Tagged Running

Speed Goggles: Group Run


Group Run

Sometimes, your running partners don’t show up.

Publish Date July 28, 2016.

I often make plans to meet companions for a run, but they may not always show up. This could be due to oversleeping, miscommunication or honest forgetfulness. When this happens, there is a rule of thumb among some runners to wait one minute for every five minutes the scheduled run was meant to last. Beyond that, it is considered acceptable to begin the run without the latecomers. Usually the rule is followed without a second thought. However, I find that the closer I am to a big race, the more important companionship is for me.

“Speed Goggles” is a five-part series created by Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher, who also created the feature film “Tracktown.” Ms. Pappas will be competing in the 2016 Olympics for Greece.

Watch: “The Elite Runner.” | “Normal People” | “Nightmares Mean You Care.”.

For Alexi Pappas, Nightmares Mean You Care


Nightmares Mean You Care

Ever have a terrible dream the night before a race? Alexi Pappas has.

By JEREMY TEICHER on Publish Date July 20, 2016.

Nightmares are a strange but not uncommon phenomenon for runners the evening before a race. I have had nightmares about running in clown shoes, running in a uniform constructed out of my own hair and running through a track filled entirely with pudding. I have known teammates to dream of running through oceans. But pre-race nightmares should not be feared. Rather, they should rather be embraced as a friendly indication that we care very much about the challenge ahead. Nervous is a cousin to excited.

“Speed Goggles” is a five-part series created by Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher, who also created the feature film “Tracktown.” Watch Part 1: “The Elite Runner.” or Part 2: “Normal People”. Ms. Pappas will be competing in the 2016 Olympics for Greece.

The $1,600 Marathon


Marathon expenses can add up.

Marathon expenses can add up.Credit

In May I ran the New Jersey Marathon. Before I started training for the race on New Year’s Eve, I wondered how much this, my sixth marathon, would cost me. And not just the race fee — I knew that one, since I had signed up for the race in November — but the total of every little thing that I would spend money on to get me from my first training run to race day.

After a deep dive into my personal finances and a talk with a professor of finance, I can tell you that it cost me a lot. Eighteen weeks of training and one marathon cost me more than $1,600. Here’s how I arrived at my number.

Race Fee. The average fee for a marathon ranges from $60 to $100, according to the Road Runners Club of America, though those costs can certainly be higher. I paid $266 – a $255 race fee plus an $11 lottery entry fee – for the New York City Marathon in 2014.

For the 2016 New Jersey Marathon, the base cost at the time I signed up was $100, but I did so on Black Friday, and used a coupon code to save $20, plus a $6.40 service fee.

Cost: $86.40.

Instruction. I used the second edition of the “Hansons Marathon Method,” to train for the race. It included my schedule, plus information on other important things like strength training and race strategy. The book retails for $18.95, though I was sent an advance press copy from the publisher.

Cost: $0.

Gear. Running a lot requires extra stuff to run in. So while I already had shirts and shorts and socks, I still added on while training, including two pairs of shoes, another pair of long winter tights, plus two new pairs of capri tights and two new pairs of shorts, a handful of new shirts, a new tank and visor to wear on race day (though I wound up wearing a hat I already had for the race because of rain), even a pair of ski mittens to wear over my regular running gloves during bitter cold training.

If you’re starting from scratch, this number could be much higher, depending on how geared out you get. I already had a tube of Body Glide anti-chafing lotion. I already had a GPS watch. I already owned the shorts, hat and socks I wore on race day. So my gear costs are much lower than that of someone who’s just starting out.

Cost: $578.80.

Intermediate Races. Racing shorter distances while training for a marathon provides a check-in to see how you’re doing speed-wise (and psychologically) and breaks up the monotony of training. I also use shorter races to test out what I will wear on marathon day to make sure it all works. During this training cycle, I ran two 5Ks and two 10-milers.

Cost: $235.40.

Food. This one surprised me. I expected I’d be eating a lot more (or treating myself a lot more) after my 623 miles of training runs. But what I spent on food during that time, including at the grocery store, on takeout, on meals eaten at restaurants and coffee, came out to be about $80 higher than what I spent during a similar period when I wasn’t training for a marathon. I know that I ate more, but I ate better and spent less on junk food, and ate out a lot less simply because I had less time.

Cost: $79.90.

Running Fuel. While running, my fuel strategy is a simple one: one black cherry Clif Shot Blok every four miles. I had some of these on hand before I started training, but I had to buy more: 10 sleeves at $1.99 per sleeve.

Cost: $19.90.

Ibuprofen. Things hurt. So I bought a two-bottle pack of Kirkland brand ibuprofen from Costco, 500 tablets per bottle. A half bottle is left.

Cost: $7.

Laundry. My water bill didn’t go up during this time, but I did buy more laundry detergent than usual.

Cost: $25.

Gym Membership. I didn’t use the treadmill during this training cycle, but I belong to the gym for access to weight machines and free weights. As I got deeper into my training, I tended to do more strength training at home, but I didn’t stop paying for the gym during my 18 weeks of training.

Cost: $130.50.

Pet Care: I don’t have kids, but I do have a dog, and she needed looking after when I was out running races. Most of the time, friends or family watched Emily, my Jack Russell terrier. A dog walker filled in the gaps when they weren’t available. I needed five walks, at $10 per walk.

Cost: $50.

Sports Massages. Two ways I try to keep my weak spot (my right hip) from knocking me out of training are through strength training and sports massage. Both saved me from a world of hurt and got me to the starting line relatively healthy. Getting several sports massages, at $60 to $75 per massage, was the pricier of those strategies.

Cost: $210.

Opportunity Costs. Training for a marathon takes a lot of time. Those 623 miles, in fact, took me about 114 hours to run — hours that, as a self-employed writer, I could be working. So I could add into this equation the opportunity cost, or “what you could be have been doing with that time and energy instead of doing this,” said Nejat Seyhun, a professor of finance at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Take those hours, multiply them by what I typically make per hour and, yikes: big opportunity cost.

But, while I’m not paid to run, I do write about running and I’m paid for that work – and the experience has provided fodder for a number of paid stories. Running also makes me a better writer by giving my brain a time out, and I tend to be more efficient in my work when I’m running: I don’t dillydally so much; I just do. In that case, said Dr. Seyhun, my opportunity cost is much lower. “See, you’re thinking like an economist already,” he said when I explained how running is part of my job. Given how much my marathon training experiences have influenced my work, I’m going to put the cost at:

Cost: $0.

Transportation/Lodging. According to Running USA, races that require an overnight trip will typically cost runners $104 in transportation, $147 in airfare, and $213 in lodging. I skipped a lot of that for the New Jersey Marathon, and not just because I ran a race less than a two-hour drive from my house. My dad paid the hotel bill for the marathon, and my mom drove me to and from (because she was running the half-marathon that day). I did pay for some transportation costs to intermediate races during the training cycle, though: $37 for tolls, $58 for gas.

Cost: $95.

Post-Race Celebrations. When I finished the marathon, I wanted nothing more than a hot shower, a beer, and then to shovel food into my face. When I got back to the hotel, I had that beer and handfuls of Utz Party Mix, which I eat only after I run a marathon ($4.50 for a six-pack of Miller Lite pony beers; $10.99 for the tub of Party Mix). Afterward my running group, which included three runners and six people who came to cheer, had a late lunch at Porta in Asbury Park. My portion of the bill, which included pizza, pasta and two Bloody Marys, came to $35.

Later that night, my mom and I drove to the Applebee’s by our hotel, and I spent $23.22 more. The next day, I took a friend out to Han Dynasty in Philadelphia to thank him for coming to the race, and maybe because I was still hungry too: $89.75.

Cost: $163.46.

Total Cost: $1681.36. And worth every penny.

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”


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When Runners Don’t Have Real Jobs: A Film Featuring Alexi Pappas


Normal People

Elite runners have vastly different lives than the rest of us.

By JEREMY TEICHER on Publish Date July 14, 2016.

I remember the first time it occurred to me that I was the only one of all my college friends who did not have, by normal standards, a real job.

My friends were going to meetings in office towers or attending lectures in grad school while I was taking naps in an altitude tent and wearing compression socks. This thought occurred to me while stretching on a random high school track. Here I was at 11:30 a.m. on a Wednesday as the sound of the school bell rang across the empty fields.

A surge of fear passed through me. What was I doing with my life? A group of teenagers who were ditching class waved at me. I waved back and started my run.

“Speed Goggles” is a five-part series created by Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher, who also created the feature film “Tracktown.” Watch Part 1: “The Elite Runner.” Ms. Pappas will be competing in the 2016 Olympics for Greece.

Runners on Film: Alexi Pappas Makes More Movies


The Elite Runner

Presenting “Speed Goggles,” a series of short films about runners.

By Video by JEREMY TEICHER on Publish Date July 7, 2016.

Alexi Pappas is a renaissance runner. She writes poems. She makes and stars in movies. She tweets. Even her signature bun has its own Twitter account.

Her latest project, “Speed Goggles,” is a series of short films about runners. The name refers to the way runners sometimes change their opinion about a person or develop a romantic crush once they learn how fast the person runs. (Sort of like the term “beer goggles,” which refers to how we might feel differently about someone after a few pints of beer.)

Ms. Pappas, a Greek-American who will be representing Greece in the Olympics in Rio this summer, made the video series with her partner, the filmmaker Jeremy Teicher. The duo is sharing the full series with New York Times readers each week for the next five weeks. (You can read more about Ms. Pappas in this recent feature story from The Times.)

The first film is a parody of a nature film, with elite runners (Ms. Pappas and the two-time Olympian Andrew Wheating) as the featured creatures. Although Ms. Pappas and Mr. Teicher funded the project themselves, they shot the short films on Super 8 film stock provided by Kodak. I recently spoke with Ms. Pappas about why she made the short series and what filming has in common with racing. Here’s our conversation.


What are these films about?


We wanted to shoot something that were little slices of the life I’ve been living for the past several years. They’re not tied to one particular event but they reflect the dedication and lifestyle. They are about things that are real and serious but also quirky and funny and very specific to the running world. We wanted to capture that in these little episodes.


