It is also quite shocking to anyone who witnesses it, although a neighbor of mine who is impossible to impress told me the other day she wants to see me do it with bowling balls. I told her I’m working on it.

So add intensity to your cardio workouts, especially if you are short on time.