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Friday, July 4, 2014

That extra speed - 1 mile dash!

What is the right balance between wasting time, wanting to work out, being lazy, being negative and wanting to be positive?  Run.  Run that one mile.   10 minutes or less.   Give it all.   Tie your shoelace, down the stairs, set your GPS, and ran with all you have.   Let the lungs burst, the nostrils flare, the mind scream, the legs pound the concrete.  And still that would not be my best - there is a Roger Banister who is calling and probably calling forever.

I invented this 1 mile dash keeping the few factors that I had listed in mind.  But it is a place to scream, punish and take everything out of your system at the start of the day.  1 km run would have been good, but 1 mile is just long enough to make you better.

I ran a 8 and quarter minute mile today, so far the best, but I know it is not my best.  Wiki  says that the best is as this -  Hicham El Guerrouj is the current men's record holder with his time of 3:43.13, while Svetlana Masterkova has the women's record of 4:12.56.  

My inspiration here is Roger Banister, the first man to run the one mile under 4 minutes. I am not running for the world record, but to shake a hand with Roger, an imaginary one at that.  


And just today, as I met with one friend who wanted to get back to running, it was back to those days where I used to talk endlessly.  Some of my earlier blog will be testimony to this blah, blahs!

And then I come back and squeeze this video in to watch.  And that is another inspiration.  

The idea of running the 1 mile dash to increase the pace when needed during the long runs.  This cannot be done without strength training, good hydration and proper stamina building, especially when running a long race like half or full marathon.

I will keep you posted on this through my workout schedules.   I am planning to add strength training to this.  Look for more. Now I got to go to the track. We will catch up shortly!

- A Road runner

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Miles to go before I sleep - Birthday eve mile run.

I am letting out a secret here.   My life has been a downward rollercoaster - well it depends on how you see it, but how I see it, is downward.   Another way of looking at it, at wrong side of 40 now, that worse is still to come, so today is better than tomorrow.

Is it pessimistic?  Who really cares?  Reality is that, you cant 'let go'.   I have lived a life what many may not dream to tread.   The depths of mind will reveal that the situations and crossroads that I had to face.  But that must be the same for everyone.   But since I dont know anyone, I would rather stick to me.

Now, why this in a running blog, you might ask. Simple, this is MY blog.   And, when I run, it is me looking inside me.  And facing the good, bad and ugly of yours truly.  So, if you dont read, I really dont care.  Because today, I am 40 - and they say life begins at 40.

I ran a 9.57 min/miler yesterday and today I ran 8.46 min/ miler.   Did it make a better me?  I dont know.   So, I let another secret here.  I have not run a group run or race since 2010.  And that is exactly when I lost my marbles.   Today is the most feared day of life.

I thought I will not see the other side of 40. I would die, leaving my family and the stakeholders of my life in distraught and despair.  It has been a dream and a deep conviction.   Now I am living that conviction.  I ran today as though it was my December 2012.   I will wait to see tomorrow's dawn. If I wake up, then I will blog again and I will run again.  I will LIVE again.  That is not to say, life is new.

But I would have bought a fresh lease to complete the carry-overs of the pre-40 portion of my life, and then look forward to what future throws at me.  My runs will be always towards this.

That is ME.  You read or not, you respond or not, that is YOU.  There ends this story.


- A Road Runner , June 25, 2014

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Window runner

I call him the window-runner. 

He has been now living a life in exile since 2010.  It was a life that has been constructed on scaffolding - constructed with the promise of future, but a pain of guilt of the present.   The guilt was basically about life - the why's and why nots.  His ventures had carried a delusional promise, and his talent - a mirage of great potential.   I know him for more than 7 years now, since I first met him.  

He was one of the runners who was not a pioneers in the running circuit, in that city of high humidity, but certainly one of the prima-donnas of the second wave.  He was a regular in all the city runs, half.   He had also started to run longer distances especially in that Silicon Valley races. Life was good.
When he was part of the running groups, his life was better
or was it otherwise?
All that was fine, till an intercity move made him a lonely runner.  His castle-in-the-air and his talents were there, in front of him, like mirages, and he squandered the present.  His castle started crumbling, but his mind rebuilt it feverishly. 

I met him at the starting line of  SCMM 2012 half.  He said he never wanted to participate in the race and he was running for charity - without a timing chip.  He had now been running what he felt as 'guilt runs' - an anti-dote for his way of life.  'The guilt runs' in his own words, 'were either to cry my heart out, or cursing the world, pour out my failure on the road, as the feet stepped on them and crushed them.  That was one way of keeping the sanity of my split mind'.   But he hid from the pack.  He had become a loner in those two years since his move. 