I know Kodak donated some film, but why did you want to use film to shoot these episodes?


Film is so cool. The thing about film is that it’s so freeing. You can’t look at it when you’re shooting it, and it’s expensive to develop so you don’t do multiple takes. There is something liberating, a thrilling scary feeling of shooting on real film. It’s gorgeous and gritty and detailed.


Why do you think film is suited to running?


The colors are more vibrant than digital, and I felt like it was the best medium to capture running . When you’re running you notice a leaf on the side of the road. It’s not one color green but it’s a million shades of green because of the way the light is hitting it, and the shade and that you’re moving past it quickly. Film captures that.


Why was it liberating to know you only had one or two takes?


It’s almost like preparing for a race. You prepare as best you can. We wrote the script, we set up what we thought would be the right lighting or place in the woods. We rehearsed. Once the gun goes off in a race – or once you start clicking action and shoot it, you can’t turn around. You just go with it until the clicking stops. It did feel like racing. That level of improvisation and carrying on is liberating as a filmmaker in the same way it might be to a runner in a race.


What do you want people to get from these films?


I hope people identify with these films in some way and also see a world they may not always see. It’s the life of an elite runner outside the track. I think runners will appreciate the elements of it, and hopefully laugh along with us.


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Dean Karnazes Runs the Silk Road


Dean Karnazes is planning a 12-day running journey following the ancient Silk Road through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Dean Karnazes is planning a 12-day running journey following the ancient Silk Road through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.Credit

One Wednesday, Dean Karnazes, an American ultramarathon runner, will begin a 12-day, 326-mile run along the Silk Road, part of an ancient trade route through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. He’s doing it as part of the State Department’s sports diplomacy program — and because he really likes to run. Through the years, Mr. Karnazes has run 350 miles straight (with no sleep), completed a 200-mile relay race (by himself), run across Death Valley in the middle of the summer, and run a marathon at the South Pole.

A Long Way to Run

150 miles









Recently I caught up with Mr. Karnazes by phone at his home in Marin County, Calif., as he was getting ready to leave for his trip. He told me what interested him in the Silk Road (it was a stranger he met at the San Francisco Marathon), what traditional Greek food he’s taking along on his journey, and why, despite his extraordinary achievements, he’s just a bit worried about this challenge. Here are edited excerpts of our conversation.


Ten years ago, you ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. What made you decide to go beyond traditional races — and ultras — and do something like this?


The spirit of exploration. I had done hundreds of organized races and loved racing, but I also loved the thrill of conceiving an adventure on my own and seeing whether the impossible was possible.

I wasn’t sure I would be able to run 50 marathons back to back. What it taught me was that the human body is more remarkable than what we realized. If we can just get out of the way of our perceived limitations, we’re really capable of extraordinary things.


Did completing those 50 marathons change how you approached future long-distance ventures?


There were mornings where I couldn’t even roll out of bed. I thought, “I can’t even step out of bed today, and this is the ninth marathon, and I have to do this 41 more days in a row — how is this possible?” I just committed to doing the best that I could every day.

At the end of 50 days, it was telling that the 50th marathon, which was the New York City Marathon, was the strongest and my fastest of all 50.


Why do you think your last marathon was your fastest?


I was just so glad to be done with it. With that final marathon, I was able to let it all out and not worry about having to get up the next morning and have to run another marathon. I ran the New York City Marathon in three hours 30 seconds. That’s a pretty respectable marathon time.


What’s been your favorite epic trek so far?


I’ve run on all seven continents of earth twice now. I’ve run in some of the most remote and exotic places. But my pinnacle achievement was running a 10K with my daughter on her 10th birthday. I didn’t think she was going to make it at five miles, and she said, “Dad, I can do this.” She let out a grunt and started sprinting. To me to see that, I saw her finally as her own person, and I saw resolve in her that I’d never seen before.


How old is your daughter now? Does she run?


She’s 20. She’s a recreational runner.


What brought you to the Silk Road?


I was running the 2015 San Francisco Marathon and a guy came up next to me. This happens quite a bit — people recognize me on the course and they come up next to me and we chat. He started explaining to me that he worked for the State Department and was based in Kyrgyzstan. That led to me asking, “Is there running there? Recreational running?”

He went on to disclose that he’d been seeking me out and said, “I’ve got this idea that I want to pitch to you. I want you to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great.”

I’m thinking this is just a fantasy, this guy. But his State Department contacts, they put a proposal in front of me. I’m very bad at saying no, and this sounded too good to be true. So I said yes.


How do you prepare for a trip like this?


If you saw this agenda — when I first looked at it, I thought, “They’re going to kill me.”

I’ve been watching the weather. Uzbekistan is right above Afghanistan. It’s desert. It’s 112 degrees. So I’ve been running in the mid-day heat, which a lot of runners don’t do. Also something runners don’t do: I’ve been purposefully dehydrating myself and running without water to get used to the fact that I’m not going to have consistent support out in some of these more remote areas.

Another thing I’ve been doing is running a lot of mountains, because I’m climbing a path that’s nearly 12,000 feet high. That’s a pretty significant pop. Heartbreak Hill at the Boston Marathon is 236 feet.

I’m sure there are going to be a lot of unforeseen situations. Cell reception there is apparently really spotty. I don’t know what’s going to happen if I get lost out there.


Tell me about your fueling strategy.


I’m going to take some products that we’re used to seeing. I’ll take some Hammer Nutrition products and some electrolyte powder to mix with water. But I’m going to try to rely mostly on the local foods. For example, in Greece I found this stuff called pasteli. It’s honey and sesame seed. I thought, “Wow, this is better than any gel pack I’ve ever had, and it’s more sustaining.”


Where will you sleep?


I’m homesteading with families along the way, including staying in a yurt.


You’re planning to run some 50 miles a day – and also holding clinics and talks, and inviting people to join in along the way. How come?


The three countries I’m visiting are celebrating 25 years of independence from the Soviet Union. The idea is to link these three countries together on this footpath. The power of running — it unites people.

There’s a magic in running. It’s so simple, it’s a commonality we all share as a species. We’re divided by the color of our skin, divided by the God we believe in, socioeconomic level, whatever else, but running’s a great democratizer. The idea is to get people to come out and run along with me, to show together the power of running. That’s the whole idea behind this sports diplomacy program.


What do you hope to achieve?


It’s a great adventure. I’ve always wanted to see and visit the Silk Road. I’m going to be pushing my body to the limits, and my mind as well. I really like that intensity of staying focused, and the discipline of running great distances and showing up and giving a talk and being coherent and cohesive when you’re about ready to fall over.


What’s next?


I’m planning on a global expedition to try to run a marathon in every country of the world in a one-year time span. So in 2017 I’m taking off on a global trek.


What advice do you have for nonprofessional runners who might be trying a similar challenge, like running across America?


You don’t have to go fast. You just have to go. It’s just relentless forward progress. I’ve run across the country a couple times now, one self-supported, one with a crew. Prepare for tremendous highs, and also tremendous, tremendous lows, where you just feel like, “I might not be able to make it. I might not be able to get out of bed this morning.”

Every day, press onward, even if that means walking. The other thing on the flip side is not to lose sight of the adventure itself, to not to be so goal-oriented that all you want to do is just make it. Enjoy the journey.

You can follow Mr. Karnazes’ trip at https://eca.state.gov/ultramarathon. The State Department will be posting updates on Twitter at twitter.com/sportsdiplomacy, and on Instagram at instagram.com/sportsdiplomacy. FitBit, another sponsor of the trip, will be posting updates from Mr. Karnazes’ tracker at twitter.com/fitbit and instagram.com/fitbit

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”

How Exercise May Help the Brain Grow Stronger


Credit Getty Images

Physical activity is good for our brains. A wealth of science supports that idea. But precisely how exercise alters and improves the brain remains somewhat mysterious.

A new study with mice fills in one piece of that puzzle. It shows that, in rodents at least, strenuous exercise seems to beneficially change how certain genes work inside the brain. Though the study was in mice, and not people, there are encouraging hints that similar things may be going on inside our own skulls.

For years, scientists have known that the brains of animals and people who regularly exercise are different than the brains of those who are sedentary. Experiments in animals show that, for instance, exercise induces the creation of many new cells in the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain essential for memory and learning, and also improves the survival of those fragile, newborn neurons.

Researchers believe that exercise performs these feats at least in part by goosing the body’s production of a substance called brain-derived neurotropic factor, or B.D.N.F., which is a protein that scientists sometimes refer to as “Miracle-Gro” for the brain. B.D.N.F. helps neurons to grow and remain vigorous and also strengthens the synapses that connect neurons, allowing the brain to function better. Low levels of B.D.N.F. have been associated with cognitive decline in both people and animals. Exercise increases levels of B.D.N.F. in brain tissue.

But scientists have not understood just what it is about exercise that prompts the brain to start pumping out additional B.D.N.F.

So for the new study, which was published this month in the journal eLIFE, researchers with New York University’s Langone Medical Center and other institutions decided to microscopically examine and reverse engineer the steps that lead to a surge in B.D.N.F. after exercise.

They began by gathering healthy mice. Half of the animals were put into cages that contained running wheels. The others were housed without wheels. For a month, all of the animals were allowed to get on with their lives. Those living with wheels ran often, generally covering several miles a day, since mice like to run. The others remained sedentary.

After four weeks, the scientists looked at brain tissue from the hippocampus of both groups of animals, checking for B.D.N.F. levels. As expected, the levels were much higher in the brains of the runners.

But then, to better understand why the runners had more B.D.N.F., the researchers turned to the particular gene in the animals’ DNA that is known to create B.D.N.F. For some reason, the scientists realized, this gene was more active among the animals that exercised than those that did not.

Using sophisticated testing methods, the scientists soon learned why. In both groups of animals, the B.D.N.F. gene was partially covered with clusters of a particular type of molecule that binds to the gene, though in different amounts.

In the sedentary mice, these molecules swarmed so densely over the gene that they blocked signals that tell the gene to turn on. As a result, the B.D.N.F. genes of the sedentary animals were relatively muted, pumping out little B.D.N.F.

