Plant Lessons: a guide for humanity

If a flower contains both male and female reproductive parts, as some flowers do, it is said to be a perfect flower. Flowers that lack one of the reproductive structures, either the stamens or pistils, are known as imperfect flowers. An imperfect flower is also therefore, by definition, incomplete.

Some plants have just one flower; these are called solitary flowers. Others produce clusters of flowers. Scientists first thought flowers bloomed based on their exposure to light. Later they discovered that it’s not the light, but the uninterrupted darkness that triggers flowering – giving us the classification of short day, long day, or day-neutral plants. Day-neutral plants are indifferent to uninterrupted darkness. But some plants, petunias for example, don’t really fit any category because they’ll bloom in all different combinations of day lengths.

A lecture on botany in week two of Master Gardening school queued up a lecture the following week on diseases. Inga, our local expert on the topic, warned that most students wonder how plants survive at all after learning of all the diseases to which they may succumb. I was among them.

Inga made the point early on in her lecture that to identify a plant problem, you must first know what a healthy plant looks like. Some plant’s normal characteristics, or habits at certain stages of growth, can be similar to the symptoms of a disease. Diseases and symptoms of disease are plentiful nonetheless, including leaf spots, fruit rots, blights, fungi, too much moisture, not enough moisture, bacteria, viruses, the dreaded nematodes (tiny roundworms), and even mistletoe. On this note, Inga reminded us that although some diseases cause symptoms and the plant may not look perfect, not all diseases kill. You have to decide what you’re willing to tolerate in terms of appearance.

The lecture on disease was a natural segue to insects. Sam, who has his master’s degree in entomology, and proud owner of an insect collection, had more first-hand knowledge of bugs than I ever imagined possible. Of course, his first point was to remind us that just as soil is not called dirt, real gardeners know that insects are not bugs – although there are a few exceptions, naturally.

For every pound of human on earth, I have now learned there are approximately 300 pounds of insects. They thrive in more environments than any other group of animals, and they are among the oldest animals on earth. They live in the air, in the water, on top of the soil, and in the soil. There’s an estimated 100,000 different insect species in North America alone. By some estimates there are 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects on earth at any given time; a typical backyard contains 1,000 or more different species. I wish I didn’t know this.

Even so, the vast majority are harmless or even beneficial; less than 1% are considered pests. That sounds encouraging unless the 1,000 in your backyard are all part of that 1%. That’s highly unlikely in reality since pests have natural enemies, and the beneficial species help control at least some of the worst pests. In fact, insects and weeds are part of a natural ecosystem.

If you plant a garden or establish a grassy lawn, the natural process begins to re-establish a balance of native and non-native plants. The weed that takes hold in the lawn is the first stage in a sequence of events that, if allowed to continue, could eventually result in a forest. Cultivated plants are not nearly as competitive as our native plants, weeds and insects; cultivated plants survive only with the constant help and intervention of the gardener.

The wheel bug is the largest of the 150 or so species of assassin bugs, a predatory insect of great benefit to gardeners. (Photo by William Johnson)

Master Gardeners are taught that it’s not possible or even desireable to rid the garden of all pests. The best way to control the over-population of pests is to keep your plants healthy and reduce plant stress. Healthy plants tend to resist infestations by pests while plants with low vigor actually attract pests.

Remember, however, in a true ecosystem there is no such thing as pests. Only humans consider something a pest when it occurs where they are not wanted.

We’re taught to visit our gardens regularly to observe what’s going on. Know what to look for and intervene early with a strategy that’s economical, physically feasible, effective, and the least toxic.

If all this is true of plants, maybe it’s also true of humans.

Sometimes we prefer a solitary life while others prefer clusters of friends. There are morning people, night owls, and workaholics. Some folks don’t really fit any category because they’ll bloom no matter what their environment. We’re all vulnerable to disease from time to time, although much less so if we are healthy and stress-free. And an uninterrupted, good night’s sleep goes a long way to help us rejuvenate and produce our best blooms.

Sometimes our gardens seem to have been invaded by pests that threaten the balance of our environment. But what we call “pests” are actually part of a natural system at work. An ecosystem has no pests. Only humans consider something a pest when it occurs where they are not wanted.

Some of us are more competitive while others will require the constant help and intervention of a gardener. No human is perfect, and therefore, by definition, incomplete. The famous line, you complete me, comes to mind.

History suggests the best way to maintain a healthy ecosystem is to check in with each other regularly to observe what’s going on. Know what to look for and intervene early with a strategy that’s economical, physically feasible, effective, and the least toxic to each other – and our planet.

Test your knowledge:
Plants are categorized by their growth habits. These include:
A. Shrubs, trees, and ground covers;
B. Evergreen and herbaceous;
C. Annuals, biennials and perennials;
D. Monocots and dicots.
True or False: Fungicides kill fungi.
Which of the statements below is false?
A. It’s not possible (or even desirable) to rid gardens of all pests.
B. When you see a plant problem, the first thing to do is spray it according to the label
instructions.
C. Prevention is the first tool in pest management.
D. Misuse of pesticides can result in the pest evolving a resistance to that particular chemical.
E. All of the above statements are true.
True or False: The vast majority (>99%) of insects are considered harmless or beneficial.
Answer Key:
C. Annuals, biennials and perennials;
False: Fungicides slow down or prevent fungus attack; they do not kill the fungus directly.
B. When you see a plant problem, the first thing to do is spray it according to the label instructions. False: the first step is to identify the plant.
True

Life After Running

I can vouch that there is no good way to begin this topic after writing dozens of different openings over the past few months. I’ve reminded myself that athletes retire all the time, and it’s probably a difficult transition for all of us. But it seems especially difficult when your head is still in the game, and it’s only your body that has given up. At a time when there appears to be no limit to human endurance, it’s hard to accept that your body does indeed have its own independent limit.

