Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Exercise and Weight Loss

New York Magazine has an article titled The Scientist and the Stairmaster (by Gary Taubes) which pokes holes in the belief that exercise effects weight loss. The premise of the article is that exercise has been overhyped as a weight loss tool, and no definitive evidence exists to support the assertion that it does. While this may be true - that exercise alone will not make you lose weight - I think it overlooks other contributions exercise makes to weight loss.

It seems as no one thing will make you lose weight. Just as no one thing will make you happy. A good diet should be the foundation of a weight loss program. The key word there is program. And maintaining weight loss will require maintaining the program. Cut calorie intake, increase the burning of calories, and weight loss will ensue. A study cited by the author finds that...

"...the dozen best-constructed experimental trials that addressed weight maintenance—that is, successful dieters who were trying to keep off the pounds they had shed—they found that everyone regains weight. And depending on the type of trial, exercise would either decrease the rate of that gain (by 3.2 ounces per month) or increase its rate (by 1.8 ounces). As the [study authors] themselves concluded, with characteristic understatement, the relationship between exercise and weight is “more complex” than they might otherwise have imagined."

Not surprising. People are "more complex" than most studies can give them credit for.

It seems that much of the article relies heavily on this statement: "The one thing that might be said about exercise with certainty is that it tends to make us hungry. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. Burn more calories and the odds are very good that we’ll consume more as well."

True. It makes me more hungry. But what about the differences exercise makes to physiology? Aren't there changes to the body that exercise causes? Other reading I have done point to an increase in metabolism and changes in body composition from more fatty tissue to more lean muscle mass which requires more fuel - even at rest.

Late in the article is this passage:

"Ultimately, the relationship between physical activity and fatness comes down to the question of cause and effect. Is Lance Armstrong excessively lean because he burns off a few thousand calories a day cycling, or is he driven to expend that energy because his body is constitutionally set against storing calories as fat? If his fat tissue is resistant to accumulating calories, his body has little choice but to burn them as quickly as possible: what Rony and his contemporaries called the “activity impulse”—a physiological drive, not a conscious one. His body is telling him to get on his bike and ride, not his mind. Those of us who run to fat would have the opposite problem. Our fat tissue wants to store calories, leaving our muscles with a relative dearth of energy to burn. It’s not willpower we lack, but fuel."

While I agree that we are "programmed" a certain way, I think this particular view overlooks the possibility of re-programming the body. This really is what training is all about. If you do certain things in training, you can improve your endurance, speed, and the distance you are able to run. If you don't do certain things in training, would you expect to be able to run faster? Further?

If you don't exercise, you can't train your body to utilize certain energy stored in your body. If you exercise certain ways, you train your body to utilize different types of fuel. There is a great book, Why We Run by Bernd Heinrich, which really delves into the physiology of running and endurance. It really is a fascinating book and very much worth a read. Or re-read.

Mr. Taubes points to aspects of diet that have a greater effect on weight loss - cutting candy, beer, soda, chips (all the stuff I used to eat in much higher quantities). I agree here too. And I think that diet does have a much more drastic affect on weight loss - it is easier to avoid eating 500 calories than it is to burn off 500 calories.

But how many people really maintain weight loss without exercise? I can't say that my weight would be where it's at without the running I do. At the same time, as is pointed out in the article, I did not get where I am at with exercise alone. I made significant changes to my diet and maintain those changes now. Mainly because it's much more healthy and allows me to do the things I want to do better.

He also says exercise can, and should, be done for other health benefits. Just not alone for the purpose of weight loss. It's an interesting read. Give it a read.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Runnin Again

Sing to the tune of "Singing in the Rain:"

I'm RUNNING in the rain
Just RUNNING in the rain
What a glorious feelin'
To be RUNNING again...

That's what I was singing all day last Saturday. After nearly two weeks of no running due to being sick, I finally got out to this past week (Wednesday and Saturday, with a little weight workout on Thursday - I'm not overdoing it at all...), but my run on Saturday afternoon was in the rain. Partly.

