November 27th, 2015
In recent years we’ve seen the emergence of a multi-billion brain training industry based on the notion that you can improve your memory, attention-span, concentration and reasoning through the ‘right’ mental exercised. Software companies, websites and phone apps marketing games designed to increase cognitive abilities have flooded the market – and potentially conditioned its users that the brain can be ‘trained’ via games to perform more optimally. Apps, such as Luminosity, have catered a large portion of their marketing power to older demographics, claiming that its users will remain sharper, longer.
A study by Cambridge University has concluded that there is “no evidence to support the widely held belief that the regular use of computerised brain trainers improves general cognitive functioning in healthy participants.”
So what can we go to improve or maintain our mental sharpness?
A number of scientific studies have been published, holding that physical exercise, as oppose to mental exercises improve cognitive abilities, from childhood all the way through old age. Charles Hillman, Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Illinois, found that those who regularly exercise “displayed substantial improvements in executive function” and “they were better at “attentional inhibition,” which is the ability to block out irrelevant information and concentrate on the task at hand…with heightened abilities to toggle between cognitive tasks.”
The Chicago Tribune conducted a study in 1995, concluding that “exercise triggers the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones.” The benefits of exercising later in life are overwhelming, “with age BDNF levels fall; this decline is one reason brain function deteriorates in the elderly. Certain types of exercise, namely aerobic, are thought to counteract these age-related drops in BDNF and can restore young levels of BDNF in the age brain.”
Michelle Voss, from the University of Iowa, research found that there is a positive role of cardiorespiratory fitness, beyond habitual physical activity, on brain health as people age. This study provides strong evidence that fitness in an adult population can have substantial benefits to brain health in terms of functional connections of different regions of the brain.
Some notable facts:
- People who exercise are 50% less likely to develop dementia
- Half an hour after strenuous exercise, the prefrontal cortex works harder to resist distracters and improve attention
- Physical exercise promotes the production of nerve-protecting compounds, increases blood flow to the brain and decreases your risk of heart and blood vessel diseases that can impair brain function
Yet another reason to get off our phones and get moving! While memory-based games can be a fun tool to supplement your efforts to maintain your cognitive health, don’t underestimate the power of a good sweat.
Remember, sweat is magic!
We’d love to hear what you think! Have you had any success with memory-game apps? Or do you opt to exercise to mental health?
November 27th, 2015
Some of us really like crowds. Some of us really like long line-ups. And some of us really, really like good deals to the point where we’re willing to wake up at insane-o-clock on Black Friday to pick up that TV, video game or fondue set that we didn’t know that we really needed.
Well then, have I got a set of deals for you.
I’ve scoured all through the Internet and I have found the 10 best Black Friday deals for runners. These are limited time offers so it is best that you get out and run after these deals while they last:
- Fresh Air
The air is particularly crisp on a Black Friday run. While others are stuck in congested shopping malls, you are running freely in the open air as you think about those poor souls waiting in extended line-ups.
- A Sharpened Mind
Running will wakeup and refresh your mind to be able to work through complex problems. You’ll find yourself able to make difficult calculations such as “What would 50% off of that 4K TV cost?” only to realize that you’ve saved a lot more by running instead of shopping.
- Exclusive Views
A run will take you to places where others wouldn’t choose to venture. You can see sunrises, scenic forest trails, or offbeat paths that others just don’t get to. And it’ll be a much better view than staring at the back of someone’s head in a line.
As you work your way through your mileage, you’ll learn a lot about yourself. You’ll discover what the weather really feels like, what your body is capable of, and that moments are more important than stuff.
- A Happier Mood
As your run releases those happy endorphins to you, you’ll simply be in a better mood to enjoy your day. The alternative would be to have your face squished against the store window glass as you get ready to pounce on a doorcrasher deal.
- Discounted Calories
While running doesn’t magically make the food that you eat have less calories, it does help you to burn off some of that turkey, cranberry sauce, and sweet potato pie.
- Less Stress
A good run lets you shed away some of the stress that you may be carrying around with you. You’ll also have the added bonus of not having to worry about wanting to buy that outfit that is actually a size too small but is at such a life-changing price that you want to squeeze yourself into it.
Have you taken a good look at a runner’s legs? Enough said.
