Σάββατο, 29 Δεκεμβρίου 2012

Review of 2012: Memories and impressions from sports

29th of December and it is time to say farewell to 2012. It has been a year full of memories. Some good some bad, all interesting!

Sports wise it has been a full year again. I have managed to keep my butt out of injuries so, I raced and trained as planned. I realize now that I appreciate my daily activities more than any race, therefore I will not value anything above my day to day running - cycling - swimming.

The year started with a plan to race my annual fast marathon at Barcelona. At the same time I was moving out to my new home, following my divorce from my French wife that was stressing me emotionally. I managed to fit everything in and keep myself together and busy day and night. Early morning workouts, then office, then packing and unpacking, then night workout and sleep. That was pretty much my day.

Arrived to the starting line of Barcelona Marathon, well trained and certain that I have enjoyed the "trip" to get there. The race eveloved as planned, or even better, achieving a personal best of 2:44:30. More on this, at my race report.

After Barca, it was time to switch to triathlon mode. I was spending more time on the bike and swimming and minimized the running. The next target was Ironman Austria on 1st of July. Again the path to Klagenfurt was very nice! A good group of friends was sharing with me the experience and got to the starting line, confident that my goal was within reach. I was planning for sub-10hrs Ironman. Well... it did not unfold well. The swim was without wetsuit and the whole day was worst than the Greek summer! 34-35degC all day with high humidity. I went at a comfortable pace throughout the race, since my goal was out of reach right after the swim-exit. Finished at 11:04 and my mind was already at the Dolomites for the trekking / climbing days that followed. At this point I decided that long distance triathlons would be out of my list for 2013 since the time that I must commit is not compatible with the amount of time that I have available.

Late July, as I was already pilling up trail-miles for my next major race (Rodopi Ultra Trail 100miler) I decided to go and run Faethon Olympus Marathon which was a real Sky-race with more than 3.200m of accumulated ascent (average altitude at 2.200m and several passes over 2.400m) over 44km at a technical terrain. To my surprise, I won the race, even though I was not at all prepared for this. I enjoyed every meter!!!

August included a really long triathlon which was a unique experience: the famous Inferno Triathlon in Switzerland. This was one of the highlights of the year for me, because the course of the race was really unique. Of course it is a tough race: 3,2km swim at Interlaken lake, 94km road bike with more than 2.200m of accumulated ascent, followed by 32kms of Mountain bike with 1.200m more ascent, finishing with 24kms run with 2.200m of ascent almost all on trails! The finish is at Piz Gloria (alt. 3.100m). No need to say more...

I was on my way to my most anticipated event of the year: Rodopi Ultra Trail 100miler. I was pilling up miles every day on the mountains around Athens or by participating at some weekend trail running events. I did my annual "Three Mountains of Athens - 80k" run early October and that was my last real training. At that time I followed Lizzy Hawker during her Spartathlon effort and my mind stuck with the idea of running this 246km race in 2013...

Rodopi Ultra Trail was a big success. I won the race (even though I lost the trail and added some 8kms to the already long route of 164 mountainous kms), achieving the 2nd fastest record out of the 3 years that it has been going on. This is the longest mountain race in Greece and the only 100miler of the country. More on this race at my race report!

Officially my season was over... well not! I was feeling great, and gave it a try at the Athens Classic Marathon. It was just three weeks after Rodopi, and I had done very little speedwork for more than 4 months. It turned to be one more great race, improving my PB on the course and finishing in 2:50:03. Between Rodopi and the Athens Classic Marathon I trained only the week leading to the marathon, doing some intervals to revive my legs. It was time to rest... And that is what I did. 2 weeks passed by with 0 running. Then for the next 2 weeks I did some casual runs, and signed up for one more race to close the season.

It was the 12hrs run in stadium. The "hamster" race as we call it. Perfect weather (advantage of Greece in early December) and fresh legs gave me the boost I needed to get over the boredom of doing 310 laps in a stadium. Almost 125 kms was enough to give me the first place at this event as well as the event record. This was not at all expected! This is not my kind of event and it was not even on my calendar. Within 40 days, I have won a 100miler on the mountains, I have finished a fast marathon and won a 12hrs event. What a way to end the year.

And then there was some more rest for me. Christmas is time to regroup and put on some weight so that the body decides where to distribute it!

This year strengthened the belief that I am ok racing just by feel and without any split-times plan. I also realized that the single most important thing in all these activities, is to enjoy my daily running - cycling. The confidence and satisfaction I draw from doing my own training plan, studying books and following news from around the world is enough to make me smarter in my training as well as in racing. I am constantly learning about my body, my mind and my limits.

