Thursday, 29 October 2015

Deep Thoughts - Is the need to move abnormal?

I have a very active six year old son.  He can't sit still in class.  He fidgets.  He wiggles.  He's always dancing, striking some kind of dramatic pose.  When given the chance, he runs everywhere.  He takes after his mother.

A few weeks ago I posted something on Facebook about children who can't sit still in school with an article from the Washington Post by occupational therapist Valerie Strauss highlighting the fact that kids do not move enough in today's world and many of them have poor core strength, balance and subsequently, poor attention spans.

My son on the farm - being himself
The resulting flurry of commentary from my Facebook friends got me to thinking.  Many questions started swirling in my head.

Why can't my son sit still?  He is frequently disciplined, often by missing his recess ironically.  He obviously needs to move and needs to move a lot.

Is this abnormal?  Although my friends were supporting me, many comments resulting from my post were based on the assumption that it is indeed NOT normal to need to move all day long, and that the inability to sit still is pathological.

But is it really pathological?  Were our bodies not created to move?  It is "normal" to sit still all day long, listening to didactic teaching and intensely listening and watching someone else be active? I am reassured by my younger teaching friends that it is not.

Could I sit still all day long?  NO!  I was a good student (and a girl) so I managed ok in school because I was an oldest type A child.  But I also grew up on a farm and activity was as part of a normal day as eating and sleeping.  There were always chores, and I naturally ran from one part of the farm to another.  I was even known to run pushing the mower around the several acres of grass that I had to cut...back in the old days when we didn't have a riding mower.  I was impatient and I didn't walk if I could run.  The farm was the perfect place for me.  Which is maybe why I could tolerate sitting still in school for 18 years.  Fast forward to grad school in Michigan.  While pulling a marathon 64 hour studying and exam session in my first year of physical therapy, I survived by racing out onto the football field in the middle of the night and running sprints as my friend threw balls at me.  The ONLY way I could focus my mind was to move my body.

Now almost 20 years later, I have a son that seemingly needs to do the same thing.  And he's punished for it.

Back to the questions in my head.

We all know that 100 years ago, the majority of a person's day was spent in manual labour. People lived on farms or earned their living with their hands. My parents were raised in the 50's and 60's being told that children should be seen and not heard.  This was a core value. People began moving into towns and cities, but many still had a farm to run around on, and chores to do.  I was raised in the 70's and 80's during a time of technological revolution.  It was the era of the Apple II in schools - we were one of the first families I knew that had a PC with a dot matrix printer.  I was lucky to live on a farm because as people continued to move into the cities and buy computers, sitting still became something that was not taught, it was necessary and became the new normal.

Now I am raising my kids in the early 21st century when rationing tech time is a battle, riding in vehicles is safer than walking to school, and playing outside on the playground is a liability for the school board rather than a joy and a necessary part of childhood.  I'm a 3rd generation parent of the "seen and not heard" philosophy.  It's trendy to promote activity in youth, but in many schools we are still very much stuck with mid 20th century values.

Where did we go so wrong?  And more to the point of this blog, how do ultra runners fit into the mix?

Flashback to Feb training on Vancouver Island
The answer is we DON'T fit.  We like to move our bodies.  We need to move our bodies, for very long periods of time.  We are all driven by different things.  Sometimes there are inner demons, addictions to overcome, epic vistas to see, or something to prove.

For some of us, might it be that we simply didn't have the need to move trained out of us?  Were we lucky enough to have parents and environments that allowed us to move as much as we wanted as children? Is the need to move simply a part of us that we simply can't deny or suppress? Maybe we are the normal that no longer exists?  The evolutionary biologists certainly would agree.

As I struggle to help my son find his way in the world, I want him to know that he is NOT broken.  There is nothing wrong with him.  I am not going to label him.  He is very intelligent. He simply needs to move more than his peers in order for his mind to work well.  I get that because I am the same way.