'Another way I keep myself motivated is being around in the runner circuit, in social media.  There, people always see me for what I am, but never intrusive.   There were many queries if I was running this race or that, but I never replied; and naturally, the queries died down. But I am never far away.'
He started running the distance on race days alone,
but got vicarious participation through social media

'I can always see my friends - posting registrations, pictures of collection of bibs, race day pictures, and the medals and certificates.  I feel it, as I have, vicariously.  Then I go for my guilt runs.  I slowly started feeling that there were runners besides me.  I imagine that I was running those races - and I would run an equal distance, but alone, in my neighborhood on race day'.

'I am now, and here, at the starting line, by a quirk of fate; somebody had a charity bib, and he said you just run and yesterday got my bib.  It was like somebody giving money and asking me to shop;  I could not refuse.  So here I am!'.  And off, he disappeared into the crowd of running feet. 

I could not meet him after that.  I sent him a friend request on facebook.  He accepted almost immediately.  I don't see his posts.  And I don't think he is still racing in any of the races.  May be he is running those lonely runs on race days - or 'window-running'.

- The Road Runner





Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mr. Humble and Mr. Tumble

And another rock tumbled down the hill.

It was sad to notice Vinod Kambli, cricketer, aged 42, rushed to the ICU of Lilavati Hospital after suffering a heart attack.   And once-a-prospective-legend sort of cricketer, now in near-bankrupty of life - money, friends, reputation and all self-confidence.  Three decades of roller-coaster life seems to have reached another turn.  And the author, about his age, and like many other fans of cricket, wondered how two careers having similar start, and thick friends, drifted apart in terms of the heights, quality of life, and apart, as friends.
Vinod Kambli, Nov 2013 
Just few days back,  Tendulkar, his long time friend left the game with glory and the nation mourned, at the same time thanked the legend of 200 tests and hundred international hundreds in arguably the most important sendoff in International Cricket's History.  

In his moving speech, he thanked his parents, kin, wife, kids, coach, and all his colleagues, the present and the just-retired illustrious, but he failed to mention his childhood friend. 

Even the glorious epithets of praise, unconsciously or consciously skipped mention of this short lived legacy, which played a significant in Tendulkar's initial path to greatness.
Tendulkar, Nov 2013

Some remembered him, just afterwards, and got a painful reply 'the friendship may not be there anymore'.  

And exactly two decades earlier, Kambli scored two double centuries, back to back, and was looking good for more.  While his illustrious school mate and close friend, Sachin Tendulkar yet to take off, Kambli seemed to be on a higher orbit.  

And suddenly, the graph dipped like an abyss, and before people knew, it ended - forever.  He was the fastest Indian then to score 1000 runs, and reached 200 twice and hundred 4 times in his first 8 test innings.  He played 17 test innings, and had scored 65% of his runs in just 4 innings!  

Then suddenly, his form deserted and then the selectors looked the other way.  Tendulkar might have similar rough patches, but somehow, Kambli did not find his mojo back. 

Tendulkar in the 90's built his scores, career, family and fame steadily.  By the time Tendulkar had started his steady ascent, Kambli had disappeared from the test cricket scene like a comet.  

Not long ago, Kambli was in the news, this month for not paying up his dues in his housing society. What befell this once a bright comet?  We have seen talents like Sehwag tumble, and struggling to get back the mojo that they did have in their prime.  

The things that people cite, and the author has read many commentaries about how handling success at the young age, and exposure to 'finer things' in life become cornerstones to stay in the 'talented, rich and famous' echelons of the society.  While it is not conclusive if the steady family fabric, the innate nature of a person or discipline or a cocktail of all these are the contract
Tendulkar - Kambli, schooling years

But the story stands out only because of two young cricketers, who started in the same ways at the same time, ending up in different directions - provides a stark contrast than any other in the last forty years of sport I have seen. 

We just hope that Mr. Humble, who had had been a much better frame of mind to handle success, now that he has time, and his childhood friend, Mr. Tumble, now recovering in a hospital bed, struggling to find the proverbial 'branch of life', connect back and remember those glorious early years and that might inspire Kambli to look at life with a different meaning. 

PS - the news is that Tendulkar may visit Kambli in the hospital, and this might indeed mark an era of friendship, however little. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Long distance running - Next form of Evolution - Oxygen Intake!

Another aspect of long distance running that I wonder is this:  how come an individual evolve?   Why am I personally struggling to run long distances?  Is there a limit?  While the biggest factors are the motivation and mental elements, let us examine the physical factors.  The first of them all is Oxygen Intake.