Going out for a run when others are chasing deals or when conditions are less than ideal only leads to a more satisfying sense of accomplishment at the end. You’ll carry a bit of a happy smirk all day knowing that you got it done.
When we can go for a run, it means that our bodies are capable. When we can go for a run, it also means that we have the freedom to wander and explore. And for that, I am grateful – after all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?
November 25th, 2015
Is there ever a day that you wake up and don’t feel like running?
I better start off with the disclaimer that I’m a recovering addict, so my brain appears to be hardwired to get as much as I can of something that gives me a ‘buzz’ and makes me “feel more like me”. Now that I’ve been clean and sober for almost 19 years, the only ‘high’ I can get my hands on is that magical feeling known as the ‘runner’s high’. And for me, running is definitely a drug, but like any drug you consume, the more you chase the high, the more elusive it becomes.
I typically log 200 km per week, so in answer to your question, I guess I’m somewhat lucky in that I never wake up and “don’t feel like running”. I look at running as a ‘gift’ I get to open every day – I’m never really certain what that gift will be, but I have faith that it’s always waiting for me on the other side of “I can’t” or “I’m too tired.” The journalist and novelist, Pico Iyer, summed this up so eloquently when he said: “Anyone who has traveled knows that you’re not really doing so in order to move around, but you’re traveling in order to be moved.” And to me, that’s the essence of running in its purest form – its ability to ‘move us’ through movement, taking us away in order to bring us back to ourselves.
Even with the dusting of snow on the ground, we’re still in a transition between fall and winter. When it comes to running attire, what do you wear to stay warm but not too warm?
Believe it or not, I actually love cold weather running despite having relatively little body fat to speak of, and I should probably add, being somewhat of a ‘whiner’ when it comes to complaining about always feeling chilled. That being said, it can definitely be a little tricky to dress appropriately during this transition from fall to winter running.
One of the common mistakes in November and December is to overdress by piling on too many layers as you head out the door for your training run. As a general rule of thumb, I figure that if I feel a little ‘cold’ for the first 20 minutes, then I’m appropriately dressed. Typically, our body begins to warm up about 5 km into our run, so if you’re feeling nice and ‘toasty’ at the beginning of your run, chances are that you will start to sweat as you overheat. You really don’t want to be wearing damp clothes when the temperature is hovering at or below zero.
Being the ‘hardy’ Canadian lad I am, I wear shorts on my runs until the temperature drops below -5 degrees Celsius (or -9 with the windchill). If you’ve ever watched professional cyclists prepare for their descent down the Alps or Pyrenees, you’ll notice that many of them grab a folded up newspaper to shove down the front of their racing jersey to help block the wind. It’s a great idea, but not all that practical for runners. When the winds are particularly cold, I shove a plastic bag (the ones that the newspapers are delivered in work best) down the front of my shorts, between my running underwear and shorts. And ‘yes’, before you ask… I am aware of windbreak running underwear, but this low-tech solution certainly does the trick.
Another piece of advice I would offer is to make sure you have a comfortable running vest in your running arsenal. I tend to wear my vest when the temperature ranges from 3 degrees to -9 degrees Celsius. As long as you’re moving, you’ll stay nice and warm, and there will be less chance of you overheating and bringing on the dreaded sweats. And remember the old running mantra: “There is no such thing as bad weather… just bad clothing choices.” Embrace the colder weather – it prepares us for running in the ‘Polar Vortex’ that will arrive later in the season.
I can’t seem to get my marathon times back! 3:30 or 3:27 seems like miles away. I am having trouble hitting four hours! I would like to get my 5th Boston, but I seem to be having trouble. What is your long run advice? Do you go the full distance in your training, or do you keep it low?
Dear Battling Father Time:
This is a fantastic question, and it’s one I’ve contended with on many occasions throughout my running career. I think the best way to address this question is to step back, and for me to ask you to be honest about what you expect to get out of your running practice. Is it faster times? Longer distances? Fewer injuries? … or what I consider to be the Holy Grail of running – “longevity in the sport”. A few years back, I decided that pounding out sub-3 hour marathons left me feeling depleted not only physically but also emotionally. I made a decision to pull back on the intensity of my speed training, and instead, focus on endurance and fostering a supportive running community. And, I can honestly say, I haven’t looked back since. I’m running happier, healthier, and more than I ever have before in my life.
