Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Amazing 'die hard' marathon finish video

This YouTube video of Kayoko Fukushi finishing the Osaka Ladies Marathon on Sunday shows what can happen if you start too ambitiously. She led the race until 34.6 km when her wheels came off totally. Britain's Mara Yamauchi passed her and went on to win with 2:25:10.

Kayoko Fukushi is the greatest women's track runner in the Japanese track history and the Asian record holder at the half marathon (1:07). The only problem here was that this was her marathon debut. I'm sure she will try another marathon in the future and win it too because she has what it takes. 

She eventually finished 19th with 2:40:54, which is not bad for a first marathon.  After all that's still 15 minutes faster than my personal best. What a gutsy performance!   

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mind over genes

If you read only one biology book this century, make it this one: The Biology of Belief by Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D.

Subtitled Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles, it's a book that brings attention to the new awareness that is rewriting the science of biology (and medicine).

The main argument in the book is that genes do not control life. It is our perception of the environment that controls gene activity.

In the end, it comes down to a simple case of 'mind over matter' in controlling the fate of our lives. That's something we long distance runners should probably find easy to believe.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Celebrating 70th birthday along Coastal Challenge

Ultrarunner Jay Norman will celebrate his 70th birthday along Coastal Challenge, a six-day stage event in Costa Rica that begins Sunday. Read the article by Debbie Fetterman for The Dallas Morning News.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Vitamin C supplementation decreases training efficiency

There is considerable debate regarding the health effects of vitamin C supplementation. This brand new scientific study concludes that it decreases training efficiency because it prevents some key mitochondrial adaptations to exercise.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 87,  No.1, 142-149, January 2008: Oral administration of Vitamin C descreases muscle mitochondrial biogenesis and hampers training-induced adaptations in endurance performance.

In my opinion, taking synthetic antioxidants regularly may not be wise. There's lots of hype about this powered by a multibillion-dollar supplement industry, so it's easy to get confused. I believe that research has shown quite clearly that although supplements may correct certain dietary deficiences, in the long run they simply cannot replace real food. 

Friday, January 25, 2008

My new running friend: iPod nano 8GB

The battery of my trusted old iPod could not take the cold winter weather anymore, so I had to get a new one. I can't imagine solo ultra training runs without some music, podcasts or audiobooks. 

I chose the new 'blue' (or more like turquoise) iPod nano 8GB (3rd generation) model. It has a new 'square' design, which differentiates it effectively from the previous, more rectangular models.

  • 8 GB memory card
  • ultra battery: up to 24 hours of audio on a single charge
  • compact size
  • light weight
  • cool anodized aluminum top & polished stainless steel back
  • bright display
  • new enhanced interface.
  • headphone audio quality not sufficient for music (ok for podcasts and audiobooks only) - most people will need to buy better quality headphones sooner or later
  • the hold switch is difficult to slide (especially when running)
  • relatively expensive price.
My running jacket has a special outside breast pocket that is suitable for iPod. It works well for me. In freezing cold I try to protect the iPod with something to keep the battery alive longer. 

In the summer I have to investigate what is the best way to carry it. I might try one of those wrist- or armbands that are available in stores selling accessories. 

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Serious questions about running

Scott, who is running a marathon every week for 2008, posed a great question when he learned that his brother has decided to run a marathon every month for a year: Is craziness learned or does it run in the family?

Here's some more serious questions that I've thought about while running:
  • If you take your wrist top computer for a long run, could you seriously jog its memory?
  • If you're running on empty, could your brain be given out free of charge?
  • If your timer got hungry, would it go back 4 seconds?
  • If you ran against a "BEWARE WET CEMENT" sign, would you become a hardened criminal?
  • If you eat boiled eggs before a race, does it make you hard to beat?
Ok, that's enough, I better get out for a run. See ya! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Only two dozen finish Hawaii ultra marathon

Only two dozen runners (out of about 100) were able to finish the HURT 100. The main reason for this was the rain before and during the race. All that mud must have added to the difficulty of the challenging course, which is anything but flat.

Male winner: Paul Hopwood (27:17).  Female winner: Suzanna Bon (31:56).

