Stress testing in sixteen steps

Not as fun as it looks

Today’s run (street): 3.4 miles

Despite my resistance to the idea of taking a stress test, I finally acquiesced and went through it this week. My experience at the end of the Brooklyn Half provided the impetus to do it. Actually, it was strong encouragement from my wife, the Runsketeers and my friend KWL that made me go through with it.

If you’ve never gone through a stress test (this was my third), you should know that it’s not particularly stressful. But it sure takes a long time. I don’t know if the process is universal, but at my doctor, the process goes like this:

1. Arrive at doctor’s office at your scheduled time.
2. Wait an hour to be called in.
3. Wait for the doctor in the exam room. You can pass the time by reading your chart on the computer display (at least that’s what I did).
4. Have a conversation with the doctor about how you ended up in the medical tent after running a half marathon. Hint: his response will always be, “I want you to run a stress test today.”
5. Have an EKG.
6. Have blood taken.
7. Have an heart ECHO sonogram.
8. Go to stress test lab and wait.
9. Get your first injection of thallium, a radioactive isotope that’s used as a trace agent during the imaging process. Very reassuring.
10. Go into the imaging room and get scanned for 12 minutes.
11. Go into another sonogram lab and have carotid arteries checked.
12. Go into the room with the medical treadmill, where the technician attaches electrodes all over your body attached to a belt unit that you wear during the process.
13. Start at walking pace, with the goal of getting heart rate over 140. She ended up putting the incline to 16% and the speed to over 5 MPH to get me there.
14. Get your second injection of thallium and wait.
15. Get your second imaging to compare to the first after exercise.
16. Go home six hours after you arrive.

The good news is that you do get feedback throughout the process. My doctor said my EKG and ECHO were fine, the sonogram tech said the same about the carotid check and the treadmill technician said I didn’t have a single missed beat during my session. I needed my doctor to review the imaging results. If there were concerns, I would have got a call yesterday. All of that, and no issues.

So why am I running so slow?

My doctor’s office should now deliver my clearance form so I can use my company’s fitness center. I can then do workouts in the morning when I get into the office. Without that, my options are either to go back to 4 AM runs, or work out when I get home from work. I worked from home today and got in a few miles before I started what turned out to be a busy day. It’s the weekend now, and I hope to give those Cascadia’s their first experience on the trails either tomorrow or Sunday.

Off road running as a safer strategy

New sidewalks make for safer running

Today’s run (street): 3.4 miles

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself running on the sidewalks more frequently than on the road. I’ll admit to being extremely safety conscious when it comes to running, and the driving behavior I see in my neighborhood supports that position. After years managing production and technology operations, I’ve adopted the philosophy of minimizing or preventing risk whenever possible.

Running on the sidewalk minimizes the chance of an encounter with a car, but sidewalks can also present problems. I tripped and fell badly at the end of a run a couple of years ago, when my toe caught a slightly raised section of my driveway. The town has done an impressive job this spring, replacing sidewalks that were damaged during Hurricane Sandy. However, there are still plenty of sections in need of repair that could trip a runner.

I did about 85% of today’s run on sidewalks, only using the street to cross or when I encountered an impassible section. Besides the safety benefit, the relative flatness of sidewalks (compared to roads that are banked on the sides for water runoff) prevents my right foot from doing more work than the left, because I always run on the left side of the street.

I did encounter some rough sidewalks along my route this morning, but I managed to step around or over the trickiest sections. I tried to push a little harder than I have of late, and was rewarded with an overall pace that was slightly faster than average. I expected to do better than that, and I wonder if I’d shortened my step slightly on uneven sidewalks. If that’s the case, I’d rather run slower and be a little safer.

Would you read Slow Runner magazine?

Going to the Well

Running magazines provide great utility and can occasionally inspire. When I was a new runner, I found these magazines to be a useful source for information about terminology, practices and setting expectations. But just as there are no magazines to help you become a run-of-the-mill decorator or a mediocre cook, the focus of every running magazine seems to be about improving performance. Up until recently, I appreciated that focus. Now I’m a little conflicted.

The reason for this comes from recent studies published by the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health and the Lancet. Both of these studies concluded that mortality rates for those who exercised moderately were lower than the rates for sedentary people or high performing athletes. If running greater than 20 miles per week or pacing in the seven minute pace range causes a health concern, I’m certainly not going to do that. Not that I could run a sustained 7:00 pace anyway.

I’m curious to see whether running magazines will ignore these studies or dismiss them as inaccurate. If not, will they acknowledge the facts and modify their editorial focus? After all, the topic of minimalism started getting regular coverage after Christopher McDougall published “Born to Run”. Covering running without a focus on performance may be a hard sell for Running Times, but many titles already devote pages to nutrition, human interest and lifestyle.

Given the choice, I’d always choose an article about running experience over a new approach to running intervals. Maybe that’s a new market segment for Rodale to cover.

The Emerging Runner risk mitigation policy

What’s wrong with is picture (see rule #1)?

Running after Hurricane Sandy (though I think we’re supposed to call it a “post-tropical cyclone” now) has become a little more complicated and dangerous. I do everything I can to avoid risk when I’m out on the roads, but two weeks after Sandy hit, my local streets are still covered with debris. In addition, some roads still have hanging or fallen wires, along with electrical cords running across the street from neighbors sharing generator power.

I got a comment from Running On Candy who expressed concern about the dangers of the road under these conditions. I was horrified to read that she had some close calls with cars due to limited room on the roads that she runs. I’m a low risk runner and, even under the best conditions, I’ll never cross a busy road on a run unless traffic is sparse. I’ll only run on a main road if there’s a sidewalk and most of my runs happen within my neighborhood or at parks and preserves like Stillwell and Bethpage.

I occasionally see a hostile dynamic with drivers who don’t like the idea of sharing the road with runners. Ask any runner and they’ll tell you the same. I also don’t trust that drivers are paying attention or consider stop signs anything more than a suggestion. For what it’s worth, this is the The Emerging Runner’s risk mitigation policy:

  1. Always run on the left side of the road (facing traffic).
  2. Assume that every driver is distracted, drunk, high, texting, on the phone or incompetent.
  3. Do not run on main roads that don’t have a sidewalk.
  4. Keep in single file formation when running with others on the street.
  5. Wear bright, colorful, reflective clothing no matter what time of day you run.
  6. Wear a reflective vest when it’s dark, at dawn and at dusk.
  7. Wear a headlamp or some type of light when running in dark (too be seen as much as to see).
  8. Avoid crossing four-lane roads, even those that have traffic lights.
  9. Don’t listen to music at a level that will drown out the sound of approaching cars.
  10. Always have an exit strategy for cars (run up on the lawn, prepare to dive into a snowbank).

It’s also a good idea to bring a phone and carry ID of some kind for emergencies. Accidents can be avoided as long as runners consider their safety as importantly as the do their workout.