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Friday, September 22, 2017

Venting and a (legal) product testimonial

Recently I have made several social media posts about the frustration that masters athletes, including myself, have with the rise of doping amongst older athletes. While legal in some respects, many prescribed anti-aging tools, such as testosterone and human growth hormone, are considered illegal by USATF/WADA and other athletic governing bodies because of their performance enhancing capabilities. I suspect that some who use these products and compete justify the use since it is 1) prescribed by a doctor or 2) the Rx is "just leveling the playing field" for them. And getting a TUE for know what you are doing is wrong and you are using the system to get around it.

Our health and abilities depreciate as we age (the health economist had to enter at some point), and pure athletes (for lack of a better term) must adjust training regimens. Currently I am running quite well for me and believe that I have several PRs left in me ranging from the 1500 meters to marathon. To get to those PRs, however, I must respect my age and body and modify my training accordingly. I cannot run over 100 miles a week as I did when I was in my 20s and 30s since it takes longer for me to recover at age 42. I can't hammer every run. (You are right to be suspicious of 40+ year old athletes posting ridiculous training regimens on Strava. If it sounds "incredible" it is probably not credible.)

This season, which is focused on road and cross country races 5K and 6K in distance, I am consistently running over 50 miles a week and will approach 60 a few times in the next 4-6 weeks. To replace the aerobic work from the decreased running mileage, I swim several times a week. Not only does swimming provide excellent aerobic (and anaerobic when I do speed sessions) benefits, but the water and its weight provides a massaging effect which helps with recovery. 

Additionally, as an older athlete my recovery days must truly be recovery days. I take one day off completely from running. Some of my easy run days are at a 9:00 minute per mile pace or slower (something the younger me would have been ashamed of, but now I embrace with pride.) The little things are also increasingly important as we age: deep tissue massage, stretching, strength training, icing, diet, etc.

Per the diet, I do take some legal (in all respects) supplements, many produced by my long-time sponsor Hammer Nutrition. (NOTE: This is a testimonial. I am not a trained physician or nutritionist so do not take my testimonial as such.) One that I starting taking in the last year to help with recovery is Essential Mg, which is a magnesium supplement. Magnesium, an electrolyte, aids in many things including metabolism, muscle contraction, blood sugar regulation, and blood pressure normalization. I get plenty of magnesium through cashews and other foods, but the supplement brings me up a level as I hit my heavy training volumes. I take Hammer's Essential Mg each evening (one serving is 200 mg of magnesium) before bed. Without scientific evidence, and relying solely on anecdotal evidence, I have fewer sugar crashes on training runs, feel more energetic when I wake up in the morning, and am training on an overall high level for a 40+ year old female. Magnesium is not the only thing potentially causing this (see the "little things" above and my weekly training), but I believe it is a contributor. Like all of Hammer's products, Essential Mg is easy on the stomach. If you are looking for more information on the product, check out their web page.

Before signing off, to make sure that you are not accidentally taking a product that is banned by your athletic governing body, use the Global DRO site to check any Rx or supplement. (HINT: Magnesium is not a banned substance by WADA but HGH is!)

Mg is all good

HGH is not good at all

Hammer on,

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Gap in consumer sentiment by party affiliation grows in Virginia

Each quarter I produce the Virginia Consumer Sentiment and Inflation Expectations Report for the Roanoke College Institute for Policy and Opinion Research.

In the current report I paid attention to the historical and current divide in sentiment by party affiliation. Sentiment is driven, not surprisingly, by politics and if "your team" is in power. The size of the gap, however, I find remarkable.

Consumer sentiment by party (blue=democrat, red=republican, dashed line=historical average)

It is also notable that sentiment in the Charlottesville area is no different from trend. Our calling for this poll began the day of the conflicts in the area. Sample sizes at the regional level are small, which is why I report it in context to the historical average and deviations from that average.

You can read the report in full here.

Keep you sentiments up,

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Race report x 3

Over an eight-day period I raced three times in distances ranging from the mile to ten miles. The proximity in the timing of the races was not on purpose, rather races that I wanted to do for specific training reasons that happened to fall that way on the calendar. After it all, my body feels good and I learned a lot about where I am in training as I head into the meat of my cross country training.

