Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Western States Gives Losers A Break with New Lottery Algorithm

This last weekend, the Board of Trustees for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run changed the policy for the number of tickets in the lottery for those who lose out in consecutive years. Combined with the restriction of qualifying races, this is good news for many-time lottery losers.

As spelled out on wser.org, instead of a single additional ticket in the hat for each year a runner doesn't get in, the ticket count will increase by 2^(n-1) where n is the number of years applied.

First year applicants will have 1 ticket (2^0).
Second year applicants will have 2 tickets (2^1).
Third year applicants will have 4 tickets (2^2).
Fourth year applicants will have 8 tickets (2^3).
Fifth year applicants will have 16 tickets (2^4).
Sixth year applicants will have 32 tickets (2^5).

The new policy increases the probability of being selected for consecutive lottery losers more significantly than the previous linear model. For example, if this new lottery had been used for the 2014 race, a 5-time loser would have roughly a 20% chance of being selected in the old method, and a 34% chance of being selected in the new method (assuming my Excel skills are right). A six-time loser (assuming 26 had existed) is looking at a 37% chance. It might, however, lower the odds for a two-time loser (roughly from 12% to 10%) with the additional dilution from those with 8+ tickets.

Hooray for the biggest losers! Well, it gets better. The odds for a many-time loser when the drawing occurs on December, 2014, is likely even better than this, given the change of qualifying races to the limited set of 100k/100m races for the 2015 race that will likely reduce the overall pool of applicants. Those who stuck it out may have a bright light at the end of the tunnel (I'm looking at you, Mark Tanaka!).

This new process will be in place beginning with the upcoming 2015 race lottery (held in December 2014). As before, if an applicant gains entry into the race either by being selected in the lottery or any other means (MUC, UTWT, Sponsor, Race Admin, etc) the ticket count will start over when they apply for the lottery. Also, as before, in order to gain extra tickets, the applicant must qualify and apply for the lottery each year.

Thank you, Board of Trustees!

- SD

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Is Doping Pervasive in Ironman Triathlons? This Study Says It May Be As Much as 1 in 7 Athletes...

A recent German study of 2,997 triathletes published in November, 2013 published on PLOS ONE, anonymously asked athletes competing at Ironman Frankfurt, Ironman 70.3 Wiesbaden, and Ironman Regensburg if they used performance enhancing supplements (both doping and over-the-counter) and the results were jaw-dropping to say the least. If the study is correct, as many as 1 in 7 amateur Ironman triathletes are doping in some form, as well as 20% of those competing at the Ironman European championships.

The study made a distinction between physical doping (steroids, EPO, human growth hormone, etc.) and cognitive doping (antidepressants, beta-blockers, modafinil, methylphenidate, etc.), but the results were still eye opening given the sample size:
  • 13% admitted to physical doping (steroids, EPO, human growth hormone, other physical enhancements) ;
  • 15% admitted to cognitive doping (antidepressants, beta-blockers, modafinil, methylphenidate, etc.); 
  • 10% admitted to both physical and cognitive doping; 
  • 20% admitted to physical doping at Ironman European championships Frankfurt.
Holy cheatskates, Batman. One in five admitted to doping at the Ironman European championships?!? That is crazy! Certainly there are a few suspects out there, but I doubt anyone suspected it would be as big as 20% at a big championship. If this is well known underground fact, this sport is as crazy as the must-dope-to-compete world of cycling.

But taking a closer look at the study I can see that the key question in the survey for "physical enhancements" asks if you've taken substances that can "...only be prescribed by a doctor, are available in a pharmacy, or can be bought on the black market (e.g. anabolic steroids, erythropoietin, stimulants, growth hormones) to enhance your physical performance". Now that could be a lot of things, including diet pills, Viagra, Rogaine, organic supplements, you name it. I mean, I've heard that some athletes take these things (ha, ha). So even though one might conclude performance enhancement is pervasive among these athletes, one can't quite conclude that all Ironmen are going all Lance Armstrong on us.

One thing for sure, the path to enhancing the body through substances is a slippery slope. It may not be for a specific race goal, and could just be the pervasiveness to enhance the body. The study ends by concluding:
"The use of substances to improve physical and cognitive performance was associated on both levels of legality (enhancement vs. doping) suggesting that athletes do not use substances for a specific goal but may have a general propensity to enhance. This finding is important for understanding why people use such substances. Consequently, more effective prevention programs against substance abuse and doping could be developed."
What do you guys think...is doping pervasive in Ironman? I've known of a few individuals who went full BALCO to do their best at the Ironman World Championships, but quite frankly, they were the type to skirt the rules of life in general.