In 2013 I have two "A-Class" races:
  • Boston Marathon, trying for a sub 2:40 (mid April)
  • Spartathlon, aiming simply in seeing the finish line of the 246km gruelling road race (end of September)
I also have two "B-Class" events:
  • South Downs Way 100miler in England (mid June)
  • Lakeland 100miles in England (end of July)
Also I would like to come back at Rodopi Ultra Trail again, because it is a beautiful event. The only problem is that it is 3 weeks after Spartathlon. But if I can't run it, I will be a volunteer.

Probably I am going to run some more marathon distance or shorter trail or road events, but this is also important for me so that I socialize with the community of runners, as well as enjoy some nice events that will make my weekly routine memorable!

After all, that is why I am running: Makes every day of my life memorable!

Happy New Year everyone!

Πέμπτη, 25 Οκτωβρίου 2012

Flow like a river: my 2012 Rodopi Ultra Trail 100miler

Rodopi Ultra Trail was my 3rd 100miler event ever. It was also the first time I was re-visiting a course I have experienced in the past. Revisiting UTMB (my 1st 100miler in 2009 was UTMB) in 2011 was blocked by the lottery. And now, with hinder sight, I am thankful for this!

Rodopi Ultra Trail (www.rout.gr) is a 164km / 100 miles event with about 7.500m of accumulated ascent. The identity of the event is the loneliness and solitude of the runner. Throughout the whole route, we meet only once a village. And there are only 6 support stations! The route takes us through ancient dense forests of beech, oak, birch and fir trees, while the maximum altitude is a little above 1.600m. Participants usually get to experience encounters with wild animals, ranging from bears to foxes or wolves! Rodopi Ultra Trail is a genuine crossing in the wilderness of dark forests and deep canyons.
Also, it is a race with 70% of single track trails, and 25% of forest roads. There a couple of steep ascents but the majority of the climbs are somehow "runnable". The same applies for the descents!

I have done this race in 2011 as well, finishing 4th back then, even though my only goal last year was to finish it safely in order to acquire the much needed "points" to be able to qualify to more events of this kind in the future. Here is my report from 2011 "My "no plan" 100miles mountain run: ROUT2011".

My preparation has gone quite well without any major problems. It lasted 3 full months, and even though I covered about the same miles as every year (in preparation for this kind of events), it included more ultramarathon distance runs (on my own) and more weekend races of 15kms to marathon distance trail running events. Also, my tapering period was limited to only a week before the race, since I was feeling strong and did not see any reason to slow down more! Some minor pains at my achillion tendon disappeared after the first couple of weeks in my running training. They were inherited from my earlier Ironman - road bike training sessions, but did not bother me much.

Arriving in the area 2 days before the event proved to be an excellent choice since I had time to relax and enjoy the unique landscapes. Also I did carry as much food as I could to keep my usual diet habits, since it is common to deviate when travelling for an event.

Number of participants this year were as usual for this event, with 68 runners standing at the starting line. 50% of them would eventually make it to the finish line within the 42 hours available. The event is starting Friday morning at 06:00am. The route has a form of a "9" with a tail that we do at the start and finish (42kms long) and a loop of 80kms at the area of Nestos river and the famous Virgin Forest. The weather was on our side, with clear sky and temperature ranging from 4degC to 25degC during the hot hours of the day.

Following my philosophy of running without any specific time plan, I was intending to run as much as possible of the race, if not all of it! I had the confidence from my 8-10 hours preparation runs to know my "go-on-for-ever" running pace. That was the only thing I had in my mind. I did not care about distance, or time. I was just concentrating on my pace and never stopping. I wanted to flow through the course and not follow anyone or any plan. That was probably my only "stress". Some times, at the early stages, fellow runners were coming at my side and they were informing me of my pace and the distance till the next check point. I did not like that. I did not want to know. Of course I had my GPS in my pocket, which was there for one purpose only: To assist me when I had doubts about the course. It was a handheld Garmin eTrex Vista with maps and the event track pre-loaded. It proved to be useful in many points. But I did not consult any of its' figures during the race, at least not till I got to the ... 80th mile!

