Thursday, 10 September 2009

Insurance Premiums - Why are they so high?

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my photographic efforts and that I had a wee accident during the Devil's when my Nikon D50 DSLR camera was inadvertently dropped and damaged.
I took it into a Glasgow camera repair company who, a week later, gave me an estimate of £262.00 including Vat for the repair of the camera and lens,both of which were damaged but repairable.
I decided that it was time to finally make a claim on my home contents insurance that fortunately included accidental loss or damage outwith the home. All I was expecting was a go ahead on the repair and for them to send me the cost of repair, less my excess.
I contacted Aviva gave them all the details and they passed my claim to another firm IVAL who would be contacting me in a few days. So I waited, and waited and eventually I contacted them. And gave the girl on the phone all the details - again. She took all the details and put me through to their technical services department who didn't answer. I hung up and called back to the first girl who booked an appointment call for the following day. This call was prompt to the minute and I spoke to another girl and gave her all the details.... again! She told me the camera would be uplifted from me by a courier company the following day and off I went to Glasgow to pick it up. I explained to the guy at the repair firm that the insurance company wanted the camera and he seemed amused at this. I wondered why.
Again, the courier company arrived in time and took my carefully packaged camera off to Eastbourne to the IVAL technical services department. I sent the receipt for the camera and a cheque for the excess off to IVAL by recorded delivery and sat back to await my camera's return in 28 days. I was like a man who had lost his right arm, not having my camera. I presumed that the camera would be repaired by a repair firm either owned by the insurance company or at least who had a deal that would have made it more economical for the insurance company than having it done in Glasgow. How wrong was I?

This morning I received a call from IVAL. After a few security checks to ensure I was the person THEY had phoned, (what is that all about?)the lovely young lady proceeded to tell me that having examined the camera (that could be repaired for £262 remember), they had concluded that they would require to have it replaced. By a new Nikon D5000 and a 18 - 105mm lens. They will order it today and I would have it in araound two weeks. Would that be acceptable?
Is JR a geriatric?
Too bloody true it is acceptable!

But what the F--- gives here? They are ordering it from Warehouse Express and sending it by next day delivery from their place (again, why not get warehouse express to send it direct)at a cost according to WE's website of..... wait for it £754 less any discount they get if they have a contract with them.
My original camera cost me 582 quid nearly four years ago.

Now I don't have a problem with a new camera with twice the pixels of the original(12.3 mp), a moveable screen, live view (D50 doesn't,) a shutter speed twice that of he D50),continuous shooting at 4 frames per second, a lens with more range and all the accessories I'll get with a new camera. Absolutely no problem at all. No, siree! Not against getting the old camera repaired for 262 quid.
But why do we pay such huge premiums for insurance? I just can't figure it out!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Part 3 - Interlude and more from Tim

A few comments on the previous two posts have raised questions about hydration that I've had to research a bit and rack my brain for exactly how Tim explained how the theory actually works.
There is one word that appears on my notes: "Homeostasis" that explains it all.Homeostasis is "The ability or tendency of an organism or cell to maintain internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological processes". I'll try and explain.
We all know that insulin is the means by which the body reduces sugar levels in the body. However, the real job of insulin is to transport nutrients through the body and deliver them to the liver and other organs. However, as it is the only hormone capable of reducing sugar levels, it has to be used as such when we eat excessively. This means that it is unable to do it's proper job and the body reacts by creating resistance to insulin and that affects our overall health and well being as the insulin can't do it's real job.
Now the body has many systems that act and counteract to maintain equilibrium. But where they are forced to compensate for each other they are unable to do their own job.
So it is with certain hormones that work to keep our body's system in check that are forced to deal with overhydration. They can't do their own job and we damage our kidney's due to MUSCLE BREAKDOWN/RHABDOMYOLYSIS. Remember, those of you who were at the February briefing in Edinburgh for the West Highland Way race?
As has been explained by Noakes, we have evolved to operate quite efficiently when de-hydrated. As long as we deal with thirst, which is an indicator that certain hormones are about to be required, we can operate more efficiently than when overhydrated. Therefore the advice is to DRINK TO THIRST.

One other important point on this is that I'll reinforce is the use of Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAID's). These inhibit the hormones that control, hydration adding to the dangers of MUSCLE BREAKDOWN/RHABDOMYOLYSIS.