Check out this news report by KHLN.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Week 4 ultra training run

When I started to run in the afternoon it was snowing quite a lot and very large flakes too. All the snow smelted away soon as it was +5C. 

I managed 45.1 km today (28 miles), which is my longest run this year. It took me 5 hours and 2 minutes, averaging 6:42/km. I probably could have ran faster, but I wanted to stay relaxed and enjoy the easy pace, still feeling the effects of yesterday's hill sprints in my legs. My average heart rate was 130.

When I arrived home in the evening it was slightly colder, +3C, and it started to rain lightly. What a great workout!   

Sunday, January 20, 2008

HURT 100: the RUNble in the jungle

HURT 100: during this weekend, in the tropical jungles of Hawaii, 100 intrepid runners have 36 hours to run 100 miles.

The 20 mile course (5 loops) is designed to be extremely challenging.

If you dare, you can follow the live action here.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Flying Scotsman

Just watched The Flying Scotsman, a true story of Graeme Obree. He broke the cycling one hour world record twice in the 90s. Amazing how this Scot designed and built innovative racing bikes, using washing machine parts etc. Surprisingly inspiring stuff, considering the main character suffers from depression. Recommended!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Spark: physical activity recharges brain

Want to raise your IQ? Pump up your heart rate! 

In Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Ratey reveals how exercise can help ward off anxiety, dementia and depression, all while increasing your intelligence.

In Dr. Ratey's blog you'll find a free download of his presentation from the Learning & The Brain Conference. There's a lot of interesting information in there, like the study of rats who ran voluntarily 48 km a day over several weeks. These 'ultra rats' developed more new neurons and stronger connections than sedentary rats.   

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Week 3 ultra run report

Last night I finished my ultra run of week 3/2008. It went well and the weather was fantastic considering the time of the year. In the early evening it was +6 C and it dropped down to +3 C later on. I ran 43.68 km (26.72 miles) in exactly 5 hours.
Yes the pace was slow (average only 6:52/km) and only slightly longer than a marathon, but that's the way I've planned my program. I will run faster and longer when the spring arrives.

What's great about ultrarunning is that you can explore new routes every week. Although I do get lost occasionally, it doesn't really matter as I'll always now my whereabouts roughly and will eventually find my way home one way or another (I'm not using any GPS device).

The most exciting and memorable part of yesterday's effort was when I found myself navigating a walking path in total darkness (I didn't carry any light on me), all alone, watching the crescent moon and stars on the sea and listening to the sound of the nearby waves. 

Normally in January the ground and sea would be totally covered with ice and snow, but that's not the case now. All the snow we had last week is gone due to the unusually high temperature and rain.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A key workout in Central Park

I performed the last of my three key workouts (the other two were short hill sprints and an ultra endurance run) of the week in the Central Park area of Helsinki. I like to run there frequently but today some parts of the paths were covered with slippery ice which forced me to slow down. That was quite ok as this was supposed to be a fartlek type of exercise. 

The total distance was 17.9 km with an average pace of 6:09/km (max speed 4:22/km). My average heart rate was 145 (max 165) and the TE (Training Effect) calculated by my Suunto T3 was 4.0 (the maximum you can get is 5.0). 

The totals for the week 2/2008: 100.2 km, 11 hours and 31 minutes (this time does not include any of my daily strength, resistance and mobility exercises at home and gym). This was the third week of my Base Phase training.  

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Brain Training For Runners

Brain Training For Runners is a new book by Matt Fitzgerald. I'm going to incorporate this revolutionary new method into my training program this year and see how it works.
Here's an interesting review of the book by Toby Guillette, who has already succesfully used the system for a 5K and an ultra running race.

There are way too many great new ideas in the book for one blog posting, so I'll just pick one example: the proprioceptive cues. One by one, these little gems seem to be able to improve my running instantly. Although they may seem a little weird initially I believe that they will make a big difference as long as you can focus your thoughts on them. Without concentration much of their power would certainly be lost.    

Friday, January 11, 2008

Fat intake and injury in female runners

A brand new study Fat intake and injury in female runners, published by Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, concludes that fat intake is likely associated with injury risk in female runners. 

Injured runners had significantly lower intakes of total fat and percentage of kilocalories from fat compared with non-injured runners. 

Energy intake and availability were not associated with injury in this study. 