I’ve been a runner since the early 90s. My son was in elementary school at the time, and now he’s thirty-six. I ran every morning with an inexpensive watch on my wrist to be sure I made it home in time to dress for work. And when I took a new job that required travel, I ran in beautiful and interesting cities all over the country.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunities to run in Italy, Spain, and Ireland; and on a treadmill in India where I watched the miles go by in kilometers for the first time. I experienced the horrible side effects of running at altitude when we first moved to Ecuador, and the excitement of running with an elite runner when I went to Africa. But the long runs here at home that followed the river down the mountain to the next town over where my husband met me at LuLu’s for lunch – those were my favorite runs.

Runners remember every race – the mood of the race, the course, every ache, pain and decision we make along the way, but it’s the places I remember most.

My husband encouraged me to run a 10k race in 2007. “It’s only six miles,” I remember him telling me. He realized it was actually 6.2 miles while he was waiting for me at the finish line. I found out when there was no finish line at the six-mile mark, and my lungs were already about to explode. The Chicago marathon followed a few months later, and that race changed everything. Training for marathons, recovering from marathons, planning for the next marathon, researching my injuries, researching new training plans, writing about injuries, writing about training – this became my favorite pastime.

The funny thing about following your passion is that if you go in too headstrong, according to some experts, you may crash and burn at the first sign of hardship. You have to ease your way into this new love, bond with it, and nurture the relationship over time. This way you don’t throw in the towel and quit when the going gets tough.

On the other hand, if you don’t throw yourself into this passion wholeheartedly at some point, you may never realize your full potential. I had the pleasure of easing my way into running slowly over many years, and also throwing myself at it completely.

If you truly follow your passion, your life is going to change. The challenge is to regain control of your life afterwards. The Passion Paradox

Achilles tendinitis took hold in my right foot in 2018 a few months after my first 50k. It was my new favorite distance, and I was determined to run this new further distance again – and as many times after that as possible. But when the swelling subsided there was another problem.

Some runners have run with Haglund’s Deformity in one or both heels for years, but it’s a painful existence that never improves. Your heel feels like there’s glass moving around inside. It swells, gets stiff, and then it’s painful to even walk. Surgery is an option, but it’s not pretty nor a guarantee.

I spent much of the spring and early summer of 2018 doing physical therapy to resolve the Achilles tendinitis and re-strengthen my calf. Eventually I could run without pain, but it didn’t last because the bony protusion of Haglund’s irritated the area around the tendon. So I ran every other day, continued therapy, iced my heel daily, and basically spent the last half of 2018 experimenting. I was willing to try anything, but nothing worked, and the pain and stiffness grew consistently worse. About a year ago, I threw in the towel and retired.

An injury leaves you irritable because of the lost time from training. Knowing you won’t ever run again leaves a pit in the bottom of your stomach that’s hard to resolve. I had been careful to identify myself with things other than running all these years, but there was still the question of what would I be associated with so strongly going forward that it would give my heart a place to land.

Around the same time that I retired, I also partially tore my left rotator cuff leaving my shoulder in a painful frozen state for months. Adding insult to injury, a 60-pound dog jumped up and bit my nose while I was saying hello to his owner.

I can’t begin to count the dozens of angry, untethered dogs that have scared me half out of my mind over the years. Two boxers would bolt through their invisible fence on my long runs down the mountain every week. I dreaded them with all my heart. One particularly lively laborador in South Carolina nipped at my elbows, jumped onto my shoulder, and tore the shirt right off my arm. Dogs were everywhere. I had developed a strategy of sorts: turn off my music, move to the other side of the road, stop for a minute, walk, and I’d yell “FOOEY!” when all else failed. Not one of them ever made me retreat, and they never bit me. Then, this seemingly harmless dog on a leash across the street from my house bites me while I’m standing still. It was as if my whole identity was being attacked.

My husband helped me sort through my thoughts in those early months of 2019. He researched surgery options, different shoes, orthotics, even other sports I might try. Meanwhile, I started walking the trail around the lake by my house. The pace was soooo slow, and every runner that passed me was an awful reminder of why I was on the trail around the lake in the first place. But I could walk for as long as I wanted without pain, and when I finally let go of being angry I realized I really enjoy these long walks.

Abby Wambach writes in her memoir, Forward, that she realized, “Soccer is no longer what I do, but it will always be a part of who I am, an indispensable thread of my past.” She recalls a friend giving her a metaphor about retirement:

“Trapeze artists are so amazing in so many ways because they are grounded to one rung for a long time, and in order to get to the other rung they have to let go. What makes them so brilliant and beautiful and courageous and strong is that they execute flips in the middle. The middle is their magic. If you’re brave enough to let go of that first rung, you can create your own magic in the middle.”

I’ve traveled all these miles for all these years with just my own two feet, and it’s been an amazing journey in every way. My shoulder has recovered, the scar on my nose is hardly visible, I’ve learned to manage my injured heel, and I’ve let go of that first rung.

The Chicago Lakefront 50k was my last race, and my favorite race.

Renovation: Week 15

 

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Earlier this year we mapped out a plan to transform our cottage into the perfect retirement home. After twenty years of remodeling homes, and despite the skepticism among friends and family, we think we’re ready to stop remodeling – after this one last project, of course.

With one more room, the cottage would be the perfect home. We’d take down a few trees, level out part of the mountain, and there’d be enough space for another room at the back of the house. And while we’re at it, we’d upgrade the kitchen appliances and remodel the hall bath. Piece of cake.

