Sports: September 2008 Archives


September 21, 2008

Yan, Malisch, Hannon, Hurd, and Garland have an interesting (though ultimately more suggestive than conclusive) paper in PLoS (link goes to abstract but PLoS is free so you can read the whole article). The background here is that 2D:4D, the ratio of index finger to ring finger length, is lower in male humans than female humans. It appears that this is correlated to prenatal androgen exposure as well as to gender: female fraternal twins whose co-twin was male tend to have lower 2D:4D than those whose co-twin was female. It also turns out that low 2D:4D ratio in humans correlates with a bunch of measures of what you'd think of as masculinity: aggression, competitiveness, etc. Interestingly, the opposite is true of mice: higher 2D:HDs correlate with higher levels of aggression and physical activity. Also, in mice females exhibit higher exercise levels than males. What YMHH&G have shown is that in mouse lines bred for increased propensity to run on treadmills: 2D:4D is higher than in un-selected control lines.

It's hard to know what to make of this general set of results and the authors grapple with it a bit (the selected mice are feminized, masculinized,...), but don't have any clear answers, though they suggest that it's more complicated than either. In any case, it's interesting that (a) you can actually select for propensity to exercise, at least in mice, and (b) that that somehow seems to be linked to a bunch of other biochemically significant markers.


September 20, 2008

Sorry for the long posting gap... Was busy working on a paper.

This morning I ran the Skyline to the Sea 50 km trail run. This was my first ultra of any kind and only my second trail race, so it was an interesting challenge. The Skyline to the Sea trail is net about 2500 ft descent (with about 3000 ft of ascent), so I figured this would be a good race to start with.

First impressions:

    The course was surprisingly technical. I do a lot of trail running, but mostly it's fire-road style trails like Rancho San Antonio. Even when there is some single-track, it's relatively flat dirt, so you can mostly run without paying much attention to where you step. This trail, however, while flat some of the time had significant stretches with roots, large rocks, etc. that you had to really slow down or even walk over if you wanted to avoid tripping.
  • A lot of trail runners report walking the uphills. I've done enough long distance races (1/2 Ironman and Ironman) that I felt I could probably get away with running them. This wasn't a disaster and I did pass a number of people on the uphills, but I didn't put that much distance on them (in some cases, the same people passed me on the downhill) and I suspect it took more out of me than it was worth. I also suspect that running the uphills wouldn't be scalable to 50 miles or even 50 K races with more climbing.
  • Hydration and nutrition become a lot more important in races like this (indeed any long distance race) because aid stations are fairly far apart (and constrained by which parts of the trail are easily accessible) and times are a lot slower for the reasons I indicated above.
  • Bees. There were lots of bees. You'd be running along just fine and the people in front of you were screaming and hitting themselves. I got stung about 6 times.
  • The race was reasonably well run, but there were two logistical issues that could have been better. First, it would have been nice to have mile markers. The trail was well marked, but without any distances, so you didn't know how far you had gone. Second, there weren't enough porta-potties at the race start; only three for 200 entrants. I spent a long time waiting in line for one and almost missed the race start. As it was, I was near the end of the start line and spent most of the race trying to pass slower people on the singletrack trails.

Results: 5:15ish. 33rd, 15th in my age group. As I recall, the winning time was 3:38.


September 13, 2008

Eu-Jin Goh pointed me to this Times article about the price of Ironman series events. It's certainly true that the Ironman series is expensive, and $525 for a race entry is a lot, but it's not really the major part of your costs. Let's say I decide to do Ironman Canada, the oldest of the non-Hawaii Ironmans. Assuming the entry fee is $525, my costs look like this:

Plane fare (SFO - YYF)$575
Bicycle surcharge$50-170
Hotel (4 nights)1$320
Rental car$150
Race entry$525

Plus, I've never been at a race where I didn't end up spending $50-$100 for assorted race-related expenses: spare bottles, tubes, energy bars, energy gels, sports drink, etc. Factor in airport parking and other misc. non-race expenses and we're looking at somewhere around $2K for the race, of which the entry fee is about 25%. And of course this is for a North American race with a cheap plane flight located in a relatively cheap town. If you want to do Ironman New Zealand (another popular race for North Americans, entries still available!), you're looking at a $1300+ plane ticket plus a few more nights in the hotel dealing with jet lag, for a total price more like $3K.

This isn't to say that monopoly rents aren't being collected—though it may not be the race directors collecting them. It may well be the case that running an Ironman race is more expensive than a non-Ironman race (because of the licensing fees you need to pay to the World Triathlon Corporation which owns the Ironman name), but that's just a transfer payment, so someone is getting the extra $200 or so you pay to enter Ironman Canada instead of Vineman. All I'm saying is that it's not too surprising people are willing to pay it, since the brand surcharge you're paying is a relatively small fraction of their overall costs.

1. You might ask why you need so many nights in the hotel. The race is first thing in the morning so you need to stay the night before. You're way too wiped out the second day to fly out, plus if you qualified for Kona you need to pick up your slot the next day. The other two days get there because you want to be fresh for the race (remember, you've been training for 6 months for this) and that's not that compatible with having just got off the plane the day before the race or even two days before. Much better to get there a few days early, rest up and see the course.


September 2, 2008

One of the big (and IMHO bogus, but more on this in a second) stories in the Beijing olympics was the medal count competition between the US and China. As you may have heard, both sides claimed nominal victories, with the US winning the total medal count and the Chinese winning the most golds. The BBC shows a number of other ways of counting (þ Alex Gregory on Crooked Timber).

I'm just nationalistic enough to have some mild preference for American athletes—if they're reasonably competitive I'll root for them, but I'm not going to sit around cheering for the guy who's 1/2 a lap back (and i admit this isn't rational, but put it down to community spirit)—but I find it pretty hard to get worked up about total medal counts because they're so meaningless. For obvious reasons, it's an edge to have a large population, as well as to spend a lot of money subsidizing sports. China apparenlt spends lavishly on their athletes, and surely if the US spent more, its medal counts would go up as well. It's not clear to me why that would cause me to have more or less national pride than I do today. Maybe we could invent some contest that measured inherent national athletic ability (though, again, unclear why that should be more important to me than, say, mean national height), but the Olympics isn't it.