Archive for February, 2011


NEW DISORDER DISCOVERED:“MARA-PARANOIA”

02.28.2011

Dr. Daniel Cumming* has reported the confirmation of the disorder, long suspected and chronicled through anecdotal evidence. 

Dr. Cumming describes the new disorder as follows:

Mara-Paranoia.  A complex psycho-physical manifestation which may take many forms and which may strike at various times, but is typically exhibited by sufferers within about 30 days of a marathon event.  There are also related manifestations which could be individually named as half-mara-paranoia, ultra-mara-paranoia and triathlo-paranoia.  However, all are clinically identical in origin and within the broad context of the typical physical symptoms.  For this reason, all may be described under the single designation of mara-paranoia.

After years of study it has been determined that mental processes in the typical subject presenting with mara-paranoia tend to become super-sensitive to indications of minor ailments and to even magnify them to debilitating proportion, at least in terms of potential threat to participation in, or completion of the marathon or other similar event.  The number of problems or issues that may be presented is apparently directly related to the creativity of the presenting patient.

Symptoms fall into two or more categories and at least two time-frame models.  It should be noted that there is no specific time prior to an event prior to which symptoms can categorically be said to not be related to mara-paranoia, but the key marker is that if the ailment were serious or real, there would not be time to recover prior to the scheduled event.  It is for this reason that the early problems described below tend to be of the potentially devastating physical injury sort, while those occurring within days of the event are more along the lines of colds and flu’s.

  • Type 1 M-P.  The greater the time distance from the event, the more likely symptoms will be to include:
    • Muscle soreness in the hamstring, calf etc
    • Joint soreness in knees, hips or even ankles
    • Potential tendon problems as in the Achilles
    • Sudden back pain or soreness
  • Type 2 M-P.  The closer the event, the more likely symptoms will be of the following sort:
    • Sore throat indicating the onset of a debilitating cold or flu
    • Congestion suggesting pneumonia or such
    • Stomach or intestinal upset

Some individuals of particularly creative minds will combine both Type 1 and 2 symptoms, moving seamlessly from the one form to the other as marathon day nears.  Similarly, there is nothing to say that in severe cases, the athlete will actually transition from Type 1 to Type 2 forms of M-P and may simultaneously exhibit both types and multiple forms of M-P.

Although at some level, some athletes may actually be looking for an excuse not to run the event, in most instances the worst symptom is the panic response that the “problem(s)” will actually prevent participation and/or achievement of a particular goal.  This may result in cold sweats, panic based dreams and feelings of dread or fear, in extreme cases leaving the victim unable to defecate, or as is said in medical terminology, “scared shi**less”.

Treatment and Cure.  At present there is no known treatment prior to the specific event, although a state of calm and adequate training may help reduce severity of symptoms.  The only known cure for actual cases of mara-paranoia appears to be the event itself.  Normally, in true cases of M-P all symptoms will disappear at the starting gun, or within the first mile of the event.  If symptoms do not disappear or actually worsen, it is safe to assume that the runner is not suffering a classic case of mara-paranoia and is in fact sick or injured.  This is a direct form or proof of the saying “Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean the whole world isn’t out to get you!”

Variations.  As previously noted, the term mara-paranoia is general and may be applied to such events as ultra marathons, triathlons up to Ironman level, etc.  While classic mara-paranoia will involve running based symptomology as it would relate to preventing the athlete from competing, in the triatholo-paranoia variation such things as rotator cuff soreness or pain in the coccyx (it’s not dirty! it means tail-bone) or bike saddle soreness which would respecitively limit or prevent swimming or biking, are natural extensions of the same phenomenon where only the running muscles, joints etc are involved.

*  Dr. Cumming is a PhD Food Scientist and knows virtually nothing about medicine or psychology, but don’t you think the “Dr.” lends a nice credibility to the whole thing.  On the other hand, Dr. Cumming has run a number of marathons and has friends who have run even more.  He has personally suffered from mara-paranoia more than once, so feels he is very qualified to discuss this disturbance.

[Ed Note:  I am training for a marathon.  My knee hurts!  Seemed like and appropriate time to bring out this report.]

I KNEW IT!

02.22.2011

Mouse

The Vancouver Sun reported today on a study conducted at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario that shows RUNNING (in the zone or anywhere) is the the true answer to a long and healthy life.  They reported the work of Dr Mark Tarnopolsky and his team, which was reported more technically and formally in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Skipping right over the boring scientific stuff, as newpapers (and at least for today) this blog prefer to do, it was reported that mice that ran lived a much healthier life, warding off normal aging!  Go MICE!

Now, didn’t we here at Running in the Zone – a Blog for SEASONED athletes, already know it?  OK, we HOPED it and probably believed it. 