It didn't rain the whole time, but the forest was wet and dripping the whole time. I love the smell of redwood forest during a rain storm. It has an earthy, fecund smell that is very pleasing and refreshing. Especially to run in. Even more so if you haven't run for two weeks. Just in case you weren't aware, being sick really sucks.

Fall Creek was the location, part of Henry Cowell Redwood State Park. As expected, the creek didn't even get a touch of color. The ground just sucked the rain up. I saw a few deer, just off the trail maybe 20 feet. With the ground being wet they couldn't hear me coming up until the last minute. Pretty cool. I stopped for a moment to watch them bound away downhill. They are beautiful animals.

I also got out for a run with my wife Lori and our dog Maggie Sunday evening. It was really nice to run with Lori, as we usually don't run together. We also brought our medically challenged dog out for a trot, and she did great. She has had some issues with her left back leg, having a few surgeries on it the past year. But she has been getting stronger and playing a lot and she had no problems on our run. And no soreness, as far as I can tell, today!

I did see the season's first banana slug on our run Sunday. I almost mistook it for a leaf and nearly stepped on it. Banana slugs are really cool creatures, and the mascot for my alma mater - UC Santa Cruz. I have been on runs where I have seen 10 or so in an hour. Of course, I didn't have a camera to record the moment. Maybe next time. Don't everyone get too excited. ;-)

Monday, September 17, 2007

PCTR's Big Basin Trail Run Report

I didn't run this one, as I have a cold that just won't give up. Damn thing has parked itself in my upper respiratory system, and I have this annoying, persistent cough. I haven't run for over a week because of it!

Though I didn't run the race, I was there to support Lori, who ran the 15k. This was Lori's first trail race, and definitely the biggest elevation gain for a run she has done, race or not. Here is a short report.

We got to the race area in plenty of time, and everything was well organized, as seems to be the case for the PCTR races that we have been to. Lori got her bib, and I let them know I wasn't running. The weather was perfect for a run, with fog hanging over the park keeping things cool, but not cold. The weather the last few days in the Santa Cruz mountains has been stellar - warm days and nights that get crisp. Classic late-summer, early-fall weather.

I kept an eye out for my friend Doug, who was signed up for the 15k too. I was also hoping to have a chance to meet another local trail runner and blogger - Addy. Alas, I was not to see either.

While waiting around the check-in area, I saw a woman with one of the Nathan hydration packs on. I have wanted to check one of these out, but have yet to find them in a store locally. After hemming and hawing for a few moments (I can be shy about going up to people I don't know) I approached her to ask her a few questions about the pack and how she liked it. She was very nice and even let me try it on. Though small for me, I did get a general idea of how if felt, and I definitely want to check them out further. Turns out the woman was none other than local runner and blogger Miki. Thanks, Miki for letting me try your Nathan hydration vest on. Miki had some bad feelings about this race, as past races here didn't treat her well. Unfortunately for Miki, those bad feelings were prescient as she turned her ankle early in the race and had to DNF.

After the start I went for a short hike up the trail the 15k, 25k, and 50k runners took. I wish I had fresh batteries for my camera, as there were a couple places that would have been good to get some photos of runners coming back through. After a while, I meandered over to the aid station between loops to cheer runners on and help direct runners the right way. It wasn't long before the reports stared coming in - yellowjacket or bee stings were a problem. A big problem. Some runners said they had been stung 15 - 20 times! A number of runners dropped right then, said they had been stung too many times and felt bad. Those of us around the aid station tried to encourage runners coming through, and let them know there were no reports of problems on the 10k course, but no one can blame anyone who had to endure the trail of stings for not wanting to repeat that experience.

Lori came through, and finished around 2:17 or so - a really good time and she was happy with the whole thing. She didn't get stung around the areas where most of the problems occurred, but did get stung while going up the cable area near Berry Creek Falls. And, even better, she isn't as sore as she expected, considering the elevation gain.