But among the runners, the molecular blockade was much less effective. The molecules couldn’t seem to cover and bind to the entire B.D.N.F. gene. So messages from the body continued to reach the gene and tell it to turn on and produce more B.D.N.F.

Perhaps most remarkably, the researchers also found a particular substance in the runners’ brains that fended off the action of these obstructionist molecules. The runners’ brains contained high levels of ketones, which are a byproduct of the breakdown of fat. During strenuous exercise, the body relies in part on fat for fuel and winds up creating ketones, some of which migrate to the brain. (They are tiny enough to cross the blood-brain barrier.) The brain uses these ketones for fuel when blood sugar levels grow low.

But it appears that ketones also cause the molecules that hinder the B.D.N.F. gene to loosen their grip, as the scientists realized when they experimentally added ketones to brain tissue from some of the mice. Afterward, their B.D.N.F. genes were not blocked by nearly as many of the bothersome molecules, and those genes could get on with the job of making B.D.N.F.

None of this occurred in the brains of the sedentary mice.

“It’s incredible just how pervasive and complex the effects of exercise are on the brain,” said Moses Chao, a professor at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at N.Y.U. who oversaw the study.

Whether the same mechanisms that occur in mice occur in our own brains when we exercise is still unknown. But, Dr. Chao pointed out, like the mice, we have more B.D.N.F. in our bodies after exercise. We also create ketones when we exercise, and those ketones are known to migrate to our brains..

Generally, however, this process requires exerting yourself vigorously for an hour or more, after which time your body, having exhausted its stores of sugar, starts burning stored fat and making ketones.

If an hour or more of intense exercise seems daunting — and it does to me — don’t despair. “We are only starting to understand” the many ways in which exercise of any kind and amount is likely to alter our brains, Dr. Chao said. For now, he says, “it’s a very good idea to just keep moving.”

Ready, Set, Hold That Pose! Have Smartphones Ruined Racing?


A racer poses for a selfie at the 13-mile marker of the Big Sur International Marathon.

A racer poses for a selfie at the 13-mile marker of the Big Sur International Marathon.Credit Courtesy of the Big Sur International Marathon

At a recent 5K in Boston, I got off to an aggravatingly sluggish start. I couldn’t get going, not really, because runners around me took pictures and videos of themselves beginning the race. Then I nearly barreled into a runner who came to a dead stop to take a picture of the pros who had started the race waves ahead of us as they came across the finish. When I reached the point in the race that crosses over the finish line to the Boston Marathon, where an announcer repeated loudly over and over that runners should not stop to take selfies, two runners just ahead of me did anyway, mucking up the path of the runners behind them. I snapped and yelled, loudly, “Just run!”

I’ve been running for 10 years, and there have always been inconsiderate racers who do whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want. But with the advent of smartphones, such incidents have blossomed.

Smartphones can be powerful running tools: They track your progress and location, play your music and podcasts, and can serve as a safety device in case you get lost or need assistance. Race officials have also created apps to keep runners up to date with what’s going on during race weekend or, in the case of an emergency, during the race itself.

But smartphones have also become social media spouts for runners to take selfies, FaceTime a family member on a crowded course, or chat on the phone in the middle of a race, oblivious to the people behind and around them.

According to Running USA, a nonprofit group that tracks data and trends on running, 61 percent of runners regularly run with a cellphone, most commonly to play music, track mileage and workouts, map routes and use GPS features. The group found that millennials and Gen Xers are most likely to run with their cellphones, and also most likely to use social media channels to share running-related activities.


Racers pose for a photo as they run the Big Sur International Marathon.

Racers pose for a photo as they run the Big Sur International Marathon.Credit Courtesy of the Big Sur International Marathon

“Tech is just such an important part of sport in general, whether it’s nutrition, training information, event information, fitness tracking — there’s so many uses or applications for technology now,” said Rich Harshbarger, the chief executive of Running USA.

While he knows that this can cause some friction in races, he sees social media as having helped the sport. “It has made the sport more accessible, less intimidating, and I think it encourages participation,” he said. That finish line photo, or sharing a training run on Twitter, can help runners find others who are doing similar events, and encourage them to train or run a race together. Seeing people just like you doing this thing they love can also inspire you to try it too.

While race directors are embracing the technology to enhance their events, they are also coming up with creative ways to deal with the downside of smartphones.

Many runners elect to take on the grueling hills of the Big Sur International Marathon because of its breathtaking views along the coast of California. The marathon’s race director, Doug Thurston, knows that most will be taking pictures during the race.

“I don’t think you could ever” ban runners from taking photos, he said. “And I don’t think you want to do that.” He just wants runners to do so safely, and to be considerate of others on the course.

The Big Sur marathon’s safety rules specifically ask runners to move “to the far left side of the road or the dirt shoulder before taking pictures.” The course also has designed mile markers with ample space around them where people can stop to take pictures.

“We have iconic images on our course, and that’s what we’re known for,” Mr. Thurston said. “We encourage people to document and catalog their experiences. But we encourage them to do it safely, with minimal effects to other participants.”

In 2014, after a series of much publicized incidents, including one woman who ran the New York City Half Marathon snapping selfies at every mile with a different man in the background of each picture, the New York Road Runners added a section to their code of conduct under the label “Mobile Devices” that says using smartphones for pictures and social media updates during any of their races is “strongly discouraged, as it decreases your awareness of other participants around you.” They have also banned selfie sticks entirely from races.

“It’s part of the changing landscape of what’s going on here and in the world. It’s an evolution,” said Peter Ciaccia, president of events for the New York Road Runners and race director of the New York City Marathon. “We don’t want to be the run police. We want everybody to come out and have a good time, and the message we keep driving home is that everyone should be respectful of each other and be aware of what’s going on around them.”

Mr. Harshbarger of Running USA, who spends a lot of time in airports while traveling for his job, points out that the problem isn’t limited to races. If “someone is walking in the middle of the airport terminal texting and weaving all over, I want to ask, ‘Can you just get out of the way, because I have a connection?’”

Or, as I might yell, “Just move!”

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”


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Meet the Ultra-Fat, Super-Cushioned Running Shoe


Credit Hoka One One

Can fat-soled shoes that appear to have been constructed in part from marshmallows help you run better? The first study of a new kind of thickly cushioned running shoe suggests that this type of footwear may not make running any easier. But it probably also will not make it harder. And nobody knows yet whether these maximalist running shoes, as they’re called, are the answer to preventing the painful injuries that sideline as many as 90 percent of runners at some point.

Anyone who hangs out with distance runners has doubtless noticed the sudden popularity of these shoes, which provide two or three times as much foam padding between the foot and the pavement as most running shoes. The voluptuous Hoka One One shoes are perhaps the most recognizable of the new maximalist footwear, but almost every athletic shoe company offers models now with similarly extreme padding.

Maximalist shoes would seem to be a fervent reaction to and rebuke of the other recent fad in running-related footwear, which consisted of minimalist or barefoot-style shoes that provide little if any cushioning.

But according to John Mercer, a professor of biomechanics at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, and senior author of the new study, both types of footwear were developed in response to the same concern: the desire to prevent running injuries.

Many hoped that barefoot-style shoes, by removing most padding, would change how people run in beneficial ways. Researchers had noted that people who grow up running barefoot (which means, mostly, young Kenyan runners) typically strike the ground near the middle or front of their foot and tend to have relatively few injuries. Perhaps, the researchers speculated, that style of running would result in fewer injuries for the rest of us.


The Clifton 2 is a thick-soled running shoe made by Hoka One One.

The Clifton 2 is a thick-soled running shoe made by Hoka One One.Credit Hoka One One

So some runners began wearing flat, minimalist shoes that mimic running barefoot.

But the results were not altogether salutary. No agency collects data about running injuries, but anecdotal reports suggest that quite a few barefoot-style runners wound up getting hurt, in part because their feet and legs were unused to the new patterns of pounding that occur when shoes provide little or no cushioning.

Human nature being what it is, people then turned to shoes with far more cushioning than had been used in running shoes before.

“I first saw these extremely cushioned shoes being worn by ultra-runners and trail runners” covering long distances, Dr. Mercer said. More recently, less intense runners have begun wearing the maximalist shoes, he said.

These shoes promise plush comfort without a decrease in athletic performance, Dr. Mercer said. Rather surprising (to me), most maximalist shoes weigh about the same as thinner models, Dr. Mercer said, because the foam used for cushioning has a cotton-candy airiness.

However, these shoes are still so new that scientists had not yet examined their effects on how people run.

So for the new study, which was presented last week at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Boston, Dr. Mercer and his colleagues asked 10 experienced runners to eschew their usual shoes for a few days.

At the university’s human performance lab, the runners donned alternately an average pair of running shoes and a pair of maximally cushioned shoes. They ran in each type of shoe at three different speeds and two different inclines on a treadmill, while wearing a mask that measured precisely how much oxygen the runner was taking in. Each run lasted eight to 10 minutes.

If shoes make it more or less difficult to run, Dr. Mercer said, the amount of oxygen that a runner wearing those shoes breathes in should commensurately rise or fall.

As expected, the runners all gasped in far more oxygen when they ran at higher speeds and increased slopes. But their footwear did not affect their oxygen intake. The runners required about the same amount of oxygen at the various paces and inclines whether they wore super-fat or average shoes.

In other words, the maximalist shoes did not make running more tiring. But they also did not make it easier.

The results might encourage some comfort-loving runners, like me, to consider trying the fat-soled shoes.

But this study was quite small-scale and did not address the pressing issue of injuries. No one knows at this point whether wearing maximalist shoes will keep people from getting hurt, Dr. Mercer said. The shoes might, for example, turn out to contribute to certain injuries if their added height makes runners less stable or less able to feel and respond to changes in the ground beneath them.

Dr. Mercer and his colleagues hope to study injury patterns from these shoes in the future.

For now, the broader import of the study’s findings could be that shoes may matter less for running ease than many of us might expect. So if you like your current shoes, stick with them. If, however, you do wish to try maximally — or minimally — cushioned shoes, visit your local running specialty store and wear a pair for a jog around the block to judge whether you enjoy how they feel.