The work out of McMaster seems (I used to be a scientist – so I just can’t say something like this without using a term like “seems”) to show that mice with a rapid aging trait that are used for such studies were strong and healthy within the test group, while the control animals were old, balding greying and more or less withering away.  The great news is that other than exercise, the mice were effectively treated the same.  The hearty, healthy mice just ran for 45 minutes three times a week.  There was no mention of their choice of running shoe, or if they were part of the bare-foot running trend.  Actually, I am thinking the latter would be the story.

One quote that I really liked was, “Death is inevitable, but exercise is the only way to stay healthy and free of disease for a longer period of time”.  Personally, I like my medical science on the practical, honest and pragmatic side.  I can’t tell you how many medically related studies, and especially the reports thereof, leap from the documented sparing outcomes (such as is the case in this study) to immortality!  The implication is always that if you prevent (pick your favorite malady) you prevent death.  You don’t.  You will die some day, probably of something else.  Hopefully that day will be a long time coming and the end quick and relatively easy, but it is going to come.  So, that is why I like where this scientific study and its reporting have gone.

Now back to the exciting findings.  Mouse-years are far worse than dog-years.  And, this rapid aging strain of mouse has it even worse than your average house mouse (not Mickey, who in mouse-years is older than Methusela), or lab mouse, for that matter.  According to the report in the Sun, the experiment was started when the mice were three months old, or the equivalent of about 20 years (human scale).  The experiment continued for five months to the point where the mice would be akin to a human in the late sixties.  All the healthy mice did was to run three times a week for 45 minutes on little mousy treadmills.  Fantastic!  They had nice shiny dark coats, great hearts and muscles, excellent function in all the major organs like kidney and liver, not to mention their little mousy gonads.

Quoting once more, from the paper: “Epidemiological studies in humans have shown that people who are physically active or exercise regularly have fewer chronic diseases and tend to live longer – runners especially.”  Check the last bit – “runners especially“.  

Not to throw cold water on all of this, but if a mouse (or at least this special test mouse) ages essentially 10 human years per calendar month, we might want to think about what 45 minutes of running looks like in that relationship.  Or we might not.  It being biological, the math is likely not as simple as it would seem.  I am just suggesting that a mouse with a 7-8 month total life expectancy vs a human with a 70-80 year life expectancy might be doing something a good deal more than the human equivalent when he runs for 45 minutes.  I’m just saying.

In all seriousness, this study is just another piece of solid evidence for a healthy exercise based life.  There are probably a lot of other factors like positive attitudes and other healthy choices that come with commitment to exercise, such as eating habits, not smoking and drinking in moderation, if at all.  Without getting all “techie” here, epidemiological studies are useful but can be dangerous.  Popular press often reports such studies as proof-positive when in most instances it is a strong inference for a relationship between Thing A and Outcome B.  A properly run study accounts for confounding factors but you can never be certain unless you actually see the study itself and can see what corrections were made and that they were made to improve the data and not skew it in the direction of some thesis.  One of my favorite examples of an epidemiological study was given years ago by a well-known food scientist, Ferg Clydesdale.  He liked to say that it had been determined that 95% of people who perished in airplane crashes had consumed dill pickles within six months of the crash and therefore dill pickles cause airplane crashes.  Naturally, this is so silly that nobody would see it as reasonable.  However, in essence, that is what an epidemiological study is about.  One thing is shown to be related to another in a statistical way.  The relationship, as a statistic, may be quite valid.  The relationship as cause and effect may not be there at all, as with the pickles and planes.  Running and health do have some connection, but what we must consider is the compounding benefit from the other aspects of the runner’s life in general.  Some of those aspects were noted already, but there are more, even though I have no intention of trying to offer them here.

So, get your running shoes on and get out there and add a few more days to your personal allotment!

WELL, THAT’S A FINE KETTLE OF FISH!

02.16.2011
Elite Women 2009 Boston

Elite Women - Newton Hills - Boston 2009

How many of you got up today, checked your marathon training plan and calculated, one more time, what you would have to do for a Boston Qualifier?  Who knew it was all going to change?!?  Brings new meaning to Boston Scrod.  (Look it up before you get too excited.)

The debate, not to mention accusations and snarky commentary, has abounded all day.  I do not envy the powers that be in the BAA and race management group.  As a former race director of an event that has sold out in three and a half hours you try to figure out how best to ensure everyone gets an equal opportunity to register.  Yes, that event was the First Half Half Marathon and I will soon make comment on it.

Boston, like a lot of races, has evolved over many years.  The first Boston Marathon was in 1897.  What many don’t realize is that there were 18 registrants, 15 starters and 10 finishers.  All men, naturally.  Although there were a couple of sneaky dames who evaded the officials over the years, the first woman to run Boston with numbers was Kathrine Switzer, but even she, while not actually being untruthful, registered as KV Switzer and had her coach pick up her bib.  Only in 1972 were women officially invited and sanctioned to run Boston.  And, regarding today’s upset over qualification standards and registration procedures, up until 1970 there was no general or compulsory qualifying time for Boston.  Why would there be?  There were only about 1200 entrants back then.  They only passed 10,000 entrants in 1995, with the exception of the crazy crowd of 38,708 in the Centennial event in 1996.  Between 1997, when entries dropped back to about 10,500 and 2008 numbers leaped to approximately 25,000 and the energy gel hit the fan, so to speak.