During the first 2 hours of the race, I had no calories intake. Only water. This is a strategy I have developed during the last year, and I believe it is helping me a lot when the pace is low for my standards. And certainly this was not supposed to be a race to start "all out"!!! Also my breakfast on race morning is minimal. I was focusing in finding my comfort pace and concentrating in keeping this feeling of flowing through the course. After the race I realized that I was moving quite fast (compared to previous years), but I had no encounters with the "wall" at any point during the race. So I was ok. At the same time fellow runners were following a different pattern. They were moving faster than me (the leader was at some point about 30 minutes ahead), but they were spending more time at CPs and support stations! My visits to the support stations was limited to 3-4 minutes max. The usual scenario was that I was coming in a CP 5th or 6th, and getting out 2nd or 3rd. And then get passed till the next one. And so on. I did not care. I was enjoying the flow through the dense forest. And always kept running. Did not walk a single step till half way (82nd km).

At the highest point of the route, which is around 82nd km, I was 4th in ranking with 2nd-3rd always in sight and the leader about 20minutes ahead. The pace was very fast compared to course record. But I was feeling strong and fresh. My hydration and nutrition was going well. I was taking 95% of my calories through liquid with a mixture of Vitargo carbs (slow absorption carbs), whey protein and normal carbs. The mixture was prepared by me and there was a ration of 3:1 (Vitargo and other carbs / whey protein). I did not get any solid food except one small sesame bar with honey and a peanut butter sandwich. All this while i was already 12 hours in the race.

From that point on the course was going downhill. There was also a long stretch of about 6kms on forest road. Night time caught me at 92nd km while I was running side by side with Vaggelis Bakas and Gerasimos Benezis (2nd and 3rd). We covered the forest road part very fast. The pace must have been about 5:10 mins/km. But it was flat and easy. It did not feel like any major effort to me. At some point the two friends, slowed down to put on their wind stopper, while I did not feel any cold so I kept going with my t-shirt. That's the way I went through the night. As long as I was moving, I was fine just with my t-shirt. After the forest road, the route was taking us through the magnificent "Mega Rema" canyon, which is really spectacular, even though I am always crossing it at night! this is a relatively technical trail, and I run all of it. The leader of the race was about 15 minutes ahead when I entered the trail, and I passed him (very good runner Achilleas Kristanas) about 8kms before exiting the trail. He was suffering from sore knees and some stomach issues. He DNFd at the next support station, as I learned later on. All this time my pace was stable, exactly the same as I started. At the "Zarkadia" support station at km 122, I was feeling well and leading the race. It was just around midnight when I left this station after a very short stop (as always). I did not change clothes or put on wind stopper. Temperature was around 5 degC. Perfect for running.

One hint here: I run through the night with two lights on! I had my Petzl Myo XP on my forehead, and a Spark ST6 at my waist. This way I had excellent lighting, but also had ... shadows!!! The commonly used forehead torch is making the field "flat" with the absence of shadows. That was fixed with the waist light. This way I was running way more comfortably at the technical downhill trails inside Mega Rema. Keep this in mind, next time!

I run the next steep uphill of "Oxia" (about 700m of ascent within less than 4kms) and my lead expanded from 30 minutes to 45 at the top of this mountain! I was at the 129th km and still had the same pace as I started the race. I did not know any of these facts at this point, and did not care to ask! Any thoughts of ranking, distance or time were locked out of my head.

From that point on the event was taking us through some trails and forest roads without any major elevation changes. I kept moving. I had run at my pace (about 8,4km/h moving pace) all the way. As I found out later my lead increased to 1:17 as I was getting closer to the finish.

It was still night time, and I had two interesting encounters. The first one was with a bear (not so close thank God) that run by my left side for about 60 meters and then crossed the trail in front of me and headed away from me on my right side. Saw the bear only during the crossing. The galloping was very impressive to hear even though I could not see the bear at this point. But crushing leaves and branches and ground noise was unique! The second encounter was more surprising! It was with a huge cow that decided to sleep in the middle of the trail. The cow was as much surprised as me when I saw it suddenly three meters in front of me looking at me quietly! I asked permission to pass and did not seem to care too much. I guess me headlights made quite an impression!List of equipment that I have used