And I know about you ultra runners....unless you count Vespa, tattoos, big beards, or an extraordinary amount of aid station Oreos as physical performance enhancers, you're pretty clean. ;-)


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why We Need To Get Our Kids Outdoors (TEDx video by Ben Klasky)

Ben Klasky, a fellow classmate of mine, is the CEO of IslandWood, this wonderful organization that brings city kids into the outdoors to expand the way they see the world. He recently did a TEDx talk, and no surprise, it's amazing. He shares insights into why it is important to get kids in nature, his personal experiences with how kids transform, the concept of "nature deficit disorder", and their plan to co-opt technology to address the average 7 hours and 40 minutes of screen time our kids get daily (whoa). It's very inspiring - definitely worth a 12 minute break.

If you like what you're seeing, IslandWood would love your support. Please share this video with everyone you know, and/or donate directly on their web site. You'll be doing a lot of good for nature and for our kids!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Scenes From The Crystal Springs 50k (photos by Sophie)

Trail photographer extraordinaire Sophie Jane snapped a few pics of Coastal Trail Run's Crystal Springs 50k this morning as it came through Huddart Park in Woodside, CA. We hope you all had fun and stayed dry! You are welcome to share the photos!

(Half marathoners came through fast!)

(Randy Higashi in the half marathon)

(Josslyn Mikow still smiling after the first big climb)

(Did his front bottle spring a leak?)

(Holly Zabinski lets her hair fly on the downhill)

(Jimmy Caputo fuels up on the half marathon while dodging the fresh horse poo)

(Escaping the rain in a nearby cave)

(Jill Homer!)

(Bernadette Dayrit gets her tunes rolling)

(Ralph Wright takes it easy on the downhill)

(Don't smile too long, there's a zombie behind you!)

(Laura Deck loves the downhill best!)

(The best part of the race!)

(Black and white bark)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Are Ultrarunners Healthier Than Most People? New Study Says Yes, For The Most Part...

On January 8th, 2014, Dr. Marty Hoffman and his colleagues gave us a glimpse of some findings in his longitudinal study on 1,200+ ultrarunners. The result? Ultrarunners are healthier than your average person for the most part, with the exception of asthma and injury.

For those who don't know Dr. Hoffman, he is an avid ultramarathoner with plenty of Western States finishes under his belt, and one of the most dedicated medical researchers on everything ultra. He's also just a great guy - back in 2005, he taught me how to run down hills during one of my first ultras. If you've ever given blood at the end of the race for "scientific purposes", he's likely the guy crunching the data. This most recent study has Dr. Hoffman working with Dr. Eswar Krishnan and fellow scientists from UC Davis and Stanford to understand the general health profile of ultrarunners.

You may have caught the slightly-sensationalist version that NBC released earlier this week, Ultrarunners Aren't Always Ultrahealthy. This coverage correctly pointed out about one in 20 of the runners reported a stress fracture in the past year, and 11% of these ultrarunners reported asthma (vs 8% for the general population), and 25% reported allergies. All of these are higher than normal, but as Krishnan says this is likely because ultrarunners spend more time outside than most of us. “We are all potentially allergic to many things, but we don’t see symptoms because we don’t come into contact with these allergens,” he says.

After reading the research, I found myself more fascinated with where ultrarunners are showing better than average health indicators and where our injury types are common. For example:
  • Ultrarunners miss 60% less work (2.2 days vs 3.7 days for average). This includes the average 0.3 days lost to exercise-related injury. Ultrarunners also go to the doctor less.
  • Average days spent in bed due to sickness was 1.0 days vs 4.7 days for the general population. That's huge! But may also be indicative of a largely white/more affluent sample.
  • Ultrarunners score lower on virtually all chronic diseases and mental health disorders.
  • 52% of ultrarunners have had a least one injury that derailed their training, and that skews to ultrarunners who are younger and less experienced. The chief culprit - the knee, which accounts for 15% of injuries. 
  • Stress fractures are less common in the leg relative to shorter distance runners, but more common in the foot; researchers point to terrain as the main variable, where asphalt and cement may affect legs more and the varied terrain of ultras put more pressure on the foot.
Pretty interesting stuff!

- SD

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Planning My 2014 Race Season

Ah, that glorious time of year when you curl up with a cup of coffee, peruse the list of 500+ trail running and triathlon adventures available for the year, and choose the dozen that will define 2014. I enjoy this ritual every January (see '06, '07, '08, '10, '11, '12, '13). There's something magical about seeing a race schedule laid out - it's proof that we choose to live IN this world instead of ON it. All it takes is a few entry fees, and I have enough adventure on the schedule to conjure plenty of motivation for training and boundless energy for family and professional life.

So, how to start? I find it's always best to take an annual 2-3 week break from structured training and reflect back on the previous season. What brought me the most joy? Which memories seared into my soul and can still bring a smile to my face? Did any experience have me longing for more, or wanting to revisit? Has my training peaked from running the same formats too much?

Then I take a look at the year ahead, and figure out what would best balance my work and life. How much stress/travel/family commitment should I expect? Would it be best complemented with an escape to a new country with all new people and languages, or to engage regularly with the same friendly faces? Would I thrive from structured training, or is it best to hang loose this year? My life mantra has always been "live life to have good stories" - any new places, distances, race formats, or other adventures that could add a few more fables?