I'm often told I'm crazy for running ultra distances.  Maybe.  But maybe I'm just reflecting a normal part of humanity that struggles to find expression in the western industrialized world. Since I don't have to farm, hunt or gather, I just run.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

My First Runner's Rant

Love my Kinvaras!
This is my first ever Runner's Rant. I'm going to be blunt and possible offensive - I'm sorry in advance.

I get really cranky and exasperated when someone says to me, "Aren't you worried that all that running will wear out your knees?" or  "I don't run because running wears out your knees."  Running does not wear out your knees people!  Simply the use of a body part does not wear it out.  Our body was designed to function better when used more.  That's what makes the human body so mind-blowingly amazing. Does more core exercise wear out your core?  Does breathing more wear out your lungs?  Does cardiovascular exercise wear out your heart? It's simply ridiculous to say that using your knees for an activity that is as basically human as breathing will wear them out.  It's amazing to me that this archaic myth is still believed by many people.

If one takes time to look (with a simple google search), there is a large body of evidence to support the opposite. In fact, running can actually protect you from osteoarthritis, the medical word for "wearing out" your knees.  In fact, one well designed long-term study of the general population called the Osteoarthritis Initiative from the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas showed that runners were less likely to develop arthritis than non-runners, by between 16 and 29 percent (Runners World).

Our knees are a relatively simple hinge joint built to support the load of our body weight.  Ideal function of the knee joints happens under the assumption that we are asking them to support optimal body weight (not the weight equivalent of 1.5-2 people) with the support of a strong muscular system in a biomechanically optimal manner.  Running under these conditions may even promote cartilage thickening and prevent the loss of cartilage proteoglycans, as evidenced by research and the undeniable fact that many top placing ultra-runners are in their 5th and 6th decades and have been running for years. Quite happily and successfully I might add.

A much stronger association exists between non-optimal body mass index (BMI) and knee osteoarthritis than between running and knee OA.  One study publish in 2013 in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise concluded that "running significantly reduced OA and hip replacement risk due to, in part, running's association with lower BMI, whereas other exercise increased OA and hip replacement risk.  This study did not specify what "other exercise" was other than non-running or walking.  The study highlights several other interesting factors that increase or decrease risk of OA and hip replacement and can be read here.

What does tend to stress the knees is asking them to do more with less: to support more weight than they are built for, with weak muscular support, poor alignment and poor biomechanics.  Gravity works.  It works with every footstep.  Don't ask your knee joints to support 3-5G's with each foot strike with little muscular support or proper time to develop adequate connective tissue strength.  If you've gained weight or carry heavy gear while running, your muscular system needs to be that much stronger and your connective tissue will need longer to adapt.

There ARE people who shouldn't run - those with pre-existing traumatic injuries or with already present degenerative conditions that require caution.  But aiming to "protect your knees" by not running is the worst thing you can do.  Become inactive, gain weight, get weak, and you are almost guaranteed joint problems in the future. No one likes to hear it, but it's true.

Now that you know the facts, don't judge me.  And if you don't want to run, don't make excuses based on myth. Just say, 'running is not my thing.'  That's O.K. Then go find some other way to move your body.

Rant over!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Sunday Night Viewing: Finding Traction | Nikki Kimball

While listening to podcasts this week, I happened upon an episode of The Ginger Runner where Ethan featured physical therapist Nikki Kimball.   Nikki has been running and racing ultra marathons for 15 years and places in the top of her field repeatedly.  She was discussing her recent attempt at beating The Long Trail FKT.  Tonight after everyone was in bed, I sat down and watched the documentary of her experience on YouTube.

A few statements and quotes from the film stood out to me (may not be quoted verbatim):

"Running is a metaphor for life, in the sense that you get out of it what you put into it. You have to know not just your limitations, and even more so, your possibilities. Our life is governed by what we are capable of doing, and that determines what we become."

"Winning a race is not the point.  Inspiring someone to become more healthy.  That's that point."

BUT..."I would never recommend that my patients' do this.  This is not smart." LOL!

"Too many girls are taught to let fear limit their actions.  I want girls to explore their fears...and to crush them."