There was one last uphill to conquer before getting on the last stretch to the finish. "Theologos" combined with "Livaditis" climbs are intimidating, since they are posing about 800m of ascent within 5kms and all this at the 152nd km in the race! I run-walk almost all of the first part (Theologos) and was feeling perfect when I crossed the CP at the 156th km. It was still night time. And I was heading for a 25:10 finish. I was over my head for the first time in the race. They told me: "10 more kms to the finish", and I replied "they are still plenty". Like I knew! 55 minutes later I would be visiting again this station!!! At some point the course was doing a "u-turn" which I missed by just a few meters. The organizers had an "x" mark exactly for this case, which I saw. And then... I got back to the point I exited the correct route, and... headed back to where I came from, without realizing it. It was a u-turn as I said, and the two branches of the course were separated only by few meters. It was night time, and keep in mind that this part of the route is common for out and back. So there was marking in both directions. I went back down to the river till I realized that there was something wrong! Took a look at my GPS but the track was completely messed up by the multiple passes I have done. So I decided to go back to the station and catch again the correct route. So arrived at the CP, shouted "I missed you guys, and came back once more". They replied that i was still in the lead, and I got back to my running at full speed to keep my lead.

Overall I lost about 1 hour as I found out later on my GPS. I did 4kms more and about 200m of climb. It did catch up with me when I got to the top at the forest road leading to the finish line. I was completely wasted from the hard effort. Which paid off since I increased my lead from 15 minutes (after getting lost) to close to 30 minutes when I crossed the finish line. But I had to refill with 3 GU gels within 10 minutes to make sure I keep my smile till it was camera time.

During the last 2kms I had good friends at my side: Lazaros Rigos and Christos Katsanos, organizers of this magnificent race, run next to me and we were teasing each other with short bursts of speed! The finish line bells rang as I entered the little village with the wooden cabins. Finished in 26:17 establishing the 2nd fastest time ever on this race. I could have been at 25:10 but it does not make any real difference. For me it is an honour to be so close to the course record, established by good friend and excellent mountain runner, Nikos Petropoulos.

The spirit of this race is unique. It is the solitude of the runner in completely isolated trails and dense forests. I had this feeling of "flow" throughout the race. I did not care much about my pace or other "technical details". My nutrition plan worked fine. My preparation paid off. Had good friends at my side when I finished and had many conversations with myself. What else could I ask.

One last comment to those asking why we do these extreme things: happiness and effort, pain are two sides of the same coin. If we try to avoid the effort we loose in happiness as well. Also, the hardest the effort the more pleasure and happiness we get. And running is one of the purest forms of this equation. It makes us happy.

My gratitude goes to all the people who have worked hard for this event. The volunteers who manned the stations and the organizers who are taking all the risks. I owe you guys.

Keep on running!

Τρίτη, 2 Οκτωβρίου 2012

Spartathlon 2012: my view from the side lines

Living in Greece and doing all the running I do, it has crossed my mind several times to participate a the iconic Spartathlon 246km run from Athens to Sparta. So this year I was planning to follow the race to see as much as possible from the spectator point of view. My plan is to participate in the event of 2013, in the 31st edition of the Spartathlon. A couple of weeks before the race I was contacted by a group of friends who were planning to follow the race in order to report on-line the unfolding of the 30th Spartathlon. So, it was the perfect opportunity for me to jump in the scene. We got our press accreditations and we were there at the starting line under the Acropolis on Friday morning along with 310 runners.

On Thursday, the briefing was held at a hotel but it did not impress me much. It looked a bit chaotic, and the organizers did not have speakers to address the athletes. Also with the temp at 32degC the air condition was not enough to keep the room cool. Everybody was sweating the day before the big race!

The weather forecast was not favourable at all. Temperatures were expected to reach 34degC during the race and the sun would be merciless upon the runners. This Spartathlon was meant to be marked by the weather: Very high temperature and high humidity.

Our plan was to follow the leading group and report the standings online using twitter and facebook as our main media, while providing regular updates on the re-vamped www.advendure.com web site. Everybody was psyched at the start, as expected for this kind of race. Many runners came all the way from Japan, as every year, but also there was a high number of "returning" runners. Obviously people who do it once, tend to return to this race!

The race started at 07:00 Friday morning under the Acropolis. We moved on to the area of Elefsina which is around the 20th km on the route, and we waited for the runners to pass by. What I noticed right from the start, was the fact that runners were running in the traffic and you can guess that a Friday morning is as busy as any other working day! Did not like this at all. After all, in the early stages of the race, runners are quite packed and it would be possible to control the traffic along the route, at least for the first 20k till they get out of the busy areas. On the contrary, runners had to be cautious about the cars and trucks moving along the route.