She is really lovin trail running, something we are both happy about as we can do a little running together from time-to-time. She is even signed up for the PCTR Carmel Valley 17k already! And trying to get me to sign up for the 50k. Not sure I'll take the bait on that one, though. It's got nearly 9,000' of climbing. And I don't know if I want to kill my legs on my first ultra. I'll think about it some more. ;-)

Monday, September 10, 2007

California Coastal Trail

I just learned of this trail the other day while browsing some books. I saw two guidebooks covering the California Coastal Trail - and figured some digging was in order.

Here is a snippet from the website:

The California Coastal Trail (CCT) is a network of public trails for walkers, bikers, equestrians, wheelchair riders and others along the entire California coastline. It is currently more than half complete. Coastwalk is a volunteer organization that advocates for completion of the Trail.

I wish them well. I think trail systems are great ideas, as they can offer a great place for people to get outside and enjoy what nature has to offer. The more trails the better, I say.

It also looks like a great candidate for a long trek-like run/adventure. Not saying I'm in the planning phase, as 1,200 miles is a little out of my league currently. I still need to finish my first ultra, for heaven's sake! I'm just saying that it could be a good challenge for anyone inclined to do that sort of thing. It could also help raise awareness of the whole project - get some attention directed towards the effort, knowwhatimean?!?

Aarrrgghhh!!! Down time...

The last 3 weeks have been frustrating for me running-wise. I have gotten sick twice, one nasty headache, and lots of other stuff to get in the way of regular running. Right now, I have the second bug - a nice little sore throat that has scuttled any plans for a regular running week this week.

I haven't been sick in about a year-and-a-half. And now, within 3 weeks, I get sick twice. What the hell is this all about. It's not like I have been hanging with a bunch of germ-infested kids, or running around nekkid in sub-freezing weather. Just going about normal day-to-day stuff and all-of-a-sudden WHAM-O, I just won the sickie lottery. And I didn't even buy a ticket.

I have gotten in only 6 runs over the last three weeks. I typically run 4-5 days a week depending on long runs and other stuff. And I'm running my first ultra this Sunday - Pacific Coast Trail Runs' Boulder Creek 50k. I was hoping to get some good runs in this week to prepare, and get back on a normal running schedule. Well, not this week - hopefully I can get at least one more run in later on.

On the plus side, the few runs I did manage over the past three weeks have been fairly good ones. I ran Fall Creek again, and again set a new PR for the big loop course I run there. And, my run/hike up in the Trinity Alps was really nice. It turned out to be a great weekend to camp, though it was a little hot during the days; the evenings around the campfire just couldn't be beat for all-around comfort - t-shirt weather until 10pm! I did one run while up there, to the Upper and Lower Canyon Creek Lakes.

That was a fun run/hike. I didn't time it, and to the best I have been able to guess, it was somewhere between 16 - 18 miles. Not sure what the elevation profile looks like - I'll have to get the map program out later to see if I can figure that out. It's times like these that I really wish I could find my GPS receiver. It would be great to be able to have the route and elevation data from it for running.

I took my time going up, stopping a few times to take a few pics, check out some areas along the trail (I had ulterior motives for being up in the area, mainly scouting for possible future hunting and fishing trips). While there are some nice areas for fishing, I think it's a little to popular with hikers to be good or safe for hunting.

Here is a shot of me at Lower Canyon Creek Lake:

There are lots of good trails up in this area of California. If you like to camp, fish, hike, backpack, hunt, or mountain bike - you may want to pay a visit to the Trinity Alps or the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. I love that whole area and have done a lot of camping there over the years. And in case you needed additional motivation, it is home to Big Foot! From the looks of the plaster cast of Bigfoot's footprint, it seems as though Bigfoot is a proponent of barefoot running. Hmmmm...