A Conservatory and a Carport

After construction was delayed through the winter, the one-room addition finally has walls with windows and doors, a roof and electrical. By the end of the week, it should also have insulation and drywall.

The workers spent most of last week adding the batten-style trim to the exterior that will create a cohesive look with the original cottage. Then we’ll be ready for paint and a metal roof.

The Hall Bath

We must have been delirious the day we decided to go ahead with the hall bath remodel while construction on the addition is still in-progress. But here we are.

The original bath was unremarkable. We updated the toilet and the floor last year during the first phase of remodeling, leaving the original tub and wall-hung sink in place. . . a.k.a. perfume on a pig.

Demolition exposed nothing more sinister than mounds and mounds of squirrel nests – inside the walls and under the old cast iron tub. Once we cleared out the nests, we could also see the sub floor was rotten – and we reinforced those support beams that just happened to be holding up the back of the house. It could have been worse.

The tub was a historic beast.

When we realized our local Lowe’s store had a small inventory of wormwood ceiling planks, we quickly snatched them up for the ceiling.

We found an antique cabinet at a local shop for the vanity that we’ll pair with a sink from the Restoration Hardware outlet in Asheville. The question is to paint the cabinet, or not to paint the cabinet. . . ?

The Kitchen

I could have recovered from an injury and trained for a full marathon in the amount of time it took our stove to arrive. But it’s finally here, and we love it.

And I bit the bullet and replaced the sconces on either side of the kitchen (all six!). Even limiting myself to choices that were $100 or less each, it was a big gulp. But now the kitchen is basically done. Well, there may be one more thing or two. . .

The contractor had estimated construction would last just 16 weeks. It was originally due to be finished, in fact, on the very day it began. This one last project, and we’re definitely done. 🙂

The Anatomy of a Runner: Thermoregulation

The body prefers a relatively stable temperature of 97.7– 99.5°F (36.5–37.5°C). Whether shivering from the cold or sweating from the heat, the body is attempting to maintain the core temperature close to 98.6° Fahrenheit. This process is called thermoregulation.

Early studies concluded we have a thermal circuit-breaker (also known as the Central Governor) that trips when we get too hot, and those studies limited sports research for some time. Subsequent studies, however, have shown that trained athletes are able to push their core temperatures higher than sedentary people. In fact, that thermal circuit-breaker seems to be triggered more by a perception of heat rather than the temperature itself, and our perceptions of heat are blunted by the mere presence of competition.

The first event of the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in Qatar was the women’s team time trial, a mid-afternoon 40-kilometer cycling race in temperatures averaging 98.4°Fahrenheit (36.9 C). Three cyclists from one of the teams swallowed ingestible core-temperature-sensing thermometer pills with their breakfast as part of a study to investigate the effects of hot-weather, competitive exercise. The researchers found that the three women had peak temperatures during the race ranging from 105.4° to 106.7°F (40.8 to 41.5 C).

It had long been accepted that if you ask an athlete to exercise for as long as they can in a hot environment, they’d quit when their core temperature reached somewhere around 104°F (40 degrees Celsius). These three cyclists all reached higher temperatures than the perceived threshold, yet they hadn’t collapsed. They won a medal.

CAPO VELO, Cycling Collective

Exercise produces heat that the body must eliminate so that it can maintain a stable core temperature and prevent over-heating. Exercising in hot conditions is even more challenging since the primary source of eliminating heat through sweating is less effective in hot and humid environments. If the body sweats so much that it depletes itself of fluids and salts, there’s nothing left to sustain the evaporation process. And when the process of regulating ceases, body temperature soars causing heat illnesses or even heatstroke.

Studies find that after a period of heat training/acclimatization, however, our bodies are able to produce more sweat and earlier, overall core temperature and blood lactate is reduced, blood plasma volume increases creating better cardiovascular fitness, skeletal muscle force increases, and we get better while training in a wider range of temperatures including cold weather. In fact, purposely training in the heat may be more beneficial than altitude training since we adapt more quickly to heat stress than to hypoxia (oxygen deprivation).

While many of these benefits can be obtained by simply living in the heat, exercising in heat speeds up the process. And there’s ways to mimic heat training, in case your next race is in a hotter climate than where you live.

This post discusses key points regarding the athlete’s response to heat; hydration, dehydration and sweat; heat versus altitude acclimatization; pre-cooling methodologies; and thermotolerance training techniques and guidelines.

Major Players

Brain: an almond-sized portion of the brain (the hypothalamus) is hyper-sensitive to changes in core temperature. If the core increases by even one degree, it reacts by opening blood vessels near the skin and routing blood to the periphery where it can cool. In an environment where the air, humidity, wind and sun feels warmer than 99.5°, the brain will limit contraction of the muscles as a way of telling the body to stop generating so much heat. This forces the athlete to slow down before becoming too hot.

Skin: As warm blood reaches the skin, pores expand and you begin to perspire. The sweat evaporates and cools the blood directly underneath. If the air is warmer than your core temperature, sweat is actually wasted and your condition worsens since the sweat fails to cool but contributes to dehydration instead. Pouring cold water onto the skin will help, but only temporarily.

Heart: When blood is over 98.6°, and more blood is being pumped near the skin for cooling, the heart is working harder, beating faster. Perceived effort will increase and recovery will be longer.

Of Special Note: Data from a multidecade study of 2,300 Finnish men found that those who hit the sauna four or more times a week were only a third as likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s compared with those who took just one sauna a week.