There were some nice patches along the route like the crossing of "Kakia Skala", next to the sea. The temperature was already at 30degC. Crossing some small towns was also a bit problematic for the runners since traffic was blocking their way, and distracting them from their task. The 30th edition of Spartathlon was also marked by the participation of legendary female endurance runner, Lizzy Hawker. She was in the lead group, right from the start of the race. And the pace was quite fast especially for a hot day! They crossed the 30th km mark in 2h20mins!!! Lizzy, 2 weeks before Spartathlon, has won the Run Rabbit Run 100miles in the USA!

The part of the route till Corinth is not a pleasant one. High road traffic, no protection for the runners, and on top of that runners have to beat some quite narrow time limits. The leading group somehow was already established. Daniel Oralek (winner of RUN Winschoten 2012 100km on 8th of September!!!) was leading with very consistent style and pace. He seemed to enjoy the race regardless of the heat! The leading group also included, Japanese Kiso Tetsuo (7th at 2011 Spartathlon), Joao Oliveira from Portugal (2011 finisher of Spartathlon), Lizzy Hawker (1st time at Spartathlon), Greek runner Stergios Anastasiadis.

After Corinth, Spartathlon is following some nice rural roads (always on tarmac) away from heavy traffic. The temperature was up at 34deC and there were some uphills. Daniel was still leading, and Lizzy was closing the gap as the route was adding more ascent. Also at this point, Markus Thalmann (3 times Spartathlon winner and multiple times participant), and Thomas Stu (8th in 2011 Spartathlon) appeared in the leading group, while Oliveira started to fall behind. At Nemea, a few kms before the only really challenging uphill of the race (Mount Parthenion) Oralek was still in the lead, but he told me that he does not like night time. At the other side of the mountain, 4 hours later, Lizzy Hawker has improved to 4th place (at some point she was even 2nd!) behind Thoms Stu, Tetsuo and Thalmann. Daniel obviously meant it when he said that he prefers the sun! He spent about 1h & 10 minutes sleeping in two stations during the night. even though physically he did not look so exhausted.

The gap between them and the rest of the field was significant. Live results were not so... live! Very few check points had the infrastructure to report passings based on chip-timing (a simple computer with internet access should be enough). I also believe that check points should be segregated and no access should be allowed to spectators. Athletes were distracted by the spectators who were wandering around in the feed stations and some of them were getting some minor delays as well by people who wanted to pose for a photo with them... while the race was still ongoing! There were even some smokers!!!

Thoms Stu under at the finish line
At some point during the night Thalmann developed some stomach issues and started to slow down. Now Lizzy was running almost side by side with him. The two leaders, Stu and Kitsuo were maintaining their pace and gap over Lizzy. She was really determined though and eventually overtook Thalmann, about 20 kms before the finish. And managed to create a safety gap as well, pushing the pace till the end.

These runners were quite fortunate to finish early in the morning at Sparta, and not experience the road traffic on the motorway in this last part. Unfortunatelly, runners further back, besides the extreme heat (Saturday also had temps in the area of 33deC), had to keep an eye on passing cars as well. I am really wandering why the organizers have not thought of segregating a 1m wide lane (with cones) to protect the runners. It would be a great upgrade for Spartathlon, and save the organization from the risk of a traffic accident. I am pretty certain that local authorities can contribute about 1.000 traffic control cones!!!

The finish line experience is very intense. Hundreds of spectators are waiting to see the finishers who have to go and touch the warrior statue of Leonidas of Sparta. Thoms Stu from Germany won the Spartathlon in 26h 28mins and tears came down from his eyes as soon as he saw the finish line. Amazing effort and very good pace from the German runner who was in the lead for the last 100kms and never slowed down even a bit!

2nd arrived Japanese runner Kiso Tetsuo. He also run a very consistent race. He was in the top group right from the start, and he was smiling throughout the race. He tried to close the gap with Stu at the last kms and he was only 8 minutes behind him at the finish, while in most part of the race he was 12-15 minutes.
And then it was time to see Lizzy arriving! The crowd was waiting to see the super-woman who was changing everything we knew about Spartathlon for the past 29 years. She was the first lady to finish among the top 10. And she did it by finishing 3rd overall!!! She achieved this with a new course record for women, on the most difficult year of the Spartathlon. Lizzy was also the winner of Run Rabbit Run (100miles) less than 2 weeks before Spartathlon. You want more? This year only 25% managed to see the statue of Leonidas at Sparta.
And this was the year that Dr. Elizabeth Hawker destroyed the previous record by almost 40 minutes. To get an idea of how she appeared in the eyes of all the Greeks at the finish line, I must say that no Greek woman finished this year, and usually female participation rates in local running events (talking about "down to earth" - distances) are less than 12%!