As one runs more, the relative consumption of oxygen - called Volume Oxygen Maximal - or VO2 max, which is by nature a key determinant in terms of a person ability to perform during an endurance sport - which could be long distance running, rowing, cycling, climbing etc., among others.  We will avoid meandering into technicalities but some key observations.  I have sourced some from the experts:



VO2 max peaks out after sometime
 vs Exerise Intensity
VO2 max (also maximal oxygen consumptionmaximal oxygen uptakepeak oxygen uptake or maximal aerobic capacity) is the maximum capacity of an individual's body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the individual. The name is derived from V - volume, O2 - oxygen, max - maximum.
VO2 max is expressed either as an absolute rate in litres of oxygen per minute (l/min) or as a relative rate in millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of bodyweight per minute (ml/kg/min). The latter expression is often used to compare the performance of endurance sports athletes.
The Fick equation defines the same as:
\mathrm{VO_2\; max} = Q(\mathrm{CaO_2} - \mathrm{CvO_2}), when these values are obtained during an exertion at a maximal effort.
where Q is the cardiac output of the heart, CaO2 is the arterial oxygen content, and CvO2 is the venous oxygen content.
(CaO2 – CvO2) is also known as the arteriovenous oxygen difference.


Among many other reliable tests, this test called the Cooper test is used to measure the oxygen intake of long distance runners:
Kenneth H. Cooper conducted a study for the United States Air Force in the late 1960s. One of the results of this was the Cooper test in which the distance covered running in 12 minutes is measured. Based on the measured distance, an estimate of VO2 max (in ml/min/kg) is:
\mathrm{VO_2\; max} = {d_{12} - 505 \over 45}
where d12 is distance (in metres) covered in 12 minutes.

Elite male runners can generate up to 85 ml/kg/min, and female elite runners can generate about 77 ml/kg/min [8]. Five time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain is reported to have had a VO2 max of 88.0 at his peak,[9] while cross-country skier Bjørn Dæhlie measured at 96 ml/kg/min.[10] Dæhlie's result was achieved out of season, and physiologist Erlend Hem who was responsible for the testing stated that he would not discount the possibility of the skier passing 100 ml/kg/min at his absolute peak. Norwegian cyclist Oskar Svendsen is thought to have recorded the highest VO2 max of 97.5 ml/kg/min, a "sensational" value in itself, made more remarkable by his young age (18 years old at the time).[11] World class rowers are physically very large endurance athletes and typically do not score as high on a per weight basis, but often score exceptionally high in absolute terms. Male rowers typically score VO2 maxima over 6 litres/minute, and some exceptional individuals have exceeded 8 l/min.
To put this into perspective, thoroughbred horses have a VO2 max of around 180 ml/kg/min. Siberian dogs running in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race have VO2 values as high as 240 ml/kg/min.[12] 
Improving your Max VO2

The ability to run is about having a better VO2.  Just reproducing 
the article from Runners world for this:

Understanding how your body uses oxygen during exercise is the key to faster times - By Amby Burfoot Published 11/14/2001
Oxygen is the key determinant in
an endurance athelete's performance
All aerobic endurance activities, like running, bicycling, swimming, and cross-country skiing, are essentially contests to see how much oxygen your body can deliver to your exercising muscles. Increase the amount of oxygen, and you can run, bike, swim, or ski faster.
In their laboratory research, scientists frequently measure this delivery and use of oxygen, calling it maximum oxygen uptake or VO2 max. They consider maximum oxygen uptake to be the most basic measure of aerobic fitness, and they've shown that it increases as you train more and harder. I generally reverse the letter order, since max VO2 has a friendlier sound than VO2 max.

As your aerobic capacity increases, you can run farther and faster. All training improves your aerobic capacity, even slow, relaxed jogging. But some workouts improve it more than others.

The best and most efficient way to increase your aerobic capacity is to run slightly faster (10 to 30 seconds per mile) than your 5-K race pace. Faster runners should be closer to the 10-second figure, and slower runners closer to the 30-second figure. For example, if you can race a 5-K at 7:40 per mile, you should run your max VO2 workouts at 7:20 to 7:30 pace. This isn't a pace that you can maintain very long in training. You can run for distance (800 meters) or time (3 to 5 minutes).

After each repeat, jog for four to five minutes, and then do another. The workout is finished when you've completed three to four repeats (for beginning and intermediate runners) or six to eight repeats (for advanced runners).

Many runners do max VO2 workouts on the track as part of their interval training routines because they like to measure the lengths and times of the repeats exactly. That's fine, but it isn't necessary. You can also do max VO2 workouts on a good trail, a grassy field, or any other smooth surface that allows you to run at a fast clip without fear of ankle turns. Use your watch to time the four-minute repeats, and run at a strong and fast (but not all-out) effort.

Don't do these aerobic-capacity workouts more than once a week, and skip them on weeks when you have races. These workouts cover less distance than tempo workouts, but they're more taxing because the pace is considerably harder. If you were to do several max VO2 workouts a week or include one in your training program during the week of a race, you might soon find your race performances deteriorating because you'd be too fatigued to race at full strength.