In a 2017 study from Qatar, participants showed a 17 percent boost in muscle strength after 11 days of sitting in a heat chamber at roughly 120 degrees for an hour at a time. The technique might be particularly relevant for injured athletes or those recovering from surgery as a way to maintain their muscles when they can’t exercise. (Alex Hutchinson, OutsideOnline).

Dehydration and Sweat

While fluid plays a role in heat, it is actually more minimal than we may realize. When athletes are allowed to pace themselves in trials where they are limited to small volumes of fluid or do not drink at all, they reach the same core temperature as when fluids are consumed, but they take longer to finish. It’s not necessarily the fluid ingested that keeps us cool, but the metabolic rate, or how hard we are exercising that affects core temperature. The guiding principle here is to always drink to thirst.

Sweat rate also has nothing to do with the rate we burn fat or calories. An individual’s perspiration rate is mostly dependent on genetic make-up, training, and how the body responds to heat stress.

Some people lose more fluids than others, and men perspire more than women. Testosterone can enhance the sweating response, as will anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, allergy, decongestants, and weight loss medications. Caffeine has a similar effect.

Urine color is determined to be a simple way to assess hydration. Observe urine over the course of a day and notice changes in flow and color. Volume and frequency should be consistent and the color should be lighter, or close to clear, toward the end of the day.

Why It Hurts

Core Temperature = Heat Production vs Heat Loss

Heat is produced when muscles contract and is directly proportional to how fast you are running. Run two times faster, twice as much heat is produced. Consequently, it’s the shorter, more intense races that produce higher core temperatures.

Heat loss depends on evaporation, convection and radiation with the environment being the crucial factor:

– high humidity prevents evaporation,

– high air temperature prevents both evaporation and convection from cooling the body.

Runners learn to push through the pain, but to successfully push through the pain means we must also understand the warning signs that would spell disaster in any given situation.

If our perceptions of heat are blunted by the mere presence of competition among other things, overheating could become the unintended outcome. Know the symptoms of overheating: headache, dizziness, disorientation, nausea.

The Gender Gap

In 2011, VF Corporation, the parent company of Smartwool and The North Face, commissioned a 1,200-person study examining how women and men respond to exercise in hot and cold temperatures.

Their findings show that women run warmer than they perceive. In winter, women’s coldest zones are the backs of the hands, the glutes, outer arms, and kneecaps. Women’s upper backs, calves, collarbones, and pelvis emit more heat during stop-and-go cold-climate activities, such as skiing. During hot-weather exercise, women’s legs are markedly cooler than their upper bodies, while men are more evenly balanced. Women’s feet are always colder than men’s, regardless of the outside temperature.

Acclimatization and Thermotolerance

Thermotolerance is the end result of a successful program of heat acclimatization, where an athlete trains with the specific purpose of making the body functional in a warmer climate to which the athlete is accustomed. (Encylcopedia.com)

Acclimatization methods consist of two types: heat and altitude.

The body undergoes a natural acclimatization to warmer temperatures or higher altitudes, known as passive acclimatization. It is possible to speed up this process through a gradual buildup in training volume, known as active acclimization. While both heat and altitude alone are stresses to the body that will contribute to the acclimatization process, heat or altitude without exercise will not be as effective.

Altitude Acclimatization develops the ability of the athlete to better utilize oxygen, which makes them more effective at sea level competition. At higher altitudes (≥8,000 ft / 2,500 m), the body compensates for the decrease in available oxygen by increasing its production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen through the body. Altitude training will increase oxygen capacity by between 2% and 3% in a period of about three months. Although this benefit will remain for several weeks in an ever-decreasing amount, it will be completely lost within three months of returning to lower altitude.

Note: Altitude training is broken further into three types: “live high/train high,” where the athlete both lives and trains at altitude; “live high/train low,” a regime where the athlete lives at altitude but trains at sea level; and sea-level training, where the reduced oxygen environment of higher altitudes may be replicated through an artificially configured house or training “tent.” The extensive scientific research regarding altitude training confirms that all three methods will enhance sea level performance.

In the Heat Acclimatized athlete, cardiac function improves resulting in increased plasma blood volume accompanied by a 15-25% decrease in heart rate. This means there’s more water in the blood stream that can be used by the sweat glands to produce more sweat. Thinner blood means it can also transfer heat more effectively to the skin. (Note: the systems of the body adapt to heat exposure at varying rates.)

Heat acclimatization also reduces muscle glycogen utilization and post-exercise muscle lactate concentration. Chris Minson, a professor of human physiology at the University of Oregon who studies heat acclimation responses in athletes, has also found that changes to the heart’s left ventricle specifically helps to increase oxygen delivery to the muscles.

Hot and dry environments are different from hot and humid environments (desert vs jungle) – sweat rates being higher in humid environments (the rate of sweating influences thermoregulation). Acclimation is also dependent on the volume of exercise, intensity, and how long the core temperature remains elevated.

In a nutshell, heat acclimatization causes the body to shed fluids sooner by sweating sooner, lowering the core temperature, and making the athlete more comfortable – perception of effort being key to exercising longer (a decrease in ‘perceived exertion’ occurs during the first five days of exercise-heat exposure). An added benefit is that many of these adaptations will be useful even in cool weather training.

The human body is very adaptable to heat, and to corresponding humidity, with the major benefits achieved within 10 to 14 days of beginning a heat training program; most athletes will reach an acclimatization of approximately 75% (defined as an ability to perform to 75% of their top level) within five days. If the athlete is not exposed to warm weather conditions on a regular basis, however, the body will require another acclimatization period. On the bright side, re-acclimatization occurs more rapidly than the initial acclimatization when re-exposed to heat (Weller et al., 2007).

The chart below compares the benefits achieved during heat training as compared to passive acclimatization (no exercise) and exercising in cool conditions.

