Spartan Race

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Goofy, or a short treatise on how I didn't train like I thought I would

I had fully intended to come up with a great training plan and great strategy for running the Goofy. I fully intended to train hard for it all summer. I fully intended to have run daily for the last year. I fully intended to be in the best shape I have ever been in, right now, today, as I write this. Oh well.
I’m trying to remember what made me think this was a good idea. Last January, my wife was coming off her second Goofy in a row and seemed no worse the wear for it. I thought, hey, I can do that. Hey, I want to do that. I signed up for it the night we got back from the 2009 Disney Marathon Weekend.
I love half marathon. I think they are the most elegant race length. They’re long enough to be an accomplishment, but don’t require hours and hours of training. You can finish a half marathon, shower, and still make it to a restaurant while they’re serving their breakfast menu. I like that distance. It’s my best distance. I ran four halfs (halves?) last year, and I’m already signed up for 5 this year before the end of April. I get respectable times in half marathons, I don’t in fulls. I do have to admit, though, I do feel a little greasy, a little oily, a little wimpy, when I am running a half that also has a full associated with it. I secretly feel like a little less of a runner when I turn off early to go get my medal and beer while the folks I’m running with go on for another 13.1, only half done (maybe I should gravitate towards stand alone half marathon). It’s clearly this effect that made me decide to do the Goofy. And why I am now coming up with a contingency plan.
My conclusion: I’m going to enjoy it. At this point, I’ve run my share of races, I can’t pretend to be a neophyte. I’m not out their wondering if I can do it. At the same time, I’m going to have to convince myself that there is something in between a PR and a DNF. The vast majority of the time when I finish a race, if I don’t PR I end up kicking myself about not picking up the pace somewhere along the way. On this one, though. I think it’s a losing strategy.
Strategy: The Half. After substantial discussion with Mrs. Running Doc, we came up with this idea. We’re going to be tourist. We’re going to run at a moderate pace. I’m going to throw my camera in my belt. We’re going to be the idiots who everyone stares at who stop in the middle of the race to get their picture taken with Pluto. We’re going to be the ones who climb up on the Pirates of the Caribbean float with Jack Sparrow. We’ll line up to pose with Daisy. And then, we’ll finish, and go find a place still serving breakfast. Not an approach I’m used to taking, but I think I need to finish running this one with plenty of gas left in the tank.
Strategy: The marathon. Go run. Nothing fancy here. Start, go as hard as I can. Eventually, be done. Collect medals. Find beer. Take picture of sweaty Running Doc hoisting all three medals in one hand with beer in other hand. Take another picture without beer, so I can be selective in which one I show to people (I read somewhere that you should never be photographed with alcohol in your hand. Too late for that.) I won’t PR this race, and it’s not about that.
And I’ll hurt the rest of the day, and maybe the next day. Depending on how bad, I very well may sign up for the 2011 Goofy before I get home. If I make noises about going to a marathon that associated with an ultra, somebody shoot me. Mu.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Apparently, I'm fatter than an elephant

I somehow ended up in a discussion with some friends about an elephant autopsy that was being performed on the National Geographic Channel. Don't ask how, I stumbled into it myself and I'm not really sure. In the course of the conversation, the point was made that the elephant had very little fat around the middle -it was basically all guts. That got me thinking about something that happened a few months ago in the running doc household.
A few years ago, Mrs. Running Doc came home from Target with a scale that would also measure body fat by impedance. It's not accurate, but its at least something. My wife and I used it fairly religiously, but didn't put too much stock in anything but the weight part of it. Months later, I was flipping through a high-end electronics catalog and saw the Cadillac version of the same scale - this one had a removable handlebar that one held at a right angle to the body which allowed for a more accurate impedance measurement and also calculated things like percent muscle. It was more than I was willing pay for at the time, so I forgot about it.
Several months later, the same scale showed up on (which is a cool website, if your aren't familiar with it) for about $40 and I jumped on it. When the scale arrived, it turned out it calculated BMI, %muscle, %fat, %visceral fat, and "body age". My wife hopped on first, and was pretty pleased by all the numbers, not the least of which was her "calculated body age" of 18 years - roughly half of how old she really is!
Not to be outdone, I got on next. I'm about 6'2" and weigh around 190 lbs. According to this scale, my percent muscle is well above average, my body fat is below average, my BMI is where it supposed to be. Then it pulls up my calculated body age - 55 years! I'm 34 and so is my waist! and so is my pants sizeNot quite sure how this happened, I run and work out all the time, I'm reasonably careful about my diet, don't smoke? So why is my wife and 18 year old and I'm apparently needing reading glasses? And how does this tie into the elephant talk? Might have to do with that visceral fat measurement.
Mrs. Runningdoc tipped the visceral fat percent at less than 2%, which is obviously quite good. Mine is 7, which is apparently in the "normal" range. Why is this important? Because, as it turns out, not all belly fat is the same. You have a fat layer between your skin and your abdominal muscles - everybody knows this. It's called subcutaneous fat. You can also have fat inside your abdominal cavity, surrounding your organs, This is the so called visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat has one purpose - energy storage. In the words of one of my old professors "it will get you through the winter, but..." It doesn't do anything else (well provides some insulation, but..). Visceral fat on the other hand, is basically an endocrine organ. It pumps out all sorts of "foul humors" as my mentor, the great Jerry Olsen, used to call them, that increase your blood sugar, blood pressure, ldl, triglycerides, platelet cohesion etc, and decrease some good stuff like HDL. This translates into increased risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, diabetes, and slew of other stuff that you don't want if you're a person (apparently, you don't have to worry about it if you're an elephant). There even some medicines that take advantage of this fact - the diabetes drug Actos (pioglitazone) causes increased abdominal fat deposition, but its subcutaneous fat. The drug actually causes a decrease in visceral fat - you potentially gain weight, but your risk of disease goes down.
At this point, I don't quite relish telling my wife "I'm old enough to be your grandfather", so I'm going to keep working on decreasing my visceral fat. Or I'll hack the scale.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wine and your health...