Today, the furor is over changes to qualifying times and procedures for registering that will favor the fast.  Charges of “elitism” are being bandied about.  OF COURSE IT IS ELITIST!  If it wasn’t we would all just register for a local marathon and run as hard as we could for the best time we could manage. 

Qualifying for Boston is special.  It is special because NOT EVERYONE can do it!  Like me.  I haven’t been able to do it so far, and now probably never will.  I have personal physical issues that create a challenge for me, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying and getting within a reasonable distance of the current standard for my age.  I am very sad that my dream is now probably never to be more than that, at least when it comes to actually running. 

Like a lot of runners, I am pretty good at finding victory in defeat.  Shortly after the initial disappointment of realizing that even if I met the current standard, employing some or all of the 59 second grace period, that probably wouldn’t allow me to register for the 2012 Boston Marathon, I decided that I could at least be satisfied that I HAD qualified.  Assuming, of course that I do in the next six months or so.  Fortunately, I already have a campaign ongoing that will culminate, successfully I hope, in Eugene, Oregon on May 1.

I know that I am anything but alone or unique in my disappointment at the turn of events.  What I do hope is that the new system if fair and equitable in all respects.  The number of exemptions must be absolutely minimal.  The time difference between men and women needs a careful review if it has not had one in this process.  Although I am certain that what is about to follow is politically incorrect, that doesn’t make it a fair matter for consideration.  It is somewhat hard to believe that 30 minutes applies across all ages.  Starting with the world’s best men and women, there is a difference of just over 11 minutes between Paula Radcliffe and Haile Gebrselassie.  OK, fair enough, those are the world record times.  Winners at big events like Boston, New York fall in the 15-20 minute range of male-female difference.  For Boston, Masters men and women have a difference among winners again, in the 15-20 minute range.  When you get into the veterans (50+) the difference gets into the 25-30 minute range.  Seniors (60+) winners get pretty close to the 30 minute difference and the Over 70 crowd is a bit more sporadic because there are no upper age limits.

Boston has a big problem in analyzing preformances from their own race because they already allow the 30 minute difference.  It is kind of built into the system.  You can’t allow people to qualify on the 30 minute difference, analyze your own race and then conclude that, “yes, there is an average difference of about 30 minutes”.  I don’t know how they came up with this standard in the first place, but it is the one area in which I think there is some scope to look at whether my basic demand that the system be fair and equitable is met.

Other than on a strictly personal level (which is just my own disappointment) I have no problem at all with applying stringent and difficult standards.  It is like using grades to qualify for a scholarship or a program like Law or Medicine.  They will say you “must have a B average” to be considered.  That doesn’t mean anybody is going to give you anything, just that you will be considered.  The guys with the A+’s, A’s, A-‘s, and B+’s are all likely to be ahead of you.  It is really all the Boston Marathon standards and registration procedure is doing.  The folks with the A-grades are getting in before you (ME) if there aren’t enough slots for everyone.  I mean, as far as the basic time standard goes, what is the difference between 4:15:59 and 4:10:00?  Yes, yes, I know – 5:59 and just enough to slam the door forever on my personal aspirations.  But, as a standard it is just a suitable number for male runners in the 65-69 age grouping.  Nobody is complaining there is something wrong with the current standard, just that it is being dropped and made more difficult.  If there are that many good runners out there that the standards have become too “lenient” then, sad as I may find it personally, so be it.

So, there you have at least 25 cents worth from Running in the Zone.

“FIRST HALF” LESS THAN A WEEK AWAY

02.07.2011

First Half LogoTalk about an item for “Favorite Races”!  But, how could a race that your intrepid editor has never run be a “Favorite”?  Easy, the First Half Half Marathon is operated/presented by Pacific Road Runners, my own personal running club from 2003 to the present and I was the race director for three First Halfs starting in 2007.  We missed a year in 2010 due to a little event being staged right at the same time and place.  You may have heard of it: the 2010 Winter Olymic Games.  Under new Race Director, Nicki Decloux and her eager and enthusiastic team, the First Half is back for 2011 with yet another sell-out registration.

Just one little note of clarification as to why I say I have never run the race.  With the exception of just a few lucky PRR members selected by lottery each year, club members are expected to be the key volunteers staging this race for the running community.  And, the lucky lotto winners are still expected to volunteer time before and after the race.  Oh yes, and winning the lottery just means they get to run.  They still have to register and pay like everyone else!

