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imgresWhat is a Runner’s High?

 

When we exercise, we expect to feel better as a result.  We achieve a fitness or time goal and are fired up by the accomplishment.  We lose weight and like the result in the mirror.  Maybe, we just do something we have never done before and appreciate the new mental or physical dimension in our lives.  Some athletes, however, claim to feel better after exercise because the exercise itself makes them feel better.  Significantly. Commonly, this is called a “Runner’s High.”

 

This “high” has been explained through the years as a rush of endorphins, neurotransmitters secreted by our bodies during things like pain, excitement, and sex.  Endorphins act a bit like morphine chemically, so the conventional wisdom has been that they feel like it as well.

 

On the other hand, Jude Dickson and her University of Edinburgh colleagues, in their paper Does Exercise Promote Good Health, propose three hypotheses about the Runner’s High:  the distraction hypothesis (it takes our attention away from painful things at the time), the mastery hypothesis (we learn new things and achieve a goal), and the social interaction hypothesis (things are often more fun and seem easier in a group). So, is the Runner’s High a chemical reaction via endorphins, or a psychological reaction that is somewhat coincidental to running?  Regardless, all runners have days where we feel better than others, but the feeling of euphoria associated with this phenomenon can be fleeting or nonexistent for some runners, and relied upon as a pick me up for others.  But, can it be captured, quantified, and achieved systematically? 

Although an internet search of “endorphins” and “runner’s high” yields 70,000 results, that close association has been only modestly borne out by research.   For one thing, it is hard to quantify what exactly a “high” is, as the reflections of athletes differ widely as to how a Runner’s High actually makes them feel.  Secondly, although endorphin levels seem to elevate after exercise (likely because of the stress or pain the body has undergone during the exercise), that elevation doesn’t seem to have a uniformly positive result on mood, according to Sarah Willett in an oft cited article from Lehigh University.

 

The strong association between endorphins and Runner’s High in the wider public view persists. However, despite a well respected 2008 study by German researchers which found a strong correlation between endorphin production and the bloodstream of runners during and after two hour runs, not all agree that the correlation equals causation for the elusive high, in part because the large size of endorphin molecules make them difficult to pass the blood – brain barrier.  And, after all, if there was such a strong direct result, wouldn’t we all enjoy Runner’s Highs after / during every hard workout or run?

 

Other relatively recent studies have linked the same type of brain receptors that play well with marijuana use to a naturally occurring endocannabinoid, which appears to be produced in the bloodstream in large amounts during exercise.  A 2003 study with Georgia Tech college students yielded this finding, as have several subsequent similar or related studies with mice both in the US and abroad.  These molecules appear to be much smaller than endorphins. If they can pass the blood-brain barrier, does this mean that all the times we’ve joked that “running was our drug” we weren’t really too far off the mark?

 

Ultimately, questions remain to be answered about how a Runner’s High occurs, why, and frankly, what it is, exactly.  Runners are like snowflakes.  Each of us is at least slightly different from the rest both psychologically and physiologically, and it might not be unreasonable to think that the difficulties science has had in firmly establishing a cause and effect with this phenomenon lies is the infinite amounts of ways in which running can create a positive effect in our lives.  While we wait to find out what the chemical cause is once and for all, we encourage you to enjoy your Runner’s High not because of why you have it, but for the fact you have it at all.

 

 



1354465380_horoscope-2013Whether you have just begun training with us for a goal race some time in the future, or have been a long-time runner who needs a bit of motivation or a new goal, the beginning of a new year is a great time not only to set new goals, but to do so in a way that will stick. 

 

Ensure accountability

If you have a big goal you hope to accomplish, chances are you will be more likely to follow through if you have a mechanism to ensure that any doubt or lapses will be noted and you don’t get off track.  Many times, the term “accountability” takes on a negative connotation, but in reality, a positive motivational tool tied to an accomplished goal can be a decisive element that puts you over the top.

 

Accountability can take the form of a reward you commit to enjoying upon accomplishing your goal. While that may offer a simple and straightforward way to motivate yourself, consider your rewards in the context of the lifestyle change you are most likely trying to embark upon by setting the goal.  So, if your goal is weight loss as a part of your effort to run your first half marathon,  having a huge blowout meal at the best restaurant in town serve as your motivator to get through your next long run might not be the best reward.  Instead, pick a reward that reinforces the positive changes you hope to make.    Of course we don’t want you to become mercenary so a few guilty pleasures from time to time are perfectly acceptable.

