Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Importance of Play

This morning I heard just a little bit of an interview on NPR of Stuart Brown, a medical doctor, psychiatrist and researcher who specializes in the importance of play for people of all ages.  His main findings are that "play" isn't just goofing around (above is his TED talk).  It's an important part of developing our cognitive and physical abilities so that we're able to take actions that are important to our survival. 

However, play isn't just for kids.  His research has found that adults who don't play are more likely to have rigid thinking - which makes them less able to react to changing environments.  They are also more likely to be depressed and have a pessimistic view of life.  He even found that lack of play in a person's life may be a major indicator of future violent actions.

I love studies like this - mostly because I'm 37 years old and I still like to act pretty childish from time to time.  Yes, I know that I write a blog about running and triathlons - you would think that I have no doubt that these activities are good for me.  Actually though - one of the main reasons that I started this blog was to determine why I still felt that running and competition were so important to me even though I was supposed to be "all grown up."

I sometimes worry - is it all vanity?  Am I trying to fill some hole of self-doubt by continuing to compete way into adulthood?  Shouldn't I have moved on to something else by now to fill my spare time?

So, thank you Dr. Brown - for giving me a well thought out and researched model that makes me feel better about keeping doing what I like to do.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lessons in Anatomy

For the second time in my life, I find myself in a basement laboratory, spending countless hours dissecting a human body.  This is an experience that I really would have preferred to have only once - but since I have this opportunity I thought I should at least write something about what I've learned.

1) You can get used to anything.  Let me start with the obvious.  Most people probably cannot consider anything more disturbing than spending time with a dead body - especially when you are cutting, picking, and digging in order to find the important functional parts of the body - namely, muscles, nerves, and arteries/veins.

Really, it's like anything that seems daunting initially - you just focus on what you're supposed to be doing and eventually it kind of seems normal.  You even find yourself getting weird looks from people in the cafeteria as you discuss your dissection - forgetting that most people don't talk about such things when they're eating.

2) What we have under our skin cannot be duplicated.  We are not just some kind of fancy robot.  Even with all of the incredible strides that we've made in technology - there is simply no way that we can come close to building something that moves like us, much less, thinks like us. 

Over hundreds of generations our ancestors lived and died.  We are borne of the survivors.  No matter how difficult of a day you had today it doesn't compare to anything that a direct ancestor of yours dealt with 10,000 years ago.  Our bodies were engineered to be active - because the only way to survive throughout most of human history was to be active.  And regardless of whether you're rich or poor we all get to own something priceless - our bodies.

3) What appears to be soft and weak eventually reforms that which appears hard and strong.  When you look at the inside of a skull one of the more interesting things is that there are branching grooves formed by arteries on the bone.  The shapes of all bones are impacted by soft tissue to a certain extent.  Tendons pull on bone - which makes bumps that we call processes, tubercles, and tuberosities. 

Bone is constantly being reformed.  Constant pressure - even by something as soft and small as a blood vessel changes the shape of the bone over time.  This reminds me of why endurance training needs to be so organized and consistent.  As Andy Dufresne knew - anything can be overcome eventually through the power of "pressure and time." 

BIG NEWS - Today I received two e-mails - one from journalist/podcast producer who wants to interview me about my blog.  The other is from a sports related site asking me if I wanted to be included as one of their bloggers.  I will post more info once things become final!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Que Sera, Sera

Are our fates up to us or are they out of our control?  Most people would agree that there are some things we can control and some we can't.  As Tolstoy wrote, "a being uninfluenced by the external world, standing outside of time and independent of cause, is no longer a man. In the same way we can never imagine the action of a man quite devoid of freedom and entirely subject to the law of inevitability."  However, strict determinists would say that "free will" does not actually exist - that all of our actions are dependent on variables completely outside of our control - such as our DNA, where we were born, when we were born, education, who are parents were etc . . .

The last several chapters of "War and Peace" are actually a philosophical discussion by Tolstoy about free will.  In the end he declares that the control that the outside world has on our own actions is similar to the motion of the earth - we do not feel the earth move and yet using math and reason we find that it does move. To claim man has free will feels right - just as claiming that the earth is immobile seems right - because we don't feel the earth moving.  But both conclusions are wrong because if they were correct, they would break laws that we know to be true.   

It's interesting that he ends there.  Obviously there are many moral consequences of that attitude.  For example, can anyone be held "responsible" for committing a crime if free will doesn't exist?  Why make any kind of an "effort" in life if I'm not really responsible for what happens to me?  From what I remember of my philosophy classes, the argument is that eventually you will get hungry or have some other kind of desire.  And in order to be fed or clothed you will need to take some kind of action.  As for criminals - we all want to live in a world that's relatively safe and where there is justice - therefore, even if free will doesn't exist we still need to hold people accountable.

So what's putting me into this rather fatalistic mood?  It appears as though my fall on the bike last Sunday is going to keep me from racing at Kansas.  My shoulder is still so sore that I can't sleep on my left side - so, there's no way I can swim 1.2 miles.  I tried to run on Wednesday and even my hip tightened up.

Luckily I've had a pretty decent spring with my running races - so it's not like all of my competitive eggs were in one basket.  It's a bummer for sure - but with everything that's happened over the last year it's not that big of a deal.

