Monthly Archives: February 2010

running to stay young

There’s something about running or exercising in general that helps me tap into some deep sources of energy, and helps me focus on that part of my being that is young.  Not sure whether it’s the physical exertion that tires you enough to leave behind some of life’s stresses.  It could also by the mental challenge of doing the miles, which shifts your focus away from stress.  I don’t think I can really attribute much to endorphins, as they typically come after you’ve pushed really hard, or hurt yourself.  And most of the time that’s not what running or exercise is for me.  I genuinely enjoy the quiet time to myself, or the time spent with friends.  The physical challenge is nice, but it’s really secondary for me.  But yes – it feels good.

I never really knew the scientific reasons behind this, but definitely felt it to be true that running and exercise help me ‘feel’ younger.

Well – it turns out there’s a reasonable physiological explanation for exercise perhaps being a fountain of youth to some of your tissue.  I ran across an interesting article in the New York Times several weeks back which talked about exercise as a means to combat aging.  Scientists in Germany recently examined several groups of people.  They included sedentary and active, young and old.  The looked at their appearances, and also examined their cell life spans.

Appearances are very subjective, but the scientists observed that many of their active middle-aged and older subjects simply ‘looked’ younger than their sedentary counterparts.  In and of itself, that doesn’t mean much, but in looking at their cell life spans, it turned out to be a reflection of what was going on inside as well.  Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes from deterioration.  When cells divide, the end of a telomere gets ‘snipped’.  If they eventually get too short, the cell dies.  Researchers generally accept telomere length as a ‘reliable marker’ of cell age.

In the younger subject, there was little observable difference in telomere length between the active and sedentary subjects.  But in the middle-aged and older subjects, the sedentary subjects had telomeres that on average were about 40 percent shorter than the telomeres in the active subjects.  In comparison, while the older runners did have shorter telomeres than the younger runners, the difference was only about 10 percent.  That means the telomere loss was reduced by about 75 percent in the runners.  As the article states, “more succinctly, exercise, Dr. Werner says, ‘’at the molecular level has an anti-aging effect.’ ”.

The root cause is still unknown.  It’s possible that exercise affects telomerase, an enzyme thought to help protect telomeres.  And the protective effects are apparent only in some tissue, not all.  Researchers also don’t know whether more moderate exercise is ‘enough’ to protect telomeres or not – the study apparently did not do detailed analysis of different levels of exercise.  And – the article did not detail which tissue types seem to be affected by exercise.

Still – it’s encouraging to see that there is indeed some physiological basis for what I think I’m feeling.

Check out the article here if you’re interested :

pushing on with sb5838

As I wrote last week, the Vulnerable Roadway User Bill, aka Washington State Senate Bill 5838 died “on the calendar” last week.  Definitely disappointing, given that we’d heard that there was broad support for this bill.  Last Tuesday was the deadline for the State Senate to bring it to a floor vote, allowing the House time to discuss/debate their counterpart bill.  It did not make it.

I learned several things through this process.  First – our state legislature convenes for just 60 days in even-numbered years, and 90 days in odd-numbered years.  Those are not very long sessions, so it’s very important to be efficient with that time.  Second, there is a fair amount of stuff on the docket pertaining to fiscal matters.  Important stuff like funding of education and health care.  And ‘postponing’ enactment of Initiative 960 that would require a 2/3 majority before a tax increase is enacted has taken a bunch of time away from other business as well.

I attended a town hall meeting with my state senator Rodney Tom, and my two state representatives, Ross Hunter and Deb Eddy this past weekend.  Several hundred people attended, most of whom had concerns about the fiscal matters.  Not surprising that there would be a lot of interest, as the state is having to make deep cuts in many programs providing support for many people.  Others felt that now is just when we need to keep government honest, by forcing them to balance their books just like the rest of us have to.

I sat in the front row of this meeting, with some nice 8×10 photos of me in a hospital bed facing them as they discussed everything else.  When I flipped to a nice one that clearly showed the stitches from the craniotomy arching around the left side of my head, Rep. Eddy motioned to me from the stage that she understood why I was there.  I was dubious, although it’s possible that she discerned my interest from the fact that I was wearing biking clothes.  When Senator Tom made the claim that he’d take the time to answer any mail sent to him, I sat bolt upright, frustrated – as this was not what he’d done with me (two pieces of mail, and one phone call still unanswered).  Seeing my reaction, Rep. Hunter walked over and whispered down to me that he was with me.  I handed him a copy of the statement I’d prepared for the Judiciary Committee and sat back down.