The Central Governor Effect (and sometimes lack thereof)

In a 2012 study, the negative effects of cycling in 89-degree heat were partly erased when the thermometer in the room was rigged to read 79°F. In other studies, athletes react to hot conditions when their skin temperature is warmer to the feel even though their core temperatures were actually lower. There’s also research that suggests our perception of effort is lower in competition, partly because our attention is focused on the competitors rather than our own pain.

Exercise physiologist, Jo Corbett, and a team at the University of Portsmouth put cyclists through a series of 20k time trials in cool and hot conditions, with and without competition. The cyclists hit higher temperatures during the competition than when they were soloing in the heat, although their ‘perceived’ measurements were the same. ”Thermal sensation” (how hot they felt) was the same, as was “thermal comfort” (how pleasant or unpleasant the heat felt). Racing against a competitor created a disconnect between how hot they were and how hot they felt even though they cycled faster and generated more power during the head-to-head competition in hot conditions.

When athletes in one study were equipped with a small electric heat pad tucked in the pocket of their shirt, they gave up 9 percent sooner even though none of the physiological measurements – blood lactate, core temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, stroke volume, cardiac output, oxygen uptake, ventilation – were different. They simply quit because they felt hot.

This doesn’t change the fact that our bodies undergo significant added stress while exercising in the heat, but it may be useful to know that a great deal of the pain is purely psychological.

The Pre-Cooling Option

Numerous studies have shown that pre-cooling before prolonged exercise in hot temperatures may help sustain intensity and speed, however, definitive conclusions on its effectiveness have not yet been established.

Methods of pre-cooling include whole-body cold water immersion (17-30°C for 30 minutes); cold air exposure; cooling garments; cryotherapy; and internal cooling methods, such as cold beverages, ice slurries, and ice bars.

Some athletes follow the low-tech protocol of simply applying ice packs – to the back of the neck, chest, underarms or between the thighs – with preference to areas with the highest blood flow. Because thermoregulating the brain is essential (and ‘perception’ is everything), ice on the neck significantly relieves perceived heat stress. One study also found a 20% increase in cycling power during an intermittent sprint when ice was placed between the thighs.

Nike sent ice vests for pre-cooling to select olympic athletes competing in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. (One of the athletes, runner Meb Keflezighi, won the silver medal at Athens). Here Rafael Nadal is wearing the Nike cooling vest during a practice at Flushing Meadows. Courtesy: rafaelnadalfans.com

Athletes sometimes report feeling heavy or sluggish following whole-body cold water immersion. An alternative is to expose just part of the body to cold water by soaking garments in cold water, or submerging specific active or inactive body parts directly in cold water (such as the hands or legs).

Practicality is a logical consideration when choosing a pre-cooling protocol.

Pre-cooling:

Hampers the performance of sprinters

Better for sports with intermittent sprints

Best for endurance events, triathlons, cycling races or marathons

* Pre-cooling has also been shown to improve performance in lower ambient temperatures.

Pre-Cooling tips:

  • Make a reduction in skin temperature your major goal;
  • Aim to pre-cool for 8-30 minutes;
  • Practice your chosen pre-cooling technique before using it on race day.

Heat Training Protocols

Heat training approaches can be as simple as running outside when it’s hot; using the thermostat to create a hot environment indoors; wearing extra clothing that is certain to make you run hot; or spend time in a sauna, hot bath or hot tub post-workout.

Because heat is an added stress, however, any protocol that separates the stress of heat from the workout allows the quality of the workout to be preserved. When training in heat, training volume and/or intensity would be reduced initially as the body adapts.

A 2015 study shows that using a six-day, 104°F post-run hot tub protocol was effective at triggering heat adaptation, including a 4.9% improvement in 5k time in 91° heat. The advantage of using a sauna or hot tub is that it prolongs the amount of time the core temperature remains elevated (going for a run in normal conditions elevates the core temperature, and the hot tub prolongs this period of time).

Here’s a graph that shows core temperature (38.0 C is 100.4 F; 40 C is 104 F) at the end of a 40-minute hot run before and after the hot tub protocol:

Heat Training Guidelines

The most successful heat training programs will follow a progression:

  • Training volume and training intensity are reduced initially.
    Both volume and intensity are increased as the athlete begins to adapt.
    Exercise extreme care to ensure proper hydration is maintained at all times – before, during and after training sessions. When dehydration or salt deficits exist, cardiovascular and thermoregulatory responses may be negatively affected, and the theoretical risk of heat illness increases.
    Increase the sodium in your diet for the first few days. Sodium helps the body retain necessary fluid for temperature regulation.
    Take breaks to allow the body time to cool down.

Ultra running coach Jason Koop says, “at a certain level, you have to compromise training quality for the heat acclimation. Acclimating to the heat is additional stress [on the body], just like more miles or intervals, so you can’t simply pile it on. Something on the training side has to give.”

If you want to incorporate heat into your workouts, here’s how Koop recommends doing it safely.

1. First, pick a protocol (sauna, hot bath, or exercising in the heat) that minimizes the impact on training, both physically and logistically.

2. Koop most commonly recommends that his athletes use a dry sauna immediately after running. “It doesn’t impact training nearly as much as running in the heat, and the effects are similarly positive,” he says. He often tells his athletes to not drink water during these sessions to enhance the effect. Koop recommends spending 20-to-30-minutes in the sauna, depending on tolerance.

3. Koop says that when he has his athletes exercise in the heat—either naturally or by wearing extra clothing to simulate the experience—it will be on a long, slow day for 60 to 90 minutes. The time completely depends on the athlete’s tolerance and previous experience. But he stresses to not do this on a recovery day, because heat training is an added stress on the body. Koop recommends drinking 30 to 40 ounces of an electrolyte drink per hour during these sessions And for safety, he advises using low-traffic sidewalks and bike paths—not trails.