I was lucky enough to follow Lizzy throughout the race (and her support "crew" = Graham) and seen the determination and deep soul digging that she is able to deliver during a race like this.


  • I will try to run the Spartathlon in 2013. Hope I am more lucky with the weather!
  • This race is the most profound proof that these distances are conquered only with the brain and the heart, and not by physical training only. The real challenge of Spartathlon is not the distance or the strict cut off times. It is the mental and emotional difficulties that each runner has to overcome in order to arrive at Sparta.
  • The organization of the race should try to improve several aspects so that this race becomes an "ambassador" of Greece to ultrarunning community  
    • It is unacceptable to run in heavy road traffic. If road closure is out of the question, they should try to control or minimize road traffic (one way traffic, cones, more traffic police). 
    • On the motor ways there should be cones every 50m segregating a lane for the runners. It is a matter of safety!!! 
    • The check points should be accessible only to those involved in the race. Spectators should support from a distance! 
    • Live tracking of the athletes and intermediate results are elementary for a race of this kind!!! I really did not see the point of chip-timing! It can be easily done manually.
    • There should be at least 20 check points with live results. 300 runners spread over such a distance, consist an easy flow to track even without chips!!! 
    • After crossing the finish line, there should be better support for the runners. They need quick recovery drinks and food. It is also very important to provide personal privacy at the medical tent. Athletes in pain should not be subject to the curiosity of the spectators.
    • Maybe the organizers should also consider modifying the course to include some forest / agricultural roads if this would keep the runners out of motorways.
I have huge respect for all those who were at the starting line. I am amazed by the spirit and the determination of the finishers. Will try to be there next year. But if the organization is similar to what I saw this year, this is a race that I do not think that I would ever come back.

Πέμπτη, 31 Μαΐου 2012

Η ευθύνη της διοργάνωσης αγώνων σε βουνό

Με εμπειρία από διοργάνωση 13 αγώνων βουνού μικρής / μέσης διάρκειας και συμμετοχής σε πολλούς άλλους τα τελευταία 5 χρόνια, τολμώ να συντάξω αυτό το κείμενο για τις ευθύνες και τις υποχρεώσεις που συνοδεύουν κάθε τέτοιο εγχείρημα, από την πλευρά του διοργανωτή.

Όσα γράφω, μπορεί να βρίσκουν αρκετούς αντίθετους, αλλά αν προκληθεί κάποια συζήτηση, μόνο καλό μπορεί να είναι το αποτέλεσμα, αρκεί να είναι σε καλοπροαίρετη βάση. Όπως έτσι είναι και η λογική του κειμένου μου. Δεν διεκδικώ το αλάθητο ούτε ότι είμαι ο πιο έμπειρος εκ των διοργανωτών. Απλά είπα να περάσω σε μορφή κειμένου τις μέχρι τώρα εμπειρίες μου. Σε κάθε περίπτωση, η αυτορύθμιση είναι απείρως καλύτερη από την επέμβαση άσχετων παραγόντων (όπως τα ΜΜΕ ή νομοθετικές παρεμβάσεις) που θα ακολουθήσει αν γίνει κάτι κακό.

Αρκετά με τα "εισαγωγικά".

Πάντα με ξένιζε η αποστροφή πολλών διοργανωτών την ώρα που τερμάτιζα έναν αγώνα βουνού: "Ήταν πολύ δύσκολος ε;"...!!! Η συχνότητα που ακούγεται αυτό, σε συνδυασμό με την τακτική της σύγκρισης με άλλους γνωστούς αγώνες βουνού (όπως ο Μαραθώνιος του Ολύμπου), με άφηνε με μία απορία: Μα τρέχουμε για να ξεποδαριαστούμε, ή για να χαρούμε την προσπάθεια, τα τοπία και την συντροφικότητα (ή την μοναξιά) του αγώνα; Φυσικά δεν αντιλέγω ότι ένας αγώνας με υψηλό δείκτη τεχνικής δυσκολίας θα αφήσει πιο έντονες μνήμες, λόγω των οριακών συνθηκών που φτάνει ο συμμετέχων. Ωστόσο, οι διοργανωτές με ποια κριτήρια σχεδιάζουν έναν αγώνα; Η επανάληψη της ερώτησης που έγραψα λίγο πριν, δείχνει ότι ένα βασικό κριτήριο είναι απλά το πόσο "ηρωικό" ή δύσκολο είναι το εγχείρημα, είτε από πλευράς υψομετρικών, είτε από πλευράς τεχνικού τερέν.