When the meeting wrapped up, I asked Senator Tom what he thought about SB 5838.  He made a point of saying that he felt last year’s version was “too harsh”, because it would impose criminal penalties on someone for “a momentary lapse of judgment”.  He might have said that he supported this year’s version, but I was still wondering why he’d lead off a conversation like this by expressing concern for people convicted of negligent driving rather than the people they’d hit.  In studying Senator Tom legislative record, I have to say that he’s done some good things.  Based on my conversation and the sole email response I’ve received from him, I have lost a bit of respect for him.

I also spent a minute speaking with Rep. Eddy after the meeting.  She was apparently unaware that SB 5838 did not make it for a vote, but told me that she’d “look into it”.

I’ve followed up with them in email, and await their response.  I’m not sure what to expect, but my hope is that giving them the chance to attach a person and his family to what a negligent driver can do will put the issue on their radar.

sb 5838 dies “on the calendar”

Got some bad news this morning about Washington State Senate Bill 5838, the Vulnerable Roadway Users Bill.  Yesterday was the deadline for it to pass a full state Senate vote, before going to the house.  It did not make it to a floor vote, despite the best efforts of our friends with the Cascade Bicycle Club who spent lots of time talking with the relevant Senators, including the Judiciary Committee Chair Adam Kline, and Majority Leader Eide.

I attended the Senate Judiciary hearing on this last month, and brought along a prepared statement with pictures to tell my story.  I think that when we attach real people to bike crashes it becomes more difficult to dismiss the problem.  I left copies of the statement with some pictures for the committee members as well.  I got some thoughtful responses to this, particularly from Chairman Kline and co-sponsor Kohl-Welles.  I apparently have some work to do with my own Senator, Rodney Tom.  I received a form letter response from Senator Tom’s office to my first message, but heard nothing in response to two additional emails with questions as well as a phone call.  Time to send my story to others as well.

Prompted largely by Cascade, over 2400 messages were sent to Senators, advocating for this bill.  The bill did not die owing to lack of efforts by the cycling community. 

This is very disappointing, but definitely no cause to give up either.

Talk to people about this, and see whether we can’t do better next year.

born to run : learning from the raramuri

Recently I read Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run.  Definitely a good, and very thought-provoking book. 

My favorite thing about the book is the focus on how one taps their inner joy when running.  It’s not about speed or competition.  It’s about going out there, and getting inside of yourself to draw things out that you’d never dreamed possible.  Time and time again McDougall cites anecdotes of this – either in himself as a runner recovering from some chronic injuries, in the culture of the Raramuri, more widely known as the Tarahumara people of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, in "Caballo Blanco", the mysterious American who lives among the Tarahumara, or in American ultra-running legend Scott Jurek.

There are many powerful metaphors to be drawn from the spirit of this book, and from running.  Life presents challenges to us much like the Copper Canyon.  We can respond to them with fear, or by allowing the terrain to limit us – hills that are too steep, scorching weather.  Or we can go out and scale the hills a bit and explore.  The Tarahumara are not superhuman, although from the standpoint of our increasingly sedentary culture they seem that way.  They’ve simply adapted to their surroundings nicely.  They don’t wear fancy, expensive running shoes or gear – they wear sandals, sometimes made from recycled tires.  They eat a diet largely of corn, fortifying themselves from a bag of milled corn, sometimes mixed with water as they run, for days.

They grow up playing a game called Rarajipari (this is one of several different spelling I found while researching this).  The players run a set of laps, kicking a rubber ball and then racing to kick it again.  The game can go on for a period of days, with the mileage varying according to the capabilities of the competitors.

McDougall talks about the tangible energy present during these games, with the village turning out to cheer them on, even as they run along the trails through the night.  Running is woven into the fabric of the community.  It’s the way many people go from point to point in the Copper Canyon.  He talk about how they’ve eschewed attempts outsiders have made to incorporate them into the trial running establishment – witness the segments on the Leadville 100 in the book.  According to the author, the Raramuri know themselves and want to preserve their culture and identity enough to opt out of things like this.

While reading the book, I recalled an Eastside Runner’s meeting during which Scott Jurek shared his experiences with the Raramuri.  If you’ve never had a chance to meet him, Scott is a bright spirit whether running or not.  I’d seen him during a couple of races (well ahead of me, and always smiling), but listening to him articulate the Copper Canyon experience was great.  And reading a more detailed account of the trip three and a half years later was even better.

There are a bunch of other interesting aspects of the book I’ll try to come back to in future posts – the physiological basis behind the title (how humans have evolved as endurance beings), and  also the assertions made about running shoes being bad for you.  For now, let’s stay with the inner spirit of the runner.

Read the book – would be interesting in hearing other people’s thoughts about it.

sb 5838 passes committee vote

Got the good word from the Cascade Bicycle Club today that the Vulnerable Roadway User Bill squeaked through the Washington State Senate Judiciary Committee vote 5-3.  Senators voting for it were : Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Sen. Randy Gordon, Sen. Adam Kline, Sen. Pam Roach, and Sen. Debbie Regala.