4. Despite the benefits of heat training, Koop reminds his athletes that running in the heat is extremely difficult and usually replaces a hard day. “You are substituting one potential gain for another one,” he says. In other words, use it carefully.

Know the risk factors of heat illness:

●Strenuous exercise in high ambient temperature and humidity

●Lack of acclimatization

●Poor physical fitness

●Obesity

●Dehydration

●Acute illness

●External load, including clothing, equipment, and protective gear

This post is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding medical questions, concerns, and before beginning any new training regimen.
References and Additional Reading:
The Effect of Head-to-Head Competition on Behavioural Thermoregulation, Thermophysiological Strain and Performance During Exercise in the Heat; Sports Medicine May 2018
Competitor presence reduces internal attentional focus and improves 16.1km cycling time trial performance. Sports Medicine
The Psychological Side of Heat Exhaustion; OutsideOnline, Alex Hutchinson, Apr 2018
Heat Slows You Down, Even When It’s Not Real. OutsideOnline, Alex Hutchinson Feb 2019
Heat Acclimatization to Improve Athletic Performance in Warm-Hot Environments; Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Michael N. Sawka, Julien D. Périard, Sébastien Racinais Jan 2016
Is Seltzer Water Just as Hydrating as Regular Water? The Food Network
How much am I supposed to sweat during a workout? OutsideOnline, Cassie Shortsleeved Jun 2015
The Central Governor and the Athlete’s Clock: Pacing and performance; The Science of Sport, Mar 2011
7 Shocking Facts About Drinking Water Cold vs Room Temperature; Bustle, Carolyn Steber Feb 2019
The Performance Lab Studying How Women Sweat; OutsideOnline, Kelly Bastone Jan 2019
Dear Sports Scientists: Will drinking fluids keep me cool? The Science of Sport Sep 2010
Thermotolerance induced at a mild temperature of 40 °C alleviates heat shock-induced ER stress and apoptosis in HeLa cells; Science Direct, Jan 2015
A Post-Workout Soak Might Boost Performance; OutsideOnline, Alex Hutchinson Jan 2019
How Elite Athletes Respond to Extreme Heat; OutsideOnline, Alex Hutchinson Dec 2018
Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?
The Benefits of Sweat; Care2.com Jul 2015
Exercise and Thermotolerance; Encyclopedia.com
HEAT ACCLIMATIZATION; Lawrence E. Armstrong, Ph.D. Department of Sport, Leisure, and Exercise Science, University of Connecticut
The Surprising Benefits of Training in the Heat. Is heat better than altitude? The science seems to say so. Meaghen Brown Jul 2016
How Heat Therapy Could Boost Your Performance; OutsideOnline Aug 2018
Does Precooling With Whole-Body Immersion Affect Thermal Sensation or Perceived Exertion? A Critically Appraised Topic; Timothy M. Wohlfert and Kevin C. Miller, School of Rehabilitation and Medical Sciences, Central Michigan University
Pre-cooling for endurance exercise performance in the heat: a systematic review; Paul R Jones, Christian Barton, […], and Stephanie Hemmings
A study done in 2006 found that runners wearing Nike Ice Vests before a cross country race had a lower core temperature after the race (Warming Up With an Ice Vest: Core Body Temperature Before and After Cross-Country Racing, 2006. Ian Hunter, et al.).

The End of an Era

A few years ago my husband gave me a choice of getting a new Jeep, or a facelift. Not the everyday, run-of-the-mill decision. The conversation was prompted by his proprietary spreadsheet, which plots out the timing of our major financial decisions. The spreadsheet had told him it was the prime time to replace the Jeep. Or, alternatively, we could take care of a few wrinkles here and there. I wasn’t at all unhappy with the Jeep.

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My husband found it at a dealership in Atlanta, and negotiated the deal by phone during our last few weeks living in Ecuador. When the day came to move back to the U.S., we drove from Cuenca to Quito with our four dogs for a midnight flight to Atlanta. Our first chore after landing the next morning was to pick up my Jeep. I didn’t take it for a test drive. It was perfect, and me and that Jeep have weathered some wonderful years together.

This year seemed like the right time to finally make a change though, and we’ve retired the Jeep for good. My husband cleaned the glove compartment a few days ago, and I thought we might get a kick out of what he found. These contents seem to tell the story of the last 6 years.

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Every good EMT is taught to keep a pair of latex gloves on hand in case of an emergency, and there’s a tube of lipstick that may or may not have been used in several years. Same with the sunglasses, which were last used during kayaking class in 2014.

Occasionally I’ve taken private lessons from my Kung Fu Sifu using a favorite weapon, one of which is the knife. And the dog collar was around Bentley’s neck when I brought him home (in the Jeep).

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My husband insisted on buying the Mace pepper spray to attach to my waistband on long runs. Dogs are plentiful and run free on the quiet back roads of these mountains, and they scare the living bejesus out of me – I never did wear that Mace on my waistband though.

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My long runs have always started at the top of the mountain where I’d leave the Jeep in the Balsam Community Center’s parking lot.

You never know when you might need a pair of gloves, or what degree of thickness may be warranted. And if it was an especially cold or windy run, I’d tie a bandana around my neck. There’s never too much chapstick, and I’d be really mad with myself if there was a little niggle that I had forgotten to tape. Mad money was a staple, whether a couple of dollars or a twenty-dollar bill.

