Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Weird Science

I've always been amazed by the human body and its responses to - well - pretty much everything. Runner's World ran a great piece a few months ago (that I finally got around to reading today) about the effects of running and the body's responses. My initial thought while reading most of the article: "Dude, this is so cool!" (My internal monologue is often less eloquent after hours of data analysis.)

Some of my favorites:

1 How can someone just as short/tall/skinny/fat as me run so much faster?
Plenty of reasons why your doppelganger leaves you in the dust. Speedwork may be his religion, and you haven't converted yet. This may be her 50th 10-K, when you're just stepping up to the distance. He may have a new girlfriend standing on the sidelines; she may have a postpregnancy goal she's gunning for. "Just because two people are long and lean or have a powerful build doesn't mean they match up in terms of VO2 max, mental toughness, or injury history," says Kristen Dieffenbach, Ph.D., assistant professor of athletic coaching education at West Virginia University. Many performance components, such as endurance, pace, turnover, and mental toughness, can be improved with planned, systematic training, except for one very significant one: genetics. "Muscle-fiber type and VO2 max are genetic," says Jay Dicharry, M.P.T., C.S.C.S., director of SPEED Clinic at the University of Virginia Center for Endurance Sport. "That's how some people who don't even train can blow by you on race day." You can't change your genetic destiny, but you can greatly influence your performance by training smart, adding speedwork, tempo runs, running-specific drills, and strength training to your routine. Plus, remember there's a reason it's called a PR: It's a personal record. Beat it—not yourself—up.

18 Why do I feel like a genius after a run?
Perhaps the biggest benefit of a great 10-K is that, postrun, you're sure you could score 1,600 on the SATs (2,400 if you're under 25) —or at least improve. "Running increases levels of positive neurotransmitters, like endorphins; norepinephrine, which is responsible for alertness; and serotonin, which helps regulate mood," says Fitzgerald. "Plus, running puts the brain in an 'alpha-wave' state, which is associated with feelings of calmness and well-being." A handful of studies have documented that moving your feet correlates with improving your brain; two conducted at the University of Illinois found that 30 minutes of exercise resulted in up to a 10 percent improvement in cognition, or being more effective in processing a problem or situation. Maybe that stellar score isn't out of reach.

20 At the end of a long run or race, why do I question the meaning of life?
I had a client who told me at the end of a marathon, she could see the Virgin Mary," says Manuel Villacorta, M.S., R.D. "She felt like she was dying." One of the prominent symptoms of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is angry, depressing thoughts. When your body isn't receiving the glucose it needs to perform, your brain, the air-traffic controller of your body, springs into action, sending messages—Why are you out here anyway, stupid? —for it to shut down and self-preserve. The day before a long run, eat three nutritionally sound meals and make sure your body's fuel tank is topped off before you head out. During the run, take in about 30 grams of carbs every 30 to 40 minutes. Before you head out, line up your answers to the inevitable questions (or at least draw up your will).

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