Sunday, December 4, 2011
Jingle Bell 5k 2011
Jingle Bell 5k
17:46, 2nd OA
Despite ice, snow, and single-digit temperatures in the morning, J and I lined up for the Jingle Bell 5k at the CSU Oval on Saturday. We ended up having a great time, and will look to do it again in the future.
J had received two complimentary entries, which put it on our schedule. Still, shivering in our car before the start, I wasn't sure about my own motivation. Luckily, J's a tough girl, having been running early pre-dawn runs with a friend for several weeks now. Plus, she had snowpants on! So we donned our free jingle bells, a characteristic of the Arthritis Foundations national Jingle Bell runs. (In fact, a Jingle Bell run in San Diego 8 years ago might have been the first 5k we ever ran!)
Onto the race. Previous results suggested that I might place well, but it all depends on who shows up, and I didn't know how much the ice and snow would affect things. As a compromise on traction, I gave up on pure road flats and wore my new-ish Brooks Pure Grit lightweight trail shoes instead, and ultimately think this choice was a good one, since I didn't fulfill my worst fears of slipping and getting a concussion. Again.
The race starts with a lap around "The Oval" at CSU, which is a beautiful quad area on campus with majestic older oak trees and some of the older campus buildings that serve the classic sciences and liberal arts. By going counterclockwise, it's a fun track-like start to the race. Despite a few hundred runners and walkers that braved the elements, the start line wasn't too crowded, and the announcers kindly asked walkers to wait until runners made the first lap. Then, we were off. Quickly, I found myself running shoulder-to-shoulder with one other runner, who had the inside track, and a tattoo on his calf, which was visible because he was wearing shorts. Clearly, he meant business. We stayed next to each other running a bit hot for my goals, and I realized I wasn't doing myself any favours by running the extra distance in "Lane 2", so I tucked in behind him.
By the end of the oval, he had a gap on me, and as we headed West through campus, I kept him in view but let him go (aka "I couldn't keep up"), which was fine as I continued to run my own race, having opened a gap on anyone else behind me. The course was mostly plowed, so I enjoyed the views of the foothills and fond memories of having taken classes for a few years at CSU, and have run every part of the course outside the oval numerous times.
We worked our way West, with few turns, before a brief section going south and then heading back East. We occasionally ran through patches of snow, and some of the corners required more care to negotiate, but the course was otherwise very well-marked and controlled. I didn't have any mile splits, but by the 2nd mile the leader was in view but about 25 seconds ahead of me. So I just relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the run. Soon enough, we were back on the oval, with 3/4 of a lap to finish up the race. Again, this is a fun finish, to be able to see the finish line and anyone ahead or behind for a few minutes. I ended up 2nd in 17:46, 35 seconds behind the winner, Mark Saunders, whose name I recognized as being generally faster than me. 3rd place was more than a minute behind me, so there's clearly room for more local runners to show up. Happy with my time, despite the pace being slower than last week's longer Turkey Trot -- given a warm-weather race in the future, I'm hopeful that I still have even more speeding up to do in these shorter races before I start slowing down.
I ran back to grab the camera, and followed J in as she finished up a solid pace, fully decked in snowpants scarf, hat, and a few hundred other layers.
So, I have to strongly recommend this race as being well-run and fun, a good time right after the Thanksgiving Day Run. As for materialistic perks, along with the entry fee, racers receive a timed run and a nicely-designed long-sleeve T-shirt (which I'm wearing as I type this), in addition to bagels and hot coffee and hot chocolate after the race. Top 3 runners, as well as best costume and top fundraisers, are additionally recognized with medals and (in my case) a highly-appreciated Whole Foods Gift card. Of course, with all these benefits on a free entry, it was obvious that we would be increasing our donations to the Arthritis
The Arthritis Foundation
Finally, and most importantly, a word about the Arthritis Foundation. Besides a well-organized race, with some inspirational fundraisers as well as some motivated child running groups, we enjoyed hearing various facts about the Arthritis Foundation's work while cheering on other runners. Like many diseases, arthritis (which itself has over 100 forms) has a drastically different presentation, cause, and treatment results for patients of all different ages. This means it's difficult to make broad generalizations. However, one area of results-driven protocol supported by the Arthritis Foundation is that of regular exercise to prevent and reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Coincidentally, I discussed this recently in a disease and pathology course in the context of osteoarthritis, so I have a bit of a soapbox on the subject. (Remember, there are numerous forms of arthritis, which run the gamut from less-understood genetically influenced autoimmune forms, to those which are very much affected by diet and lifestyle, of which I am focused on here).
A recent meta-analysis ("Exercise and knee osteoarthritis: benefit or hazard?", Bosomworth) highlights research showing that a history of physical activity is not associated with development or progression of osteoarthritis, and may be protective:
This makes sense mechanistically based on what we discussed this week in class: both bone strength and cartilage development are stimulated by repeated stress. Stress such as running is sensed biomechanically, ultimately resulting in stronger bones, tendons, and ligaments. The stress of the activity is temporary and is compensated by long-term physiological adaptations.
Obesity, on the other hand, stresses cartilage in the knee (e.g.) chronically, and studies have shown for several decades that obesity can increase the risk of development of osteoarthritis:
"Obesity and knee osteoarthritis. The Framingham Study" (Felson, et al.)
Unfortunately, osteoarthritis can make it difficult for people to exercise without pain, leading to a vicious cycle of more weight gain. However, among people who already have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, continued exercise and diet/weight-loss have been shown to reduce pain and improve functional mobility:
"Exercise and Dietary Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Older Adults With Knee Osteoarthritis: The Arthritis, Diet, and Activity Promotion Trial (Messier, et al.)"
In summary, I believe it is imperative that doctors recommend exercise and weight loss as a primary treatment for osteoarthritis, especially among younger patients, and physical activity that includes running or walking should be encouraged as prevention.
I have gotten into this topic a bit because of a couple of oddities -- bear with me -- related to running and arthritis.
First, I've heard more than a few (dozen?) times, "Isn't running bad for your knees?" Not only is it very much generally not bad for your knees, shown repeatedly in scientific studies, but it is generally beneficial. The unfortunate irony of this is a fundamental misconception that leads some people to avoid the very thing that could most improve their health.
Exercise, such as running, trains the body to adapt and deal with occasional stress; combined with proper nutrition, the body beautifully builds itself even stronger. In contrast, the latest research shows that excess weight and lack of exercise leads to a chronic situation of inflammation and stress, which exacerbates all kinds of diseases, including osteoarthritis.
So, as the Arthritis Foundation says, "Arthritis is Not Inevitable!" Let's continue to support their good work in supporting research and awareness. Even more simply, as a runner, every time you lace up your shoes, and encourage a friend or family member to go for a walk and make healthy food choices, you're already doing your part in prevention!