Fab 5K (Salem, VA)
The Fab 5K is a popular race in Green Hill Park (Salem, VA) put on by Mountain Junkies. The course is mostly flat (see elevation chart) and a mix of road, grass, and gravel. It is a perfect race to transition from the roads to cross country. It is one of the more competive events in the area due to being one of the few races with a prize purse.

Fab 5K course profile (from my GPS)

I had several goals coming into the event.
1) Get the masters course record (20:23)
2) Run tough between mile 1 and 2 (Coach Clifford and I are going to pick one thing to focus on in each race, and that was it for this race.)
3) Walk away with a smile regardless of time

Check, check, and check. I ran 19:56 (well off my 19:07 best for the course), setting a new masters record. I finished third overall and won a little $$. I pressed after the mile mark (a mostly grass section), although I did falter over the last 1200 meters suggesting an area of training focus in the coming months. I am going to try to increase the distance that I successfully press the pace in races as well as the season goes on. Some key workouts will include fast 200s after tempo sessions.

3rd place female, top master

USATF Masters Road Mile National Championships (Flint, MI)

I am racing four Masters National Championships races this year, starting with the road mile in Flint, in an attempt to place well in the USATF Masters Individual Grand Prix for the 40-44 age group. The mile is not a typical event for me. Prior Michigan I only did one road mile (almost twenty years ago.)

The largest ever masters field gathered in Flint for the event. The women's field was deeper than any Masters National Championship that I have competed. My goals going into the race were:
1) Do not get passed in the last 400 and PUMP THOSE ARMS (Coach Clifford focus for this race)
2) Place in the top 10 (due to the depth of the field)
3) Finish knowing that I could not have gone one bit faster

Again, check, check, and check. I am thrilled to say that I finished THIRD! Coming into the final turn (about 200 meters to the finish) my eyes must have been popping out of my head because 1) I could not believe how far up in the field I was and 2) I was running for my life to hold off last year's winner (Tammy Nowik, who I had just passed) and the BAMF Alisa Harvey (a sub 2:00 800 meter running back in her prime.)

I went out hard, but held just enough back that the uphill start would not take away from a mad dash to the finish. At 400 meters I was with Alisa Harvey and well back from the top three (Tolan, Gacek, and Nowik.) I assumed that Heather Webster was lurking somewhere behind us as she finished in the top three at XC nationals in December and under 18:10 at Syracuse. After the turn on Avon (~800 meters) it appeared that Nowik was getting gapped. Coach Clifford said that when I sensed that it was time to make a move, that I had to go then not let up. I went. Alisa came with me. We passed Nowik after 1200 on a downhill section. As I turned onto 1st street we had ~200 meters to the finish, I could feel the ladies behind me and I could hear Coach Clifford in my head saying "Do not get passed in the last 400 and PUMP THOSE ARMS!" I ran the last 200 like I was running for my life knowing that I had two very fast ladies on my behind and that I would be devastated to lose a top three finish over the closing meters. I think I peed my pants a bit I was running so hard.

Anyone looking at the times from the race might think that they are soft...but the course was long and very challenging. Everyone who ran the course prior the race knew that it would be tactical (due to the hill at the start and a slight incline into the finish) and not a place to run fast. The course is the same for everyone, so anyone there faced the same challenges. (And anyone just looking at times and saying "If I would have gone I would have beaten _____" can put that you know where.)

Crim 1 Mile course profile (from my GPS)

Crim 10 Miler (Flint, MI)

I have always wanted to do the famed Crim 10 Miler, so I decided to race it given I would already be in Flint at the Crim Festival. Given I raced the mile the night before, I viewed it as a very hard training run and a way to build my endurance. My goal was to finish under 70:00 based on how tired I was and the difficulty of the course.

Crim 10 Mile course profile (from my GPS)

We were fortunate to have perfect race conditions (under 50 degrees at the start!) I managed to run 68:36, with the last 0.12 (my watch got the course as 10.12 miles because I do not run tangents well) at 5:12 pace. As a test I pushed into the finish earlier and faster than I thought I could handle since it really did not matter if I blew up. I believe that little tests and challenges like that will only benefit me in the championship races this fall.

Happy face after Crim 10

After these three early season races I am excited for fall training and know where I need to focus. My speed seems to be there as does my endurance, but I need to bring the two together for a fast 5K. Tempo, tempo, tempo!