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The Breakup Marathon


Brian Eastwood during the Boston Marathon in 2016.

Brian Eastwood during the Boston Marathon in 2016.Credit Zeth Weissman

Brian Eastwood was a pretty good runner, but he’d always come up a bit short in trying to reach his goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

When he set out to train for the 2015 Vermont City Marathon, though, his 12th try at qualifying, he had something new in his life: a divorce.

“The day my wife and I went to court was the first day of 16 weeks of training,” said Mr. Eastwood, 35, of Somerville, Mass. His life was, to put it mildly, in flux. Not only was he on the verge of divorce, but he was in the middle of trying to make a career shift, too.

But his training paid off: Mr. Eastwood ran the race of his life in Vermont, finishing in 3 hours, 1 minute, 17 seconds, more than seven minutes under his best time, and more than eight minutes under the Boston Marathon qualifying standard for men his age.

His divorce, he says, most likely made the difference. During that difficult time, “running was my only real constant,” he said.

For some people, a life trauma like a breakup or divorce might mean curling up in bed and shutting down. But others find more active ways to cope.

Those people “are better at compartmentalizing or utilizing some of the energy that surrounds the emotions they’re experiencing — maybe it’s anger, maybe it’s sadness — and channeling that into another venue or arena,” said Trent Petrie, director of the University of North Texas Center for Sport Psychology. For runners, that could mean challenging themselves to run better and faster, or to shoot for a longer distance.

“Chronic or traumatic stress leads to structural and functional alterations in the traumatized brain,” said Ken Yeager, director of the stress, trauma and resilience program at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. And while a breakup or divorce may feel like a single traumatic event, it is often the culmination of months or even years of “mini-traumas” and ongoing stress.

“You had those tensions building up in your body,” Dr. Yeager said. “Most people don’t realize the way you release those tensions is movement.” He compares the situation to the nervous tension that builds up at the start of a race. “Before any major race, you have this release of tension, and that movement is what releases the trauma and tension,” he said.

Maya Harmon, 32, ran seven half-marathons in 2015 — the year that she and her husband of seven years divorced. She’d picked up running in 2009 when she moved to Phoenix, but started doing it more when the marriage started to unravel in 2011.

“When things really started to go bad, I started to focus on trying to do something to stay active because I knew that as long as I stayed active, it would keep me slightly happy,” she said. Even though her time was limited between work, graduate school and becoming a single mother, she still got out there, trained and ran races.

Her mother asked if she was trying to run away from her problems. Maybe, she said, though the escape that running provided was at least a healthy one, and kept her from feeling overwhelmed.

“If I had time to sit and think about it, I probably wouldn’t have made it through that time,” Ms. Harmon said. “Running gave me something to focus on that was positive.”

Dr. Petrie says that while there’s a risk that running might be used as an escape that prevents people from confronting the issues that are causing their stress, it can also be a useful tool for processing painful events. “Sometimes in the moment, these escapes into running or exercising or finding a slightly different focus is a way for us to garner the psychological resources we need to circle back and face the other stuff in a more productive way,” he said.

For Ms. Harmon, who had been casually involved with the Black Girls RUN! group via Facebook before her divorce, running gave her a chance to expand her social horizons. She dove in to the local activities of that national group’s Phoenix chapter and is now their running ambassador, a journey that may have helped to strengthen her psychological resilience.

When people are “depressed or stressed out, they tend to isolate themselves, and that facilitates negative moods,” said Jasper Smits, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a co-author of “Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being.” Studies he and his colleagues have conducted suggest that exercise may help to lessen anxiety and panic attacks and provide other benefits for mental health.

This past April, Mr. Eastwood ran that Boston Marathon for which he had worked so hard to qualify. Now his life is very different: He has a new girlfriend, a new job. He was recovering from a calf injury when he started training this time, so he set a more moderate goal. He finished in 3 hours, 24 minutes, 37 seconds, more than 20 minutes slower than his post-divorce performance, but he has no complaints.

“Everyone who saw me along the course said I looked happy and strong, which is exactly what I wanted,” he said.

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”


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The Family That Runs Together


The author, Jen Miller (right) with her sister, Tracy, and mother after the New Jersey Marathon & Half Marathon on May 1.

The author, Jen Miller (right) with her sister, Tracy, and mother after the New Jersey Marathon & Half Marathon on May 1.Credit

When I started running 10 years ago, my family thought it was a funny thing to do. This was in 2006, two years before a running boom took hold in the United States and put a race in my small corner of New Jersey just about every fall and spring weekend. I did my first 5K because a magazine asked me to run it and report back on what was then still a somewhat novel fitness activity. I continued to run because it helped me deal with a romantic breakup, work stress and the ups and downs of being a human being.

My mother, who wasn’t allowed to run in high school because she was a girl, came with me to some of those first races. She was there to cheer, but after a while, she got bored with watching. She also complained that she was overweight and out of shape.

“I saw you running and everybody else running, and I thought, I can do that too,” she told me. I took her to buy her first pair of running shoes. She ran her first 5K at age 58, and for her second, I walked/ran beside her, my foot in an air cast, during her town’s Fourth of July race.

It wasn’t long after that my brother and sister-in-law started to run, completing half marathons. My sister and her husband joined the family bandwagon, finishing a 5K, then a half-marathon, then a full marathon. My dad, who is divorced from my mom but remains on friendly terms, kept track of all of our Facebook posts about running and listened in on our conversations about running. This past December, I took him to buy his first pair of running shoes, too.

My thing had become their thing. At family parties and holidays and even a recent extended family vacation to Walt Disney World, running shoes and fuel and race schedules entered the rotation of safe discussion topics, along with the Philadelphia Phillies, Eagles and the Jersey Shore.

So when I decided to run the 2016 New Jersey Marathon, on May 1, I was happy when my sister told me she’d be joining me, and my mom said she’d run the half that would be held on the same course on the same day. I thought it would be a fun family activity, especially the week before Mother’s Day.

But I’d forgotten that I become a basket of nervous energy and stress before a race, a trait that my family appears to share. On the car ride to the starting line, my dad, who was driving, got mad about traffic. Then my sister got mad at him for being mad about traffic. Then I got mad at her for getting mad at my dad for being mad about traffic. Then she yelled at me for “flipping out.”

As the starting time grew nearer, our car barely inched ahead. After my sister’s snap, no one talked. My brain was stuck on the foot injury I’d sustained three weeks before, wondering if I’d finish the race. My mother sat quietly beside me, knowing better than to step in.

And that’s when I asked myself: Why didn’t I just run my marathon alone?

By the time my dad inched the car to within a half-mile of the starting line, I asked him to pull over, and my sister, mom and I shuffled out into a light drizzle. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, not to my mom about my nerves or the ache in my foot, or to my sister about her lost headphones. Nothing. No one. I wanted to be left alone with my dread.

But when the race started, that feeling receded with every mile crossed. My foot didn’t hurt so much anymore. The downpour they’d been forecasting never came.

My corral started ahead of my sister’s, but I knew she’d beat me because of my interrupted training. I was grateful around mile six when she checked in on me and asked how my foot was doing as she passed by.

Seeing my usually mellow dad jumping up and down and screaming at mile 9.5, while my brother yelled at me that I was losing the race and to run faster, gave me a jolt of energy. That’s when I knew I’d run the full thing instead of bailing at the half-marathon mark.

My boyfriend greeted me with a cowbell at mile 18, another boost that helped me press on.

At mile 19, runners turn around to head to the finish line, and when I saw my sister running south as I still ran north, I screamed at her that she’d better keep up that pace and beat me.

At mile 20, my boyfriend met me again, and I told him I’d make the last 6.2 miles.

When I came through the final yards of the marathon to break my previous personal record — one that I’d set on that course in 2013 — my dad was there and ready with his camera. My mom had finished her own half-marathon and was waiting for me just beyond the finish line, a medal draped around her neck.

No one had come to my first two marathons. Before my third, my dad told me that if I died, he’d be the one to bury me, and all had been pretty solitary affairs. So for this marathon, my sixth, I felt honored to have my mom and sister on the course with me, and my dad and brother and his wife and my boyfriend there cheering me on. And though I’ll be taking a break from marathons while I recover, I can’t wait to cheer them on at their next running events.

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”


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At 100, Still Running for Her Life


100 and She Just Won’t Stop

She is a national champion, a former activist and a centenarian. And she runs.

By NOAH REMNICK and ERICA BERENSTEIN on Publish Date April 22, 2016. Photo by Elias Jerel Williams for The New York Times.

On a cloudless Sunday afternoon in April, a 100-year-old woman named Ida Keeling laced up her mustard yellow sneakers and took to the track at the Fieldston School in the Bronx. Her arrival was met without fanfare. In fact, no one in the stands seemed to notice her at all.

It is possible the spectators were distracted by the girls’ soccer game taking place on the field. Or perhaps they were simply unaware that Ms. Keeling is a reigning national champion.


Ms. Keeling, 100, holds a record for the 60-meter dash for American women ages 95 to 99.

Ms. Keeling, 100, holds a record for the 60-meter dash for American women ages 95 to 99.Credit Elias Jerel Williams for The New York Times

When she runs, Ms. Keeling occupies a lane all her own. She has held several track-and-field records since she began racing in her late 60s, and she still has the fastest time for American women ages 95 to 99 in the 60-meter dash: 29.86 seconds. In the week to come, she plans to compete in a 100-meter event at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, where she hopes to establish a new standard for women over 100 years old.

“You see so many older people just sitting around — well, that’s not me,” said Ms. Keeling, who is barely 4-foot-6 and weighs 83 pounds. “Time marches on, but I keep going.”

Ms. Keeling was not always such an accomplished runner. As a child growing up in Harlem, she preferred riding bikes or jumping rope. With Title IX half a century away, there were few opportunities for girls, let alone black girls, to play organized sports. When she did run, it was always to race, never to exercise.

“I was pretty fast as a girl,” she said. “What makes me faster now is that everyone else slowed down.”

