Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Check out my new blog!

These are my new pets, Bonnie and Clyde, a pair of baby clownfish. I'm the proud owner of a young 75-gallon saltwater aquarium. Check out the successes and failures of my new mini-ocean.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Science Thursday: Exercise Physiology--Women vs Men

Intuitively, we know that women respond differently to exercise, training, and nutrition than men. Men are faster due to bigger hearts and more muscle mass (among other things). Women tend to recover faster from workouts, however, and may also have more endurance in ultra events. Also, women rarely get calf cramps while men succumb to these crippling stabs of pain. Men tend to lose weight faster than women; women hang on to body fat and have higher body fat percentages. Obviously, these are trends and observations. Surprisingly, little research has been done on the specific physiological differences between men and women during exercise.

Women can be faster than men? There have been several instances of some women kicking men's asses, especially at the ultra endurance events. Check out Gertrude Ederle) who swam the English Channel faster than the 5 men who had done it before her. Lynne Cox , who swam in Antarctic waters, completing ultraswimming events where men who had tried before her died. Seana Hogan, ultracycling legend (yes, even better than men), and Pam Reed, bad-ass at Badwater and overall winner (several times!).

Back to the main story:
Recently, an article in the New York Times highlighted some of the differences in the physiology between men and women. We've all been hearing the hype about protein and muscle recovery after a workout. The idea is that muscle is made of protein. Working out breaks the muscle tissue down. It then recovers and rebuilds, coming back stronger than before. Studies have shown taking in a certain amount of protein within 30 minutes after a workout speeds up the recovery process, presumably by helping the muscle rebuild. That's why we've all been slugging chocolate milk after a good training session. Or at least, that's the excuse we've been telling ourselves for all the chocolate milk we've been guzzling (yum, yum). This study was first published by Rowlands et al., 2008 in Appl Physiol Nutr Metab.

Unfortunately, this study used all male subjects. Almost as an afterthought, Dr. Rowlands conducted a follow-up study, this time focusing on female subjects. Surprisingly, females did not respond like the males to ingesting protein after a cycling workout. They had no measurable benefit to the protein (Rowlands et al., 2010. Med Sci Sports Exerc). This may be due to the higher amounts of estrogen and lower amounts of testosterone in women vs men, although this is probably only a part of the total complex number of factors in the end equation.

This is not the first time gender differences have been observed with respect to physiology and training. For instance, studies have indicated that females do not respond to carbo loading like males do (See Tarnopolsky et al., 2001 J Appl Physiol). That well-intended, detailed meal plan you bought from the nutritionist to carbo load the week or two before your A race? If you're female, you may be simply wasting your time. The benefit of carbo-loading was not as great in women. For whatever reason (blame it on estrogen), women are not able to utilize the greater percentage of ingested carbohydrates to restock their glycogen stores, compared to men.

Finally, the heart-rate training you've been doing? If you're a woman, you may be using the wrong formulas. All those detailed books with numbers and percentages you're supposed to be a slave to in training were calculated based on studies using male subjects. Not to mention treadmill and their automatic heart rate programs. The ole' 220-age is not accurate. Apparently, this is about 8 beats too high for women, which may lead to premature fatigue and frustration if you're trying to adhere to a heart rate plan. Honestly, I think it's better to train based on feel and breathing anyway (I love the talk test but maybe because I love to talk). Researchers from the University of Colorado devised a more accurate formula for both sexes: 208-0.7*age (Tanaka et al., 2001. J Am Coll Cardiol). For more information, check out this article in the Times.

Basically, women should be wary when new recommendations arise for training, fitness, exercise and nutrition. Check out the source of the study. Was the gender of the subjects all male? If so, any conclusions should be taken with a pound of salt when it comes to changing up your program. Reynolds states in her article, As Dr. Rowlands says — echoing a chorus of men before him — when it comes to women, there’s a great deal that sports scientists “just don’t understand.” Afterall, women are not men. Thankfully.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bay to Breakers Continues...

Most of you probably know this but just in case...

Bay to Breakers ( is one of the oldest traditions and largest running races in the world. Held in San Francisco each May, tens of thousands of people show up, dressed in costume (or none at all) for the infamous 12K race through the streets of San Fran. Unfortunately, ING, the main sponsor of Bay to Breakers pulled out after this year. Was Bay to Breakers to go bankrupt as it's 100th anniversary approached? I did this race with my dad and sister in '06 ( and had more fun than I've ever had running before. I was actually sad when I reached the finish line at the Golden Gate Bridge. It was like a running party. So I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I received this e-mail:

Bay to Breakers 100th running announced for May 15, 2011
Cooperation with City and Neighborhoods will result in improvements for 100th running of “Civic Treasure”

San Francisco, July 7, 2010—The organizer of the Bay to Breakers road race confirmed that the 100th running of the venerable 12k race will take place on May 15, 2011. The race, a unique celebration of San Francisco and its culture, will institute new measures this year as part of its centennial celebration.