 

Enlist a friend or family member who knows you well enough to nudge or budge you when you are veering off course.  All of us have times when motivation is lacking in some way or another, and by asking another person to remind you of your goals and keep you on track, you have already ensured that your will power and motivation need not be 100% all the time.  Arranging at least periodic running opportunities with another runner or group will also motivate you to show up and complete your task if for no other reason than the reluctance to stand someone up!

 

You might not need a big reward to look forward to or need to have others with which you feel comfortable sharing your goals.   Many of you enjoy our online training log for that very reason.  Many of our longtime members indicate they love nothing more than to see a string of blue days in a row!   Another written log or an X on each day of the calendar can be effective tools.  Print out your goal race entry confirmation and post it to your bathroom mirror or write yourself a note that pops up on your smartphone calendar on the days of your tough workouts.  Most importantly, take some time to consider how you typically respond to challenges -  what paves the way for the times your are successful and what stands in your way.  Figure out the simple ways you can keep yourself accountable and hopefully next year you’ll be resolving to achieve some new goals.

 

Have Fun

Oftentimes, the resolutions we make are as a result of leaving difficult tasks undone.  Things that have been left unfinished for some time as a result of inertia or procrastination are going to be difficult to all accomplish suddenly because of a simple change of heart.    If your goal appears to be an uphill trudge the entire way, look hard for ways to find some fun along the road.    Again, if this is a prescription you are giving yourself to jumpstart a larger shift in behavior or lifestyle, you want to make sure the change is something you can live with and enjoy for some time. 

If you have a choice of races, pick one with a great course, an established fun vibe, or another trait that will make the experience about more than just the run.  If running in the dark gets you down, make sure to set aside time on the weekends to run during the day to give yourself a break from what has been difficult.   Take some time to explore new routes and scenic territory around your neighborhood or city.  Pick a hilly run and stop at the top to take in the view.  Take some time to consider what it is that you really enjoy about running (even if you only enjoy it a little bit), and scratch that itch as much as possible.

 

Note Incremental Progress

The biggest goals often take a while to accomplish and progress may not always be linear.  If your new year’s resolution is a long distance goal race, it might help (we typically recommend this regardless) to run a few intermediate distance efforts to note fitness progress and encourage you that your are slowly crossing the canyon toward your big day.  In running, as in many other things in life, your result may be subject to forces beyond your control.  Your training could go completely smoothly up until three days before the race, when you catch a cold or turn an ankle.  Creating a field of multiple data points will allow you to evaluate the process rather than only having the one race to either make or break your perspective on your efforts.

 

Above all else, we encourage you to set goals!  Reach high, assume you will be successful.  Take a step in the right direction today. Making the choice to set a goal to begin with is not an insignificant part of the process.  Once you have, we look forward to helping you get there!



imgres-1Will Drinking Alcohol Affect My Running? Yes, We’re Going There

 

Even if your regular schedule doesn’t include significant regular alcohol consumption, around the holidays the chances that you will imbibe definitely rise.  Whether it is the office party, home with the family, or New Year’s Eve, you might want to run well the next day despite having one or more drinks the night before.  Does it matter?

 

Natural ingredients…all good, right?

Alcohol (ethanol), in the form of beer, wine, or spirits, is ultimately a beverage fermented / distilled from natural base ingredients such as grains and grapes.  So, it’s carbo-loading from nature’s bounty!  Not so fast.  The calories (7 per gram, compared to 9 per gram of fat or 4 per gram of carbohydrate or protein) may come in with each drink, but the loss of sodium and potassium via the diuretic impact of alcohol (see below) causes a greater impact.  According to the American College of Sports Medicine, orange juice has four times the potassium as beer, for example – so the electrolyte gain to begin with is minimal.  Further, since there is no essential need for alcohol in the body (unlike carbohydrates, protein, and fat), it is metabolized first, which leads to a quick release into the bloodstream.