When the Depression hit, Ms. Keeling’s athletic inclinations receded into memory, supplanted by a series of jobs washing windows and babysitting for neighbors. Her family, who for years lived in cramped quarters in the back of her father’s grocery, was forced into even more humbling circumstances when the store went out of business and her father began peddling fruits and vegetables from a pushcart for a living.

“I learned to stand on my own two feet during the Depression,” she said. “It taught you to do what you had to do without anyone doing it for you.”


Shelley Keeling, left, and her mother, Ida Keeling, on a balcony in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

Shelley Keeling, left, and her mother, Ida Keeling, on a balcony in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.Credit Elias Jerel Williams for The New York Times

Ms. Keeling’s resilience only deepened with time. After her husband died of a heart attack at 42, she was left to raise their four children on her own. She moved the family into a one-bedroom apartment in a Harlem housing project and took up work sewing in a factory, all the while contending with the abuses and indignities endured by black women in mid-20th-century America. As the civil rights movement took shape, Ms. Keeling became an active demonstrator, shuttling her children to Malcolm X speeches and boarding a predawn bus for the 1963 March on Washington.

“I always understood from mother that you die on your feet rather than live on your knees,” said her daughter Shelley Keeling.

Over time, that resolve was gravely tested. While serving overseas in the Navy, Ms. Keeling’s older son, Donald, developed a crippling drug addiction that he struggled to shed even after returning home to Harlem. His habit ensnared his younger brother, Charles, who had served in the Army. Ms. Keeling watched in horror as both boys, barrel-chested charmers who friends joked looked like superheroes, withdrew into the world of drugs.


Ms. Keeling stretched her legs in her daughter’s living room in the Bronx last month.

Ms. Keeling stretched her legs in her daughter’s living room in the Bronx last month.Credit Elias Jerel Williams for The New York Times

In 1978, Ms. Keeling received a call from the police informing her that Donald had been hanged. Around two years later, the phone rang again: Charles was dead — beaten in the street with a baseball bat. Both killings were suspected to be drug-related; neither was ever solved.

“I’ve never felt a pain so deep,” Ms. Keeling recalled, her voice lowering to a whisper. “I couldn’t make sense of any of it and things began to fall apart.”


A stretch to improve Ms. Keeling’s blood flow and flexibility.

A stretch to improve Ms. Keeling’s blood flow and flexibility.Credit Elias Jerel Williams for The New York Times

As Ms. Keeling fell into a deep depression, her health began to falter. Her blood pressure shot up, along with her heart rate. The image of her once-vital mother in such despair shook the younger Ms. Keeling. A lifelong track-and-field athlete whose trophies fill an entire room of her apartment, she intervened with the means of healing most familiar to her: running.

“It was trial by fire,” recalled Shelley Keeling, 64, who has coached track and field at Fieldston for 21 years. “Based on where she was emotionally, it just had to be.”

After some coaxing from her daughter, Ms. Keeling, then 67, registered for a five-kilometer race through Brooklyn. It had been decades since she had last gone running. The two women took off together, but the younger Ms. Keeling soon darted to the front of the pack as her mother drifted far behind. After a suspenseful respite, was relieved to see her mother scamper across the finish line, barely out of breath.

“Good Lord, I thought that race was never going to end, but afterwards I felt free,” Ms. Keeling recalled. “I just threw off all of the bad memories, the aggravation, the stress.”

So began the sunset career of Ida Keeling, at a time when most of her peers were settling in for a future of seated yoga or abandoning athletics altogether. In the decades since, she has traveled across the world for competitions. She often races alone, the only contestant in her age group.

“Now I’m just chasing myself — there’s no one else to compete with,” she said. “It’s wonderful, but it feels a little crazy.”

Running gives Ms. Keeling a sense of serenity, she said. Her sinewy arms urge her body forward, each stride stronger than the last as she picks up momentum. Though she has developed arthritis and occasionally relies on a cane while walking, Ms. Keeling betrays none of her ailments as she runs.

To maintain her health, Ms. Keeling adheres to a stringent regimen of diet (“I eat for nutrition, not for taste”) and exercise (“I’ve got to get my hour in every day”). On a recent afternoon, Shelley Keeling led her mother through a routine that included push-ups, wall sits, shoulder presses and sprints back and forth on the balcony of her apartment in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Ms. Keeling lives alone and says that self-sufficiency is a key to her longevity.

“I don’t beg nobody for nothing,” she said. “I wash, cook, iron, scrub, clean, mop and shop.”


Ms. Keeling exceeded the five push-ups that her daughter had asked of her.

Ms. Keeling exceeded the five push-ups that her daughter had asked of her.Credit Elias Jerel Williams for The New York Times

Ms. Keeling eschews food products with preservatives, favoring fresh grains and produce, along with limited portions of meat. Desserts are rarities, and a tablespoon of cod-liver oil supplements breakfast most mornings. Despite her exceptional discipline, Ms. Keeling allows herself one indulgence. “This is putting gas in the car,” she said before downing a tall shot of Hennessy.

There are days when Ms. Keeling battles a surge of arthritis or a hint of melancholy. “I never want to go backwards,” she said. “I’m a forward type of person.”

As she navigated the track at Fieldston, a nasty cramp shot up her right leg, hobbling her gait. For a moment she seemed to hesitate as she let out a deep sigh and slowed her pace. But then Ms. Keeling dispensed with the pain the only way she knew how. She ran through it.


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For Women Who Run, the Bathroom Problem


Credit iStock



On a recent weekend trip to Washington, I was running in Rock Creek Park when the water and coffee I’d had that morning caught up with me. I’d run there only once before so was unsure where relief lay. I’m also a woman, so I couldn’t just pull over to the nearest bush or tree and relieve myself discreetly, the way guys do, through the benefits of outdoor plumbing.

And then, like a beacon of hope and light, just as the need became painfully pressing, I came across a Porta-Potty. One big problem: It was perched on the side of the road, inches from two lanes of traffic, with a door that opened into those lanes. I waited for a gap in traffic, opened the door, ducked in and did the deed greatly relieved, but through it all hoping that a stiff wind wouldn’t push me over into the road or that I would meet my demise on my way out.

When to go and where to go is a tricky issue for female runners.

On training runs, at least I can plan. I make sure my route intersects with at least one coffee shop, fast-food restaurant or that one Porta-Potty in the park near my house that’s always clean.

But races can be far more unpredictable.

One choice is to throw modesty to the wind and simply bare all. But that involves some deep squatting — not something that’s always easy to do on race-weary legs. The problem is made even worse if, like me, you wear shorts that are tight instead of baggy and must be pulled all the way down to the knees to go.

Another option is to give up many precious seconds, or even minutes, waiting in line for a Porta-Potty that may or may not be where you need it, when you need it, and then going through the motions to get out of your shorts, then back into them.

Or, you can always just let it go and hope that no one notices. One female runner I know, who asked to remain anonymous, couldn’t get through the bathroom line at the start of the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon. So she let loose as the race started, grateful that she was wearing sweat wicking tights, which she told me dried fast.

Where to go isn’t a problem limited to amateurs, either. During the 2005 London Marathon, Paula Radcliffe stopped on the side of the racecourse to relieve herself — in the sight lines of a media truck — and then went on to win the race. Before the 2013 Boston Marathon, both Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher didn’t have time to get to a Porta-Potty before the start, so they asked race officials to block the view from the crowds at the start. The officials obliged, using their bodies as a shield.

Now a new solution may soon be available: the Gotta Go running skirt. Skirt Sports, the company that makes the product, plans to release the Gotta Go on a limited basis at the end of May. It’s a version of its running skirt that includes what the company calls “a trap door and relief hatch.”

To release the hatch, “You lift the skirt up, open the Velcro from the front, the flap comes down and there’s an opening that’s anatomically positioned,” said Nicole DeBoom, the founder and chief executive of Skirt Sports. The trap door is adjustable, to provide a personalized fit and accommodate women who want to wear sanitary napkins while running as well.

The idea for the product, Ms. DeBoom said, came from their customers, who complained about incontinence issues arising from pregnancy, childbirth or aging. She’d also heard from women who told her they wouldn’t drink anything before a race because they didn’t want to have to stop to relieve themselves — a potentially dangerous situation that could lead to dehydration and serious medical issues.

But really: Would anyone buy a skirt with a hole in it?

To float the idea, Skirt Sports put up a Facebook post on April Fools’ Day 2015 envisioning “some kind of magical skirt that knows when you’re about to pee and opens up,” Ms. DeBoom said. Some 2,000 female runners responded with their ideas about what they would use the skirt for, with relieving themselves and replacing tampons or sanitary napkins during heavy periods at the top of the list. That led to a Kickstarter campaign, which drew 800 supporters who pledged $75 each. Contributors will receive their Gotta Gos once they become available.

Ms. DeBoom says that if the feedback is positive, they’ll consider adding it to Skirt Sports’ regular line in both short and Capri length.

Though I’m not a huge fan of running skirts — the extra swishing bothers me — at least someone is working on a solution. Until then, I’ll keep waiting in long Porta-Potty lines, or hope I’ll be able to enlist a fellow runner to shield me should I need to peel off to the side of the road.

Or, I could always learn to do what the ultramarathoner Deborah Paquin learned to do: go standing up. She got the idea in the late 1990s, after getting stuck in a Porta-Potty at the start of one race then, in another, accidentally mooning a fellow runner. “I needed to find a better way,” she said. After a few mishaps, she found success “if I tilted my pelvis under a little and spread my legs wide enough and really engage my abs.” Personally, I’m not sure I’m up for the trial and error.


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An Easy Way to Prevent Blisters? Try Tape


Credit Getty Images


Paper tape, the kind you can find in a first-aid kit, can help prevent blisters.

Paper tape, the kind you can find in a first-aid kit, can help prevent blisters.Credit Grant S. Lipman, M.D.

Exercise science today is exploring countless mysterious, exciting and poetic aspects of human physiology and performance. But sometimes you just wish that someone would tell you how to keep your feet from hurting. A wonderfully practical new study obliges, providing the first reliable, field-tested evidence about how to prevent blisters during prolonged exercise. Anyone running next week’s Boston Marathon, you’re welcome.

