Running and the big C

Guest post by : Melanie Bowen

Running as a Means of Preventing and Fighting Cancer

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While most people associate science with developing new and complicated means of accomplishing certain tasks, science often confirms basic facts that many find intuitive. While it may seem strange today, doctors and researchers were once reluctant to state that physical fitness had much of an effect on cancer. Recent studies, however, have shown that the correlation between high levels of physical fitness and low levels of cancer rates is strong. Below is an overview of how running and other forms of exercise can help in the fight against cancer.

Preventative Effects of Running

From colon to breast cancer, researchers have found a link between exercise and cancer wherever one has been sought. Recently, scientists have discovered that those who exercise regularly reduce their risk of developing endometrial cancer significantly. Modern studies control for weight and other risk factors, so the effect of exercise on cancer goes beyond merely preventing obesity. Doctors have been telling patients for years that running can help reduce their odds of developing heart disease and strokes; many doctors are now adding cancer to this list.

Fighting Through Chemotherapy

Those who have undergone chemotherapy will attest to the fact that it is grueling, and the lengthy nature of chemotherapy treatments combined with its energy-draining effects can make an especially tough to deal with. By running before chemotherapy treatments commence, patients can arm themselves with the endurance needed to make it through treatments as well as possible. Running has also been linked to lower levels of depression, which is also common during chemotherapy for patients battling mesothelioma to melanoma.

Recovering as Quickly as Possible

Studies have also shown that exercise helps patients reduce the risk of developing cancer in the future, and those who make exercise a part of their lives will be less likely to have to fight cancer again. Recovery from cancer will take time, and survivors should not expect to return to their former levels of fitness quickly. By starting with walking and slowly returning to running, however, cancer survivors will find their endurance levels returning.

Fighting cancer often takes months or years, and recovery will be difficult. However, people can have some control over their likelihood of developing cancer and treating it, and those who run on a regular basis will prepare themselves to succeed should they be faced with cancer in the future.

Chi Running – a new way to run in 2013

A new phenomenon has hit the ground running (literally) over the past decade – a technique called ChiRunning which is designed to be a more natural and efficient form of exercise than traditional road running.

This is not to say that the myth that traditional running causes more pain or injury is true, but it’s all about the technique. That’s what Chi running strives to teach people and it’s been taken up everywhere since it began in the US in 1999.

Ujiti Channing from the popular running store Run and Become in Cardiff says “it’s all about learning to run without using your legs” and using the forces around you like the pull of gravity to run “lighter”. People attend the sessions to discuss injuries they endured from road running and try to combine the teachings of Chi with their own style and it’s been very successful.

Take a look at this video by the founder of Chi running, Danny Dreyer:

There is also Chi Walking which again, teaches you how to open up your joints before doing any exercise to avoid injury. This is a great concept particularly if you are a beginner or you run regularly on your own. There is no “correct” form of running as everyone runs differently but with a few tips and advice on the best way to avoid injury, you are more likely to keep at it.

Many people who practice Chi still have an injury and have seen them improve. Take a look at this blog from Laura Houston, who has recently completed a successful 5k and puts it all down to the principles of Chi.

As Jane Coker, told me in an interview a few weeks back, runners can be notoriously lazy when it comes to practicing other forms of exercise. I try to combine my running with yoga to avoid wearing certain joints and muscles down from running alone but particularly when it comes to professional runners, they only have that one passion.

As it can be so easy to get injured out on the roads, the principles of Chi that include focusing on posture, spine and core positions, energy and movements, sounds like a perfect way to keep runners running for as long as they wish.

The dark side of running

It is called many things – over exercising, extreme endurance, compulsive exercising.

The “running high” as it is known, manifests itself after about an hour of training. The body produces endorphins, a type of natural morphine and the immense feeling of pleasure is what can make people wanting more.

As popular as running has become over the last few decades, is there a threshold where long distance running can become too dangerous?

After speaking at length to professional runners in South Wales, the reasons why they took up the sport in the first place and why older runners are still doing it now was mainly for two reasons: fitness and competition. But what I noticed among them, was a recurring concern – that running can become an addiction – and it’s a very easy and sometimes dangerous trap to fall into.