In their laboratory research, scientists frequently measure this delivery and use of oxygen, calling it maximum oxygen uptake or VO2 max. They consider maximum oxygen uptake to be the most basic measure of aerobic fitness, and they've shown that it increases as you train more and harder. I generally reverse the letter order, since max VO2 has a friendlier sound than VO2 max.
As your aerobic capacity increases, you can run farther and faster. All training improves your aerobic capacity, even slow, relaxed jogging. But some workouts improve it more than others.

The best and most efficient way to increase your aerobic capacity is to run slightly faster (10 to 30 seconds per mile) than your 5-K race pace. Faster runners should be closer to the 10-second figure, and slower runners closer to the 30-second figure. For example, if you can race a 5-K at 7:40 per mile, you should run your max VO2 workouts at 7:20 to 7:30 pace. This isn't a pace that you can maintain very long in training. You can run for distance (800 meters) or time (3 to 5 minutes).

After each repeat, jog for four to five minutes, and then do another. The workout is finished when you've completed three to four repeats (for beginning and intermediate runners) or six to eight repeats (for advanced runners).

Many runners do max VO2 workouts on the track as part of their interval training routines because they like to measure the lengths and times of the repeats exactly. That's fine, but it isn't necessary. You can also do max VO2 workouts on a good trail, a grassy field, or any other smooth surface that allows you to run at a fast clip without fear of ankle turns. Use your watch to time the four-minute repeats, and run at a strong and fast (but not all-out) effort.

Don't do these aerobic-capacity workouts more than once a week, and skip them on weeks when you have races. These workouts cover less distance than tempo workouts, but they're more taxing because the pace is considerably harder. If you were to do several max VO2 workouts a week or include one in your training program during the week of a race, you might soon find your race performances deteriorating because you'd be too fatigued to race at full strength.

As your aerobic capacity increases, you can run farther and faster. All training improves your aerobic capacity, even slow, relaxed jogging. But some workouts improve it more than others.
The best and most efficient way to increase your aerobic capacity is to run slightly faster (10 to 30 seconds per mile) than your 5-K race pace. Faster runners should be closer to the 10-second figure, and slower runners closer to the 30-second figure. For example, if you can race a 5-K at 7:40 per mile, you should run your max VO2 workouts at 7:20 to 7:30 pace. This isn't a pace that you can maintain very long in training. You can run for distance (800 meters) or time (3 to 5 minutes).

After each repeat, jog for four to five minutes, and then do another. The workout is finished when you've completed three to four repeats (for beginning and intermediate runners) or six to eight repeats (for advanced runners).

Many runners do max VO2 workouts on the track as part of their interval training routines because they like to measure the lengths and times of the repeats exactly. That's fine, but it isn't necessary. You can also do max VO2 workouts on a good trail, a grassy field, or any other smooth surface that allows you to run at a fast clip without fear of ankle turns. Use your watch to time the four-minute repeats, and run at a strong and fast (but not all-out) effort.


One sure way to improve VO2, is
interval training!
Easy way to calculate your VO2 max with a guideline of the quality of your intake is here.  
A simple form of evolution of the long distance runner, especially people who are constantly looking for PB or trying longer distances and steeper courses, the VO2 max improvement training plays a vital part.  
Then the answer is intervals, intervals and intervals!!!  One such interval plan is given here.

Meanwhile another interesting topic is about Barefoot vs Shoes.  One surprising article, against all theorem is that Light Shoes are the best options, even better than barefoot.  I am a shoe-lover and hence may be biased. Barefoot lovers, please excuse, as I consider you more evolved than us, shoe-lovers.  

-The Road Runner.


Note: All links are copyrights are individual websites. 




Sunday, September 23, 2012

Long distance Running - the next form of evolution - Part 1

Today's run - with a niggle on the left foot was different.  A small thought inflated in size, like a balloon.  Below is the snippet:

 Earlier human used to do everything, go everywhere with biological and  mechanical tools.  The advent of the fossil fuel, the steam engine and the automobile made human to travel long distances, without any challenge.   At the same time, there are certain achievements, mostly physical that has happened over the last few decades - which still makes one put the money on the theory that humans are still evolving.  
Human - born and evolved to run!

Everest has been conquered, the English Channel and other similar stretches conquered by swimmers more than once, Marathon records have been broken, and in fact nearing the 2 hour mark,  the 100 m sprint record, swimming records are still broken, and simply the homo sapien is becoming better, higher, faster and stronger every few years.   

The thread meandered to how more humans run long distances these days - probably the greatest achievement, though largely understated of the 21st century.   This and the 2 hour time limit are two interesting topics that we would discuss subsequently.   Another area is the environmental impact of long distance running and allied sports - cycling and swimming. 

But before that, I came across this most interesting piece, which I thought is best shared ad verbatim. As you read the article, you would realize that the greatest evolution since the brain is the butt - and it would be interesting to read the reasons that buttress this conclusion.  Hope you enjoy this, while I rest after this revealing run. 