The take home message is: to reduce the risk of running injury, eat more fat.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Run Scottie Run


There's another blogger,, who has similar 2008 running goals to mine:
  1. Run 4 miles every day.
  2. Complete a 26.2 mile run once each calendar week.
  3. Run 3000 miles.    
Nice to know I've got some company with my ultra/week program (see the Jan 1 posting about my New Year's resolutions).
Respect, and good luck! Run Scottie run!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The key to endurance running performance

Eritrea's superstar runner Zersenay Tadese (photo by Getty Images) is likely to use the lowest amount of oxygen ever measured according to a new study The key to top-level endurance running performance.  

The study inspired sports scientists Jonathan Dugas and Ross Tucker to write a series on running economy in their excellent blog The Science of Sport in December. 

They make an interesting observation: although the use of oxygen per minute goes up with run speed until the maximum is reached, the use of oxygen per kilometer remains relatively constant.
The less oxygen you need to run a kilometer, the more economical runner you are. Tadese consumes only 150 ml/kg/km, which is amazingly low, considering that the corresponding figure for elite Kenyan and Spanish runners is 192 and 211 respectively.

The economy of running seems to be the key to endurance running performance. VO2 max (maximal capacity for oxygen use) and blood hematocrit (the value that is often measured in doping tests) do not appear to be limiting factors. In the study Tadese's VO2 max was measured as 83 ml/kg/min and his blood hematocrit 44%, which are not exceptional figures for an elite athlete. What's more, he was using only 48 ml/kg/min while running 3:09/km - that is, only 57% of his max VO2.

Well, that's fine, but can running economy be improved, and how? The Science of Sport was able to identify the following factors for the consideration of endurance runners:
    Studies show that running economy improves with high volume slow training. The reason for this includes the increase in mitochondria.

    Stiffer joints and muscles are better able to store and release the energy. Less streching and limited flexibility can be a good thing as it means less work is required for stability.

    Strength training improves running economy as it improves the function of the neuromuscular system.
So slow, stiff and strong seems to be the new training mantra or motto, at least for those of us who want to optimize their endurance running economy. But whatever you do, just keep running, that's the main thing of course!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

It's snowing!

Finally we've got snow! 

Today was my ultra day of the week. I did 43.24 km in 5 hours 15 minutes. The snow on the ground may have slowed me down a bit, but on the other hand it was easier to see where I was running. I think the weather was nice, -2C with some wind (7 m/s). I guess some sunshine wouldn't hurt, but what can you do about that this time of year. I took it easy, my average heart rate was 125, and I stopped to take a couple of photos.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Low carb diet reduces inflammation and blood saturated fat

EurekAlert! news: a new study indicates that a diet low in carbohydrates is more effective than a diet low in fat in reducing saturated fatty acids in the blood and reducing markers of inflammation.

Lead researcher Jeff S. Volek, PhD, RD, associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut (and author of TNT Diet), describes the study as "adding to the evolving picture of improvement in general health beyond simple weight loss in keeping blood glucose and insulin under control."

The current work concludes that "lowering total and saturated fat only had a small effect on circulating inflammatory markers whereas reducing carbohydrate led to considerably greater reductions in a number of pro-inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and adhesion molecules. These data implicate dietary carbohydrate rather than fat as a more significant nutritional factor contributing to inflammatory processes."

Richard Feynman, PhD, professor of biochemistry at SUNY Downstate Medical Center adds, "Carbohydrates stimulate insulin secretion which biases fat metabolism towards storage rather than oxidation. The inflammation results open a new aspect of the problem. From a practical standpoint, continued demonstrations that carbohydrate restriction is more beneficial than low fat could be good news to those wishing to forestall or manage the diseases associated with metabolic syndrome."

One of the remarkable effects in the data presented that may have contributed to the results is that despite the three-fold greater saturated fat in the diet for the low carb group, saturated fat in the blood turned out to be higher in the low fat group due to the process known as carbohydrate-induced lipogenesis. Dr. Volek points out that "this clearly shows the limitations of the idea that 'you are what you eat'. Metabolism plays a big role. You are what your body does with what you eat."