I have to remind myself not to wave at every Jeep I encounter these days – there is a protocol for that you know. And, by the way, I didn’t get a facelift either. You never know though, that spreadsheet could decide some day that it’s the prime time.

 

The Evolving Science of Hydration

On a hot and humid summer day of 1904, thirty-two runners started a 24.85-mile course in St. Louis where water was provided at just two stations. The current thinking was that drinking during exercise was unnecessary. In fact, to compete without nourishment was a worthy achievement.

The high metabolic heat produced during exercise causes our core temperature to rise to dangerous levels (normal core or internal temperature is 98-100 degrees). The body’s counter measure is to increase the heart rate so that blood flow is maintained to the exercising muscles and the skin to allow for the dissipation of heat through sweating. When sweating becomes the primary means of heat dissipation, however, sweat loss must be matched by fluid consumption to avoid dehydration.

By 1923, the topic of exercise physiology was advanced by studies that emphasized the risks of dehydration during exercise. This research was the primary impetus for the “cardiovascular” model of physiology and thermoregulation, which predicts that there is a point at which increases in heart rate can no longer compensate, leading to reduced blood flow to the skin, an increase of core temperature, risk of heat stroke, or myocardial infarction (heart attack).

For decades, substantial research into hydration and performance supported the position that exercise performance is impaired when a level of dehydration due to sweating reaches about 2% body mass loss. The 1996 position stand of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) stated, “Even a small amount of dehydration (1% body weight) can increase cardiovascular strain as indicated by a disproportionate elevation of heart rate during exercise, and limit the ability of the body to transfer heat from contracting muscles to the skin surface where heat can be dissipated to the environment.”

But these recommendations famously ignored evidence that some of the fastest marathon runners had incurred a water deficit exceeding 4%. Using data from a review of these marathon runners, when the relationship between running speed and percentage dehydration was plotted, the best-performing runner was dehydrated by some 8%, while the only runner to prevent body mass loss of >2% was the slowest (Fig. 1). The data suggests the effect of dehydration in excess of 2% did not impair performance significantly.

Figure 1: American College of Sports Medicine

By 2007 ACSM’s revised consensus statement regarding fluid consumption during exercise reflected the new thinking that preventing all dehydration may be unnecessary, and that there may exist a level of “tolerable dehydration“.

It’s important that athletes maintain adequate hydration levels before and after training as well. Any fluid that doesn’t contain alcohol can hydrate. Food counts too!

New research has suggested that it is whole-body hyperthermia (defined as core body temperature exceeding 40°C; 104°F) that impairs performance rather than dehydration levels per se. In one study (Trangmar SJ, Chiesa ST, Kalsi KK, et al.), participants were placed under sufficient heat stress to either raise skin temperature or to raise skin temperature and core temperature. The participants with elevated skin temperature did not experience impaired exercise performance, whereas participants with an increase in whole body temperature did. This suggests a high sweat rate prevents a rise in core temperature (hyperthermia) even though it also results in a water deficit (dehydration). The higher sweat rate allowed the faster athletes to run faster than the slower runners because they were able to dissipate more core heat through sweating. We began to see that the best hydration strategy could only be determined by the athlete’s individual requirements rather than a one-size-fits-all recommendation.

The latest position (2016) of the ACSM: ”Dehydration/hypohydration can increase the perception of effort and impair exercise performance; thus, appropriate fluid intake before, during, and after exercise is important for health and optimal performance. The goal of drinking during exercise is to address sweat losses which occur to assist thermoregulation. Individualized fluid plans should be developed to use the opportunities to drink during a workout or competitive event to replace as much of the sweat loss as is practical; neither drinking in excess of sweat rate nor allowing dehydration to reach problematic levels.”

Hydration theories have taken many turns. For example, we now know that a mixture of glucose, maltodextrin, fructose, sucrose and galactose – in other words, carbohydrates (also written as CHO), improves endurance performance by maintaining blood glucose and muscle glycogen stores, resulting in a levelling-off in core temperature. And so it was, with a mixture of sugar, salts and lemonade, the first sports drink was born.

Lucozade – basically citrus flavored sugar water – launched in 1927 and was the earliest traceable ancestor of the sport drink. Owned by the Beecham Company, they merged with SmithKline many years later. Gatorade launched its first product in 1967.
Photo Courtesy: Precision Hydration where you can get more info on sports drinks and take a free online sweat test.

The problem with these early sports drinks and gels is that our stomachs don’t always do well with high concentrations of sugar. Frequent GI distress prevailed over the next few decades of running.

A more recent innovation for providing fluid and CHO during exercise is the use of alginate. Alginate is a naturally occurring anionic polymer typically derived from seaweed and commonly used in oral drug delivery, wound healing, and tissue engineering.

Maurten is one such company delivering gels that are a combination of Alginate (extracted from the cell walls of brown algae) and Pectin (found in apples, lemons, carrots, tomatoes, etc.). When mixed with water, the resulting ‘sports drink’ converts to hydrogel in the acidity of the stomach, encapsulating the carbohydrates. Athletes that experience gastric (GI) distress from sugary sports drinks will appreciate that there were no reports of GI distress with any drink including the alginate hydrogel. And because it is engineered to encapsulate the carbs with the process beginning only when contact is made in the stomach, it is also better in terms of dental health.

Dental health is an important issue with CHO-based sports drinks. A survey at the London 2012 Olympic Games found that 18% of athletes reported that their oral health had a negative impact on their performance and 46.5% had not been to a dentist in the past year. (The latest ACSM position statement also addresses oral health in the wider culture of sports health care and health promotion.)

The next evolution in hydration began in 2014 when the Brazilian National Football Team asked Gatorade to help them prepare for the World Cup. The team didn’t end up winning the World Cup, but the pilot opened new doors for collaboration and innovation at Gatorade.