Blisters are one of the most common bugaboos of physical activity. Almost everyone who regularly trains or competes in any sport has experienced blisters. They reportedly afflict about 40 percent or more of marathon runners and frequently cause racers to drop out of the event.

“Blisters happen to just about everyone,” said Dr. Grant S. Lipman, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Stanford University, who led the new study.

Blisters develop when something rubs repeatedly against a patch of skin. The resulting friction causes the top layers of the skin to begin separating from one another, producing a feeling of heat. This is a hot spot, a warning sign of an incipient blister. If the friction continues, fluid fills the spaces between the skin layers, and you have a blister.

Blisters hurt, as most of us know from experience. So active people have tried many methods to avoid them. Past studies in the small field of blister science have found that, by and large, none of these methods work. Applying petroleum jelly to the feet, for instance, increases friction and the incidence of blisters, according to a 1995 study. Ditto for wearing cotton socks, using lotion combined with antiperspirant, or sticking a bandage, Moleskin or other specialized protective patch onto the foot.

But Dr. Lipman, who is the director of the Wilderness Medicine program at Stanford and the medical director for several ultramarathons around the world, had heard from ultramarathon runners that wrapping parts of their feet in paper tape helped them to stave off blisters.

Paper tape is exactly what its name suggests, a thin, inexpensive tape made of paper. You can find it at virtually any drugstore, sold as surgical or medical tape, and it is a common component of first-aid kits. It is thinner than bandages, and breathable.

But anecdotes from happy racers do not constitute scientific evidence, Dr. Lipman knew.

So for the new study, which was published this week in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, he turned to a group for whom blisters are almost inevitable: ultra-ultramarathoners and, specifically, the participants in an annual, grueling multistage ultramarathon run across parts of Jordan, Madagascar and the Gobi and Atacama deserts.

Dr. Lipman and his colleagues asked all of the runners signed up for the 2014 event if they would wear paper tape on their feet to determine if doing so actually prevented blisters. Almost 130 men and women agreed.

Immediately before the first stage began, those racers visited Dr. Lipman’s medical tent and had their feet wrapped. Runners with a history of blisters, which was most of the runners, showed the researchers where they had been prone to develop the sores in the past. Those areas — usually the toes — were then covered with the thin tape. If someone had not experienced blisters before, the researchers wrapped parts of their feet at random.

The uncovered portions of each runner’s affected foot would serve as a control, the scientists had decided. If a runner developed no blisters or blisters only where his or her foot had remained unprotected, then the tape could be considered to have worked.

Six stages and more than 200 miles later, most of the runners had developed at least one blister. But an overwhelming majority of those blisters, about 70 percent, had occurred on the unprotected parts of the foot. Very few blisters had developed beneath the tape.

Over all, the scientists concluded, the tape had reduced the incidence of blisters by at least 40 percent, a very “robust effect,” they wrote.

But there were quibbles. Paper tape is not very sticky and typically will peel away as feet sweat. Most runners had to reapply the tape multiple times throughout the race stages, meaning they had to carry a roll with them, stop, uncover their feet, retape and resume running. Whether participants in shorter, single-stage events, such as a marathon, would need to retape their feet is not known

(On the plus side, Dr. Lipman said, paper tape won’t stick to a blister and tear away skin or tissue when removed, as bandages will.)

Most of the racers involved in the study, however, said afterward that they planned to use the tape in future events, Dr. Lipman said.

For those at home considering likewise taping their feet to avoid blisters, the process is simple, he said. Cut or tear a single narrow strip of the paper tape and wrap it over whichever part of your foot has been prone to blisters. (See photo.) For most people, the toes and ankle are the spots most vulnerable to blisters.

Also, he said, use common sense. Make sure that your shoes fit and don’t rub against your skin. Never wear brand-new shoes in a race, as you won’t know whether they rub. And don’t wear cotton socks or coat your feet in petroleum jelly.


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Walk, Jog or Dance: It’s All Good for the Aging Brain


Credit Illustration by Sam Island

More people are living longer these days, but the good news comes shadowed by the possible increase in cases of age-related mental decline. By some estimates, the global incidence of dementia will more than triple in the next 35 years. That grim prospect is what makes a study published in March in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease so encouraging: It turns out that regular walking, cycling, swimming, dancing and even gardening may substantially reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Exercise has long been linked to better mental capacity in older people. Little research, however, has tracked individuals over years, while also including actual brain scans. So for the new study, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and other institutions analyzed data produced by the Cardiovascular Health Study, begun in 1989, which has evaluated almost 6,000 older men and women. The subjects complete medical and cognitive tests, fill out questionnaires about their lives and physical activities and receive M.R.I. scans of their brains. Looking at 10 years of data from nearly 900 participants who were at least 65 upon entering the study, the researchers first determined who was cognitively impaired, based on their cognitive assessments. Next they estimated the number of calories burned through weekly exercise, based on the participants’ questionnaires.

The scans showed that the top quartile of active individuals proved to have substantially more gray matter, compared with their peers, in those parts of the brain related to memory and higher-­level thinking. More gray matter, which consists mostly of neurons, is generally equated with greater brain health. At the same time, those whose physical activity increased over a five-year period — though these cases were few — showed notable increases in gray-matter volume in those same parts of their brains. And, perhaps most meaningful, people who had more gray matter correlated with physical activity also had 50 percent less risk five years laterof having experienced memory decline or of having developed Alzheimer’s.

“For the purposes of brain health, it looks like it’s a very good idea to stay as physically active as possible,” says Cyrus Raji, a senior radiology resident at U.C.L.A., who led the study. He points out that “physical activity” is an elastic term in this study: It includes walking, jogging and moderate cycling as well as gardening, ballroom dancing and other calorie-burning recreational pursuits. Dr. Raji said he hopes that further research might show whether this caloric expenditure is remodeling the brain, perhaps by reducing inflammation or vascular diseases.

The ideal amount and type of activity for staving off memory loss is unknown, he says, although even the most avid exercisers in this group were generally cycling or dancing only a few times a week. Still, the takeaway is that physical activity might change aging’s arc. “If we want to live a long time but also keep our memories, our basic selves, intact, keep moving,” Dr. Raji says.


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Running in Cuba

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The tap on my shoulder came about 20 minutes into my first run along the Malecón, Havana’s seawall. “Maratón? Maratón?” Was I training for a marathon? The question came from a runner in his early 20s, wearing shorts and a racing singlet.

My new Cuban friend’s name, I learned, was Andrés Carrión González, and he told me he was training for the half-marathon held in Havana each November. His best time in the half, he said, was 1 hour 10 minutes; did I think he would do well? I told him, in my halting Spanish, that I thought he’d do very well.

He slowed his pace so we could run and talk about marathons and training, and we ran together for about a mile before I had to turn back so I could return to my hotel in time for a group excursion. Andrés was midway through a 10-mile run and continued west.

Running on vacation has always been a way for me to explore places I might not otherwise get a chance to see. This was especially true on a whirlwind tour of Cuba, sponsored by Vanderbilt University, which I took with my family and 28 other Americans this month. We were ferried from site to site by bus and many activities were planned. Big things are about to happen in Cuba, a place with a complex history, but I felt a bit removed from it all until I struck out in my running shoes.

The Malecón is many things: physical buffer against the erosive force of the water, fisherman’s paradise, couples’ rendezvous spot. It’s also a popular place for runners. For eight unbroken kilometers (five miles), you can run on a stretch of sidewalk bounded on one side by the water of Havana Bay, which extends out to the point where the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet.

The concrete is harsh on the feet and in disrepair in a few spots, but there is no trash anywhere — Havana’s streets are spotless. On the other side of the highway abutting the path are beautiful pastel buildings in various stages of decay. Traffic is light, with a mix of Cuba’s famed pre-embargo 1950s American cars, newer Soviet-era hatchbacks and big, shiny tour buses.

I run alone often and in many kinds of places, urban, suburban and rural, but I have never felt safer as a female solo runner than I did in Havana. No catcalling, no staring.

The east end of the Malecón, the first section of the seawall completed at the turn of the 20th century, ends at a cruise port where, it was recently announced, Carnival Corporation will dock ships on trips out of Miami for the first time in more than 50 years beginning in May. Running back west, to my right was Morro Castle, a fort built in 1589 to guard the harbor against foreign invasions. Past the fortress the water opens up and anglers stake their spots along the seawall.

I ran most of the mornings I was in Havana, and on one of my runs, a storm was brewing on the water and the waves occasionally washed up and over the wall, providing a cooling spray. I saw many other runners; some were obviously tourists like myself, easily distinguished from the natives by our neon clothes, headphones dangling from our ears. More than a few Habaneros were returning from a late night out, high heels in hand, ties undone.

My tour group traveled to central and eastern Cuba for two days, a chance to see more rural parts of the country. We spent two nights in Sancti Spíritus, one of the oldest European settlements in Cuba, with mostly low-slung buildings surrounded by farmland. Runners here were scarce. On my one run there, I started by running around the square our hotel sat on but quickly grew bored going in circles, so branched off onto one of the narrow, cobblestoned streets leading through the town.

One street took me by a cigar factory, where I could hear the chatter of workers filtering out through the open windows. Another took me by a bakery, where the smells nearly derailed me, and to a monument commemorating the site where the railroad first came through town in 1902. Roosters, dogs and a few cats mingled with uniformed students on the sidewalks; cars, mopeds, bikes and the occasional horse and buggy passed us in the street.

Back in Havana for two more days, I ran both mornings on the Malecón, heading a bit farther west each time, away from Morro Castle and toward Central Havana. On my last day there, I had just returned to the Parque Central when I ran into Andrés standing outside, waiting for his friend to accompany him on a run. We chatted a bit more. He admired my sneakers, brand-new Nikes that I’d bought for the trip because they were more lightweight than my usual pair. He told me that in Cuba you cannot buy new running shoes, that they simply are not available.