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The great Paleolithic fat debate

"Lowfat diets, claim the pundits of medical orthodoxy, have been associated with good health and longevity throughout the globe and since the dawn of time. The research of Weston Price proves otherwise."
That's the opening statement from Caveman cuisine, an article by nutritionists Mary Enig and Sally Fallon on Weston A Price Foundation website. Dr. Price discovered on his travels back in the 1930s that all healthy indigenous people had a plentiful source of animal fat in their diet. 

However the obvious lack of direct evidence about our Paleolithic ancestors allows conjecture about the content of their diets. The low fat school claims that cave men ate lean meat, supplemented by plant foods. Dissenting investigators assert that they imbibed animal fats first and foremost, along with the meat that it was attached, and not too many vegetables.

Dr. Walter L Voegtlin argues for the high fat model in his book The Stone Age Diet, published in 1975. He asserts that the Stone Age diet was that of a carnivore - chiefly fats and protein, with only small amounts of carbohydrates.

In 1988, Dr. S. Boyd Eaton published The Paleolithic Prescription in which he argues that the cave man diet was low in fat (particularly saturated fat), low in salt and rich in dietary fiber from plant foods.

Nowadays a  popular endurance sports coach Joe Friel (who co-authored The Paleo Diet for Athletes with like-minded Loren Cordain) translates these suppositions into the following recommendations: select the leanest cuts of meat, trim away all visible fat, include fish and fowl, eat low-fat dairy products and include moderate amounts of monounsaturated fat in the form of nuts, avocado, and olive oil.

Enig and Fallon conclude that eventually the high-fat proponents are the most likely winners of the great Paleolithic fat debate. The amount of plant food in the cave man diet naturally varied greatly according to the climate and locality. In arctic climates plant foods were minimal, but they played a large role in the tropical regions where nuts provided additional fat. 

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Born to run

Humans evolved from ape-like ancestors because they needed to run long distances. The ability to run shaped our anatomy, making us look like we do today.

That is the brave conclusion of a study published in 2004 in the journal Nature by University of Utah biologist Dennis Bramble and Harvard University anthropologist Daniel Lieberman.

Their study concludes: "Today, endurance running is primarily a form of exercise and recreation, but its roots may be as ancient as the origin of the human genus."

Discover Magazine published an interesting article about this theory, observing how humans are built to outrun nearly every other animal on the planet over long distances.      

Friday, January 4, 2008

Optimal heart rate for aerobic training

If you don't have a heart rate monitor yet, I think you should get it. There are a wide range of models with all kinds of functions available these days. 

If you do have it, chances are you are wondering how to determine the optimal heart rate for aerobic training. There are many methods and formulas for this purpose out there. I've been using the one by Dr. Philip Maffetone because it seems to be the simplest and most effective one. I learned it from his book Training for Endurance (1996) but it does not seem to be available anymore. However, The Maffetone Method seems to be available and I guess it's a similar one although I've never read it.

Anyway here's how you can quickly calculate your maximum aerobic heart rate: 180 - age. Yes, it's that simple. For example, I'm 45, so the upper limit is 180-45=135. Of course, you may adjust it a little down if you have experienced any health issues lately. I would be cautious to adjust it much higher though, because then you risk training too hard and you would not want to do that unless you are an experienced athlete in excellent health and fitness. Believe me, I've tried it the hard way and now I know that it doesn't pay off in the long run.
What should be the lower limit of your aerobic training zone then? Theoretically the optimal training zone should be as close to your max aerobic heart rate as possible, say within 10 beats or so. But if you believe that walking is a beneficial form of aerobic exercise, then your lower limit is whatever your walking heart rate happens to be. Happy training!  

Thursday, January 3, 2008

TNF Arnuva 50 Boa shoe test & review

As I learned that The North Face Arnuva 50 Boa is the running shoe Dean Karnazes chose for his Endurance50 challenge (50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days) I got interested and decided to try them myself. Dean used five pairs for the 50 marathons, that's about 422 km/pair. I've tested them for about 400 km now and they feel as good as new. I hope to get at least another 400 out of them, but that remains to be seen.