“We cherish the fun aspects of the race that have made it unique worldwide--runners dressed in costumes, centipedes, group running--that add to the excitement of a professional internationally important 12K footrace,” said Angela Fang, general manager of the Bay to Breakers race. “In the coming months we will be announcing a number of compelling programs to enhance the race and the racing.”

Fang said the race has been meeting with residents, neighborhood associations, race participants and representatives of the City and SFPD and that they have collectively highlighted a number of changes which are required to make the race a fun and safe event that can be enjoyed by everyone--runners, walkers, families, children, neighbors and the City as a whole.

Concerned about threats to public safety, particularly as it relates to illegal and excessive alcohol consumption, Fang stated the race is working with San Francisco Police Department officials, the Mayor’s Office, neighbors and neighborhood associations to enforce public alcohol consumption and public drunkenness laws at the 100th anniversary of the event.

She said this year’s 99th running of the race on May 16 had more than 30 ambulance transports, the majority of which were alcohol related. Bay to Breakers had many times the number of ambulance transports as other comparable races in the United States.

Alcohol consumption and its negative impacts garnered the attention of civic leaders, many of whom want to see a positive change. “Another of San Francisco's cherished special events is being threatened by people who consider bad behavior a good time…There is no "right" to party when the party turns into destroying or defacing the property of others, threatening the safety and lives of those around you or leaving a trail of debris…behind you,” wrote Joe D'Alessandro, CEO of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, in the aftermath of the race this year in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“The illegal and dangerous abuse of alcohol must stop if the race is to continue as a fun and safe event that can be enjoyed by everyone—runners, walkers, families, children, neighbors and the City as a whole,” Fang said.

"Drunkenness, and drunks, take away from the individuality and creativity that make the Bay to Breakers a unique and compelling civic tradition” Fang said, adding that these individuals will be arrested, cited and fined by SFPD next year.

“We are concerned for public safety, for the participants, for spectators and for neighborhood residents,” said Jeff Godown, San Francisco Police Department Assistant Chief of Police. “We want to help everyone safely enjoy a wonderful tradition.”

A large crowd is anticipated for the 100th anniversary of the event, which was established in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake by civic leaders who wanted to boost morale and promote the image of the recovering city. In 1964, the race was dubbed ‘the Bay to Breakers.’

The first annual Cross City Race, held Jan. 1, 1912, was won by student Bobby Vlught, who crossed the finish line with a time of 44:10. By contrast, this year’s women’s winner, Lineth Chepkurui of Kenya, made world history finishing in 38:07 and the men’s winner, Sammy Kitwara of Kenya, became a back to back winner at the race with the time of 34:15.

“The Bay to Breakers is a San Francisco civic treasure,” Fang said. She added that the race will also make other changes to the 100th anniversary event, including:

--Allowing only registered participants on the race course will reserve the right to fence the course and to remove non-registered “bandits.”
--Working to have all streets opened by noon.
--Eliminating floats, which have to an unacceptable extent become alcohol delivery vehicles and magnets for unacceptable behavior
--Limiting the number of registrations for the 100th anniversary.
“We are making these changes so that neighbors, the community, registrants, and spectators alike can enjoy the event in the spirit in which it was founded. We want our 100th anniversary to be a shining success for San Francisco and its residents,” Fang said.

She said the race is “working closely with SFPD to ensure that there is a sufficient police presence to enforce the law, including arrests” and will make a significant investment in advertising and promoting the rule changes so that the public will know that there are serious legal consequences for abusing alcohol and defacing the neighborhoods. She said that irresponsible individuals who have taken advantage of a fun civic event to trash San Francisco’s neighborhoods, homes, parks and streets and endanger themselves and others with reckless behavior “are not welcome at future races.”

About Bay to Breakers 12K

Bay to Breakers 12K is one of the world’s largest and oldest footraces, held annually in San Francisco, Calif. The name reflects the traditional course which takes tens of thousands of participants from the northeast end of the downtown area near the Embarcadero (the “bay” side of the city) to the west end of the city and the “breakers” of Ocean Beach. The 7.46 mile (12 kilometer) race features world-class athletes in addition to costumed runners and ‘fun-loving’ folks out for a great day of running and walking through San Francisco. For more information, visit

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Annual Fall

For the past 3 years, like clockwork, I take a fall while running. Not sure what happens but my feet trip over some mysterious object, I flail my arms wildly taking giant, heavy steps to try to futilely regain my balance and...then BAM! Tri Grrl go down; go boom. Those who have witnessed my annual elusive fall claim I fall with style. I think I look a bit like Superman. My arms shoot forward and I tip forward like a chopped-down tree, performing a not-so-graceful belly flop on the ground. This time would not disappoint...