Ο διοργανωτής ενός αγώνα βουνού, στέλνει 100-200-600 δρομείς να καλύψουν μία απόσταση σε μονοπάτια, φαράγγια και κορυφογραμμές, Αυτό προφανώς περιέχει κάποιες δυσκολίες και κάποια ρίσκα. Το επίπεδο αυτών είναι ένα θέμα, το κατά πόσο αυτά είναι υπολογισμένα και αναγνωρισμένα είναι ένα άλλο θέμα! Το βουνό είναι ανίκητο κάτω από συγκεκριμένες συνθήκες. Οι διοργανωτές οφείλουν να γνωρίζουν ΑΠΟΔΕΔΕΙΓΜΕΝΑ τις συνθήκες κάτω από τις οποίες η διαδρομή που έχουν επιλέξει για τον αγώνα τους είναι σε αρμονία με το βουνό και δεν πάει να το "νικήσει". Οι διαδρομές των αγώνων δεν βάζουν τους δρομείς σε θέση "ανταγωνιστική" προς το βουνό και τις δυσκολίες του. Τους βάζουν σε αρμονία και ροή μέσα σε αυτό. Γνώση σημαίνει ότι ο υπεύθυνος του αγώνα ΖΕΙ το βουνό που χρησιμοποιεί στον αγώνα του, κάτω από πολλές διαφορετικές συνθήκες και γνωρίζει τον χαρακτήρα του και τις ομορφιές του. Σε αυτή τη γνώση περιλαμβάνω:
  • πως εκδηλώνονται οι διάφορες καιρικές συνθήκες
  • που δημιουργούνται φυσικές δυσκολίες και ανάλογα με τον καιρό
  • που μπορεί να υπάρχει παγίδα - απρόοπτο
  • ποιες είναι οι φυσικές / ιστορικές "ροές-διαδρομές" των ανθρώπων και των ζώων πάνω στο βουνό
  • λύσεις σε περιπτώσεις κακών καρικών συνθηκών
  • τα όρια χρήσης του βουνού (πλήθος που μπορεί να δεχτεί, τεχνικό επίπεδο δρομέων που θα συμμετάσχουν, δυνατότητες προσβάσεων με μέσα διάσωσης)
  • διαδρομή που δίνει το συναίσθημα του επιτεύγματος στον συμμετέχοντα (άλλο να ανεβοκαταίβεις την ίδια πλαγιά 4 φορές μόνο και μόνο για αν "βγει" η απόσταση και τα υψομετρικά και άλλο να διασχίσεις έναν όγκο)
Όταν μία διοργάνωση θέτει σε υψηλότερο επίπεδο τα θέματα, τεχνικής δυσκολίας, ομορφιάς και δημοσιότητας σε σχέση με την πραγματική γνώση που αφορά τον χαρακτήρα του βουνού, τότε δημιουργεί συνθήκες που μπορεί να εξελιχθούν άσχημα για τον αγώνα. Ο φετινός χειμώνας είναι ένα ιδανικό παράδειγμα: Τα περισσότερο βουνά της Ελλάδας, δέχτηκαν πολύ μεγαλύτερες ποσότητες χιονιού και για μεγαλύτερη διάρκεια από ότι συνήθως. Αυτό θα έπρεπε να οδηγήσει τους διοργανωτές σε επανεξέταση των ημερομηνιών των αγώνων τους, και πιθανά σε μικρές αναβολές (15 ημέρες είναι υπέρ αρκετές για να "συναντήσουν" συνθήκες παρόμοιες με τις υπόλοιπες χρονιές). Επίσης όταν πλησιάζοντας στην ημέρα του αγώνα υπάρχει πρόβλεψη για καιρικές συνθήκες που μπορεί να αλλάξουν τον χαρακτήρα του βουνού για τους δρομείς που καλούνται να το διασχίσουν, τότε πρέπει να υπάρχει αντίστοιχος σχεδιασμός προκαταβολικά. Θυμίζω σε όλους το παράδειγμα της διοργάνωσης του UTMB 2011 που έχοντας μάθει από το λάθος της περασμένης χρονιάς (το 2010 έστειλε τους αθλητές να "νικήσουν" τις καιρικές συνθήκες... και έφτασε σε ανεξέλεγκτες καταστάσεις), το 2011 όταν παρουσιάστηκε καιρικό πρόβλημα είχε έτοιμες εναλλακτικές που σεβάστηκαν το βουνό και ταυτόχρονα εξασφάλισαν τους συμμετέχοντες στο σύνολό τους. Υπήρξε προσαρμογή που είχε βασιστεί σε γνώση.

