Are marathons stupid?

Yes.  Okay, sorry marathon runners.  They are not stupid if you really enjoy spending significant portions of your time in long runs training for a marathon.  I sure don’t.  Which is why I never will run one.  I have little doubt that I could do it if I set my mind to it, but why?  Life is too short and the ultimate zero sum is time.  And one thing training for a marathon takes is lots of time.  That’s time I’d rather read, blog, sleep, watch TV, hang out with my kids, you name it.  I actually do enjoy running– but 30-40 minutes 4-5 times a week is plenty enough for me.  More than that and the increases in my overall health are decidedly marginal (according to science on the matter) and there’s the time factor.  Oh, and I don’t really like running all that much.  Mostly, I like how I feel after I’ve been running.  And that only takes 30 minutes.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this 538 piece last month that argues if you enjoy running and you enjoy challenging yourself and competition, the way to go is not marathons, but 5K’s.  I love a good 5K and usually run at least a couple a year.  Not because I enjoy challenging myself or am competitive, but because they are for causes I believe in and it’s fun to do a race with my oldest son every now and then.  If I were more competitive or interested in challenging myself, 5K’s are definitely the way I would go.  Christie Aschwanden makes the compelling case:

It’s an idea that has become fixed in our culture: The marathon is a serious race. A 5K is a “fun run,” a jog, a walk in the park. I get it. Five kilometers, or 3.1 miles, is a distance that almost any healthy person can complete without too much training. As running races go, it’s a nice start…

“Everyone thinks the marathon is the Holy Grail, when a lot of people should really be doing the 5K,” Jason Karp, an exercise physiologist and running coach, told me in an interview several years ago. Some people aren’t suited to long distances — their natural talents tend toward power and speed rather than endurance. And if you’re exercising for health and fitness, several studies suggest that moderate mileage, which is typical in a training plan for 5Ks, might provide a better way to get there... [emphases mine]

Yet I concede that he has a point about the glorification of the marathon. The race isn’t the only means to health, fitness or even bad-assedry. (Ethiopian runner Muktar Edris just ran a 5K in 12:59.43 — that’s three 4:10 miles strung together.) Typical 5K training plans call for something on the order of 10 to 30 miles of running per week or the equivalent in timed runs — in the optimal range for health benefits.

Keeping mileage on the lower end comes with another bonus — a reduced risk of getting hurt. “Injuries are typically related to training volume,” saidMichael Joyner, a sports physician and exercise researcher at the Mayo Clinic. That’s not to say that you can’t get injured training for a 5K — but it’s less likely, especially if you take care to gradually increase your mileage and intensity.

So by focusing on the 5K, you’re optimizing health benefits and minimizing injuries, and if you’re deliberate about your training, you can maximize your fitness gains too. Training seriously for the 5K will get you close to your biological potential for aerobic fitness, Joyner said..

You could spend four or more months training for a single race, or you can join Fleshman’s 5K revolution. Choose the 5K and you can easily race every weekend (even my tiny community has a 5K somewhere nearby most weekends). And if one race goes poorly, you can try again the next weekend. It’s a more sustainable plan. Rather than focusing on a one-time event, your training can become a normal part of your life — one that complements, rather than overtakes it. You may not get the bragging rights of having run 26.2 miles, but as your times drop and your pacing improves, you’ll get plenty of satisfaction. Instead of running to finish the race, you can run to master it.

So, go ahead, run your marathons.  I won’t be impressed.  Come back to me with your sub 18 minute 5K and I will be :-).

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Life is chemicals

Loved this post last month on “chemophobia:”

However, even as much of the world became cleaner, the anti-chemical movement became so polarised that allartificial chemicals are now considered tainted. This false assumption has led to a popular demand for products that are ‘natural’ or even ‘chemical-free’.