I've been trying desperately to get back into shape. No upcoming races, no goals, just working out. It's fun and freeing. So relaxing. Back to basics. Unfortunately, I've been having a monster of a time waking up early. Sunday morning, I woke up at 6:30 am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, which would probably be the first and last time my physiology would support this energy state in about 5 years, past and future. I jumped on the opportunity.

I got up, showed my running shoes to the boys (Floyd and Travis), who immediately started salivating and doing mini-360s. We grabbed the leashes and set off down the trail. Travis sprinted out the gate, pulling us along at a impossible, blistering pace. Floyd, like me, takes awhile to warm up. We slogged along, wearily following eager Travis.

Finally, after a mile or so, Floyd and I started settling in. Travis, like clockwork, slowed and matched our pace. The pack was in sync. I loped along easily, my breathing settled, and, for the first time since I've started working out again (a few weeks), I started feeling good. Ah, the elusive runner's high.

Just when I was starting to really enjoy myself, reflecting on past fuzzy memories of 20-mile trail runs and marathons, my toe caught a rock. I stumbled, trying to catch myself. For one fleeting moment, I thought I had it, as I took several clodhopper steps to try and save myself. But, alas, no, it was not to be. Down I went. My hands flew forward but the momentum was too much. I landed knees, thighs, stomach, hands, and then, smack!, chin. Blood gushed onto the rocks and dirt beneath. A sharp stinging sensation pulsed on my chin, my jaw ached, and my head pounded. Shit!

Two years ago, I had continued a run like this with a concussion, only to deeply regret this rash decision later. I would not exhibit such silly bravado today. Using my running tee (sporting an ultra runner logo "Out 'n Back") to stop the bleeding, I held the cloth to my chin as I walked gingerly back towards home, head hung low, run stopped short.

Once home, I assessed the damage. I was relieved to see that the cut had already stopped bleeding and would not require stitches. All my teeth were in place. Although tired, ice and ibuprofen stopped much of the pain. Thankfully, I have no serious injuries. So I survived my requisite annual fall without too much drama or inconvenience. I'll try again tomorrow.

Previous Years' Falls:

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Amateur Tri Girl Battles Burnout

For the first time in 6 years, I've been experiencing burnout. Back-to-back Ironmans, including an Ironman, an ultra, and a half IM in 6 weeks will do that. Ironically, I thought I was immune to such folly things as "burnout". That only happens to the weak-minded, right? Wrong.

I was budding with enthusiasm and forget to pace myself. I felt great, my body was able, so why not? Unfortunately, being in great shape can get you into trouble. I used my body as a playground and almost broke my favorite toy. I know I will get through this, but how?, you ask. It certainly has been challenging.

For one, I've been going easy on myself. I've been pushing myself to go farther and faster for the last 6 years. It's okay to take a break. First, I allowed myself time off. I know I was supposed to be cross-training. Stuff like surfing, mountain biking, and hiking. But to be honest, I just couldn't bring myself to get off the couch. I slept a lot. Watched a lot of movies. Started a salt water aquarium. Did some cartoons. After 2 months of this, I realized something was wrong.

That brings me to step #2. Make sure there's nothing physically wrong. Turns out, I was suffering from chronic fatigue. I coudn't even work a full day. I was sleeping 16-18 hours a day. I had some bloodwork done, and it didn't take a rocket scientist to predict it was low thyroid (since I've suffered from that before). After much-painful tweaking to my medication (first it was too high, and then I suffered from migraines. Yay), my energy started returning. I also began focusing on healthy lifestyle habits such as eating regular meals full of greens, fruits, and whole grains.

Step #3. Begin doing something active but without purpose. For me, this basically meant getting out with the dogs. Hiking, walking, running, playing fetch at the beach, and even biking with the dogs. And my favorite...roller skating. Although the punishment for screwing up on this one is quite severe; I have several painful deep bruises to my tailbone that have taken weeks to heal. Sitting for long periods is quite painful but, hey, that's an even better excuse to get movin'! It felt good to just move, even though it was at low intensities.

Step #4 has been to reintroduce myself to exercise again. I don't have any race goals. I just want to be healthy and get into shape at this point. And have fun. Most of my friends are through the tri club so that's how I get my socializing done. Yet another excuse to get moving. It's been slow, and I have lots of false starts but little by little, I'm starting to work out again. I'm trying to do something every day. A short ocean swim, a run with the dogs, a fun little bike ride. I even signed up for a few races. Some sprint tris. The Carlsbad Tri is this Sunday. I'm not going to race it. Just use it as a workout.

Step #5 will be to fall in love with the sport again. I'm hoping to get my body back into shape and ease back into it. I really love trail running and am hoping to feel well enough to run a hilly, trail marathon this November (Catalina). I know from past experience that it gets easier with time. I just have to be consistent, take the pressure off myself, and get out there and move!