-The Road Runner

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Born To Run

by Ingfei Chen
From the May 2006 issue; published online May 28, 2006 , part of Discover Magazine
Biomechanical research reveals a surprising key to the survival of our species: Humans are built to outrun nearly every other animal on the planet over long distances.
Late one night over beers in the Welsh hamlet of Llanwrtyd Wells, an innkeeper got into an argument with a foxhunter about who could run faster, man or horse. The innkeeper insisted that over many miles, a human runner would have greater stamina, and prevail. Thus was born a tradition: Every year since 1980, Llanwrtyd Wells has hosted the Man Versus Horse Marathon, which pits hundreds of runners against dozens of horses with riders. On two legs or four, contestants take on 22 miles of challenging trails laced across a dazzling green countryside. They trot through fragrant pine forests, scramble up mountainous rock-strewn sheep trails, cross rolling moorlands, and ford rivers. In June 2004, for the first time ever, the human won. The innkeeper was delighted—and so were University of Utah biologist Dennis Bramble and Harvard University paleoanthropologist Daniel Lieberman. That summer the two scientists were putting the finishing touches on a theory with a new view on how conditions millions of years ago molded the way humans move today. The standard explanation among physical anthropologists has long been that early hominids left life in the trees to forage on the open savanna and that walking upright was the key to surviving in that new environment. Bramble and Lieberman do not dispute this general theory, but they have identified a suite of traits in the human anatomy that add a dramatic twist to the story line.
The traits appear to be specifically adapted for running—and for jogging for long distances. So Bramble and Lieberman were not at all surprised that a man won the Man Versus Horse Marathon. It fits their hypothesis. Unlike many mammals, not to mention primates, people are astonishingly successful endurance runners, "and I don't think it's just a fluke," Lieberman says. He and Bramble argue that not only can humans outlast horses, but over long distances and under the right conditions, they can also outrun just about any other animal on the planet—including dogs, wolves, hyenas, and antelope, the other great endurance runners. From our abundant sweat glands to our Achilles tendons, from our big knee joints to our muscular glutei maximi, human bodies are beautifully tuned running machines. "We're loaded top to bottom with all these features, many of which don't have any role in walking," Lieberman says. Our anatomy suggests that running down prey was once a way of life that ensured hominid survival millions of years ago on the African savanna.
Although Bramble has studied locomotion in animals ranging from tortoises to jackrabbits for 40 years, he was first tipped off to the hypothesis that humans were born to run by one of his students, David Carrier. In the 1970s, Carrier was assisting with Bramble's studies of how dogs, horses, and people regulate breathing while running. A marathoner himself, Carrier began to wonder about the role of endurance running in human evolution. People, he noted, can shed heat quickly—not by panting, like most animals, but by perspiring through millions of sweat glands. A lack of fur also helps dissipate heat more quickly.
Other researchers have proposed that such features emerged because our ancestors had to cope with the sun as they moved from a shady forest habitat to the scorching savanna. Carrier suspected that these traits were more relevant for handling physical exertion. The human body generates six times more heat when sprinting at top speed than when sitting in the sun. Most animals, humans included, must stop trotting when they overheat, or they die.
(In one legendary experiment, Harvard biologists stuck a rectal thermometer into a cheetah, put the cat on a treadmill, and found that it refused to move once its temperature hit 105 degrees Fahrenheit, even though it was loping well below its top speed.) Controlling body temperature, Carrier once wrote, "is critical for animals that run for extended periods." Given that humans excel at releasing heat and distance running, he speculated that we were built to run far and wide.
"I didn't buy it at all," Bramble says. Like most of his peers, Bramble's first reaction to Carrier's hypothesis was that "humans are pitifully slow." From the perspective of a vertebrate morphologist, humans lack one of the most obvious features of animals adapted for serious speed: a tail. In creatures that cover ground bipedally, such as kangaroos, kangaroo rats, and roadrunners, "the tail is the major balance organ," Bramble says. "In the whole history of vertebrates on Earth—the whole history—humans are the only striding biped that's a runner that's tailless."
Still, Bramble eventually came to realize that people turn in remarkable performances. He once filmed a horse cantering, with Carrier running alongside at the same pace. The movie showed that Carrier's legs were churning more slowly than the horse's, which meant that the student's strides had to be spanning more distance per step than the horse's.
Although Carrier moved on to other research, Bramble grew convinced that his student had discovered something. During a visit to Harvard in 1991, Bramble encountered Daniel Lieberman, then an anthropology Ph.D. student, making a pig trot on a treadmill. To glean insights into how bones grow—and thus to better interpret fossilized human jaws and skulls—the student wanted to see whether the repeated impact of running would spur a thickening of the pig's skull. "You know," Bramble said, "that pig's not holding its head still." He went on to explain that adept runners like horses, dogs, and rabbits keep their noggins remarkably steady as they lope, thanks to an obscure bit of anatomy called the nuchal ligament. It's a tendonlike band that links the head to the spine. People, he said, have a version of this band.
Rummaging through a collection of replicas of fossilized primate bones in a nearby lab, Bramble pointed out that the nuchal ligament leaves a trace—a delicate ridge—where it attaches at the base of the human skull. Then the scientists noticed the ridge in a pitted, yellowed skull of our 2-million-year-old relative Homo erectus—but not in older hominids known as australopithecines, who walked the earth as far back as 4.4 million years ago. "Holy moley!" Lieberman thought. "There's something going on here, and what's more, we might be able to study it in the fossil record."
"Once the idea is in your head, then you start thinking about things differently," Lieberman says. A short 41-year-old with a receding hairline, a slight paunch, and disarming dimples, Lieberman doesn't look athletic, but he has been a jogger since his teens. I joined him for his morning run with his dog, Vashti, a border collie mix, whom he easily proved he could outlast. Lieberman says it's wrong to assume, as many do, that running is like walking. The two motions are strikingly different. He demonstrates that during walking his heel hits the ground first, the leg straightens, and then the body vaults over it.