Race on,

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Child health and women's asset ownership

Flag of Papua New Guinea
Several years ago, Yana Rodgers (Rutgers University) contacted me about applying for a contracting project with the Asian Development Bank using the 2009-2010 Papua New Guinea Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES). Of course I said "yes" to such a great opportunity and we were offered the project soon thereafter. We worked on the project for about a year and a half. Now that the report is done, we are using the data to address research questions that came up during the report. We have several questions, each likely a stand-alone paper.

Our first paper, Women's Asset Ownership and Children's Nutritional Status: Evidence from Papua New Guinea, was recently presented at the 2017 Biennial International Health Economic Association (iHEA) Meeting (Boston, MA) and submitted to a journal for publication. We are also hopeful for a presentation at the 2018 American Economic Association Annual Meeting. You can see the iHEA presentation slides here and the draft of our paper here. The abstract is here:

This study uses household survey data from 2009-2010 to examine how women’s asset ownership is associated with children’s nutritional status in Papua New Guinea, a country with some of the most severe child malnutrition in the world.  Women’s sole ownership of assets is expected to strengthen their bargaining power within the home, which increases investments in children’s health.  Results from ordinary least squares regressions point to beneficial effects of maternal asset ownership for children’s height-for-age, weight-for-height, and weight-for-age Z-scores, even after controlling for household characteristics.  Additional results from detailed quantile regressions indicate that these effects occur primarily at the median, although in some cases the strongest impacts occur at the lowest portions of the distribution.

The primary issue addressed in the paper is the impact of mother's asset ownership on the health of her children in Papua New Guinea. The HIES data offers the opportunity to examine this issue at the individual level. Six assets are identified, along with individual ownership status, in the survey: livestock, poultry, fishing equipment, agricultural equipment, furniture, and housing. A factor analysis grouped these into what we termed assets related to 1) food production and 2) shelter.

The WHO definitions of wasting, stunting, and underweight are used to quantify child health. Surveyors took these measurements in each home for children under the age of 5.

We employed OLS and quantile regression to estimate the impact of mother's asset ownership on child health, using the z-scores for each child health metric. OLS estimates capture the "action" at the mean and the quantile estimates capture the "action" across the distribution. We used the 0.05, 0.10, 0.50, 0.90, and 0.95 quantiles. Assets entered our regressions in various, separate ways, including several indexes we devised to reduce multicollinearity.

The results suggest that mother's asset ownership matters, in a positive way, to her children's health particularly at the middle of the distribution.

Conference participants and colleagues who read our paper offered a few comments which we will likely follow up with in a future paper. Those comments included:
1) What is the impact of the father on child health?  (NOTE: Father's education was not significant.)
2) Does the father's view of female autonomy matter?

If you are interested in more details about the paper or the results, please read it using the link above.

We would appreciate your input,

Monday, July 17, 2017

First few weeks

Briggs Field, MIT

I have been fully back to training after marathon/cellulitis for two weeks and am trying to be patient and adapt to training and the weather. So far so good.

Not surprisingly I am building back strength and endurance on land and in the pool and trying to incorporate running on soft surfaces as much as possible.

Last week was what I image to be a typical one for the next month or so (although the mileage will increase over that period.) I was in Boston Sunday-Tuesday presenting a paper at the International Health Economic Association Meeting, so I got to run in some new places.

Monday was 6 x 3:00 at tempo interval pace with 2:00 jogs between. My hotel was near MIT so I used Briggs Field, their intramural grass field (real grass, not artificial turf) which spanned 2 x 3 soccer fields. Perfect! Given that I will race 2-4 cross country races this fall, practicing running on surfaces that are not smooth like a road or track is important. My paces per mile were 6:10-6:20 for each 3:00 segment which I was pleased with. On the track or road that would have been 6:00-6:10 pace for a tempo effort.
I used fields 1-9 which all connect even with the track!
Due to travel I did not do the second workout until Saturday. I had a 20:00 tempo run. I have a love/hate relationship with tempo. I hate the pain but love the results. It was a typical humid morning in Virginia and I was OK with the 6:36/mile average pace (through three miles in 6:38, 6:36, 6:34) especially since I descended slightly and did it alone. Looking back at training from this time last year (which is not always a wise thing to do as we age) I am well ahead of what I was averaging back then.

Sunday was a longish (not long for a marathon runner) 1:20 run on the hills of Fincastle which went well even on the tired legs.