Remember the Highland Fling race where many of us suffered in the heat and humidity? I, for one, was scraping salt off my scalp and drinking, as I thought, sufficiently to replace the fluid lost. However we usually have more sodium in our body at the start of the summer and as this was the first hot days running many of us had endured, there was a lot of sweating done and sodium lost. So what did I/we do? Drank more to replace the fluid. Actually, what we were doing was diluting the remaining sodium. And that is what we are being warned against! Anyone vommited clear fluid whilst racing? Wondered what gastro-intestinal complications caused it? Probably none. What easier way for the body to deal with excess fluid!

So, to tea and biscuits in the interval. During this time, someone suggested to Yannis that we could do with hearing more from Tim so he was dispatched to the lecture room to muster some slides to continue his talk. Whilst he was doing so, I wandered back into the lecture theatre. Spotting him alone I asked him about the results of my blood check following the West Highland Way race. Much of my analysis was pretty normal, but my level of Creatine Kinase was highly elevated, with a count of 29,490 as opposed to a normal reading of less than 210. His explanation fro this was simple - "You drank too much". As he had explained that earlier I didn't need to ask any more! But I did think that there may have been a bit more to it!
How about recovery? I explained I had hardly ran since the race and struggled every time.
He said "If I were to cut you open right now, I'd find your heart and muscles in great condition. Your problem is that your brain, having had a traumatic time, doesn't want you to do it all again. It is sending out warnings to you that ensure you don't put yourself in danger again. You will have to progressively re-train your brain to run." Or words to that effect!
I'll have to learn how to run all over again. This time I'll bear in mind what I learned at this seminar. No doubt I'll also bore for Britain, so if you've read this, stop me!

I was also able, over tea and biscuits, to talk to an Norrie Hay an old acquaintance who is the coach of some of Scotlands good middle distance runners. We commented on the information on the weight discrepancy of E.African and US elite runners. Norrie has a good runner who is, by our standards, very light, but he reckons he will have to lose a few kilos to improve. I mentioned the latest revelations in US 5k running who recently ran sub 13 minutes, Dathan Ritzenhein and Matthew Tegenkamp. I wondered about their weight and lo, and behold IAAF stats show Ritzenhein's weight is 53kilos! Norrie told me that when Alan Webb changed coaches to Alberto Salazar, he was ordered to lose muscle mass, of which he was fairly well laden due to weight training. No weights until he got down to what his new coach considered a competitive weight. Interesting!

Tim Noakes continued.....
Back into the lecture and Noakes showed some videos and slides to further illustrate his earlier talk. One of these was Paula Radcliffe's disastrous Olympic marathon in Athens. Remember the bit about animals, and their paralysis of hyperthermia? Animals can't operate in conditions where their core temperature reaches 43 degrees Celcius. They collapse. Humans however are capable of passing this core temperature due to evolution. But the brain will safe guard the body and cause it to stop running before death occurs and that, in Noakes opinion, is what happened to Paula. She had her race plan that had led her to world records and marathon victories but did not have the have the mental capability to run the race according to the conditions she met in the Athens race. The brain simply shut her down.

He also illustrated the power of the brain and that faith and belief in what the athlete is capable of is paramount in achieving their goals. Some more illustrations.
John Landy, an Australian athlete, and Roger Bannister were both chasing the sub-four minute mile and Landy was quoted in February 1954 as saying the 4 minute barrier was "a brick wall, I shall not achieve it."
On 6th May 1954 Bannister told himself that weather conditions that day would preclude any attempt at the barrier. His coach Franz Stampfl disagreed. He told Bannister that he thought he was in fact capable of 3minutes 56! If he was capable of that then he should be capable of 3.59 in the day's weather conditions. Bannister had long before learnt to trust his coach and the belief instilled in himself by Stampfl led to history being achieved. having shown Landy that it wasn't a brick wall, Landy believing himself at least Bannister's equal that produced a (then) world record of 3.58!
Finally Noakes showed this image of South African Josia Thugwane 1996 Olympic Champion and second place Lee Bong-Ju. Thugwane is looking as if he could run it again, Lee less so! They had been seperated by just three seconds!(By the way third place was only a further 5 seconds away!) Noakes said in summing up "Three seconds! Lee could have run faster and won it. How do I know? He's still alive!"

