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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Apologies for the absence

Travails of travel, and my own exposure to the cold

Apologies for such a long absence - it must be the longest time between posts since we began The Science of Sport last April. But there is good reason - I (Ross) have been trekking across the continents to visit first Europe and the USA. I'm actually in Chicago right now, visiting Jonathan, as I write this. I'll be in Boulder this weekend, for five days, and then Phoenix and Las Vegas in the week after that. This I head off for a week in Egypt and then back to reality and work in SA. I'm visiting with Dirk Friel of Training Peaks while in Boulder - they've been regulars of the site, so that should be great! If any regular readers happen to be in those towns, and you feel like getting together for a run, a game of tennis, a ride, whatever, send us a comment to this post and I'll get in touch - it'll be great to meet up!

So the "holiday" has been mostly to blame for the lack of posting - again, apologies for that. The power cord to my laptop also chose the most inopportune time to die, and the result is that I've not even been able to post while sitting waiting for flights at the airport (and the wait is long, especially flying on South African Airways, who managed to botch a flight by an incredible 14 hours, and then turn an 11 hour flight into a 14-hour one to boot).

Anyway, back online now, and hopefully not going to disappear for weeks at a time in the future, though please pardon the less frequent posting for the next month or so.

The series on the cold - it's coming, eventually...

A while back, we mentioned that we'd be doing our latest series on exercise in the cold. And we haven't forgotten! But first the Pistorius story and then this trip has interrupted our "flow" a little.

But now that I'm in Chicago (and soon Colorado), I guess one benefit is that I get to experience first-hand the implications of exercise in the cold! It was about 15 degrees below freezing when I landed (the doors on the luggage hold of the plane froze shut), and it's been about as cold ever since. Coming straight out of a South African summer, it's been a chilling experience! I went for a run the other day, and my cryogenically frozen lungs have been defrosting ever since!

So we'll get into the series on the cold. It's a difficult one to conceptualize and to apply practically to sports like running and cycling. Because at the risk of over-simplifying things enormously, when you run and cycle in the cold, the biggest problem is simply sensation-related. That is, overcoming the problem is mostly a function of choosing the appropriate clothing! That's of course an oversimplification, and we'll go into a little more detail than that, but the truth is that it's only when you get INTO THE WATER that cold physiology gets really interesting.

Now Jonathan and I both worked with the Polar swimmer, Lewis Pugh, first when he prepared for his first Arctic swim in 2005, and then Jonathan later that year on an expedition to the Antarctic. So it was from that experience that we dipped into cold water physiology. So a good deal of our posts on the cold will be on COLD-WATER exposure, but we'll also look at implications for running and cycling, as that's more our readership.

The difference between what you ARE and what you FEEL...

I also happened to catch the NFC Championship game the other night, from Lambeau Field in Green Bay. For those who don't know, they played the game at a temperature of -3 degrees FARENHEIT - that is a temperature of - 19 degrees celsius, folks! And it gets worse - with wind chill, they were reporting on-field temperatures of -31 degrees celsius! And it was interesting to see how the game dynamic changed as a result. I have no doubt that a good proportion of the 'basic' errors committed during the match were down to the cold.

As a teaser to the series on the cold, one of the most profound effects of cooling is that the conduction speed of nerve impulses and the force of muscle contraction are both reduced. This happens right away, long before the body temperature has dropped. So simply cooling the skin creates this effect - you don't actually have to BE cold to experience this - you just need to FEEL cold (and as we'll see in the series, there is a big difference between what YOU FEEL and WHAT YOU ARE!).

Anyway, a lot of balls were dropped, many passes just a meter off target, and much of that, I am sure, is down to the impairment of muscle contraction and nerve conduction by the cold. But that's what we'll be sinking our teeth into over the next little while, along with other, smaller stories that happen to come up.

So join us then, and again, apologies for the less frequent posting!



Anonymous said...

I think you meant they played the Packers/Giants game at -3 degrees FARENHEIT! Incredibly cold!

Andrew said...

Excellent blog!

About the NFL game and your statement that one only has to FEEL cold to see a reduced nerve conduction ability...

Did you notice that most of the Giants were wearing long sleeves while most of the Packers were sleeveless? I'm sure there's psychological value to looking tough, but I have to believe that the Packers' clothing decision hurt their performance. Do you agree?

MarkyV said...

Boulder-ite reporting in... looks like we'll have good weather (for us that is :) this weekend. My contact info is on my site.

runner said...

Really looking forward for that cold-series, especailly since I'm actually running in Finland and temperatures under -10°C are quite usual.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

You're onto me! I did mean 3 Fahrenheit, which is of course 19 degrees below in CELSIUS terms!

That's what I get for being on vacation - careless! Thanks for the pickup, I've made the change in the original post!


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Andrew

It may well have done. I'm not 100% sure what gets done on the sidelines, in terms of keeping warm.

I would certainly have erred on the side of caution and been hot, rather than cold. Particularly, if you have possession for a few minutes, it's easier to shed clothing and get rid of the arm-warmers than to try to warm up.

The cold and the conditions were a big deal leading up to the game, and most thought that the Packers, being familiar, would be most adaptable. And perhaps that actually worked against them - difficult to know. One would think that they'd be sensible enough to play warm.

But for sure, if one's skin is cold, it would have as much, if not more of an impact on performance than body temperature, so I would definitely have been enforcing long sleeves, preferably thick layers, if it was my call.

Greg said...

Hello, Love the blog, found in just after NYC Marathon and have been reading ever since.

Extremely interested in your findings into cold weather and it's something I face every day. I'm preparing for my 90 minute run and it's -23 Celcius (and thats without wind chill) and will cool off as the day light fades away. I'm a serious marathoner and am outside in our Manitoba elements at least six days a week (80+ miles/ week right now). Certainly challenging...

Anonymous said...

Boulder-ite #2 reporting for a run, coffee or whatever. Would love to meet up and interview you for my site :)


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to the cold series!! I was one of your undergrad students last year and trying to get a couple of people amped about the Vista Nova Robben Island swim in April, so ill defs be steering them towards reading this series! ps any chance i can take some snipits that are applicable, add em to a growing facebook group of openwater swimmers and referencing you of course?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Kristi

No problem, go ahead! Apologies if I don't know your name off hand, hopefully if you take a course this year, or I lecture again, come over and introduce yourself!

But good luck with the swim and feel free to make use of any of the content!


Anonymous said...

Didnt expect you to at all, crumbs our class was 60 pax! :) im venturing forth to learn to teach school kids this year. But will defs be keeping up to date with the latest exsci info via the blog!