I looked down at his feet. The soles of his shoes were worn flat, the seams frayed and threadbare, the color faded to a dull gray. He told me he hoped that running shoes would become more available as the United States and Cuba improve relations. I told him that I hope so, too.


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Running on Vacation


Jen A. Miller in the mountains of North Carolina in May, 2015.

Jen A. Miller in the mountains of North Carolina in May, 2015.Credit

On the second day of a recent two-week road trip, I woke up at a Holiday Inn off Interstate 95 in Santee, S.C., and drove to a nearby state park. I was in my fifth week of marathon training and needed to complete three miles, so why not do so in a new place I might never see again? I’ve run in many unfamiliar towns and cities — Chicago; Minneapolis; Seattle; San Francisco; St. Pete Beach, Fla.; Freeport, Me.; Rome — and each jaunt has given me a unique look at a part of the world I might have missed otherwise.


A warning sign at Santee State Park in South Carolina.

A warning sign at Santee State Park in South Carolina.Credit

By mile one, though, a light rain had gotten slightly heavier. By the time I reached a warning sign that read, “Do not approach alligators no matter how big or small. ‘Gators’ can move fast!” the rain had turned heavy and cold, and I thought that perhaps a treadmill would have been the way to go.

Running while traveling can be a challenge. You’re in a different climate, you don’t know where to go and sometimes, as I learned, wild beasts may be thrown into the mix. But with a little planning and an assist or two, running in a fresh location can give you a chance to experience something new.

“Every city has a feel to it,” said Chris Heuisler, head of the RunWestin concierge program at the Westin hotel chain, which, like a number of hotel chains, provides personal guidance to help visitors keep up with their fitness while traveling. One way to get a taste of a city’s feeling is to run there. “There are so many little details to a city that you would not see if you had not gone for a run,” he said.

The biggest hurdle, he said, is knowing where to go. Many hotels and resorts provide online or paper running maps. On a trip to San Francisco, for example, I stayed at a Kimpton hotel that provided a map with different routes through the city, with mileage marked. Free, ad-heavy paper tourism maps are also provided in many hotel lobbies and local tourism offices.

Another way to not get lost: join a group. “You can always hook up with local running clubs,” said Amy Begley, who ran the 10,000 meters for the United States in the 2008 Olympic Games and is a coach for the Atlanta Track Club. That’s how I got a running tour of Asheville, N.C., this spring. Specialty running stores often hold group runs that welcome visitors, too. You can find running clubs through the Road Runners Club of America and specialty running stores through the Independent Running Retailer Association.

If you’re worried you’ll get to your destination and lose your motivation, Mr. Heuisler suggests signing up for a race. “It holds you accountable but also immerses you into that culture,” he said.

In 2012, while training for my first marathon, I needed to do a 15-mile run while at a conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, so I signed up for and ran a half-marathon on Canadian Thanksgiving Day, then ran back to my hotel to complete the needed miles. I saw parts of the city I never would have otherwise — including a bridge I’ve seen used in movies shot in Vancouver — and have a medal with maple leaves on the ribbon as a souvenir.

Whether you are running to train or sightsee, make adjustments in pace and expectations, especially if the environment is very different from what you’re used to, and make do with what’s available. My first speedwork session of my latest cycle of marathon training lined up with the back end of my road trip, which took me to Jekyll Island, Ga. The island does not have a track, which I would have used to mark the start and finish of each sprint session, but it does have 22 miles of paved trails, so I did my 400-meter repeats there instead, using my GPS watch to tell me when to sprint and when to slow down. I also carried a water bottle because, even though it was cold enough that day for two locals to drop out of a planned afternoon kayak trip, the weather was still much warmer and more humid than I was used to in New Jersey.

And there’s nothing wrong with using the treadmill if you need to, Ms. Begley said, especially if you’re coming from a warm climate into a winter freeze. And don’t rely on pictures of a gym on a hotel website either. “Hotels may say they have a gym, but you don’t know what equipment they have,” she said. Call ahead to ask if they have treadmills and if they’re working.

My latest trip ended on a whimper: a 14-hour drive, with the last two hours in the dark through driving rain and the last 10 minutes through a fog so thick I turned on my flashers. When my gas tank warning sign went on just before I reached my hotel in Rehoboth Beach, Del., I thought, “Maybe you shouldn’t do your tempo run tomorrow,” then parked myself at the bar of Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats.

I did end up doing my run, but not in Rehoboth Beach, as originally intended. I slept in, then took the Cape May-Lewes Ferry to Cape May, N.J., a place I’ve visited too many times to count, and did a five-mile hard run through the meadows of West Cape May along Sunset Boulevard, a route I know well.

Then I had a sandwich, a cup of coffee and — finally — went home.

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”


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Running for the Wrong Reasons

Excerpted from Jen A. Miller’s new book, “Running: a Love Story: 10 Years, 5 Marathons, and 1 Life-Changing Sport.”



When I was 13 years old, Avalon, the shore town I’ve gone to every summer of my life, started a dredging project to widen the beaches. They took sand from the ocean floor and transferred it onto land. It worked, but it also kicked up seaweed. A lot of seaweed. I was determined to swim anyway, but it clung everywhere, catching in the crooks of my elbows, my knees, my hair. I tried to float over it on a boogie board, but it hooked onto the strap that connected the board to my wrist and weighed me down.

That’s what dating Steve was like. In David Carr’s memoir “The Night of the Gun,” he called this kind of relationship a “minuet of misery.” As Stephen dropped deeper into alcoholism, creating and breaking his own rules (it’s not a problem if I only drink on weekends, it’s not a problem if it doesn’t affect my work, it’s not a problem if I’m a little hungover at work), and as his calls became later, more frantic, and more frequent, he pulled me down too.

That first 5K in Medford came eight months into this mess. I had managed to eat enough to maintain that training, skating on the edge of eating too little to be too small, but I plunged over the edge soon after. I kept running after that 5K, but it was for him. I wanted to be as small as possible, and I saw running as a path toward that goal. I had a strength training routine down. I was in the weight room four days a week, lifting 20, 25, 30, 40, 50 pounds at low reps just like Steve said, but I still didn’t look like Jessica Alba from Sin City, who he had on a poster in his basement. “You can look like that,” he said one night as we played pool, Jessica staring down at me as I tried to sink the eight ball. (I didn’t. I scratched.)

If I do that, if I can look like that, I told myself, it’ll finally flip that switch in him, turn a relationship held together by spider webs into something solid and real. Running burned more calories an hour than any other cardio I could do in the gym. Running needed to be part of my life then so I could show Steve what I was willing to do for him. I didn’t enjoy the miles like I used to. Those days of bounding around Knight Park being serenaded by birds and kids and Little League games were gone. Now I was trapped in the run, like I was trapped with him, trying to use one as the means to an end with the other.


Credit Marc Steiner

The more I drank, the more I smoked, the less I ate. I vowed to do better with my no-carb, no-fat diet: No more slip-ups. No more carbs at all. And if I did make a mistake — a plate of cheese-covered nachos when out with friends, Saturday sandwiches with Mom — I puked it back up. It wasn’t that different from throwing up after a long night of drinking, right? So what was wrong with getting rid of too much food?

On one cool morning six months before the end, when we hadn’t called or texted or emailed in nearly a week — a new record! — I went for a run. It was a gorgeous, clear day, the first one after the summer heat had finally broken. The world felt wiped clean. Maybe, I thought, that day could be a new start for me too.

I ran straight for Knight Park on my usual 3-mile route. I started feeling that strength again that I had found in training for the 5K, in moving my body forward, one step at a time. But one minute I was looking at the war memorial on the corner of the park and the next I was staring up at the concerned face of a mom and her 2-year-old.

“You O.K.?” she asked as her toddler yelled “Boo-boo! Booboo!” over and over again. “You just went down.” I was 115 pounds, a weight I hadn’t been since middle school.

“Oh, I’m O.K. I didn’t drink any water today,” I lied, and let her help me stand up. My vision started to fade again, so I held on to her shoulder.

“Let me drive you home,” she said.

“No, I’m O.K.,” I said, first to her, then to her son, whose eyes were now wide with terror. I played peek a boo with him until he smiled and offered me his binkie. My vision had stopped graying by then, and I shuffled home.

Excerpted from “Running: A Love Story” by Jen Miller. Available from Seal Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2016.

How Exercise May Lower Cancer Risk


Credit Getty Images

The relationship between exercise and cancer has long both intrigued and puzzled oncologists and exercise physiologists.

Exercise is strongly associated with lowered risks for many types of cancer. In epidemiological studies, people who regularly exercise generally prove to be much less likely to develop or die from the disease than people who do not. At the same time, exercise involves biological stress, which typically leads to a short-term increase in inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation can contribute to elevated risks for many cancers.

Now, a new study in mice may offer some clues into the exercise-cancer paradox. It suggests that exercise may change how the immune system deals with cancer by boosting adrenaline, certain immune cells and other chemicals that, together, can reduce the severity of cancer or fight it off altogether.

To try to better understand how exercise can both elevate inflammation and simultaneously protect the body against cancer, scientists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and other institutions decided to closely examine what happens inside mice at high risk for the disease.

So, for the new study, which was published this month in Cell Metabolism, they began by gathering a group of adult lab mice. These animals generally like to run.

The scientists then implanted melanoma skin cancer cells into the mice before providing half of them with running wheels in their cages while the other animals remained sedentary. After four weeks, far fewer of the runners had developed full-blown melanoma than the sedentary mice and those that had been diagnosed with the disease showed fewer and smaller lesions. They also were less prone to metastases, even if scientists injected some of the cancer cells into their lungs to stimulate metastases.

In effect, running seemed to have at least partially inoculated the mice against the cancer.

Next, the scientists undertook the far more challenging task of reverse-engineering the process by which exercise might be helping to fight off the tumors. To start, they drew blood from both the exercising and sedentary animals and cells from any tumors in both groups. Then they looked microscopically at how the various samples were different.

As expected, they found much higher levels of the hormone adrenaline in the blood of the exercising animals, especially right after they had been working out on the wheels but also at other times of the day. The body releases adrenaline in response to almost any type of stressful experience, including exercise.