Tolosa Kotu Terfe

As I stated in part 1 this presentation didn't really do it for me. Tolosa's heavily accented English was difficult to follow and I'm grateful to Yannis for operating sufficient slides to get the gist of the lecture. But there is certainly no doubting his credentials. He has been involved in the careers of many of the Ethiopian elite athletes, and is well placed to say just what makes them such sublime athletes.
The main factor is attitude. No that's not a typographical error. ATTITUDE not altitude!
Living and training at altitude is, of course, crucial in their physiological make-up, but the attitude ingrained in them by their culture and media, as well as the incentives, monetary and cultural, ensure they are best suited to succeed.
They firmly believe that their ability to run is God given. They have great faith in that ability and that, together with their need to thank God by using it, gives them their supremacy.
Selection of athletes in Ethiopia is done through regional competitions that feed the successful athletes to high altitude training camps, where the younger athletes have to do work to pay for their keep earning a token payment in addition. When they reach elite status they are separated from the other athletes in much of their training in order that their training can be tailored to the individual rather than the group. In the case of the Dibaba sisters they had to be separated in order that they did not race each other into the ground at training rather than in races!
Training for Track and field season takes the form of a three month base of intermediate and moderate paced sessions followed by an intense three month period of hard training and a main competition period of one month. Obviously they race during the training phases, but mainly as a buildup to the main competition phase. All training is on a non-scientific basis. No supplements, sports science testing (other than foreigners trying to find out why they are so good!). Measurement of training effect and fitness is taken by stopwatch and asking how the athlete feels.
Contrast that with the western attitude where everything is governed by sports science.
And we have seen, from the sports drink industry, that they do not always have the athletes best interest at heart.

He summed up the Ethiopian success as being due to
High Altitude
Natural Food
Childhood hard work (aerobic)
Hard training

Rewards. How can we reward our runners? Cars? Got 'em. Money? Not skint, but only our very elite make great money, so I might as well not even try. Fame? How many athletes can Joe Bloggs name? Paula, Kelly, emmm......
To an Ethiopian or Kenyan even the modest rewards from winning a small 10k in Britain, Europe or further afield is worth much more than it would be to you and I. That is why we find that even the smallest races here are being won by the east Africans. They don't need much to live. A group will share the costs of a house, their dietary needs are simple and certainly won't be wasteful and when they return to their home country, the pounds, dollars and euros convert rather nicely, thank you!

So that's it. My recollections of an excellent seminar. No doubt others who were present will be able to fill in any gaps, or interpret things, perhaps a little differently. I hope it is useful and that I haven't lost you midway!
One lasting impression that was left on me by Yannis and Tim was that they are willing to admit they were wrong. Scientific knowledge is always advancing. Five years ago they concluded the East Africans had genetic advantages over us mere mortals. now they admit, subject to further findings, that they were wrong. That is refreshing. In much of our society we are hindered by the refusal to amdit that our standard practices are flawed. We need to lose the pride and admit that smarter people than we are have advanced thinking. We need to follow.

I hope it's not another five years before we have another seminar!

Note: I'll go back over these posts and compile some references and sources to enable you to take your understanding a bit further.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Glasgow Running Seminar Part 2 .... water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!

Tim Noakes was a fascinating presenter with that off-the-wall style that is so effective, continually joking and making asides, usually to himself!
His presentation started with a long illustrated guide to human evolution. I'll cut this short as I can, but that will be difficult!
Humans evolved into hot, sweaty, furless mammals for a very good reason..... hunting. And in this evolution, the environment was more important than genes. Man developed, arguably, in the High Veldt of South Africa or in East Africa.(The arguably coming from where your scientist lives, in Noake's case, SA.) When the environment left him nothing to eat he was forced to chase down animals. He did this by running after them until he caught and killed them by strangulation or with a rock. Thus, man had to learn to run long distances and to overcome hyperthermia, or overheating. Animals may be able to run faster than man but, eventually, they must slow down and stop as their core temperature reaches 43 degrees centigrade at which point they suffer from paralysis by hyperthermia. By following the animals at a steadier pace over many miles and hours man was able to catch even the fastest animals.
He managed this by adapting from a four legged beast to a biped, thus reducing the surface exposed to the sun to the head area whereas the animals had to expose their entire length. Man developed a sweat system where he cooled his body by sweating and other anatomical changes such as smaller pelvis,large Gluteus Maximus, shorter arms,longer legs, counter-rotating trunk and the ability to keep the head fixed in relation to that rotation... ensured he could run.
Due to the requirement to keep moving during the chase, man also developed the ability to delay drinking. Unlike the animals who had to drink lots at set times to avoid the predators who could catch them when they drank, man was able to drink frequently in small amounts delaying full correction of fluid deficiencies generated by exercise until the evening meal.

I'll repeat that, because Noakes did. We drink our fill at meal times and less during exercise. We fully replenish any fluid imbalance only after eating!