My 2013 season started with a hunger for more big mountains and international travel, and I got that in spades. This year I am feeling the desire to stick closer to home, run with my local peeps in mid-distance ultras, and revisit some of the races that have helped defined who I am as a runner. Lots of contributing reasons for this: my work travel is back on the insane end of the spectrum (80+ flights/year), I'm turning 45 in April and getting all nostalgic, I would like to revisit some goals I had for 2013, and of course, the lottery gods have cast their vote. My healing collarbone (aka, "Frankenshoulder") is making it impossible to consider any cycling/triathlon adventures at the moment, so I'll put those on the backburner for now.

So with that, I give you my 2014 season:

Caumsett 50k, Long Island, NY, 3/2 - I had a breakthrough race here in 2010 at the USATF 50k Road Championships (PR, 3:21), and now that I'm armed with a bit more knowledge and training, would love to use this race as a checkpoint for my mid-40's. Hopefully the collarbone will heal in time to get some good training cycles in.

Boston Marathon, 4/21 - Boston again for three big reasons. First, it would be great to have some closure after the bombings of last year. This year will undoubtedly be an epic weekend of celebration and healing for one of my favorite running cities. Second, my original beer-induced goal for Boston was to streak ten races in a row, and this will be #10! Third, my family has expressed interest in tagging along this year, which is a rare treat. So once again to Hopkinton!

Big Sur Marathon, 4/27 - The Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge is a great double - it puts these two races on two coasts just six days apart. In fact, I'm liking the concept of doubling enough to put three doubles on the calendar this year. Last year I was shooting for a Top 5 finish for B2B, only to place sixth by ~2 minutes (despite my best times at both races). I'm going to give a Top 5 finish another shot. My family will join for this one too! 

Bay to Breakers, 5/18 - Sophie, my 7-year-old, says she wants to run/walk the Bay to Breakers 12k this year so I will crew for my princess. It will help keep my blog traffic up too, since "naked runners" oddly remains a top ten search term (other fun search terms regularly in the top 10 include "how long is a 50k", "Jenn Shelton bikini", and the classic "toenail fell off").

Cayuga Trails 50m, Ithica, NY, 6/1 - I'm a sucker for good pictures, and everything I've seen coming out of Cayuga looks amazing. It's also a part of the east coast wilderness I've been dying to check out. It happens to be the USATF 50-mile Trail Championship this year, so it sounds like a good place to test out being the new kid in the 45-49 age group.

Tahoe Rim Trail 100m, Incline Village, NV, 7/19 - Nostalgia (and a little luck from the lottery gods) brings me back to the place of my first 100-mile race. I didn't have a hundo on the calendar last year, and really missed its unique crazy flavor of insanity. Many of my favorite ultra runners will be there too - really looking forward to it!

Pikes Peak Double, Manitou Springs, CO, 8/17-18 - I had an incredible time at my first Pikes Peak Marathon last year, and learned a lot about how to train for a high altitude race. So I want to come back and do my second double of the season - the back-to-back Ascent (13.1 miles up) and Marathon (up and down). The Acsent is the WMRA Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge, so it should attract some global talent, and the Marathon always attracts the best. Manitou Springs is a special place this weekend, and I'm going to get as much as I can.

Flagline 50k, Bend, OR, 9/21 - My third double for the year will be the "Max King double", which begins with the Flagline 50k. I've been wanting to head back to Bend, OR, and now that this race is once again the USATF 50k Trail Championships, it's good timing.

XTerra Trail Running National Championship (21k), Ogden, UT, 9/22 - The day after Flagline, I'll be at the XTerra Nationals in Utah. I haven't done an XTerra race in a few years, and now that Quinn is nearing age 3, I think she would have a lot of fun. They really do a great job creating a kid- and dog-friendly environment. Count Sophie in for sure!

Fall 50m, Sturgeon Bay, WI, 10/25 - The Fall 50m is the new location for the USATF 50-mile Road Championship, and after accidentally clocking a 50m PR last October at Tussey Mountainback, I'm thinking another 50m PR is in reach with some focused training. This looks like a fun and fast course in a state I've never raced...perfect!

Moab Marathon, Moab, UT, 11/8 - This one has been on my bucket list for a while, thanks to the steep terrain and gorgeous surrounding area. Since it's the USATF Trail Marathon Championship, adding this one puts me in all the USATF middle distance ultras, road and trail. There's something about the USATF races that seem to bring out faster times from me, so I'm hoping for some good results in my new age group.

XTerra World Championship (21k), Oahu, HI, 12/7 - Another fast race I have been longing to return to that also conveniently comes with an excuse to "acclimate" in Hawaii just as winter comes. A great one for the family! Maybe if I'm feeling crazy, I'll tag on the Honolulu Marathon for one final double. ;-)

So there you have it - my 2014 schedule. I am giddy to get going!