What I was most excited about was my swim session! I got a new batch of workouts from Coach Brett. One of the workouts I did was a total of 5,000 yds. with a main set of:

17 x 100 kick on 1:30 for 1-5, 1:25 for 6-10, 1:20 for 11-14, and 1:15 for 15-17.
17 x 100 free with fins and paddles do the same way except on 1:35, 1:30, 1:25, and 1:20

I did it! I love swimming and working with Brett who is so positive and encouraging. Plus it builds me into a better runner. Win-win-win.

In the next post I will write about the conference in Boston and our paper.

Run & swim,

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Starting over

My blog fell into disuse! 10 months passed before I could blink. No excuses. I'm just going to get it back on track (and a face lift before too long!)

This post will focus on the running part of the Running Economist. I will save the exciting projects that I am working on and have had published recently for another post.

The good news: my fitness post knee surgery and last year's battle with vocal chord dysfunction progressed throughout the year. I got into 3:02-3:05ish marathon shape for the Wrightsville Beach Marathon (March 2017) put on by my coach Tom Clifford, but the weather did not cooperate. Most people, including me, were slowed by the heat and humidity and I ran just under 3:08 (and won the female masters division.)

Coach Clifford suggested that I recoup and try a second round at Grandma's Marathon in June. I recovered from Wrightsville Beach faster than any marathon before and had a great training cycle going into Grandma's getting into 2:58-3:02ish shape. And then....I got stuck by a thorn a week before the race.

A thorn! Yes. I made it through 20+ mile runs, countless tempo and interval sessions, 3-4 x week swim workouts, but was felled by a thorn. I have no idea how the thorn found my finger. I do not have roses. But it did and with it brought a nasty case of cellulitis. A few days before the race my entire arm was swollen and the lymph nodes in my neck were inflamed. I went to the hospital in Duluth Thursday (yes, I went to the race hopeful it would just go away!) and was put on antibiotics. I do not run well while on antibiotics, but that was better than letting the infection get worse than it already was.

I went through the motions and toed the line Saturday morning having made a deal with myself: Execute your race plan, but if your body tells you that the infection is bigger than your heart, DROP OUT. No running race is worth dying for.

A few miles in I felt weak and not my peppy self. I focused on staying positive and hoped that my body would loosen up. It was not to be. By 6 miles I needed a walk break. I took three more before I got to the drop out zone with buses to the finish at 13.75 miles. Dropping out was the best decision for me. Had I pushed through I could have spread the infection and worse. I felt OK about it knowing this and that I gave it a go. There were no "what ifs".

Tears were shed on the bus back and on the phone with Coach Clifford. I was so darn frustrated. Following his suggestion, I took a few hours to get the hurt out, and then focused on the positive and the future.

So what is the future?

Several USATF Masters races and a full cross country season. I am excited! My tentative plan is:

August 19 - FAB 5K (Roanoke) (half grass, half pavement)
August 25 - USATF Masters Road Mile National Championship (Flint, MI)
August 26 - Crim 10 Miler (Flint, MI) (...yes the next day. But I am there anyway, so why not)
September 9 - Knights Crossing (Roanoke) (XC)
October 6 - Royal Invitational (Charlotte) (XC)
October 15 - USATF Masters 5K XC National Championships (Boston)
October 28 - Runway 5K (Charlotte) (road and a MAYBE)
November 4 - USATF 5K National Championships (road and a MAYBE)
November 23 - Wrightsville Beach Turkey Trot (road)
December 9 - USATF Masters 6K XC National Championships (Lexington, KY)

I took time after Grandma's to heal (similar to recovery for a completed marathon) and started intervals and pool work two weeks ago. After a few days of feeling sluggish (the last of the antibiotics and infection?), I am back to feeling strong. With my awesome training buddy Sarah, I hit a 20:00 tempo faster than I have in at least two years despite the humidity (farty shoes by mile one) and did a broken 500 yard test set in the pool faster than I did to start last swim season. My strength from six months of marathon training is still there. Whew!

My goal is to stay positive, push my limits, and embrace the training for the rest of the year. I will make more training posts this season not because anyone is interested, but because putting it out there holds me accountable. I can be my own worst enemy in the mind game arena, so hopefully writing and posting my thoughts will keep me on the positive track when things get challenging.

I am on Strava (as Alice Kassens), so follow me!

Welcome back to the grind,