 

Alcohol is also an appetite stimulant. Combine the chemical impulse to eat more with the slower and poorer judgment in play due to the quick release of the chemicals into the bloodstream and the resulting actions might not mirror desirable, sane, and temperate eating patterns during the period of time when drinking occurs.  If the alcohol effects don’t have a big impact, the food consumption impact is also wise to be aware of.

 

Alcohol, the anti-hydration beverage

In their oft-cited article Alcohol Hangover:  Mechanisms and Mediators, Drs. Robert Swift and Dena Davidson write that alcohol causes the body to increase urinary output (i.e., it is a diuretic). The consumption of 50 g of alcohol in 250 milliliters (mL) of water (i.e. approximately 4 drinks) causes the elimination of 600 to 1,000 mL (or up to 1 quart) of water over several hours.  Losing 1 quart of water before any serious physical endurance activity is a recipe for major challenges, and obviously at cross purposes with the intent for a successful run, workout, or race.   Electrolytes are often drained with that water loss, and the initial sedative effects of the alcohol can often give way to restless sleep.  The next morning, drained of water, electrolytes, and quality rest, a cup of coffee or two adds another diuretic to the mix, and a hopeful ibuprofen puts further pressure on the liver.  Very quickly, one can anticipate that quality athletic endurance performance is in jeopardy.

 

Alcohol, between the ears

Dr. Conor P. O’Brien of the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin, Ireland, related to the UC San Diego Athletic Performance Nutrition Bulletin that “many studies have shown that alcohol is actually a depressant that takes its toll on several parts of the body, including the brain. It slows reaction times, delays the thinking process, suppresses the immune system, and affects recovery time from injury.”

 

So, a night of a few drinks can leave you dehydrated, depleted of electrolytes, underslept, with slower reaction times, a suppressed immune system, and longer recovery time.  Is there any good news?

 

The good news

Over the past several years, a few studies at Harvard and UC Berkeley among others have indicated a relationship between components of alcoholic beverages and good health. Resveratrol (an antioxident found in red wine) has been shown in some studies to have a health impact on par with general calorie reduction over the long term.  A glass of red wine per day is said to have an impact on heart health through other anti-oxidents called flavanoids. Plant products called saponins also can block the body’s production of bad cholesterol.   Many other green shoots are on the horizon, indicating potential benefits from moderate alcohol consumption.  However, not many of these benefits appear to have immediate benefits – on the other hand, Dr. O’Brien states that consumption of several drinks can leave cellular effects in the body up to three days afterwards, and two nights straight of drinking can leave its mark for five.

 

How to be proactive

Whether drinking is a desired or unavoidable component of the night before running, or part of an unwinding process post-race or run, consider some measures you can take to limit the negative effects alcohol can have on your body and its performance.  Make sure you have eaten before you take the first drink, to slow down the digestive process to a manageable rate for your liver and your brain.  Drink a glass of water before and between every drink to lessen the diuretic effects of the beer, wine, or spirits.  Choose club soda over juice and make sure to include ice in your drink to moderate caloric intake.  Alcohol can inhibit your body’s ability to regulate its temperature.  Anticipate feeling colder or warmer than normal and dress with that in mind.  Practice moderation, stretch out each drink over several sips, and drink at a time of night when you still have a fighting chance for a decent night’s sleep.

 

As yet one more variable to consider at this busy time of year, the effects of alcohol likely will vary from one runner to another.   Remind yourself of your goals before you raise your glass and stay motivated to keep your consumption moderate.

 

 

 

 



team_runcoach_picAshley Grosse, Christine Kennedy, and Maggie Visser traveled to Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday, December 8 to compete at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships.  As the representatives of runcoach’s newly formed elite squad, they contested the Women’s 40+ team championships over a muddy, hilly, 6K course.  Together, they took home the bronze medal as the nation’s third best team among masters athletes in Team runcoach’s debut.  Individually, Visser led the team in 7th among all age-groups, with Kennedy in 11th and Grosse 31st.  Kennedy, the 2011 USATF Masters Athlete of the Year, individually won the 55-59 age group, while posting the top age-graded time across the entire field.

 

This week, we caught up with Grosse, Kennedy, and Visser upon their return to training in the Bay Area.