How is that? Humans can adapt so that they are better able to exercise in the heat due to the ability to conserve sodium.And if they were to drink excessively during exercise then Hyponatraemia could set in.
So how much water do we need?
Professor Noakes showed a video of Haile Gebrselassie running a marathon. He sipped, and I mean sipped, about four times during the race and had his bottle in his hand for a total of 58 seconds! And that was mostly carrying it while he thought about drinking. In other words he sipped only enough to take away his thirst.
So why is there a belief that we need to maintain hydration. The answer is fairly simple......... sales of sports drinks!
When sports drinks companies wanted to increase sales, they engaged sports scientists and nutritionists to encourage people to stay hydrated during exercise, with dire warnings of serious collapse or death if they failed to stay fully hydrated. However, deaths in marathons and Ironman Triathlons started to occur. When one occurred during an African ultra doctors at the race inserted a catheter in the unconscious patient and, surprise,surprise, found the patient was over hydrated! At this point they started to raise the alarm about the condition, but deaths continued as the sports drink and running magazines continued to warn against the dangers of dehydration. Noakes spoke to one magazine publisher who refused to publish his warnings as it would alienate advertisers - the sports drink industry.
He told of one runner whose husband was watching her race and waited at the 35k mark to watch her go by. She collapsed in front of him and their two infant children and her husband realised she was suffering from overhydration. Paramdics attended and said she was dehydrated and against the wishes of her husband connected up yes,IV fluid. She died. A journalist wrote in the Chicago Tribune of these dangerous practices and, within an hour, received two phone calls from "sports scientists" ordering him to retract as he was going to cause many deaths. A bit of investigation found that they were in the pay of the sports drinks manufactureres. How else, asked Noakes, could Californian scientists learn in one hour what had been written in a Chicago paper?

He then moved onto fatigue or rather the concept of fatigue. Those of you who have read the book Brain Training For Runners will be familiar with the concept that the brain controls the runner's performance. Noakes took this concept and illustrated it with his Model for Fatigue.
The brainless runner can be best described as an athlete on a treadmill whose speed is set by his coach or a scientist. There is no input from the athlete. The coach can increase the speed and keep increasing it until the athlete collapses with fatigue.
The Runner With A Brain is a different animal! He can set the pace according to the signals he receives from his brain. These continuous signals cover both physiological and psychological input from all the systems in his body. He therefore can decide how to run according to the conditions. Heat was one of these conditions on which Noakes concentrated. He asked is weight a factor in the performance difference between E.African and white athletes.
He pointed out that the average weight of the African runners they surveyed is 53.9kg whilst that of the US runners was 63.7kg. Heat loss is greater according to the heavier weight of the athlete. Therefore, the white, heavier athlete is going to suffer more in the heat. And, as he knows this, his brain will ensure he sets off at a slower pace than the African in order to ensure he doesn't overheat. Beaten before he starts.
Further, an examination of split times of Gebresellaise's world records show that his fastest kilometer is always his last. How could that be when he is so tired? In contrast, the record breaking white runners splits were normally slower at the end, a steadier run in other words. Noakes said that the indicator of fatigue should be the inability to vary speed. In other words power input should vary all the time and the loss of that variation shows that fatigue has set in. He illustrated this by saying that tests of fresh runners show that their pace and stride length vary all through the run but when fatigue sets in, their pace and stride length become uniform. Hence the ability of the Africans to constantly vary the speed of their running during races, an ability that white athletes struggle to master.
Finally in this section before the break, he stated that instead of measuring VO2max in athletes to guage fitness they should be measuring muscle function as it is the brain's ability to recruit muscle fibres in exercise that governs how fit he is rather than heart and lung function.

Noakes summed up by saying that man evolved as an endurance runner(and nothing explains sprinting evolution!) He is built to resist the effects of water loss!
The body will also excrete excess sodium through sweat and urine, but is able to withstand low levels of sodium although it requires calcium to fire the muscles. Hormones control the conservation of water and salt in the body. (These hormones are rendered less effective by overhydration and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAID).


At this point we adjourned for refreshments.

In part 3 ...... my chat with Noakes and his explanation for my increased level of creatine kinase after the WHWR!
Also Noakes gets more time to lecture and an insight into Ethiopian training.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Glasgow Running Seminar 2009 Part 1

Glasgow Athletics Association, in conjunction with Glasgow University, organised the Glasgow Running Seminar 2009, and I was privileged to attend it yesterday
In 2009, the fifth anniversary of the first East African Running Conference held in May 2004 will be celebrated, and the focus is once again on East African Running.

The presenters were to be:

*Professor Timothy D Noakes, MBChB, MD, DSc, FACSM: Founding Member: International Olympic Committee's Olympic Science Academy; Fellow: American College of Sports Medicine; 1992 Elected Fellow of the University of Cape Town for sustained excellence in original scientific work; 2001 Ministerial Commission into High Performance Sport in South Africa; Author; Lore of Running

*Dr Yannis Pitsiladis, FACSM: Research Scientist based in Glasgow who acts as Scientific Adviser to Global Sport Communications.

