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!

Let’s Talk about Track Etiquette

Photo of perfectly shaded track on a hot summer day.

This morning’s workout was a little tempo run at the local high school track.  It was one of those perfect mornings – already hot enough that my muscles were warmed up before I started, but just this side of too hot. (And too-hot is definitely bound to happen later today.)  Running at the track has a special appeal to me (as long as I don’t overdo it).  Every time I’m there, I’m reminded, whether consciously or subconsciously, of being in the 7th grade.  In 7th grade, you see, I ran on the track team for the first time, and it was then that I learned the proper etiquette of running on the track.

If I had never had the experience of being coached by runners familiar with the track, I may never have learned these lessons.  Thus, when I arrive at the track to do a workout, and I find someone flagrantly disregarding track etiquette, I try to remind myself that within their context for what constitutes appropriate behavior, they probably believe they are being very reasonable.  Hence, instead of silently berating them, I decided to post a few track etiquette tips.  Maybe someone will find them and one fewer person will be doing crunches in lane one the next time I plan to run intervals.

THE INSIDE LANE IS FOR THE FASTEST RUNNER (USUALLY NOT ME)

Supposing I had never run track, I may have based my strategy for lane selection on the way it works at the swimming pool.  You show up to swim laps… there is already someone in lanes one and two, so you choose lane 3.  Well, it doesn’t work that way on the track!  You don’t just have to pick a lane and stay there.  The fastest runners are permitted the innermost lanes.  If you are not the fastest runner on the track, then you should move out of the way, while the faster runner passes you to the inside.  You can then move back into the inside lane afterwards.  In other words, lane selection can be fluid.

Now, in my case, I don’t need the inside lane.  My workouts are not so precise that it makes a difference whether I’m running precisely 400 m or a hair more each time around.  But someone’s workout might be that precise, and who are we to get in the way?  It’s just the nice thing to do.

SHOUTING AT RUNNERS IS CONSIDERED POOR ETIQUETTE

Today I had a pleasant interaction with a fellow runner.  Post-workout we nodded to each other, commented on the lovely weather and wished each other a nice day.  Pleasant greetings are the best!  Abstaining from greeting another runner while you’re in the middle of your hard interval is also acceptable.  Maybe when you’re recovering you’ll nod at one another.  Shouting from outside the fence, “WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT THAT CARDIO, YEAH!” is hilarious, but I believe considered to be poor etiquette.  Just saying… not sure everyone can pull that off with the right amount of non-creepy finesse.  Usually it just borders on creepy and makes you glad you didn’t go to the track alone.

THE TRACK IS FOR RUNNING AND WALKING, NOT CRUNCHES

You have the entire infield.  Yet, I’ve still seen people lying down in the middle of the track to do their core routine.  Or as was the case today, one person was using the entirety of lane one to do side squats around the track.  If you MUST use the track for this, try lane 8!  There was plenty of room!!

TECHNICALLY, I GUESS, THE HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETES COME FIRST

Ok, whatever, it’s their track.  So yeah, when they’re in the middle of a soccer game, and the parents are filling the stands… Maybe that’s not your time to run at the track.  Similarly, our track is often reserved for the Special Olympics practice on weeknights.  They’ve clearly made arrangements to use the track, and we are just extra people in their way.  So yeah, if they want to walk around in lane one, that’s their time to do it.  And unless we want to build a private track in our own backyards, I suppose we’ll just have to accept this arrangement.

 

Happy Father’s Day,  Runners 🙂  I hope everyone treats you with impeccable etiquette today.

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!

 

Everyone Gets a Trophy

You’ve probably heard people talk disgustedly about the “Everyone Gets a Trophy” mentality that is pervasive in recreational sports.

“Doesn’t this teach kids that they don’t have to try that hard?” we say.  “This is why young people these days don’t know how to work hard!  Won’t they feel entitled to success despite having put in less effort than their peers?”    Uh… I don’t know.  I’m not really trying to take a stab at answering those major psychological questions.  But they’re good questions worth asking.

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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

What’s Your Sub-2:00?

A couple weekends ago while most of us were asleep, some terribly talented runners began a race on a Formula 1 track in Italy on a quest to break the world record for the marathon AND the 2 hour barrier.  Sponsored by Nike, these exceptional gentlemen were chosen from amongst the best in the world for their qualifications for this unique pursuit, and they were given every training advantage anyone could hope to have – the best trainers, doctors, coaches, nutritionists, and other fitness professionals in the world converged to optimize their health, get them to their peak fitness, and plan and strategize for a race with the best possible conditions.

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