 

 

rc: Can you share with our members a bit about how this team materialized so quickly into a competitive unit?

 

CK: I have raced for the last two years with Tom and he has been very instrumental in me achieving my goals.  I wanted to show that behind my success were Tom and his training, and get the word out that other people can achieve their goals in the same way.  Even though there were only three of us to start there were enough to score in the masters division.

 

AG:  We formed in the fall.  There weren’t a huge amount of opportunities for us to run together locally, so we thought it would be great for team building to go to club nationals.  We had all been working with Tom for a long time.  At nationals, three score, so we had the chance to really be an elite masters team.  It was a great way to gauge where we are at, although none of us necessarily specialize in cross country.

 

MV: Unfortunately, we had in mind to race the PA champs [the local, northern California championships], but sickness required us to regroup and focus on competing well at nationals.

 

 

rc:  How did race play out relative to expectations?

 

MV: We initially had a goal of winning, but that was more of a motivational thing for us.  I knew we would be competitive with the Impalas [a historically strong team].

 

AG:  We also knew Club Northwest would be a challenge because we saw them last year in Seattle [at the 2011 meet, where the three competed for a variety of other teams].

 

MV: The course was deceivingly deceptive.  Coming from San Francisco, we are used to running hills.  So running the course before, I figured this would be easy – the hills are minor!  However, the terrain was muddy and so uneven, it probably tired our bodies a little bit more.  After the three-mile mark to the finish, it was extraordinarily hard for me.  I did something I never do, and that is look back.  We finished and Christine was telling me, “Come on! Come on! Let’s go look for Ashley!” I couldn’t move!  It was really, really hard.

 

AG: I agree exactly with Maggie.  That last hill before you wind up for the finish - it was long and it was not pretty.  The course was really muddy in a lot of places.  Tom had us ready individually, and we were good enough to finish third.  Looking at the teams behind us, we did very well. We are very motivated to go to Bend [Oregon, location of the 2013 meet] and bring that club trophy back to runcoach!

 

CK:  Traveling together and sharing a hotel room…It was great to be in that environment:  hanging out, warming up together, and knowing we had a lot of competition, but we were just going to give our best.  Just feeding off each other…. because the team was so new and strong, we weren’t jealous of each other and my goal was to just stay up with Maggie.  We all just wanted to run well and bring it home for our training partners and the guys we see on the track every week.  They have really been a big part of this!

 

rc: What is in store for team runcoach in the spring?

 

AG:  One of the nice things was that when we were at the track on Monday, a lot of the other runcoach athletes were very congratulatory, and they were all excited and felt we were representing them as well.  That was a neat feeling.  We got behind this because we wanted to support Tom, who had supported us for so long.  We are totally behind him and his methods, and we are showing people how Tom has prepared us so well as masters athletes.  So far, we have talked about doing the masters half-marathon championships in Melbourne, Florida this February.   At the awards ceremony, we were approached by USATF officials about some exciting international opportunities.  That was very cool.  We are being ambitious about places to race, and we are looking forward to going to Bend next year.

 

MV: We definitely want to explore growth, because now if anyone is injured we won’t be able to score, or a marathon might interfere with cross country.  It is very empowering to run with the other women and to share those experiences, building on our success so far.  So, we look forward to growing.

 

CK: This is a huge step for runcoach to have a team, even it is only the three of us now.  We have reinforced to him [Tom] that we aren’t going away.  He set us out to do a job, and we came back successfully.  We plan to take cross country very seriously next year with a goal of taking first or second.  Now we all have goals and want the same thing.  We can plan now for the whole year – not each person giving individual schedules, but planning the team goals together.

 

 

 

 

 

 



Lunges

Written by Tom McGlynn December 06, 2012

Hamstring Balance

Written by Tom McGlynn December 06, 2012

Quad Stretch

Written by Tom McGlynn December 06, 2012

Toe Touch

Written by Tom McGlynn December 06, 2012

toxins-cause-exhaustionThink Sleep Doesn’t Matter?  Think Again!

 

Runners tend to enjoy challenges.  How else to explain things like 50 state marathoners and people running in the driving rain or the dark of night?  Many times the daily challenge is how to fit everything into 24 hours, run included (definitely), and sleep included (maybe…some at least).  Runners often rationalize the lack of sleep because it is the only way (often waking up early in the morning) that they can conquer this “24 hour challenge”.  But, does it really matter if you sleep enough?  You bet it does.