But… if you’re still convinced you’ve got another Boston Qualifier in you, then I would suggest you tweak your training to focus more on endurance speed work rather than on interval speed. Training for a spring marathon through our tough Canadian climate is always challenging, and even more so, if you’re trying to squeeze in interval sessions on icy streets, or on a soul-destroying treadmill. What I do instead is to run at least 5 long runs at 36 km, and 2 long runs at 40 km. I avoid speed work during the week, and instead, focus on running the first 70% of my long run at a comfortable pace (at least a minute slower than your marathon pace), and then I do the last 30% of my long run at marathon race pace (or half marathon pace if that is what you’re training for). This is an excellent way to get the speed work in while avoiding the possibility of increased injury risk that often occurs with short and intense speed work. And, as an added bonus… Training like this really helps you avoid slowing down in the last 10k of a marathon.
November 25th, 2015
On Saturday October 10, 2015, iRun magazine brought together the best from the world of Paralympic athletics for a fashion shoot and dressed them in the winter’s most stylish running clothes. It was a gathering that inspired not only because of the tremendous athletes in attendance—Jessica Lewis, Curtin Thom, Renee Foessel, Isaiah Christophe and Austin Smeenk—but because of the extraordinary attitude on display. All of our athletes have overcome enormous obstacles. But none of them feels sorry for themselves. Instead, they achieve magnificent things. Paralympic things. Things that people had told them, at one point, they’d never achieve. Well, the stars of our 2015 iRun winter fashion extravaganza have reached great heights, and all of them are just getting started, with the Olympics on everyone’s mind. Thanks to companies like Under Armour, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Brooks, Sporting Life and Skechers for dressing our athletes. What follows is a brief behind the scenes look at a day that no one in attendance is likely to forget any time soon. The story comes out in the December issue of iRun, available across the country and online. Remember what you see here next time you think you’re too tired to go out for that run.
November 24th, 2015
Fall races have wrapped up and come to a close. Cold weather is fast approaching and some runners brave through the harsh and cold temperatures in the winter, many runners opt to head indoors to log their miles.
Let’s be honest, while there is the advantage of watching television on many treadmills for entertainment, hitting the treadmill can often times feel boring, mundane and lonely. To stay in shape, group fitness classes are a great option for many, these traditionally have included the likings of spin classes, boot camp style classes and kickboxing.
But watch out, there’s a new fitness class that is gaining momentum through many major cities: group treadmill running classes. These group speed sessions winning over many runners as they led by experienced running coaches and runners to benefit from a class atmosphere without the worry of being too fast or slow for the pack. Training sessions range anywhere from speed work, hill repeats, novice runners, speed walkers, to marathon training programs.
Notably, the Mile High Run Club in New York city opened over a year ago and has taught nearly 3,000 classes. The Mile High sparked new business outside New York, such as MyStryde which is scheduled to open in Boston early in 2016.
Have you taken one of these classes? Would you?
Let us know below!
November 23rd, 2015
With my pyjamas on, latte in hand, the children at a sleepover with their grandparents, the house is quiet. It’s a free evening, a rare occasion and time for an update on how, where and why I’ve been staying strong and keeping focused.
After discovering I broke the second metatarsal in my foot by simply stepping on a rock in mid August while training for October’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM), I diligently plugged away at an intense cross training routine, covering 2.5-3.0 hours a day using the pool, bike, elliptical and walking on the treadmill.
By maintaining my usual strength training and preventative routine, I was pleased to keep a consistent body weight in the low 120s along with a resting heart rate in the high 30s. Initially I hoped to race STWM, but I eventually got over it and looked forward to again being part of the broadcast team with Michael Doyle and Tim Hutchings.
Next, the plan was to race the Philadelphia Marathon in November. So after four weeks with no running and then being given the green light to resume, I logged two easy weeks, gradually transitioning from soft to hard surfaces. I then successfully completed a track workout of 800 m repeats, faster than goal marathon race pace, which is always my target after any significant time off. This bumped my fitness confidence to a comfortable level, allowing me to continue with the build.