They also found higher levels of interleukin-6 in the blood of the runners. This is a substance that is released by working muscles and is believed to both increase and decrease inflammation in the body capriciously, depending on where and how it goes to work.

Perhaps most important, they found much higher numbers in the bloodstreams of runners than in the sedentary mice of a type of immune cell named natural killer cells that are known to be potent cancer fighters.

Somehow, the scientists speculated, these elements in the runners — their elevated adrenaline, IL-6, and natural killer immune cells and their lower cancer risk — must be entwined, but it wasn’t clear how.

So the scientists repeated their original experiment multiple times, inducing cancer while allowing some mice to run and others to sit. But in some of these follow-up experiments, they injected the runners with a substance that blocked the production of adrenaline and gave sedentary animals large doses of added adrenaline.

Then they again looked at the animals’ blood and other cells.

What they now saw was that when running mice could not produce adrenaline, they developed cancer at the same rate as the sedentary animals, while the sedentary animals that had been injected with extra adrenaline fought off their tumors better than other sitting mice.

More remarkably, by studying the action of various genes within the cells of the mice, the scientists determined that adrenaline seemed to be sending biochemical signals to some of the animals’ IL-6 cells, making them physiologically more alert, so that when a tumor began to develop in the affected animal, those IL-6 cells in turn activated the natural killer cells in the bloodstream and actually directed them to the tumors, like minute guide fish.

Because the runners’ blood generally contained more adrenaline, more IL-6, and more natural killer cells than did the blood of the sedentary mice, this process was intensified. A larger number of natural killer cells were directed to tumors in the runners, allowing their immune systems, it seems, to more effectively combat the malignancy.

With these results, “we show that voluntary wheel running in mice can reduce the growth of tumors, and we have identified an exercise-dependent mobilization of natural killer cells as the underlying cause of this protection,” said Pernille Hojman, a researcher at the University of Copenhagen who oversaw the new study.

But mice, obviously, are not people, and it is impossible to know from this study whether a similar process occurs in humans, although exercise, particularly moderately intense exercise such as jogging, has been shown to increase adrenaline and the production of natural killer immune cells in people, Dr. Hojman said.

“So the mechanisms,” she said, that seemed to partially protect the running mice in this study from malignancies, “can also happen in people,” perhaps providing one more incentive, if we still need it, to get up and move.


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Which Type of Exercise Is Best for the Brain?


Credit Getty Images

Some forms of exercise may be much more effective than others at bulking up the brain, according to a remarkable new study in rats. For the first time, scientists compared head-to-head the neurological impacts of different types of exercise: running, weight training and high-intensity interval training. The surprising results suggest that going hard may not be the best option for long-term brain health.

As I have often written, exercise changes the structure and function of the brain. Studies in animals and people have shown that physical activity generally increases brain volume and can reduce the number and size of age-related holes in the brain’s white and gray matter.

Exercise also, and perhaps most resonantly, augments adult neurogenesis, which is the creation of new brain cells in an already mature brain. In studies with animals, exercise, in the form of running wheels or treadmills, has been found to double or even triple the number of new neurons that appear afterward in the animals’ hippocampus, a key area of the brain for learning and memory, compared to the brains of animals that remain sedentary. Scientists believe that exercise has similar impacts on the human hippocampus.

These past studies of exercise and neurogenesis understandably have focused on distance running. Lab rodents know how to run. But whether other forms of exercise likewise prompt increases in neurogenesis has been unknown and is an issue of increasing interest, given the growing popularity of workouts such as weight training and high-intensity intervals.

So for the new study, which was published this month in the Journal of Physiology, researchers at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland and other institutions gathered a large group of adult male rats. The researchers injected the rats with a substance that marks new brain cells and then set groups of them to an array of different workouts, with one group remaining sedentary to serve as controls.

Some of the animals were given running wheels in their cages, allowing them to run at will. Most jogged moderately every day for several miles, although individual mileage varied.

Others began resistance training, which for rats involves climbing a wall with tiny weights attached to their tails.

Still others took up the rodent equivalent of high-intensity interval training. For this regimen, the animals were placed on little treadmills and required to sprint at a very rapid and strenuous pace for three minutes, followed by two minutes of slow skittering, with the entire sequence repeated twice more, for a total of 15 minutes of running.

These routines continued for seven weeks, after which the researchers microscopically examined brain tissue from the hippocampus of each animal.

They found very different levels of neurogenesis, depending on how each animal had exercised.

Those rats that had jogged on wheels showed robust levels of neurogenesis. Their hippocampal tissue teemed with new neurons, far more than in the brains of the sedentary animals. The greater the distance that a runner had covered during the experiment, the more new cells its brain now contained.

There were far fewer new neurons in the brains of the animals that had completed high-intensity interval training. They showed somewhat higher amounts than in the sedentary animals but far less than in the distance runners.

And the weight-training rats, although they were much stronger at the end of the experiment than they had been at the start, showed no discernible augmentation of neurogenesis. Their hippocampal tissue looked just like that of the animals that had not exercised at all.

Obviously, rats are not people. But the implications of these findings are provocative. They suggest, said Miriam Nokia, a research fellow at the University of Jyvaskyla who led the study, that “sustained aerobic exercise might be most beneficial for brain health also in humans.”

Just why distance running was so much more potent at promoting neurogenesis than the other workouts is not clear, although Dr. Nokia and her colleagues speculate that distance running stimulates the release of a particular substance in the brain known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor that is known to regulate neurogenesis. The more miles an animal runs, the more B.D.N.F. it produces.

Weight training, on the other hand, while extremely beneficial for muscular health, has previously been shown to have little effect on the body’s levels of B.D.N.F., Dr. Nokia said, which could explain why it did not contribute to increased neurogenesis in this study.

As for high-intensity interval training, its potential brain benefits may be undercut by its very intensity, Dr. Nokia said. It is, by intent, much more physiologically draining and stressful than moderate running, and “stress tends to decrease adult hippocampal neurogenesis,” she said.

These results do not mean, however, that only running and similar moderate endurance workouts strengthen the brain, Dr. Nokia said. Those activities do seem to prompt the most neurogenesis in the hippocampus. But weight training and high-intensity intervals probably lead to different types of changes elsewhere in the brain. They might, for instance, encourage the creation of additional blood vessels or new connections between brain cells or between different parts of the brain.

So if you currently weight train or exclusively work out with intense intervals, continue. But perhaps also thread in an occasional run or bike ride for the sake of your hippocampal health.


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Why We Get Running Injuries (and How to Prevent Them)


Credit Getty Images

Warm weather is on its way across the country — really, it is, I promise— and so are spring marathons, meaning that many people soon will begin a new or augmented running program. Many also will wind up sidelined by injury. But a new study suggests that being light on your feet could keep most runners healthy.

Running injuries are extremely common, with some statistics estimating that as many as 90 percent of runners miss training time every year due to injury.

But the underlying cause of many of these injuries remains in question. Past studies and popular opinion have blamed increased mileage, excess body weight, over-striding, modern running shoes, going barefoot, weak hips, diet, and rough pavement or trails. But most often, studies have found that the best indicator of a future injury is a past one, which, frankly, is not a helpful conclusion for runners hoping not to get hurt.

So for the new study, which was published in December in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers at Harvard Medical School and other universities decided to look at running injuries, one of the more obvious but surprisingly understudied aspects of running, and to focus their attention, in part, on those rare long-time runners who have never been hurt.

Specifically, they set out to look at pounding, or impact loading, which means the amount of force that we create when we strike the ground. Pounding is, of course, inevitable during a run. But runners with similar body types and running styles can experience wildly different amounts of impact loading, and it hasn’t been clear to what extent these differences directly contribute to injuries.

The researchers recruited 249 experienced female recreational runners, who were chosen in part because they all struck the ground with their heels when they ran. Most runners are heel strikers, and heel striking is believed by many running experts to cause higher impacts than landing near the middle or front of the foot, possibly contributing to an increased risk of injuries. (The scientists focused on a single sex so that they would not have to control for gender in the results.)

The volunteers reported to the biomechanics lab at the Spaulding National Running Center, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School, where they completed questionnaires about their injury history and then strode along a track equipped with force monitors to determine their impact loads.

Afterward, the scientists asked each volunteer to complete an ongoing, online running diary and injury log.

The researchers tracked the runners for two years.

During that time, more than 100 of the runners reported sustaining an injury that was serious enough to require medical attention. Another 40 or so reported minor injuries, while the rest remained uninjured.

More remarkably, in the minds of the researchers, 21 of the runners not only did not become injured during the two-year study but also had not had a prior injury. They remained long-term running-injury virgins, the athletic equivalent of unicorns.

Intrigued, the scientists decided to compare that small group’s impact loading with the pounding experienced by the seriously injured runners, since, the researchers theorized, the contrast between these groups should provide the most telling data about whether how hard you land affects your risk of being hurt.

The answer was that it does. The never-injured runners, as a group, landed far more lightly than those who had been seriously hurt, the scientists found, even when the researchers controlled for running mileage, body weight and other variables.

That finding refutes the widely held belief that a runner cannot land lightly on her heels.

“One of the runners we studied, a woman who has run multiple marathons and never been hurt, had some of the lowest rates of loading that we’ve ever seen,” said Irene Davis, a Harvard professor and director of the Spaulding center, who led the study. She pounded far less than many runners who land near the front of their feet, Dr. Davis said. “When you watched her run, it was like seeing an insect running across water. It was beautiful.”

The data also, however, contain a more general message for those of us who are not as wispy and whippy in our landings. Consciously think about “a soft landing,” Dr. Davis said. Some runners, especially those with a long history of injuries, might want to experiment with landing closer to the midfoot, she said, since many — but not all — runners naturally land more lightly when they don’t lead with the heel.

Consider, too, slightly increasing your cadence, she said, which is the number of steps you take per minute, a change that also tends to reduce the pounding from each stride. Or you might, as I plan to do, imagine that you are running over eggshells or, even more evocatively, are a water strider, moving gracefully and weightlessly across the pond.


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