 

Dr. Michael Fredericson of Stanford University, long time team doctor for the track and cross country teams, as well as one of the most experienced medical researchers on running related injury patterns, maintains that when compared to time, money, and effort spent on things like vitamins, minerals, supplements “If you get a really good night’s sleep, it outweighs almost everything else.”  To consider why, he encouraged a look at several recent explorations of the effects of sleep on performance for several important points.

 


Running for your health might not erase the health risks from lack of sleep.

Drs. Stephan Esser and Rick Feeney in their recent article “ZZZs for Speed”  (Marathon and Beyond, March/April 2012), relate how studies show chronic sleep deprivation can increase the risk of high blood pressure, depression, certain cancers, and diabetes…just for starters.  It also increases an appetite-stimulating hormone, which might challenge the efforts to use running for weight loss.   Yikes!

 

Sleep has a demonstrable effect on your athletic performance.

We have all survived days or longer periods where we have been sleep impaired.  College or high school finals might come to mind.  However, if you are looking for a PR, extra sleep is more than a marginal concern.    Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic (along with famed sleep researcher William Dement), conducted a study on the Stanford Men’s Basketball team, where their performance on sprints, shooting accuracy and other measures were charted based on their levels of daily sleep.  Those who slept more during the course of the study found significant improvements in their time on sprints and their accuracy on shooting improved as much as 9%.  Imagine even just a 2-3%% improvement in athletic execution in your next goal race and a 4 hour marathoner gets to the finish line almost a half mile faster!

 

Don’t just take it from basketball players, though.  Esser and Feeney also cite studies that have found a cyclist getting twice as much sleep during a 4800 kilometer event could make the top 10, while spending much less time in the saddle than the other nine.  Another study found that one night without sleep caused an average of an 11% drop in time before exhaustion with a spread of 5-40% (in other words, some folks fell much further off than the average)!

 

Even if you can make it on less sleep, the running usually feels much harder.

Perceived exhaustion also spikes like crazy when sleep is elusive.  Most busy people can attest to this – when the 2pm meeting feels interminable or the key workout just feels more like “5k pace” than the “80% pace” written on the training plan.    David Martin’s oft cited study enforces that believe that even one night of reduced sleep not only decreases time to exhaustion, but time until perceived exhaustion.  Other literature cited by Esser and Feeney indicates that mental fatigue can greatly hinder the drive needed from our brains to require our musculoskeletal system to continue moving.  The limbs might still be able to keep moving with less sleep, but the brain is less inclined to require them to do so, and feel much less inclined more quickly.

 

Lack of sleep also results in the slowing of glucose metabolism, resulting in a lesser ability to draw needed sugars from the muscles during that next bout of exercise following the short night’s sleep.  Most of us in this fatigued situation then turn to some simple sugars to help flood the system and get what we need right now, even if it is not helpful energy for the long term.  You can guess where this leads in terms of diet…..

 

Sleep to recover from and prevent injuries….You can’t run if you can’t run

While your bones are constantly remodeling during the day, important amounts of this protective and ameliorative process take place during sleep.  In one 2008 study cited by Esser and Feeney, bone resorption was increased by 170% when sleep was increased among army recruits under a consistently challenging physical demand.  If stress fractures are a concern, sleep might be a particularly huge and important variable for you.

 

OK, OK, OK….I get it!  Now what should I do?

Most people need 6-8 hours to function regularly and healthily.  However, your individual needs may vary.  If you are using remedies (coffee, sugary foods, 5 Hour Energy, Red Bull) to alleviate sleepiness on most days, then it probably is appropriate to track your typical patterns for several days. Seek to improve upon your amount of sleep if even temporary adjustments result in an improvement on performance or perceived level of exertion.  Even if change is difficult to come by due to structural forces beyond your control, a healthy dose of mindfulness about nighttime habits might yield a more quality level of sleep during the shut-eye you do get.

 

Read Esser and Feeney’s entire article here.

 

Read a detailed summary about the Stanford Basketball Sleep Study here.

 

 



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