Apparently Sen. Bob McCaslin, Sen. Mike Carrell, and a confused Sen. James Hargrove voted against the bill. 

I note Sen. Hargrove’s confusion because according to the Seattle Times, he had asked a question concerning whether or not the "actions of the skateboarder or bicyclist would be taken into account".  The bill details whether or not the driver’s traffic offense was the proximate cause of the injury to the subject.  Obviously this would render Sen. Hargrove’s questions irrelevent.  But that apparently didn’t affect his decision to vote against the bill.

By the way, I’m still awaiting a response to two queries for my state senator, Rodney Tom, to his stance on this issue.  It’s surprising to me that he hasn’t chosen to take a visible stand for or against, given that he claims to be an "avid cyclist", and has noted that his wife "rides every single day".  Surely he would have an opinion one way or the other.

Some of the counterarguments I have heard to the bill include :

  • Punitive laws are bad.
  • Why don’t we pass laws deterring specific bad behavior such as cell phone usage or texting ?
  • Should laws cover actual consequence of behavior or just the offending behavior itself ?

I don’t care of punitive laws either, but do recognize that they can be effective deterrents.  And strictly speaking, any law passing a penalty for behavior is punitive, isn’t it ?  Take five seconds and read that definition.

As to the second question, while I do not oppose laws against bad behavior, attacking negligence means you’re getting right to the heart of the matter.  This avoids the inevitable useless debates about whether or not using a cell phone is permissible or not.  And you don’t need to pass specific laws about specific bad behaviors.

The third question is a good one.  To be fair, the way I heard this was posed more narrowly – against specific circumstances outside the behavior of the driver that may have led to the death or injury.  In a perfect world, it might be possible to do this.  But we don’t live in a perfect world.  Also – in a strict legal sense, there are cases in which overt acts may not be the sole cause of death or injury.  Here I have to leave this to the judgment of a court.  Otherwise we wouldn’t have offenses like manslaughter, right ?  It’s a matter of degree – but I still want negligent drivers held accountable.

Those that voted against the bill perhaps would not appreciate being characterized as being against holding negligent drivers accountable.  On the other hand, none of these folks spoke up during the public hearing I attended a couple of weeks back, so it’s unclear what else they were against.

In any case, check out the material concerning the bill, including the FAQ.  If you’re so inclined, contact your state legislator and tell them what you think about this.

no running for a while

Several weeks back, I was finishing up a run at work.  I’d done a fast quarter mile to cap it, and was cooling down with an easy jog.  And my foot suddenly hurt – badly.

I’ve been running long enough to recognize a simple ache or pain, and this didn’t feel like one of those.  I rested up for a couple of days, then tried to do an easy trail run.  I was fine for about three miles, and then I needed to walk.  The following week I had an X Ray, which showed no fracture.  So I was encouraged that it was probably related to a longstanding Morton’s Neuroma that I’ve had in that same foot.  So encouraged in fact that I logged a 31 mile week.  The pain was pretty constant, often starting when I’d run two or three miles.  At the advice of my podiatrist, I wore a metatarsal dome, which forced some separation between my toes.  This usually helps with neuromas.

Weekend before last I set out to do a 12 miler in the Redmond Watershed.  The first few miles felt fine.  I took things very easy, and focused on a low stride to limit the impact on my feet.  Three miles in, the pain started again.  I toughed it out for the full 12, against my better judgment, but knew I needed to get a tighter diagnosis on the foot.

I went in for an MRI this week, and they told me that I indeed did have a neuroma, and I also had a "stress reaction" in the foot.  This is essentially a precursor to the more serious stress fracture (although some sites equate the two conditions).  In any case – no running for at least six or eight weeks.  Very frustrating.

I spent several workouts on the elliptical trainer, and while it works and seems pretty safe for my foot – it’s not nearly as much fun as running.  Being outside amongst the trees is where it’s at for me.  Running alone and getting some nice quiet time, or running with friends and sharing time and stories is preferred.

With this in mind, I walked the 4 1/2 miles to work on Friday.  I headed out along the west and south sides of Bridle Trails State Park.  It was warm for January and wasn’t raining, definitely a good morning to be out there. 

On the way, I passed a Redmond Police car watching the intersection.  I shouted out "thanks for keeping us safe!" – as I started doing a couple of years back.  The officer responded "thanks for saying so", and we both did a double-take.  It was the officer that handled the call for my bike accident.  I took the opportunity to tell him about progress on SB 5838, and thank him again for the way he’d followed up with us after the accident.  This minute-long visit made the whole morning for me.

In any case, I’m going to have to look for ways to get out and walk or bike.  I’ll see the doctors again this week, and will get more guidance from them.