While on the topic of volunteers, I can say with deep personal, firsthand knowledge that without the horde of volunteers, especially non-PRR volunteers, the First Half would not be what it has come to be.  The 2011 First Half is the 22nd running of the event, which over the years has grown from a modest half marathon, staged as a prep race for the Vancouver Marathon to a top level event which sells out all 2000 slots in a matter of hours.  Some of Canada’s top distance running athletes have graced the event with their presence, including many Olympians and World level competitors. 

The course is flat and fast, but with a date in February, there are the challenges of an early season race and potentially dodgy weather.  For February, weather has been remarkably good over the years, but icy surfaces and the like can cause the elite runners to take each step just a bit more cautiously than might be the case in June.  That said, the event record has been at, or just below 1:04:45 since 1992 when Bruce Deacon set the mark that stood up until 2007 when Ryan Hayden chipped exactly one second off it to drop the time to 1:04:44.  Over the years, winners have included Peter Butler (winner of the first First Half in 1989), Carey Nelson and Art Boileau.  For a time, Art and Bruce seemed to be trading ownership of the race, each winning three times, and then in 2008 Bruce decided that he would put down a marker for the Masters Men and recorded a 1:09:12 for a new record.  Maybe he was annoyed about Ryan Hayden taking his overall record!?

The winner normally records a time between the above noted 1:04:44 and about 1:07, (14/21 times over the years).  With the field coming to the start line in 2011, including Dylan Wykes, recent winner of the prestigious California International Marathon (Sacramento), the chances of a winning time in the same range is good, including the potential for something just a tad lower than the current record.  Interestingly, there is an interesting relationship between event winners.  Peter Butler set a record at CIM, which held for several years and is still just the second fastest time for CIM, and the second fastest ever marathon time by a Canadian.  Bruce Deacon won CIM three times!  And, now the First Half has the most recent CIM winner about to toe the mark for the 22nd First Half.  Just to finish the thought re CIM, Canadians have done well there taking it seven times over the 28 years it has run.  Can Dylan extend the statistical relationship one more time?  Guess we will see on February 13, 2011, at about 9:35am (or so).

There are a number of men capable of 1:10 or less that, on any given day, could challenge for the win.  Among them are Jeremiah Ziak, David Jackson, Tristan Simpson, Oliver Utting, Jason Loutitt and Graeme Wilson.  Look for a hot race at the front until someone establishes control.

The women have been no slouches either over the years with individuals such as Tina Connelly (holder of the event record at 1:12:47 [2004]) who has won the event three times and Lisa Harvey, who has won four times.  Leah Pells is another winner of note.  Lucy Smith is a two-time winner.  With the exception of Leah, the other three ladies will be there to challenge the younger legs of such as Kristina Rody.  Among the younger legs are those of Ellie Greenwood, World 100km Champion (2010 – Gibraltar).  Ellie is a former PRR member, now living, working and training in Banff.  Ellie won the 2010 Calgary and Edmonton marathons, but a half marathon is another question.  Twenty-one kilometers challenges most of us, but might seem more like a good warm-up to someone used to much longer distances!  There is no doubt about her endurance, the question will be if she can summon the necessary speed.

And, who knows if some of those veteran women may just challenge the Masters Women record time.  Is Tina poised to do a Bruce Deacon and lay claim to the Masters record?  Will Lisa and Lucy just let her?  Could be some interesting racing on the women’s side.

The event has seen some remarkable performances by older athletes, of particular interest to this blog.  RITZ contributor, Herb Phillips, holds several of the age group records for men, starting with M50 -54 through M65-69, with one notable exception being that Jim Swadling fought him off over five years in the M60-64 range.  There have been some amazing women as well, but none more so than BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh, who holds every age-group from W60-64 through W80-84, having recorded a rather spritely 2:07:07 in 2009, the last time the First Half was contested.

All of this is great and very exciting for event watchers, but what about the real race, the one that the other 1980 or so folks will be running?  Every individual will be out there looking for some kind of result from his or her own perspective.  Some are running their personal First First Half Half Marathon (had to beat back the automatic spelling and grammar checker on that one!).  Others are looking for PB’s because Vancouver being a pretty open climate where you can run right through winter, the First Half represents an opportunity to achieve such a result. 

If you aren’t one of the 2000 registered runners and aren’t already a volunteer or official, why not head over to the course and see what is happening next Sunday morning.  A big question will be the donation to Variety – the Children’s Charity.  The past number of years, through the generosity of sponsors and tireless work of volunteers, has been around $40,000 annually. The race starts at 8:30am between Davie and Drake, on Pacific (near the Roundhouse Community Centre), circles beautiful Stanley Park and finishes on Drake.  Anyone who has ever run a race knows how great it feels to have a crowd cheering them on to personal victory.  Come on out and make some noise!