Arnuva 50 is built for the ultra distance runner of both trails and roads. They are excellent on muddy trails or snowy paths but they are also perfectly ok for city streets. Although they are not as fast as a racing shoe they feel comfortable and reasonably light considering how stable and technical they are - my pair weighs about 730 g (size 10.5 US / 9.5 UK / 44.5 EU).

The most innovative part of the shoe is the Boa lacing system, which is both practical and addictive. Once you try the Boa, you will not want to use normal laces ever again. Boa offers quick adjustments using a dial on the back of the shoe, which is connected to a network of foot-hugging stainless steel cables. The new system enables you to adjust the fit of your shoes instantly if you can stop for a brief moment.

I'll probably buy another pair later on if I can find them - they don't seem to be too widely available.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Ketogenic diets and physical performance: the paradox explained

There is an interesting review on Ketogenic diets and physical performance by Stephen D Phinney in Nutrition & Metabolism, an online journal published by BioMed Central

The following three factors that can help us explain the paradox presented by studies showing superior performances with high carbohydrate diets:
  1. Adaptation period: a keto-adaptation period of 3-4 weeks (or more) is absolutely required.
  2. Sodium & potassium: the intake of sodium and potassium must be taken care of.
  3. Protein constraint: the optimal protein dose is approximately 1.5 g/kg/day, for athlete weights 60-80 kg this translates into total daily protein intake of 90-120 g.  

Good Calories, Bad Calories

I just finished reading this new groundbreaking book which is a must read for anyone seriously interested in diet and health. Based on the existing knowledge, the following conclusions seem inevitable to science writer Gary Taubes:
  1. Dietary fat is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease.
  2. The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis.
  3. Sugars, specifically sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup,  are particularly harmful.
  4. Refined carbohydrates, starches and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They are the most likely causes of cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other chronic diseases.
  5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating or sedentary behavior.
  6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter. Expending more energy than we consume does not lead to long-term weight loss.
  7. Fattening is caused by an imbalance in the hormonal regulation of adipose tissue and fat metabolism.
  8. Insulin is the primary regulator of the fat storage. 
  9. By stimulating insuline secretion, carbohydrates make us fat. The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be.
  10. Carbohydrates increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.
I completely agree with all of these points. It seems to me that we have been force-fed the wrong dietary advice by our governments, medical bodies and media for decades. I suspect it will take years before the 'experts' are willing to accept this new fresh vision. 
For me personally none of this came as a big surprise as I've been living along these guidelines for well over a decade now. Still I'd say studying this 600-page opus was exciting and certainly time well spent as Mr Taubes provides a huge amount of new ideas and raises several interesting questions. For instance, see what he writes about the fat content of the Paleolithic diet (on page 455):

"...the type and quantity of fat consumed assuredly changed with season, latitude, and  the coming and going of ice ages. This is the problem with recommending that we consume oils in any quantity. Did we evolve to eat olive oil, for example, or linseed oil? And maybe a few thousand years is a sufficient time to adapt to a new food but a few hundred is not. If so, then olive oil could conceivably be harmless or even beneficial when consumed in comparatively large quantities by the descentants of Mediterranean populations, who have been consuming it for millennia, but not to Scandinavians or Asians, for whom such an oil is new to the diet."

That's just one of hundreds of possible quotes that shows why Good Calories, Bad Calories is such an inspiring tour de force of scientific investigation.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's resolutions

Happy New Year! It's time to announce my new year's resolutions. My goals for 2008 are:
  • to run an ultra (any training run beyond 42.2 km will do) each week
  • to rest one full day (ie. doing something else than running) each week.

It's hard to say at this point which will turn out to be more challenging, the long run or taking the day off.

Without further ado, I simply got out early in the morning in darkness (there was no snow on the ground) and turned on my Suunto t3 and headed straight for the forest trails. I recently acquired the latest improved model of the heart rate monitor with a new lighter and smaller footpod (see photo). The pod has a much longer battery life than the earlier model. My test run on the track proved the distance measurement 100% accurate without any need for calibration.

I managed 44.5 km today. My time was slow, 5:17, with an average HR of 121. I'm trying to take it easy during the winter. What's great about cool climate is that dehydration is not an issue. I carried one water bottle in my back pack and that was enough.

There's nothing like a little athletic achievement to kick off the new year - I'm so happy for doing this. Highly recommended!