Running Safety

Running is just downright awesome! You aren’t reading this unless you already agree with that. However, it can also be dangerous like most activities. Just remember you will be fine unless you cross one of the safety red lines. That’s a term I just made up for something you do to put yourself in danger or get seriously hurt or worse. For the most part, common sense rules the day. But where do the dangers lie?

Weather extremes, bad footing, health issues, cars, bad dogs or bad people can all turn a run turn into a nightmare. Let’s take these one at a time and how to deal with them.

Beginning with weather is easy. NEVER EVER IN A MILLION YEARS run during an electrical storm. If you hear thunder, there is lightning. Don’t mess with this one. It isn’t worth it. Lightning doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t kill often but it does kill people who think it won’t hit them. So, if there is thunder, don’t go for an outdoor run. It’s as simple as that. If you’re into treadmills, go for it but not outside. Rain itself is no problem. If you don’t like to get wet, then don’t go outside but it won’t hurt you. If it’s heavy and you get wet shoes, watch out for blisters but getting rained on won’t kill you like lightning.

What if it’s too hot or too cold? Too hot is more likely to be dangerous than too cold. You can only take off so many layers if it’s too hot outside. How hot is too hot? That depends on the person and how far you are going. If you live in the south and are acclimated to heat, then you can probably run in hotter weather than I can. While in Savannah on a vacation I was on a trolley tour of the city and saw 3 different runners out at noon in 103 degree heat. That didn’t appeal to me. I hope they weren’t going far but they were out there. I don’t recommend running in that much heat. If it’s too hot, plan your runs for early in the morning or late in the day or once again, think treadmill. I wish I didn’t hate treadmills but they just aren’t an option for me. Stay well hydrated and cut back on mileage. Proving how manly you are in the heat is a recipe for disaster.

Too cold? It has to be really cold before it’s too cold to run. Your lungs will NOT freeze. That just doesn’t happen. But you can get frostbite. Be careful of ice (more on that later). So, how do we handle the cold? Dress for it. Layers are always the answer. A rough rule of thumb is to wear enough that you would be comfortable just standing around in temperatures 20 degrees warmer than you are running in. For example if it is 40 degrees out, wear enough that you would be okay wearing what you have on if you were sitting outside in 60 degree weather. Just like when it’s too hot, you might need to cut back on your mileage if it’s too cold. I have run below 10 degrees but I know others who have gone way below that.

Bad footing is another danger. Ice is the number one danger to running surfaces. Snow is okay but ice is not. During the winter, if the roads are icy, try to stay off to the side so under that snow you have grass or dirt which provides a much better surface. If it’s icy, once again don’t chance it. Hit the treadmill or take the opportunity to cross train. The ice won’t last forever unless you are living in the tundra. Even there, global warming might eventually give you an ice free surface but moving south would be a much better and predictable solution to permafrost.

Potholes in the road or ground are something to keep your eyes open for. Pay attention! Run when it’s light out or on a well lit street if it’s dark out. Stepping in a hole can bring on a career ending injury or if not that bad, a sprain or break which will set you back a long way.

Underlying health issues are a big deal. Anyone from elite athletes to raw beginners can be struck down at any time. Our most famous example is Jim Fixx who wrote The Complete Book of Running. It was the ultimate book for the first running boom in the 1970’s. Fixx died of a heart attack while out for a run at age 52. People used this as a reason to disparage running but the truth was that Fixx had underlying genetic problems. So, it pays to get a good physical before taking up running and make sure your doctor knows you are planning on working into a running routine. When you hear of younger people such as high school athletes who keel over at their sports practice or during a game, it is usually from an undiagnosed genetic cardiac issue. Although it can also be from heat stroke or dehydration. The lesson here is to ease into the running lifestyle, eat healthy and do everything you can to be healthy overall. If we are running to get healthy, it just doesn’t make sense to let the running make you unhealthy by doing too much too soon and dropping over.

Cars can be runners’ public enemy number one but only if runners do stupid things. Count on cars doing stupid things. Assume that every driver is an idiot and they are all texting and playing with their radios. So, what do we do? If you run on the roads as most of us do, try running on the berm instead. ALWAYS run facing traffic. You learned that in kindergarten. It still applies. When a car is coming, get out of the way. I spend a lot of time running in people’s yards. I’m not a big fan of sidewalks as the concrete surface of a sidewalk is harder on your knees and ankles than the relatively softer asphalt, but for short periods, I will not hesitate to run on the sidewalk if there is one. The best way to avoid cars is to run on trails if you have access to them. Nice soft surface and no cars. Yay! While cars can be a major danger, it will only be if you let them. Unless a car veers off the road to go after you, I believe it is your own fault if you get hit by a car while running. It might not be your fault in a legal sense but you can avoid it by paying attention.