I was so pleased to personally discover that all the cross training worked! The calendar didn’t allow enough time for my usual build but Rick and I believed that with cross training and quality kilometres, I could run a decent race. I didn’t need to run a fall marathon but didn’t want to have such a gap between my April 2015 qualifying race in Rotterdam and the August 2016 Olympic Games. However, I had some discomfort in my foot. It wasn’t the same pain from the metatarsal fracture, but still enough for me to know risking more damage to the foot, even if soft tissue, was not worth it when I already had my standard. I took the advice I frequently give to my kids by placing my need ahead of my want and told Rick that Philly was a no go.
Now, I’ve completed nearly five weeks of easy running with absolutely no foot issues. I did a tempo workout earlier this week and today was my first track workout. Certainly not speedy when you look at the numbers but I am not afraid to take the time to slowly get faster. And it doesn’t bother me to humbly race the shorter distances, even if far from my personal best times.
Breaking my foot was a more difficult trial than breaking my leg last year. Really.
At the time, my husband was travelling a lot for work and the kids were on summer vacation, leaving me to single parent more than I desired. All while not being able to run. Not a good combination. It was really tough. I felt miserable but knew it was another incredible opportunity to mature and grow in my faith, again believing better things were yet to come. My sister was integral in encouraging me, and the two major speaking engagements I had allowed me to be honest and real about my struggles. I spoke about blessings: God’s favour and protection. But more about trials – painful circumstances allowed by God to transform our conduct and character. I shared that I was blessed with so much and loved God, my husband, children and running but that no one is exempt from the trials and hardships of life.
Without running I had the physical energy to handle the dishes, laundry, groceries, cooking, and cleaning but was really struggling with the emotional and mental demands of parenting three kids who naturally fought and got bored as soon as we returned home from our summer cabin. I put my thoughts together and wrote:
I will choose joy.
I will run again.
I will be thankful.
I will do all I can to heal and stay fit.
God’s plan is better than mine.
I continued to speak these truths to myself, knowing that this trial would soon pass, again being better for it.
It is too early to feel like I am on the other side. Between now and Rio I will likely be hypersensitive to any sort of discomfort or odd feeling. But covering myself with bubble wrap isn’t an option so I move on with cautious optimism. The goal is to prove my fitness in the spring/summer, all the while being prepared to better my marathon time, should the need arise.
The next nine months will likely be the most significant in my entire athletic career. My dad used to say, “Krista, you can’t do everything” and I am applying that truth more now than ever. I have already started to say no more than yes in order to keep my plate balanced. Years ago when I contemplated the notion to run in the Olympics, I knew my best chance would be in 2016, particularly because all the kids would be in school full time. It seemed so far away but that time is now.
November 18th, 2015
There’s a new running craze taking over the fitness world: crunning.
This new running phenomenon combines running and crawling – and looks as crazy as you’d imagine. Shaun McCarthy form Melbourne, Australia is the mastermind behind the term, claiming that it will be a game-changer in the fitness world. McCarthy started the movement five weeks ago, stating that with the rise of the Cross Fit movement, people are more open to try unconventional types of exercise. McCarthy claims that crunning far exceeds the benefits of running as it puts more emphasis on the upper body compared to traditional running moves.
But is it a hoax?
Any exercise that involves the entire body is an opportunity to develop a lot of strength. So long as you are practicing proper “form” there don’t appear to be any notable safety risks. That being said, it is highly recommended that you wear gloves to protect your hands, since your hands are exposed to the all the elements – concrete, grass, dirt, etc.
Will this trend stick around? Who knows! We’ve seen crazier approaches of getting into shape and I’m sure this wont be the last!
Find the “Crunning Movement” Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/crunningmovement/?fref=nf
Check out McCarthy’s YouTube video showing us how it’s done:
What do you think? Is this just a fad? Would you consider trying it out yourself?
November 17th, 2015
Before your purpose and cause were public and so broadly supported, how were you able to manage the need to prioritize running over life’s other obligations, and the associated internal conflict between your work and hobby? Many of us need our physical life for our own reasons, yet the challenge of claiming time from the rest of our lives presents considerable conflict… Selfish & Self-indulgent vs Mental and Physical Wellness.