The Science Stuff

US cardiologists have just released a study which claims that intense physical activity can serve as a positive alternative to heroin. The scientists saw a dramatic 50% reduction in rats’ need for heroin once exercise became a daily activity. This, of course, is a good thing.

But what about if you stopped running? Would you get the same withdrawal symptoms as a drug addict would? The experts say yes.

Interestingly, this study led by Dr Kanarek at Tufts University claimed that an “intense running regimen” and opiate abuse have the same biochemical effect on the body, and that the rats which ran harder, experienced stronger withdrawal symptoms. Not only can it lead to mental withdrawals, but it can also damage your body more than improving it. Another study only released a few days ago, claims that marathon running can create long term heart defects and endurance training should be limited to one hour a day (just as the “running high” kicks in) – anything over that, apparently, can “produce diminishing returns”.

The Marathon Culture

I spoke with Jane, a 53 year old woman who has been running for almost thirty years. Jane founded the Cardiff Woman’s Running Network in Penarth in 2006 and is a long-serving member of Wales’ largest running club, Les Croupiers. Despite being a professional racer, track runner and competing for Wales & the World Cup in fell running, she has never run a marathon in her life.

Club track 3000m winnersJane has managed to maintain her running obsession as a positive influence on her life. She told me she wants to “preserve what she’s got” and doesn’t want to trash her body by competing in marathons. “It’s all about experience”, Jane says and people do not realise there are many different areas of running you can explore other than marathons. Park runs are an alternative to having the race day experience without the added pressure of a long distance race.

Bath Gwent League November

Building your stamina and mental awareness of something like the London marathon, is something even Jane is not yet entirely comfortable with. Jane believes she wouldn’t be running today if she didn’t have an eight year break from running due to an injury and bringing up a child and this is what saved her health.

So is it really addiction? Or is it just dependency? People run for social reasons too. And as Jane told me if she stopped running, it would leave a huge hole in her life.

But, hearing one man’s story of how his running addiction forced him to give up what he loved altogether because he became so obsessed does make you sit back and think about it a little bit harder.

Sean, also ran for Les Croupiers. He used to run on average, 26 miles a day – 140 miles a week. Listen to his astonishing story below:

Beating myself was all that mattered

ad·dic·tion n.

1.

a. Compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance

The definition in itself carries negative connotations and most would argue there are worse things you could be addicted to.

We all know exercise is good for you. But some runners are on the treadmill and they can’t get off or are on the road that keeps on going. Why this is, is a point of conjecture. Is it personal psyche? Is it pressure of competition? Is it the fact that everybody has to do a marathon these days? Once upon a time, to say you’d done a marathon was enough. Now, people say what time did you do?

Advances in training technology have also enabled runners to be more aware of their performance. Applications such as Nike+ that fit in your trainer and track your running distance without you having to really do anything at all are widely used by runners all over the globe. Being able to upload your progress on social networking sites and measure yourself against other people’s performance has created a global community of competition. Calculate. Compare. Compete is their slogan. Competition is good – but new tech tools like Nike+ focus on how you ran one day and how to do better the next – is this how exercise should really be measured?

Running is one of the few sports that has no closed season. Football, rugby, cricket all have enforced periods when the sport is not played.

The sheer simplicity of running is it’s greatest appeal, but for some, it can also be the greatest downfall…

Please join in this conversation about the dark side of running. Feel free to comment below and please answer the poll. I would love to hear what you think.

A not so level playing field? Doping in women’s running

In the run up to the London 2012 Olympics, controversy surrounding doping in professional athletics dominated the news. Dwain Chambers’ possible comeback to the games after serving an Olympic lifetime ban after testing positive for steroids in 2003 sparked a plethora of opinion on the internet and most interestingly, from fellow competing athletes.

Furthermore, what was not expected to surface half way through the games were serious allegations of doping across the board, including athletes claiming it being the reason behind Usain Bolt’s incredible performance.