"I do not know where the cap on my potential lies.  So I just keep running.  And that is why I run."

Finding Traction

The Ginger Runner Podcast: Nikki Kimball

Whether you agree of disagree with the whole premise of pushing yourself to the max as Nikki did in her Long Trail run, I think you will find her film inspiring to watch.  Enjoy!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Lemming Loop - My First Looped Course Race

Ultrarunning is always an adventure no matter where you are or which race you do.  I ventured back into the world of ultrarunning here in Manitoba this weekend.  After the Miwok 100 in May, I really haven't been running anything beyond 20K.  So after 4 weeks off in Aug and 5 weeks of training in Sep, I figured, 'what the heck?!'  Why not get back out there?  Ultra runners are not always known for being rational.

The Lemming Loop is a 2.05 mile looped course race around a prairie nature preserve in the middle of Winnipeg, Manitoba.  There are 3,6,12 and 24 hour events.  It is an event spectacularly organized by Trail Run Manitoba (RD - Dwayne Sandall).

Official results are yet to be posted, but my GPS told me I ran 52K in 6 hours, and 50K in 5:48:14.  I have never run a looped/timed course before, and definitely have never run so far on terrain so flat.  Here is my breakdown of the good and the not-so-good aspects of a looped course race and the Lemming Loop (from my perspective).

The Good

  • You don't have to carry 2L of water and your fuel on your back the whole race
  • There is an aid station every 3K.
  • There was a REAL TOILET every 3K.
  • The course offered enough variety and turns to avoid being too monotonous and mind-numbing.
  • I got to know fellow runners and witness/share their highs and lows on the course as we passed each other repeatedly.  In case it's not already obvious - trail runners are COOL people.
  • I saw first hand how a 24 hour racer looks 17-23 hours into a race - in a word - sleepy.
  • The volunteers were great - and the food even better!  Too bad I didn't partake of much of it as I prefer to eat stuff I know works for me in training.
  • The weather was PERFECT.  A sunny clear day, high of 17, enough breeze to keep me cool but not enough to significantly impact my pace.
  • My family was able to come cheer me on and be there for the last few loops of the race.  My son even ran a little with me.  That was the best part!

My kiddos at the finish
The Not-So Good

  • No elevation changes. This course was FLAT.  What does that mean?  Lack of variety in my biomechanics, other than turning corners.  Resulting in hip flexor niggles and patellofemoral knee pain that I have never experienced before.  Odd to have the knee pain when there was no downhill, but it was there.
  • Lack of epic views...but we ARE in Manitoba.
  • Hard to pass or be passed on vary narrow single track.  Hard to imagine, but it was vary narrow even on the prairie.  And with 100 runners doing 3K circles there was a LOT of passing.
  • Mentally challenging - reasons should be obvious.
  • Pacing was difficult for me.  I am used to working hard and slowing down on the climbs, then letting loose and relaxing while making up time on the descents.  There was none of that here.  Just lock in to a pace and KEEP IT.  I hate looking at my watch all the time.
  • The wind and the dry prairie air completely dried me out.  Fortunately, I had been warned and coated my lips in thick sunscreen, my face in lotion/sunscreen, and drank LOTS.  Although the weather was cool, I still needed 2-3 S-caps/hour.

Although I am new to the Manitoba trail running and race scene, I felt right at home at this race.  Trail runners really are cool people.  And ultra-trailrunners are a special breed of people (I like to think) who share the bond of salty cheeks, blistered feet and the occasional hallucination.  We are all driven by different things, but we are all driven.  I witnessed people out there who just wouldn't STOP.  Barely moving, practically sleeping on their feet, but they didn't stop.  Some would call that just plain foolish, but I know how much mental strength it takes to keep moving when every ounce of your being stays stop.  There are lessons in the pain, in the exhaustion.  The rewards aren't always tangible, but they are there or this sport wouldn't be growing so exponentially.

Thanks Dwayne for putting on a great race.  And thanks for giving me a venue to run a 50K PR!

The Race Start

Awesome race swag!