I’m going to start off with a disclaimer here, because this is a controversial subject. I’m not necessarily advocating for or against alcohol consumption. I’m just laying out some interesting facts as reported in the medical literature. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive review, just a quick little blog entry to generate discussion, however, all the literature I am mentioning is readily available, so you can go check it out for yourself if you like.
Most of us have heard something about wine (usually red in particular) being good for cardiovascular health, but aren’t really sure what that means. If you bring up this up in a group of physicians, you will likely get very polarized opinions - a bunch will claim that wine is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and a bunch will claim that alcohol has such a negative impact on society overall that any health benefits are automatically overwhelmed by the bad stuff. I think both sides have some merit to them. Alcoholism is a very real and devastating disease. I’ve taken care of enough people with end stage liver disease and alcoholic dementia to know that it’s a long, protracted, horrible way to die and we’re all aware of the tragedies that occur when people drink and drive. Clearly, you can have too much of a good thing, even if it really is a good thing.
But what about alcohol (particularly wine) in moderation? What does that do? Well, back in 1979 a guy named St. Leger wrote an article that pointed out an inverse relationship between red wine consumption and death from cardiovascular disease. In a slightly morphed way, this later became known as the “French Paradox”. In other words, why can the French smoke and eat really fatty foods without having an unbelievable amount of heart disease? Well, some other studies showed that heart disease was lowest in the regions that drank the most red wine and highest in the regions that drank the least. This prompted a whole bunch of studies on overall mortality (read death rate) and alcohol consumption. As it turns out both retrospective and prospective studies have showed decrease in risk of death with moderate consumption of wine (1 to 2 drinks a day). In some cases, the risk has been shown to be decreased by as much as a third. A similar case has been made for beer, though the risk seems to have been decreased by about 20% in that situation (again, moderate consumption 1-2 drinks a day). Drink more than that and in a lot of the studies the risk of something bad happening actually goes up.
So is it the wine, or something in the wine, that provides the benefit – in other words, can we purify something out of the wine and have the benefits without the risk? Well, in one study that I probably would have volunteered for, the vasodilatory effect of Chateauneuf du Pape, Reisling, and straight up ethanol were compared. It seems CDP opens up blood vessels pretty well, where as ethanol and reisling don’t. Studies like this prompted researchers to postulate that there was something else in the Rhone wine that was beneficial. The phenolic compounds in the wine were seen as a likely source – particularly something called resveratrol. A lot of these compounds are potent antioxidants and also seem to increase nitric oxide synthase (which leads to vasodialation). So do you just take the resveratrol? Maybe, it certainly doesn’t have the other negative issues associated with it that ethanol does (liver failure, alcoholism, etc), but there does seem to be at least some intrinsic benefit from the ethanol. Ethanol increases HDL (which is good) and decreases platelet deposition (which is good if you have a ruptured atherosclerotic plaque, but bad if you cut yourself). Oddly enough, red wine also seems to increase the level of Omega 3 fatty acids in the blood, which is a good thing in and of itself.
So should you drink red wine in moderation or not? That’s for you to decide. Most of the literature recommends cutting back or quitting if you are a heavy drinker and not increasing your consumption if you are a light or non-drinker. As for me, I like Petite Sirah and Zinfindal and Cab Franc and even Pinotage and don’t really need an excuse to drink them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Couple of Quick Articles

Just thought I'd post some links to a few articles from the Medical Journal of Australia that I like. Both the MJA and the British Medical Journal put out Christmas additions every year that have some offbeat articles in them that usually wouldn't make it to print.

Ailing Allegories and Sickly Stories: the Quest for Pathology in Children's Literature


We three kings and Christmas trees: pharmacotherapy from presents and diseases from decorations


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Really good day at Epcot with the family. Next time I'm down here will be for the Goofy, which is a scary thought.