Lance Armstrong

Illegal performing enhancing drugs have been used across many sports and by many athletes over the years. Lance Armstrong was hounded for over a decade with allegations of doping since his return to cycling following cancer. He fought for years to protect his reputation of 7 times Tour de France winner and all time greatest cyclist, until just a month ago, he was branded as being part of “the most sophisticated, professionalised, and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”. He had a lifetime ban imposed upon him for the allegations to be proven true by the International Cycling Union following further claims from fellow riders.

What I recognise from reading about these stories is a culture of serial doping among professional athletes. Most notably, the world 1500m Moroccan marathon runner Mariem Alaoui Selsouli was banned just four days before the opening ceremony of the Olympic games.

Mariem

Having just returned from a previous doping ban less than a year before and being tipped for gold in London, Selsouli tested positive for performance enhancing drugs including diuretic furosemide and she was expelled from the games.

This has nothing to do with healthy competition. The drugs must be so readily available that nowadays it is simply too easy to take a few shortcuts to be the best. To be a successful athlete takes time – and so does being successful in any profession for that matter. Half of the satisfaction which comes from a victory is defined by effort – the time and resources invested in you getting to that position in the first place. Taking the easy route and coming out on top in sport must be a very dissatisfying feeling – which is probably why athletes persevere in the culture of doping in the hope of eventually finding true success – but it never comes.

You would think the fear of never being able to compete for your country again would be a sober enough thought to ensure people are put off. Great runners like Paula Radcliffe are leading anti-doping campaigns in an effort to emphasise how these days, athletes do not know if they are competing on a level playing field because of the complexities of the substances and the fairly lackadaisical doping system which exists at the moment.

This is not a culture which can be resolved quickly, but if this continues, it will become inherent in the system of athletics and the values of traditional competition will be lost forever. If the Olympic legacy is to continue for the next generation, athletes must collectively object against the ethos of drug taking until tougher legislation is introduced. In order for younger people and wider society to rebuild trust in the sport, this is a necessity.

Ultimate City Running in Cardiff

A geat place to run in Cardiff is the Taff Trail. It’s a 55 mile long route starting at the Roald Dahl Plass Cardiff Bay and runs right through to Brecon in Mid Wales. The scenic trail is very popular for runners and cyclists whatever the season.

Unlike any other running route I know in my local area, the Taff Trail offers a mix of both country and city running. You can follow the river Taff right into Cardiff City Centre and pass all the sites such as the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff railway station and Glamorgan cricket club on your way.

About 8 miles north, the route will take you up to historic Castell Coch. It’s quite a strenuous part of the journey but once you reach the top, the view of Cardiff and the surrounding area is breath taking.

This is a long run (and you also have to run underneath a motorway) so if you think you one way is enough for you, there is a bus you can get on in Cardiff (Tongwynlais bus) and run home from the Castle or vice versa.

The good thing about the Taff Trail is that you can customize your routes along the way whether you want a good couple of hours pounding the pavements or a short 20 minute run before work.

Start off at different land marks like the one I do on a regular basis. It’s easy to change the routes up by starting at Cardiff Bay into the city centre or going from the bottom end of the centre (Sophia Gardens) and run north towards Castell Coch – stopping once you reach Radyr or Llandaff.

Sophia Gardens Cricket Club – Hailey Park, Llandaff North.

If you want to get straight into your run and don’t want to go too far out, here is my ultimate city running route:

The Taff Trail officially starts here (and so does my route), the Celtic Ring at the base of Roald Dahls Plass, it is often a busy area particularly on weekends and a good monument to start at.

Start of the Taff Trail

Running north through the oval basin and a quick jog down James St and onto Clarence Road, you will reach the Taff Trail. The track will take you north, a straight run up past the Millennium Stadium until you reach Bute Park.

It will take you about 45 minutes to run the whole thing depending on your pace and fitness level. As it’s along the Taff Trail, you’ll always be passing other runners. Good from a safety perspective and also from a motivational perspective.

Please feel free to contribute to these maps or suggest any other routes you think are good around Cardiff.

Happy running!

K