"Your center of gravity, which is basically near your belt buckle, r-i-i-i-ses"—he takes a slow-motion step forward with his right leg and pauses, now up on the ball of his right foot—"so that it's over your leg." The body has now stored potential energy. The arch of the foot stiffens, and Lieberman pushes off against it. As he tips forward, potential energy converts to kinetic energy, and he swings his left foot ahead to complete the stride.
But in running, he says, the legs become springs. You land on and squash the entire arch and bend your knee. So initially the body's center of gravity falls. "You go down—and then you go up," Lieberman says. Kinetic energy from the crash landing is stored in the many stretchy tendons of the arch and the leg, most notably the huge Achilles tendon connecting calf muscles to the heel bone. Like rubber bands, the tendons extend and then recoil—boing!—to launch you onto the next step.
"So why do we have all these tendons in our legs?" Lieberman asks. "You don't evolve big tendons unless you're a runner." Kangaroos, antelope, and other serious animal runners all have a great set of springs, which do nothing for walking. So our tendons can't be explained as being necessary for walking.
Part by part, Bramble and Lieberman have reinterpreted the hominid physique by juxtaposing bits of fossil evidence with what's known about the physiology and biomechanics of jogging. Although much of the anatomy that lets us lope is the same equipment that humans first evolved for walking, the researchers say many of our physical traits seem tailor-made for sustained running.
To test their ideas, they conduct biomechanical studies in Lieberman's lab—Room 53 in Harvard's small redbrick Peabody Museum. The space looks more like a meld between a sports medicine clinic and an untidy engineering workshop than an anthropologist's sanctum of precious old bones. In addition to a gray-and-black running treadmill, there are wall shelves and counters cluttered with boxes of cotton applicators and latex gloves, containers of antiseptic, a small toolbox, tangles of electric cords, and plastic models of human parts, including a gigantic ear.
In one recent experiment, a volunteer named Jeff, dressed only in dark Lycra shorts and white socks, looked like a guinea pig trapped in a bad sci-fi flick. To track the electrical activity of key muscles, Lieberman and a postdoc, David Raichlen, had taped circular force-detecting pads to the bottoms of Jeff's feet and carefully rigged other parts of him with electrodes. Wires from those sensors ran through a small preamplifier box strapped to his lower back and then to a nearby computer.
To capture an image of his movement, they attached little silvery gray reflective balls onto Jeff's shoulders, hips, knees, and other joints. Three infrared cameras would track the balls' motion and record a stick-figure animation of him as he moved. Finally, to measure forces acting on his skull, the researchers mounted an inch-long accelerometer and gyroscope onto a small round tin and tied it all on top of Jeff's head with a black mesh do-rag that knotted securely under his chin.
Then Lieberman and Raichlen put Jeff on the treadmill and started it up. "Focus on the gazelle on the savanna," Lieberman instructed over the hum of the machine, indicating a big black X on a sheet of paper taped to a shelf straight ahead. The researchers gradually cranked up the pace until Jeff was pounding along at a hard run, sweaty and breathless. "Your gluteus is getting a serious workout," Lieberman said cheerfully.
The goal of the exercise was to understand how joggers stabilize their heads and torsos—part of the distinctive human balancing act that puzzled Bramble years ago. Without the balancing help of a tail, how do we avoid falling over when we run? The butt, it turns out, is crucial—right up there with the chin among traits that make us uniquely human. Chimps and other primates have little buns. Our own rear ends are huge; the upper part of the gluteus maximus is greatly expanded. Although few scholars have studied its role in running, the butt is, according to Bramble, "basically a substitute for a tail."
Biomechanical research reveals a surprising key to the survival of our species: Humans are built to outrun nearly every other animal on the planet over long distances.The treadmill studies support that idea. A few months later, Lieberman showed the results from Jeff and 15 other joggers, partly summarized in a conference presentation ("Why Is Our Gluteus So Maximus?"). Sitting at his computer in shorts and flip-flops, Raich­len pulled up Jeff's data: a rainbow-colored series of 16 synchronized electrical recordings from all the sensors. Looking like an EKG signal, the electromyograph, or EMG, reading from the gluteus maximus, in red, showed little activity when Jeff strolled. But once he broke into a jog, boom!—the red line tightly zigzagged. The faster the pace, the bigger the spikes, like an earthquake signal on a seismograph.
What that shows, says Lieberman, is that the butt isn't much involved during walking. In running, however, the body leans forward so that each time the leading foot strikes the ground, the trunk wants to topple forward. The gluteus maximus prevents that: It fires just before the foot slams into the floor, creating a braking action that keeps the torso from falling down.
Meanwhile, the way we pump our arms back and forth in a trot helps steady us too. And based on their experiments, the researchers suspect that the motions of our shoulders and arms actually help counterbalance the head, preventing it from pitching forward on each landing. Simultaneously, with each heel strike, certain shoulder muscles contract and put tension on the nuchal ligament, pulling up the skull and keeping it level.
Our long neck is also important for running, Bramble says, because it allows the shoulders to twist freely of the head as we gaze forward. Chimps, in contrast, have hulking muscles anchoring the skull to the shoulders, which appear permanently shrugged—an orientation ideal for reaching overhead to dangle from tree branches. Controversial fossil evidence hints that australopithecines also had chimplike shoulders. But by the time of 2-million-year-old Homo erectus, says Bramble, hominids had lowered their shoulders, losing the thick, muscular connections to the head.
These running features, the researchers argue, are unmistakably obvious once you look for them. What's really hard to pin down, they admit, is when these adaptations emerged. How do you figure out when the first human butt appeared on the savanna? Muscles, tendons, and sweat glands don't fossilize, and old bones can't reveal precisely how their owners moved. Still, between biomechanical studies and bone analyses, it's possible for researchers to infer whether a fossil hominid was a jogger.
