Sunday, February 21, 2010

Have Athletes Reached Their Limits?

On page A12 of today's Kansas City Star (sourced from the Los Angeles Times), I read with interest the article entitled, "How many more records can athletes break?" subtitled, "Not many, say scientists who believe humans have reached the peak of athletic achievement." (I am unable to find the article online, or I would link it here.)

The story was introduced by yet another track and field winner who was stripped of a previously earned gold medal after it was discovered she "admitted to using a performance enhancing drug." It was explained, " many sports scientists, the news was evidence of a broader trend. They believe that human athletic performance has peaked, and only cheating or technological advances will result in a rash of new world records."

"A French researcher who analyzed a century's worth of world records concluded in a recent paper that the peak of athletic achievement was reached in 1988. Eleven world records were broken that year in track and field. Seven of them still stand... [I]n the 1990s we started to see a decrease in performance. Now, there are a lot of events that don't show any progression at all." The article explains that the less mature winter sports will still see a rise, and the spike in swimming records around 2000 were due to the introduction of new high-tech swimsuits.

The concern here is that "the public thinks that athletes will get better and better. That's why they tune in to watch. I don't know if people realize that athletes can't keep improvement at the rates they have been," explained Conrad Earnest, director of exercise biology at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA.

Now, that's an interesting point for runners. Mostly, just for us to ponder, as we won't be anywhere near world record breaking, nor do we care. (But, hey, if you are world record contender, let me welcome you to my blog, thanks for stopping by!) I do wonder how much of today's superior running achievements are due to hard work and the gift of genetics, versus how much doping or other banned substances are used to shave a few milliseconds? And, do people really watch these events to behold a world record? Or do they watch for the drama of a good foot race? What if there are no "natural" (read: no illegal performance enhancing drugs or doping) marathons faster than Haile's 2:03:59 set in Berlin a little over a year ago? Does it matter? Tell me what you think.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Jogging in the Snow

Thanks, Rick, for pointing this tidbit out: "There's snow on the ground in all 50 states." I had 17 miles to run yesterday, and every option I clicked off sounded less desirable than the first. All the trail systems were snow covered, and I was tired of my hilly lake roads and I've had enough miles on the treadmill. So, I took a risk, and drove out to Longview Lake, planning on a central entrance at Shelter House 11, going for three segments, 6 miles south, 6 miles north and 5 miles whichever way I wanted to repeat.

My plans came to a screeching halt when all the gates were locked and barred. "Hmmph," I thought, "This place must be run by picnickers, not runners." I'd chosen Longview as it has the unique attribute of a decent trail system that is all paved (read: not mushy / muddy, as I knew every other option would be). I drove up to the north end, and found I could park and start at that entrance. Which meant I'd need to run the same segment three times out and back, ah well.

I hadn't gone far before I realized it wasn't going to be my day. Within a half mile, I had to tread over a long stretch of icy, slippery snow. Plus, my energy level didn't seem to be where I wanted it. By two and a half miles, I realized it was a bit breezier than I expected and had a few more inclines than I recalled, and the snow patches were becoming more and more frequent. I seriously considered turning around and attempting the run tomorrow. Somewhere else. Any other day. I wanted to give up.

As I reached the three mile mark, it was apparent by the snow tracks that fewer people had made it this far south (would require a total of six miles to return to their cars at the far north end), and I knew if I turned around at this point, I probably wasn't going to complete the run. So, I pressed on, and the snowy patches increased and the previous footsteps decreased and I was going farther and farther from my car. By the time I'd passed four and a half miles, I found I was actually feeling better; I seemed to have found fuel, but the slipping and sliding was an ongoing consideration. While I've complained about the poor condition of the cracked and broken asphalt trail here before, it's hard to whine about that when you can't even see it beneath the slushy, slippery white stuff. I was constantly sliding, losing my footing and trying not to fall.

As I crossed over mile five, I knew that at least if I turned around here, I'd only have seven to go when I returned to my car for refreshments. And that's what I should have done. But, six miles out and back sounded so much better, I'd only have five total left to do. By this point, no one had hit the trail, and with the additional tree covering, I was now completely running in undisturbed, crunchy snow about 3-4" deep. "Jogging in the snow," I pondered. Pleased to have had my gaiters on, as it largely prevented snow from working its way into my shoes. The good news was--I wasn't slipping anymore. The bad news--this was wearing me out. I almost turned around at five and a half miles (which would have left me six more to complete upon return to the car), but pressed on. I finished the six out and back.

As I turned around, I realized how thirsty I was, and how this was going to be a long trek back to the car. My two miles of "jogging in the snow" were 9:30 and 9:33, respectively. Although slow, they were quite draining--and required more work than the faster miles. I didn't really care too much about my pace on the way back, but decided to kick it in as best I could for the last mile back to the car. It netted me something the 8:10s, I didn't quite grab the number and my laps failed at that point on the Garmin. Not bad, but I did lightly twist my ankle booking it over the ice at one point.

Twelve miles down, I drained an entire Gatorade bottle on the spot I was so thirsty. I really didn't feel like the remaining five. Maybe I should just get in the car and finish it on the treadmill. Then I realized how ridiculous that sounded. I pressed on, talking myself through various multiples of the distance I had remaining. Although my laps weren't working on the Garmin, the time I had remaining for the five miles indicated I'd managed about an 8:15 pace for these miles. I finished in exactly 2:30, start to finish, which was truly amazing for the conditions. It wasn't that fast, but definitely the kind of run that will build strength and stability for future runs to come.

This morning, I am feeling fine--nothing hurts. But last night, my ankles were pretty tired.