Next week I start a six-week Anatomy refresher - so that I can have a better chance of success in the Fall.  In the end - running and triathlons are hobbies.  In my case, they might be hobbies that border on obsession at times, but I recognize that there are things that are much more important in my life - even more important than whether I become a PA - like my relationships with my family and friends. 

There was a time 3-4 months ago where it seemed like the foundations of my life were crumbling.  I would not want to recreate or go through that again.  However, the whole experience has taught me what is strong in my life - both internally and externally.

Fate seems strongest when either something really good happens or really bad happens.  In both cases we think about how much luck contributes to our condition.  But the same uncontrollable causal elements are acting on us every day - we are just less likely to think about them on a daily basis.  Just as we don't normally think about the movement of the earth as we take the trash out.

So, I'm going to take this time of being injured to see if there are any lessons I can learn.  If nothing else it will remind me to be thankful when I'm healthy again.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Tales of a Reckless Moron

There's a reason why most of the women in my family have a constant ache of worry for my health and personal safety.  I do stupid things sometimes.

When I was in early grade school I had a lot of energy.  There were times when my mother would tell me to "go run around the house."  Apparently I thought this was a great idea.  I would leap out the front door and go sprinting around the outside of our house until I was fatigued enough to reenter civilized society.  One time we were visiting friends of my parents.  I got hyper and my mother, probably slightly embarrassed at how crazy I could get, proposed my normal cure.  I leaped out the front door.  Unfortunately I somehow assumed that this house would have the same relative proportions of our house.  Looking back I probably should have done a lap to scout our the lay of the land.  But I just started running as fast as I could.  One detail that could have been helpful for me to know was that they had a dog house in their back yard.  It was positioned in such a way that when sprinting around the house you couldn't really see it until you had turned the corner - and there it was.  Luckily, all I got was just got a pretty good gash on my cheek (the scar is still there). 

Not long after that I decided it was a good idea to go across the monkey bars at recess when they were wet from a morning rain.  I got a fractured wrist for that one.  Or the time that I dove a little too close to a patch of gravel trying to catch a baseball and ended up with stiches.  Or the time in college I ran out on a pier in Lake Michigan during a winter storm and got swept into the water by a big wave.

The most romantic of these mishaps was probably the time I rented a motor scooter in the Amalfi coast of Italy.  First, let me just say that it is probably the most beautiful place I've ever visited.  After a few hours of riding around the narrow roads overlooking the Mediterranean I started to fantasize that I was Italian.  I had witnessed how nimbly they ride their scooters in the cities of Rome and Florence.  I thought I could do the same thing.  After taking the picture below of Positano - I hurried back to Sorrento where I had rented the scooter.  I didn't want to be late - so I went a little faster than I should have.  Luckily I didn't fall off the cliff into the ocean - but I did take a round-about a little fast and ended up falling and sliding across the pavement - scratching up myself and the scooter in the process.  I hurt my knee and couldn't run for almost a month after that one.

More recently there was the marathon I ran in Drake Well, Pennsylvania.  I actually ran it to prepare for the 2010 Chicago marathon.  (Yes, I know that sounds crazy - just stay with me).  I ended up running faster than planned - because I found myself in 2nd place half way through the race and I got a little competitive.  I won the race (there were only about 200 people in it) and then drove six hours back to Virginia right afterwards.  A week later I couldn't run - I somehow pulled my hamstring and caused some major inflammation.  Not only did it mean I couldn't train properly for Chicago - but I had pain from that injury that lasted for over a year.

There are several other stories that I could go on with - but I think you get the point.  One of my behavior traits seems to be recklessness on a moronic scale - and sometimes I actually have to pay consequences for my ill advised actions.  I guess it's just good I haven't hurt anyone else.

Yesterday I added to the list.  I had a three hour ride planned - I knew there were some thunderstorms coming - but it seemed like they would hold off long enough for me to get my ride in.  Well, it came about 30 minutes too early.  I saw the wall of blackness coming behind me as I rode east.  I think I actually thought I could outride it at some point (which makes absolutely no sense).  Finally, when I was getting pelted with debris (apparently the winds got up to 60 mph) I found sanctuary in a Jimmy Johns.

I called my wife and said "I might need to you to pick me up - but let's wait 20 minutes and see if it lets up."  About 10 minutes later I looked out the window and observed a) there was no lightning or thunder b) the wind and rain didn't seem all that bad anymore.  So, I rode home.  When I was about half way home it got worse.  I was drenched and tired from fighting the wind.  I was crossing a street about a mile from our house - I glanced back to see if there was any traffic - which led me to not see the seam in the road in front of me.  My front wheel caught it - and with the road and my tires being wet I went down hard.  There were two cars behind me - which thankfully stopped in time.  I did the "I think I'm ok" hand wave sign as I gathered my water bottles from the road.

At first it didn't seem too bad.  I landed on my left side - so I got a nice road rash on my left hip, left elbow, and even a bit on my ankle.  I'm most worried about my shoulder though.  The most common injury in cycling is breaking your collar bone.  It doesn't feel like anything is "out of place" - but it's pretty sore.  I can put my arm above my head - but it doesn't feel great.  That's not exactly what you want when you have a half Ironman in less than a week.

(Sigh) When will I learn?.