For example, most scientists reasoned that the 3.2-million-year-old hominid Lucy, with her chimplike build, couldn't have been a good endurance runner. She was squat, with short legs, a wide waist, long arms, and long, ­curving fingers and toes that suggest a tree-climbing lifestyle. Although researchers disagree on Lucy's gait while walking upright, nobody thinks she could have strolled like a human. Yet more than a million years later, Homo erectus roamed Africa with a much longer, leggier build, sporting a dramatically different set of physical changes that made it harder to climb trees but easier to jog, Bramble says. "All the running equipment's already there."
What biomechanics and paleontology studies cannot reveal is why these transitional hominid types forsook life among the boughs to become earthbound marathon runners. Archaeological studies at hominid sites offer one strong clue—animal bones. About 2.6 million years ago, our forebears started eating meat and marrow, rich sources of protein and fat that perhaps eventually fueled the growth of larger brains. Bramble and Lieberman find it conceivable that endurance running helped hunters pursue prey to exhaustion.
Back in the 1980s, Carrier had read ethnographers' accounts of indigenous peoples who chased deer, antelope, and kangaroos to exhaustion under the scorching sun. The Tarahumara of the mountainous desert of northwestern Mexico, for example, were legendary runners. But by modern times, their running tradition had turned to sport: Men wearing simple tire-tread sandals bound with leather thongs compete in a 24-hour footrace that involves kicking a ball over about 100 miles of mountainous road. So Carrier, a triathlete in college, took it upon himself to prove his case. He and his younger brother, Scott, went to the desert in Utah and Wyoming to chase pronghorn antelope. The beasts ditched them every time. The sleek, bouncy animals would join up with others, and soon the men would be huffing after a dozen of them. "You wouldn't know which were the animals you started with," Carrier says.
For direct evidence of endurance hunting, Bramble and Lieberman point to the observations of Louis Liebenberg, author of The Art of Tracking: The Origin of Science, who has spent time on the traditional hunts of the Bushmen hunter-gatherers in the central Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Liebenberg ran with them when they chased down kudu antelope on two occasions. For eight other hunts he trailed them in his Land Cruiser, sometimes with a GPS device. The men attempted to run prey to exhaustion only when temperatures neared 100 degrees F, says Liebenberg. Three men would gulp a lot of water and head out together. Two initially did the hard work of tracking and pursuing over the arid grassland and woodland terrain, while the other held back. Eventually, the leaders dropped behind, leaving the third man to hound and spear the antelope when it reached its limit. "The animal will either just completely collapse, or it will actually slow down to a point where it just stands there . . . with sort of glazed-over eyes," Liebenberg says. "Essentially, you're pushing the animal to overheat." The hunters would then walk home with the meat, enough to share—in small portions—with the tribe.
During a chase, Liebenberg noted that the men maintained speeds of around 4 to 6 miles per hour, for anywhere from two to six and a half hours, and traversed up to 22 miles of terrain. These stats fall well within the performance range of the world's fastest competitive marathoners, who set a pace of roughly 12 miles an hour to cover 26 miles, albeit under far less harsh conditions.
Although Liebenberg's observations support the runner-as-hunter hypothesis, Bramble and Lieberman think early Homo would more likely have first run to scavenge prey killed by other carnivores—a strategy the Hadza people of East Africa are known to use. When leopards or hyenas bring an animal down, the hunters "can spot these fresh kills at a distance from the vultures circling above," Bramble says. A carcass is an ephemeral treasure, picked clean within hours, so the Hadza quickly head off running, chase away the carnivores, and take what's left.
Of course, no one knows whether scavenging reaped enough caloric and nutritional returns to make it worthwhile for our forebears. But Bramble and Lieberman feel that the collective evidence, fielded from so many different angles, makes a compelling case for the running hypothesis. Even ordinary studies of human physiology, for example, suggest that humans are so adapted for intense physical activity that a sedentary lifestyle spawns modern-day scourges like diabetes and heart disease. Additional support could come from the chimpanzee genome, which may allow researchers to clock when the genes for slow-twitch muscle fibers—crucial for running long distances and plentiful in people but not chimps—diverged in the common evolutionary history of humans and apes. Other clues could come from tracing the genes involved in our abundant sweat glands and loss of body hair.
Meanwhile, other researchers are looking for holes in the argument. Functional morphologist Brigitte Demes, at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, notes that the gluteus maximus is absolutely essential for rising from a squatting posture at rest or during foraging, so it might not have evolved just for running. Stony Brook anatomist Jack Stern, famed for analyses of how Lucy walked, says it's a tough call to classify the Achilles tendon as an adaptation for jogging. Longer legs evolved in many animals through the extension of lightweight tendons rather than heavier muscle, thus producing a limb that took less effort to swing—a change that would save energy during walking, Stern says.
Nonetheless, Stern credits Bramble and Lieberman for a clever, coherent theory. "In essence, this is what Darwin did when he wrote On the Origin of Species: He took a series of facts and wove a beautiful, elegant story," Stern says. His own hunch is that the running hypothesis is correct, but it will take decades of scientific squabbling to confirm it. "This is just the beginning," he says. And even Demes, although skeptical of the running hypothesis, can't think of an alternative explanation. "That might actually be their strongest argument," she admits. "Why do we have this skill to go long distances for extended periods of time? Because you really don't see that in other primates." Bramble and Lieberman have received a flood of enthusiastic e-mail messages (and even poems) about their work, mostly from runners. "Sometimes you come across an idea that for some reason has been kind of overlooked. But it's just obvious. And those are the ideas, I think, that touch a nerve," Lieberman says. The evolution of walking was unquestionably fundamental to becoming human, he says, but running played a pivotal role too. "If we can get people to agree on that, I'll go to bed happy."