Prevention is the key thing for bad dogs. Avoid routes where you know there are loose dogs. I love dogs but I have been bitten twice while running. What really pissed me off was that the owners were nearby and didn’t do anything. I won’t get into what you should do if you do get threatened. Google has all kinds of information. Just know that you will not outrun a dog. Pepper spray is not a bad thing to have if you are in unfamiliar territory.

Worse than a bad dog is a bad human. Girls, this is especially important for you. Like it or not, the fact is you are a target. Pepper spray is good for this purpose too, but just like with bad dogs, prevention is the key. Don’t run alone or in unfamiliar territory. Try to stay away from isolated areas. If someone or a car starts following you, run straight to the nearest house and bang on the door for help. If you just get a bad feeling, head for the nearest help. Better safe than sorry.

Does this all sound like running is a bad idea? Well it’s not. Running makes me happy and just takes a little common sense. See how happy runners are?

Keep running my friends!

Snot Rockets and Other Assorted Body Fluids

Everyone deals with body fluids. Without them we would all be dead. Really, we wouldn’t even be dead. We would never have existed at all. But runners deal with some body fluids on an up close and personal level that many non-runners never deal with. Today we will discuss some of the most important ones and hopefully answer some of the questions everyone is too afraid to ask at the risk of sounding dumb.

Photo of red blood cells

First let’s talk about the life and death fluids. Blood and sweat (yes sweat). Blood is often referred to as lifeblood. For obvious reasons, we can’t operate without blood. It carries all the good things to our cells and all the bad things away. For runners, the big thing we want is blood with good oxygen carrying capacity. That happens in your red blood cells which are the home to hemoglobin which in turn carries the oxygen. If you are anemic due to an underlying physical problem or anemic because you have lost blood in some way, you aren’t going to run at optimal capacity. Donating blood is a good thing for society but not for a runner right before a race.

The best measure of your oxygen carrying capacity is your serum ferritin level. This is NOT a routine blood test done at your typical physical. If you want yours tested, you are going to have to specifically request it from your doctor. It’s not a big deal but just isn’t done routinely. Tables found in books will tell you the normal value for serum ferritin is anywhere from 10 to 50 or more. You might be able to function in everyday activity with a level of 10 but you sure aren’t going to do any successful distance running on that. For an active endurance athlete, you really want to be closer to 40 or more. This takes iron. The whole vegetarian vs. non-vegetarian thing will be the subject of future blogs but I will say this for now. You can get enough iron on a vegetarian diet but it is a lot harder than it is for those who eat meat. Personally, I believe there is a lot to be said for a vegetarian diet but my mouth waters every time I drive past a field of black angus cows. Besides liking the taste of burnt cow, I like the easy source of iron and vitamin B12 (which is the one thing you just can’t get from plants). So, get your iron and stay hydrated. Without those, your blood will not be at optimal performance capacity. Should we all take iron supplements? Absolutely not! There is a small percentage of the population that has a problem called hemochromatosis. They are genetically predisposed to an overload of iron in the blood which can lead to disastrous consequences. So, take it if you need it but don’t take a supplement without your doctor’s recommendation.

Photo of female runner

Runners do not glisten. We do not perspire. We sweat. We sweat buckets and we are proud of it. Sweat is included in the life and death fluids because without it, we are in big trouble. Sweat’s job is to keep you cool as it evaporates from your skin. If you are ever working hard and stop sweating, GET HELP IMMEDIATELY! That is a sign of heat stroke which can kill you. Running in extreme heat is not just uncomfortable, it can be a recipe for major problems. People often ask me how I can run in the winter. My answer is always the same. You can dress for the cold but it’s easier than in the hot temperatures of summer. There is only so much in the way of layers you can take off and stay cool and out of jail. Once again, the advice is to stay hydrated with one small caveat. It is possible to overhydrate and end up with a life-threatening case of hyponatremia. This is too little sodium in the blood. As you sweat, you also sweat out salt which is part sodium. Sodium is a vital part of your physiology and too much or too little are both problems. Hyponatremia is not a common problem and I have never heard of it outside of a marathon but I’m sure it has happened elsewhere. For the really long runs, sports drinks with electrolyte replacements can be helpful.

