Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ragnar vs. Marathons

Last week I ran the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay with some friends and family. It was fun and I gained some good insights after completing it. The Ragnar is a 12 person relay that covers 197 miles. Our team only had one elite runner on it and the rest were just "normal" people so it took us 31 hours to complete the course and we ended up in 227th place out of 1,092 teams. The winning team was from B.Y.U. and they crushed the course in 19 hours!

Both running a relay and running marathons have many things in common, but there are several distinct differences. Here are the pros and cons to each event.

Marathon Running is an individual sport. It's up to you to finish. Marathoners don't have a van of crazy friends cheering them on the entire race and there is plenty of time to be alone with your thoughts as you plug along. It is obviously much longer and requires more endurance since all 26.2 miles are run at the same time by the same person.

The Ragnar lets you split up the 197 miles over 36 legs so you may run between 4-10 miles each turn depending on the leg. As a result, there is time to rest, stretch, eat and sleep between each run. Some of these legs are much more difficult due to the extreme increase in elevation. The last few legs were so steep that the participants looked more like they were climbing stair steppers than running.

Even though less individual distance is required for the relay, I was surprised how mentally draining it can be since it is drawn out over a day and a half as opposed to several hours. Your body will get more physically exhausted running a marathon, but relays can also be mentally debilitating as the race runs on and you are sleep deprived, experiencing GI problems, stressed, and tired.

In Summary:

Ragnar- This team event is more fun since it's more of a social event. It's a real party for most participants. It's easier than a marathon, yet still very uncomfortable and draining since it's spread out for so long. If you haven't trained much and your buddies are trying to get you to run with them, you can probably still pull it off.

Marathon- The longer distances require better conditioning and preparation, but at least you can get it over with quicker. Marathons requires more training and mental toughness and are more taxing on your body. You can probably BS your way through a relay race, but there is no fooling a marathon if you haven't trained sufficiently.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


The other day I saw a Tweet that essentially said "Congratulations tall people. I'm glad you can reach stuff off the top shelf and are good at basketball, but I never see old tall people so you aren't going to be around for long." Their comment was not very nice or scientific, but it got me thinking about longevity. I always enjoy learning about correlations and factors that affect life expectancy. I have listed the main ones below.

Gender- The average life expectancy for women in the United States is 80 years, but it is only 75 for men, so if you were born the fairer sex, this is just one more reason to be thankful you are not a guy.

Nationality- Where one lives in the world also makes a difference. North America, Australia, and Western Europe have higher life expectancies than most of the third world countries in Africa by nearly 25 years.

Lifestyle choices-  Lifestyle has a big influence on how long one may live. If you've ever applied for life insurance you know they charge more if you smoke, use illegal drugs, take certain medications, have excessive speeding tickets, or if your occupation is considered a dangerous line of work. I think the Real Age website is interesting because taking their assessment can help estimate your chronological age and compare it to your "real age" which is largely determined by your lifestyle choices.

Genetics- Some people were just meant to live longer regardless of how they live. Occasionally people with healthy habits die at an early age while people like George Burns can chain smoke cigars and live to be 100! Genetics are never fair. Some people have a history of heart disease and cancer in their families and may be predisposed to certain diseases and a shorter life.

Income- People with higher incomes generally live longer as a result of better medical care and resources. I recently heard on the news that Presidents of the United States live longer than the average American man despite being under constant stress. I'm sure top notch medical care and checkups help, and it can't hurt that they have the Secret Service working so hard to keep them alive.

Education- this is closely correlated to income, but the more education someone receives, the longer they tend to live. There are several possible reasons for this and one is that educated people have a better standard of living and are more likely to avoid harmful substances and take better care of themselves than their non-educated peers.

The factors previously mentioned are frequently inter-related. I believe other factors like giving service, taking care of others, and having a good attitude may also improve longevity, but they are harder to quantify and measure in scientific studies than the items listed above.

As appealing as a long life may sound, longevity alone is not the answer. Living to an old age is not as enjoyable if you are chronically ill or plagued by health problems. Improving the quality of one's life is equally important, and there is much you can do to affect quality of life with your daily choices and habits. That's just one more reason why it's so important to eat well and exercise.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

How's Your Running Form?

I remember the first 5K race I ran nearly 20 years ago. As I was lumbering along trying to keep pace with the pack, I noticed that some runners just seemed to glide effortlessly as they ran and didn't appear to be using nearly as much energy. Sometimes I see people running with such labored and exaggerated movements that it hurts to watch. It hurts even more if they happen to be passing me.

I've always been interested in the concept of bio-mechanics and exercise efficiency. I am fascinated with the subject, so I recently went to a class on running form that was taught at Runner's Corner. I have few regrets in my life, but one of them is that I didn't learn about proper running technique a long time ago.

About 6 years ago, I read Hal Higdon's book Marathon, the Ultimate Training Guide and learned several techniques about running form, but the hands-on class at Runner's Corner was very informative and covered the four main areas listed below.

1) The posture of leaning forward at the ankles without bending at the waist. Imagine yourself falling forward using gravity to your advantage. The chest should be tall and open with your shoulders back and relaxed. Keep your head up and look forward.

2) Keep a minimal arm swing, and don't allow arms to cross the chest, since lateral movement will compromise efficiency. Relax your hands (visualize you are holding a potato chip between your fingers and thumbs).

3) The feet should strike mid to forefoot and you should land on your feet when they are directly under your hips rather than out in front of you. Landing on your heel (heel strike) causes unnecessary impact and slows you down with each step.

4) Keep your cadence at 180 steps per minute regardless of how fast you are running. This concept really surprised me since I always assumed faster runners take bigger steps.

Combining these four basic areas can reduce the amount of energy you expend, help protect you from fatigue and injury, and improve your running speed. The only drawback is that it requires more awareness, practice, and discipline to run with correct form.

If you want to improve your running technique, then I highly recommend the running class at Runner's Corner. At $7.00 it's a great bargain and even includes a brief video analysis of your running form.