*Mr Tolosa Kotu Terfe: Former National Coach for Ethiopia. Has coached Meseret defar, Genzebe Dibaba. He "discovered" Kenenise Bekele and worked with Heille Gebresellaise for eight years.

*Dr Bezabih Wolde Hataou: Former Secretery of the Ethiopian Olympic Committee and the Ethiopian Athletics Federation. Dr Hataou has worked with Elite Athletes advising on injury rehabilitation, nutrition, providing physiotherapy and sport massage services.

Dr Hataou was a non-arrival but we were told that Tolosa Kotu Terfe would incorporate much of the content into his talk. Unfortunately the Ethiopian was a let down (IMO). He was intent on telling us more about himself in very rambling talk that was saved by Yannis Pitsilidis running his slides for him allowing us to take the "meat" of his talk down in notes.

The first speaker was Pitsilidis who hosted the event. He works in Glasgow Uni and his research has taken him on several visits to South and East Africa with PHd students. He also spoke at the previous Glasgow Seminar in 2004 where the (theoretical)genetic differences between the E. African elite runners and mere mortals with white skin was suggested as the reason for the huge gap in running standards.
His research has since taken him into contact with all the top runners who readily agreed to supply DNA for examination. The task - to find the performance gene. They have examined the general population in Kenya and Ethiopia as well as elite runners in 5k,10k, and marathon. They also examined the socio-economic circumstances of both the control and elite runners and their school travel habits! After all, it is said that the reason East Africans are so good is due to the aerobic base laid down by running to school.
To cut a long story short, they found that the DNA of all humans is 99.9% identical!
Scientists in Japan are in the process of examining the genome that will probably confirm the finding that there is NO genetic difference in these athletic types.(Examination of West African origin sprinters showed no genetic difference in them either!)

Yannis then went on to examine the school travel habits of the general population.
The general population were taken from the students of colleges and universities they were visiting who were not athletes. They found that 24% ran to school, 60% walked and the remaining 16% traveled by other means (car, bus, cycle).
In the elite athlete sample, 60% ran, 29%walked and 11% used transport. It was also noted that nearly all Kenyans and Ethiopians who were elite athletes lived in small areas at altitude. Indeed 80% of Kenyans were from the Rift Valley of whom 40% were from the village of Nandi and 80% were from one tribe: the Kalanjeni. (sp?)
He showed an amazing video clip of a 10 yr old boy running with a VO2max measuring mask and electronic gauge. This boy ran at 16km/hr before exhaustion came as he attempted 20Kph! He had no training background!
Older students who did the same test, again ran at fast pace of up to 20kph with no training background.
How could this be?
The answer was fairly simple. When asked how he could do it, the runner simply thought that was how you ran! This was a theme - faith in his own ability- that recurred later in the seminar. East Africans run that way because it is a natural instinct, born of evolution.
Mike Boit was interviewed as part of the research. His belief is that they are great runners due to:
Solid base;
High Altitude camps;
Non scientific approach - natural instinct;
Aerobic training;
Interval training (known to them as bone-breakers);
Altitude training different from western approach; (E.African athletes live at varying heights from 2,400m to 3,000m, but when they leave home to run they start by climbing even higher. They do drop down to do speedwork but generally the rule is "Live high, train higher) as opposed to our athlete's rule of "live high train low")
Cross country training;
African diet;
Non scientific approach to training (no drugs, supplements or technology) only high tech apparatus is a stopwatch - no Garmins!!!
Superior fatigue resistance.

As regards the diet,it is summarised as 86% vegetable, 14% animal and 77% carbohydrate. Much of the diet is maize (64%) eaten in the traditional form of Ugali.
Staple drink is tea.
Breakfast and dinner are eaten only after training (30 - 60 minutes after). (NB. In a later part of the seminar on hydration it is suggested that most of the fluid drunk each day should be taken with the main meal.)
It was noted (and again later in Tim Noake's presentation) that the E. Africans are so much lighter than their western counterparts. In 2006 it was noted that they were under eating by 9%. However their diet did include all the major micronutrients required to train effectively. They were NOT dehydrated.

One other point that Yannis made was that, in 2004 it was considered relevant that the lower leg morphology of the E.African was important in considering the superiority of their runners. That is to say very skinny legs. However that has been discredited in spectacular fashion. Just look at Bekele's legs!

Part two later.....
I apologise for an inaccuracies in this account. Blame my memory and handwriting!