Now on to the other, less talked about, the bathroom body fluids hereafter referred to as poop and pee. Poop and pee, we all do it and nobody likes to deal with it. Pee is easy. Go before you run and you aren’t likely to run into a problem with it. If for some reason you are prone to having to pee during a run, it will be important for you to plan your route so there are convenient stops along the way that don’t involve dropping your pants behind a tree.

"Do not urinate" signage

Poop is another subject entirely. Who hasn’t started out their run feeling great and before long you know something bad is brewing in your gut. The best plan is just like pee, try to go before you run. That doesn’t always work but is more likely to work if you can plan your run around your bathroom schedule. Now if you have a problem like irritable bowel syndrome, you have a much bigger problem than just worrying about pooping your shorts on a run. Find yourself a good gastroenterologist and try to get it under control. There are lots of good treatments out there and they just might make your life so much better. Having said all of that, what happens if despite all your efforts and precautions you are out on a run and you know you just aren’t going to make it back in time?  Start looking for a place to go. It’s not a crime to cut a run short to avoid disaster. If you are in town, look for a fast food place or anywhere with a public restroom. If you are in the deep woods, good luck. Deal with it as your ancestors did. Last of all what if you are in the middle of a race and you have to go or maybe you just aren’t sure if you can make it or not?  If there is a porta-pot on the route, use it. Don’t take the chance. Don’t trust a fart near the end of a race. Been there, done that. Predictable outcome. Not pretty!

Picture of Porta-pot

This could be your best friend

Our final body fluid involves an art form known as the snot rocket. If your nose runs and you don’t have a tissue or handkerchief (I’m talking to you old-timers who actually have used handkerchiefs in your lifetime) you have a few options. One is to let it run down your face. No thanks, not for me. Another is to wipe it on your shirt or sleeve. Not the end of the world. Your shirt or sleeve is all sweaty and nasty anyway and it’s going into the washer. If it’s winter, I like to wear socks on my hands instead of mittens or gloves. They can wipe a nose and go right into the washer no problem. The last option is the snot rocket. In the book “The Night Before Christmas” after delivering his presents, Santa did a curious thing. He lays his finger aside of his nose and giving a nod up the chimney he rose. Some think this is magic, others believe it is pure science using rocket propulsion. Maybe Santa uses magic. But he does demonstrate perfect form in the following picture.

Picture of Santa from The Night Before Christmas

The technique for a proper snot rocket is to first use the index finger to close off one nostril. Tilt the head to the other side. And blow out with a sharp strong burst of air. Rookie rocketeers will end up with snot all over themselves until they learn the technique. But once you have it down, you will recognize the proper consistency of snot needed for a proper snot rocket and the right amount of force necessary to expel your rocket far enough away from you so you don’t coat your shoes with mucus. A word of caution here, never snot rocket or spit until you have checked to make sure a fellow runner is not in the danger zone. Coating a fellow runner with either substance is not cool in any way. Snot rockets are not the exclusive property of guys. I have seen a lot of girls who have perfected the technique.

Body fluids, a fact of life. Keep running my friends!

OHSAA Track and Field Championships

“The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. These words are known to everyone over a certain age as the intro to ABC’s Wide World of Sports back in the last century. Here in Ohio, every year on the first weekend of June we get to experience our own version of this with the ultimate track and field event for any high school athlete. Having been the girls’ track and field head coach at St. Thomas Aquinas for the last 16 years I have had a ringside seat for this track meet. In 15 of those years we have had girls from Aquinas qualify for the meet and the last 4 years we enjoyed a very high level of success. There were highs and lows. But it has been pure excitement to watch. These girls have definitely experienced the thrill of victory on occasion and the agony of defeat on others. But each one, no matter the outcome, has experienced the opportunity to take part in the dream of every high school track athlete in Ohio.

Who gets to participate in the meet? It’s only those kids who through a combination of natural talent, hard work, and good luck qualify at one of the four regional meets. Make no mistake, natural talent is a prerequisite. On a talent scale of one to ten, it’s the coaches job to turn fives into sixes or sevens. Take an eight and turn them into a nine, nines into tens. The nightmare is when a coach takes a nine or a ten and turns that athlete into a solid seven and ruins their love for the sport. Fives don’t make it to the state meet no matter how hard they work. There must be a decent level of natural talent. Fact of life, accept it.

Hard work is a no-brainer as necessary on the road to the state meet. There might be someone out there somewhere with SO much natural talent that they can skate through to the state meet but that would be rare and they don’t last long. Work is required both on the track and in the classroom to remain eligible to compete.