- Road Runner

Friday, September 7, 2012

The twilight runs...

The twilight - colorful blood on the sky's body
Twilight is the best possible cocktail that Nature can create.  The mixture of the dying daylight and the growing dark.   The wounds of the sky after its losing war with darkness, and the multi-color blood sprayed on its body - scaring the birds into their nests;   the kids moving towards home.   The street lights glowing announcing a new war against darkness.   The masons and workers returning home, exhausted after a day long work;  Office commuters returning with groceries and other purchases;   kids winding up their play and hopping their way for completing their homework,  the nocturnal animals and insects hiding behind the ever growing cover of darkness.   Such is the beauty of twilight. 

The amber lights join the war against darkness
And enter me - the runner.  Dressed in Chennai Runners' T's, and Nikes' - the good old Red Running Hood.   Mingling in this cocktail of life and colors, each step of this short run helps me participate in the short episode - as a voyeur.  
Cattle impervious to the rain!
And another day, you miss the entire show.   The curtains are on - grey in color.  The stage is being washed.     There is no usual audience.  But this no-show gives life to another set of characters.  Teens love to kick the ball with their tireless feet.  Cattle, impervious to rain, graze around.   And the colorful umbrellas come out.   And slowly the entire picture disappears fast, consumed by the dark sky.  The amber street lights slowly fix the problem - the road glows in their reflection.   Beautiful, ethereal.   

Only teens and no soul on the street - no show!
These days, my runs are short.  But they help me steal some time mixing with this real beauty of cocktail and colors.  The mind just switches off, leaving the hullabaloo and chaos of the daily chores behind.    A true tequila shot!!!

- Road Runner!