Smart Design worked with the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) to research heat stress and dehydration during exercise. A systemized approach was developed to test and analyze how each athlete sweats—how fast, how much and in what concentration. The resulting product was a hydration platform – a bottle with a “smart cap” that’s built on the hypothesis that personalization is the next frontier of improving athletic performance.

The new Gatorade squeeze bottle utilizes Drinkfinity beverage pods, allowing quick delivery of sport-specific or individualized player formulas. Courtesy: PepsiCo
Courtesy Gatorade

Today’s consensus is that drinking to thirst is the body’s best hydration strategy, and in most cases will protect athletes from the hazards of over and under drinking by providing real-time feedback. It’s important to research and practice various hydration approaches during training runs to understand your specific needs, and to develop a personal strategy. Some athletes are less aware of their hydration requirements and may benefit from technology, such as a fluid calculator. But the quantity, amount, or combinations of food and/or fluid consumed while exercising should always be guided by your individual palatability and tolerance.

There is still a widespread misconception that you should ‘stay ahead’ of your thirst. Drink early and often was the advice we were given years ago; advice too many runners still follow.

Slower runners generally sweat less, but have been told to drink copiously. If you ingest more fluid than you lose through sweating or urination, however, you dilute your blood’s sodium levels – a condition called hyponatremia, or water intoxication, caused by drinking too much. Osmosis then draws water from the blood into body cells to equalize sodium levels, and those cells swell. If the cellular bloating occurs in the brain, it can be fatal.

The latest position statement from the International Marathon Medical Directors Association (2006) included a Final Word:

“There are no shortcuts toward great achievement, and marathon running is no exception. Clinicians and scientists must resist handing out unrealistic ‘‘blanket advice’’ to individuals seeking simple answers, but rather should encourage athletes to explore, understand and be flexible toward their own needs. By providing guidelines and advice on how to appropriately understand individual fluid replacement needs, we can eliminate future fluid balance problems by avoiding the temptation to generalize one rule for every situation and every athlete.”

My husband believes this more individualized protocol of hydration will serve to open up the sport to runners that may have otherwise found it too uncomfortable or difficult to participate. That in some way, having technology that explains how to hydrate will win them over to the sport. Maybe it’s even a marketing ploy on behalf of the corporations involved. I’m not sure I disagree.

To a seasoned runner, technological advancements may seem unnecessary. To a new runner, they may provide much needed guidance in a world of overwhelming challenges. It may or may not make you a better runner. Some would say technology is most useful at the far ends of the spectrum – in this case, for new runners and elite runners.

Many years ago I wore a special shoe with a piece of plastic in the bottom that could tell me how far I’d gone and at what pace. Some of you may have worn those same shoes. I suppose it helped me learn to pace myself better, but mostly it was new and fun.

When I ran in Kenya, a group of runners were heading out on a 40k training run. Knowing water was not easy to come by, I asked the runner I was with how often they would drink. He smiled and told me, “When they’re finished.” I used to never drink on a training run of any length. But there also came a time that I hid extra water bottles on my route and ate a peanut butter sandwich along the way. My main hydration strategy for race day was to try to avoid having to stop at the port-a-potty.

These new guidelines, and even more recent studies, emphasize that we are all unique and our hydration strategies will be equally unique. This left my husband feeling empty. He wanted something more absolute. I told him that now there’s an app for that.

 

Additional Reading:

The Best Hydration Plan Is to Drink When You’re Thirsty, Sweat Science at OutsideOnline.com 

The Secret Garden Cottage – Part II

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It’s been almost a year since we began renovations on this little cottage. After it spent several decades in a 1970’s decor, it has been fairly receptive to our suggestions both inside and out. Two new porches and a metal roof were added earlier this year, but it was this summer that the side yard got a total make-over, including a koi pond, stone steps, a raised flower bed, and lots of plants.

September 25, 2017: the side yard day one.

May 1, 2018

We covered a hundred years of roots (and ivy) with mulch instead of grass. I have never planted so many plants straight up in mulch rather than dirt.

July 20, 2018

There was an awkward slope up from the front of the house, and I thought it would be helpful to have a couple of steps.

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September 10, 2018

A koi pond fit perfectly in the corner, and we added five goldfish that I’ve worried over every day.

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We visited the discount rack at the Lowe’s garden center after lunch most days. If there was a perennial there, we brought it home – most of them just $1 each.

691766A7-9997-428D-AEF5-47ED892ED70FAnd I convinced my husband to rip off the lower boards of the front porch so we could crawl underneath and dig out the ferns that had been trapped there since the remodel began. Anything for a fern.

72CD9215-909A-401E-AF10-0DED18F14B4DThe flower bed was my idea for covering a set of concrete steps from a kitchen door that was closed off during the renovations. It was either build over them or take them out, and none of us seemed to want to take on that chore. Lewis did most of the carpentry work during the renovation and all of the stone work. He filled the flower bed with mulch, and I filled it with herbs.

7A8811B6-D22D-4641-939D-A53AB83B2B0CAfter a year of debating whether to paint the living room paneling, we compromised and painted one wall. Then I played musical chairs with several rooms of drapes back at home so I could move a brighter pair to the cottage, which complements a new rug. The result is a significantly brighter living room.

January 2018

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September 10, 2018

89530604-BADE-437B-9E23-C60B9897998CWe’ve also swapped out the too-small-queen-size-bed for a beautiful king bed, there’s a new fig tree – barely visible to the far right of the picture below, and plans are in the works for the next phase of construction. . . which will entirely change this little cottage yet again.

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