But let’s not underestimate the role of luck. Luck comes in a lot of areas. First, a child needs to be in a situation where there is a track team with a decent coach. They need to be lucky enough to live in an environment where they are supported in their efforts and not consumed by trying to survive a hard life in rough circumstances. Some kids might have to work to help their family put food on the table instead of indulging in sports. Some might be responsible for helping with their younger siblings or an ailing parent. Not everyone is free to pursue school sports.

Luck plays a role in keeping someone healthy. Stepping in a rut and spraining an ankle the week before the state meet can happen. Having a classmate who brings their germ ridden body to school when they should be home and passing on their cold or flu happens all the time. Underlying medical problems like asthma can flare up at the wrong time.

We have been through it all. Pulled hamstrings, asthmatic attacks, lack of willingness to work, you name it. These are frustrating. But when it all comes together and that magic strikes, you can forget all the rest and just relish the moment. In 2015, the girls team from St. Thomas won the state meet with a fabulous showing, winning 5 of the 17 events and scoring 69 points. In 2016, they went one better. Both the boys and girls track teams from St. Thomas won their state track meets. Only four times in Ohio history has that been done. What an awesome feeling! The miles logged in the middle of winter, the gut wrenching interval workouts, the repetition over and over trying to get a movement in the field event correct, and what seems like a long, long road becomes worth every painful minute.

2017 was another story. We had natural talent. The girls definitely worked hard but the luck component didn’t kick in for them. They had some great moments with their fourth straight win in the 4×800 relay and finished 2nd in the 4×400 relay but illness raised its ugly head and kept them from doing as well as they might have in the individual events. What do you do then? What comes next? Well, the sun did actually come up the next day. Nobody is expected to just forget all about not doing as well as they hoped. But before anyone starts getting too down, it’s time to add some perspective here.

The next morning, my family all gathered in downtown Columbus for a 10k race. Before the race began, we were watching the customary kids’ fun run and the kids were having a great time. Some were putting it all out there while others were distracted by the fanfare and stopping with the hope of being carried by a parent to the finish. They aren’t stupid. They were tired and wanted a ride on the mom or dad express. But towards the end of the line of kids coming in was a mom pushing a jogging stroller with a kid who looked about 4 or 5 in it. He was happily waving his plastic sword around to make sure the way was clear. Then about 50 yards from the finish line, Mom stopped and let the little boy out of his stroller and he proceeded to run to the finish……. on his two prosthetic legs! Not a dry eye anywhere in the house after seeing that. So good that those parents were raising him to participate. He looked as happy as any other kid in the race. So, I was reminded that no matter what my time would be in the upcoming 10k, it just didn’t matter. I am so happy to have been able to participate and gain a huge portion of perspective.

(Pictured above is not the actual boy we watched)

So, if you set your goal and reach it, congratulations to you. If you make your attempt and it doesn’t go the way you want, keep your head up and be glad you had the chance. This leads me to conclude with one of my all-time favorite quotes and it comes from Teddy Roosevelt.

            “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”      

-Theodore Roosevelt

Keep running my friends, the sun will rise no matter your finishing time!


Get Out of Your Box

​Are you in a rut? Did you recently run a 5k? Looking towards the next 5k? Maybe getting really wild and doing a 10k or half marathon? When was the last time you ran something you haven’t done in a long time? Mud races became a rage a few years back but are now on the decline. Look hard and you can find a cross country race. Do you ever run just for fun? I know I have a hard time not recording every mile I run and I have to plan each run as part of my overall workout routine to make sure it has its proper place in the grand scheme of getting and staying in shape. I don’t see anything spontaneous there.​   Continue reading

The Core Challenge

So, you want to be a better runner? The first piece of advice you will normally get (and it’s good advice) is to run more. If you want to swim better, you have to practice swimming. If you want to play your piano better, you have to practice playing the piano. Notice a theme developing here? But there comes a point of diminishing returns where more and more running doesn’t give you more benefit. In fact, beyond a certain point, more running will begin to break you down and you will get slower instead of faster. Or in the worst-case scenario, you will get injured and not run at all.

Continue reading

The Last Run

A weird thing happened to me a couple weeks ago. I was doing a checkup for one of my patients. In the middle of the appointment I got an annoying pain in the middle of my chest, pretty sure a good burp would make it all better. In dental school, they don’t teach you not to burp in your patient’s face but I have always assumed that is not a great practice builder. So, I held it in.

Well, it just got more and more uncomfortable. Being 61 I am well aware that my grandfather died at 68 from a heart attack. My dad had his first heart attack at 66 (he lived to be 87). Anyway, the feeling persisted and then I started to sweat. Continue reading