Despite having a higher public profile as a result of my advocacy work, not much has really changed in terms of my running life, or running practice. I started running shortly after entering a treatment program for drug and alcohol addiction. In effect, running provided me the ‘structure’ and ‘accountability’ that had been so sorely lacking in my life. I quickly discovered that in addition to feeling much better physically, the more consistent I was in adhering to my running practice, the more ‘present’ I was in my life in general.
I guess it’s like the airlines’ safety message we hear at the beginning of every flight: “Make sure you put on your own oxygen mask first before coming to the aid of any other passenger.” To me, that’s the prioritizing I’ve had to do around my running. Those closest to me know that running keeps me sober; running reminds me that you get out of life what you put into it. Now having said that, I’m conscious of the fact that runners live in the “real world” too, so that means we need to be aware of the family and work responsibilities that take precedence over our running practice.
When it comes right down to it, I don’t really buy into this whole “work-life balance” thing people are always talking about. I believe it’s an equation that just sets us up for failure at the outset. Instead, I like to reframe this by asking, “How can I bring a balanced life to my work?” And for me, that balance is attained by nurturing my creative and emotional soul through running.
I’m susceptible to vicious calf cramps, but after about 30k. I’ve tried everything that I know of – stretching regularly after training and special session, diet, magnesium tablets, and salt. I generally end my marathons by walking the last kilometer or so! Any ideas, longer training runs?
As President Bill Clinton used to say, “I feel your pain.” Calf cramps have derailed many a marathoner over the years, and I am no exception. It sounds like you’re already doing most of the suggested preventive actions to curb a calf muscle flare up, but to no avail!
One of the common culprits of exercise induced calf cramps is dehydration brought on my extreme endurance and the subsequent muscle fatigue. This may account for your experiencing the cramping at the latter stages of a race or taxing training run. A few years back, I was experiencing a similar issue in many of my races, particularly the ones on rather hilly terrain. I addressed the issue by making sure that I hit all the hydration stations along the course, even the ones in the first few kilometers – the stations I typically ran past without taking on any liquid. The stricter hydration protocol appears to have solved my issue. Another hint I would recommend is to speed up your tempo the moment you sense a calf cramp coming on. This fluctuation in tempo is often enough to ‘trick’ the calf muscle out of going into full on spasm. Whatever you do, listen to your body, and enjoy the “mystery of the marathon”.
Which is your most difficult race, and how did you overcome it in the end?
I average about 10 to 12 marathons each year, so suffice is to say, I’m either training for an upcoming race or recovering from a recent race. As a high profile athlete, I’m often asked to speak to various running groups and clinics, and a question that inevitably comes up is, “Does it get easier running a marathon the more you marathons you run?” Despite what you might think, that is not an easy question to answer. The advice that a veteran marathoner gave me many years ago is advice that I continually remind myself of as I step up to the starting line of each and every race I do – “Respect the distance. The marathon will humble you.”
The more marathons I run, the more I am getting “comfortable with the uncomfortable.” It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned elite or a first-time marathoner, there will come a point in the race when you’re mind is trying everything possible to sabotage your body. What separates the best runners from the rest of the pack is their ability to partition off that part of the brain that is screaming at them to slow down, or stop!
The “hardest race” I ever did just happens to be my favorite race I’ve ever run. It was the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Comrades is an 89km race up and down some unrelenting terrain through the rural countryside on the west coast of South Africa. I spent the week leading up to the race doing my final training runs in the heat of Dubai. When I arrived to South Africa two days before the race, I was bed-ridden with severe dehydration, so up until a few hours prior to the race, I wasn’t sure I would even make it to the start line. 6 hours into the race, I realized that my “A” goal was definitely out of the picture, and the second I realized that, my brain went into overdrive trying to get me to simply pack it in. I dug deeper than I have ever done before in a race, and when I met my wife at the finish line, I could see how incredibly proud she was of my accomplishment. I learned a valuable lesson that day – Never give up on yourself… You are much stronger than you could ever imagine!
November 13th, 2015
Music is a big part of many runner’s motivation. And when the temperature drops, motivation is in great demand. Here are ten tunes to get you out and running. Quick tip: vary the genres and tempos of your soundtrack. Variety is the spice of both playlists and life.