In reality, ‘natural’ products are usually more chemically complicated than anything we can create in the lab. To demonstrate, I broke down the components in an ordinary banana. (For brevity’s sake, I omitted the thousands of minority ingredients, including DNA.) Here is the result:

INGREDIENTS:

WATER (75%), SUGARS (12%) (GLUCOSE (48%), FRUCTOSE (40%), SUCROSE (2%), MALTOSE (<1%)), STARCH (5%), FIBRE E460 (3%), AMINO ACIDS (<1%) (GLUTAMIC ACID (19%), ASPARTIC ACID (16%), HISTIDINE (11%), LEUCINE (7%), LYSINE (5%), PHENYLALANINE (4%), ARGININE (4%), VALINE (4%), ALANINE (4%), SERINE (4%), GLYCINE (3%), THREONINE (3%), ISOLEUCINE (3%), PROLINE (3%), TRYPTOPHAN (1%), CYSTINE (1%), TYROSINE (1%), METHIONINE (1%)), FATTY ACIDS (1%) (PALMITIC ACID (30%), OMEGA-6 FATTY ACID: LINOLEIC ACID (14%), OMEGA-3 FATTY ACID: LINOLENIC ACID (8%), OLEIC ACID (7%), PALMITOLEIC ACID (3%), STEARIC ACID (2%), LAURIC ACID (1%), MYRISTIC ACID (1%), CAPRIC ACID (<1%)), ASH (<1%), PHYTOSTEROLS, E515, OXALIC ACID, E300, E306 (TOCOPHEROL), PHYLLOQUINONE, THIAMIN, COLOURS (YELLOW-ORANGE E101 (RIBOFLAVIN), YELLOW-BROWN E160a), FLAVOURS (3-METHYLBUT-1-YL ETHANOATE, 2-METHYLBUTYL ETHANOATE, 2-METHYLPROPAN-1-OL, 3-METHYLBUTYL-1-OL, 2-HYDROXY-3-METHYLETHYL BUTANOATE, 3-METHYLBUTANAL, ETHYL HEXANOATE, ETHYL BUTANOATE, PENTYL ACETATE), 1510, NATURAL RIPENING AGENT (ETHENE GAS).

This exercise illustrates a larger point. The distinction between natural and synthetic chemicals is not merely ambiguous, it is non-existent. The fact that an ingredient is synthetic does not automatically make it dangerous, and the fact that it is natural doesn’t make it safe. Botulinum, produced by bacteria that grow in honey, is more than 1.3 billion times as toxic as lead and is the reason why infants should never eat honey. A cup of apple seeds contains enough natural cyanide to kill an adult human. Natural chemicals can be beneficial, neutral or harmful depending on the dosage and on how they are used, just like synthetic chemicals. Whether a chemical is ‘natural’ should never be a factor when assessing its safety… [emphasis mine]

Misconceptions about natural versus synthetic compounds can have devastating consequences. The anxiety over formaldehyde is a telling example. Formaldehyde occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and foliage. It is found in high concentrations in Peking duck (120 parts per million), smoked salmon (50 ppm), and processed meats (20 ppm) as a normal result of traditional curing processes. It is found at levels of around 2 ppm in a healthy human body, where it plays an important role in the production of DNA. Formaldehyde is also used in various industries as a preservative.

People automatically accept the many ‘natural’ sources of formaldehyde that are present all around, but minuscule traces of ‘artificial’ formaldehyde in vaccines and cosmetics have caused public outcry – even though all formaldehyde is chemically exactly the same: CH2O. One such incident in 2013 forced Johnson & Johnson to spend more than $10 million reformulating its skincare range. They did so even though the amount of formaldehyde present was so low that the average person would need to take 40 million baths per day before it posed any serious threat…

The roots of chemophobia run deep. We are irrationally hard-wired to overestimate the magnitude of risks that are imposed upon us. Americans are 35,000 times as likely to die from heart disease as from terrorism, yet terrorism tops people’s list of worries. It’s only through a better knowledge of chemistry and toxicology that we can begin to assess chemical risks in a more rational, healthier way. Then perhaps we can bend chemophobia back toward biophilia – creating an awareness that humans are chemically connected to all of the world around us.

Yes!!!  Of course we need to be extra cautious about newer synthetetic chemicals when we really don’t understand all their effects (we do have thousands of years of experience with bananas, apples, and honey), but, in general, when people are simply railing against “chemicals,” they pretty much have no idea what they are talking about.  Okay.  No go back to consuming some chemicals for breakfast.

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