Με βάση τα παραπάνω, κάθε διοργανωτής πρέπει να μπορεί να:
  • Θέτει προδιαγραφές τεχνικής κατάρτισης και φυσικής ικανότητας των συμμετεχόντων δρομέων για τον αγώνα του
  • Θέτει ανάλογες προδιαγραφές υποχρεωτικού εξοπλισμού
  • Προετοιμάζει εναλλακτικές διαδρομές
  • Προετοιμάζει έκτακτες παρεμβάσεις (όπως μπορεί να είναι ένας επιπλέον σταθμός υδροδοσίας ή μία επέμβαση στην σήμανση της διαδρομής π.χ. λόγω κακής ορατότητας)
  • Σχεδιάζει αποστολές πρώτων βοηθειών και διάσωσης
  • Μεταθέτει των αγώνα αν κριθεί αναγκαίο
  • Να αξιολογεί τους πόρους και τις υποδομές που έχει στην διάθεσή του για την σωστή υλοποίηση του αγώνα τόσο εντός προδιαγραφών όσο και σε πιο οριακές συνθήκες.
  • Να εξασφαλίζει στο 100% την διαθεσιμότητα των πόρων του με βάση το σχέδιο του (δεν γίνεται να "λείπει" κανείς και τίποτα από την "μάχη" τη ώρα που διεξάγεται ο αγώνας)
Όλα τα παραπάνω (και πιθανά ακόμα και άλλα που μου διαφεύγουν αυτή τη στιγμή), είναι προτεραιότητες ανώτερες από στοιχεία όπως: πιθανή δυσαρέσκεια των δρομέων που συμμετέχουν, δυσαρέσκεια χορηγών ή αρνητική δημοσιότητα κλπ.

Πέραν των παραπάνω, υπάρχει ένα ακόμα επίπεδο ευθύνης του διοργανωτή, απέναντι στο άθλημα και την κοινότητά του: Οφείλει να δημιουργεί συνθήκες που δεν θα δυσφημίσουν το άθλημα και τους αθλητές του. Και αναφέρομαι στην πιθανότητα ατυχήματος που θα "σημαδέψει" την κοινότητα των δρομέων βουνού (μια και αυτό είναι το θέμα εδώ). Σημειώνω εδώ ως παράδειγμα το ατύχημα που έγινε στον Λούσιο τον Μάιο του 2007 και την μορφή που αυτό πήρε στα ΜΜΕ (αγγίζοντας δραστηριότητες όπως το rafting, το canyoning και την πεζοπορία),

Στο πρόσφατο παράδειγμα της Ζήριας, όπου πέρυσι είχε δημιουργηθεί πρόβλημα με τον καιρό, φέτος υπήρχε σαφής καιρική πρόβλεψη για καταιγίδες. Επίσης η Ζήρια διατηρούσε ποσότητες χιονιού παραπάνω από τις συνηθισμένες για την εποχή. Η εκ νέου απρόοπτη διακοπή του αγώνα ίσως θα μπορούσε να είχε αποφευχθεί αν είχε σχεδιασθεί εναλλακτική διαδρομή. Φυσικά η διοργάνωση του αγώνα πήρε την σωστή απόφαση την δεδομένη στιγμή αφού οι προδιαγραφές δεν ήταν τέτοιες που θα έδιναν ασφάλεια στους δρομείς στην αρχικά σχεδιασμένη διαδρομή. Άλλο όμως η έκτακτη αντιμετώπιση του προβλήματος και άλλο ο σχεδιασμός με βάση τις προβλεπόμενες συνθήκες. Η πρόγνωση ήταν ξεκάθαρη και το βουνό έχει τον δικό του χαρακτήρα που φυσικά δεν αλλάζει! Και φυσικά οι δρομείς πρέπει να ξέρουν τι διαφοροποιήσεις μπορεί να προκύψουν.

Επιστρέφοντας στο θέμα "ηρωικότητας" ενός αγώνα που έγραψα στην αρχή, θα βάλω την άποψή μου σε μία φράση: Διοργανωτική επιτυχία είναι όταν οι αθλητές νιώθουν την ικανοποίηση της προσπάθειας και του επιτεύγματος (ενίοτε και "ηρωικής") αλλά αυτό να έχει γίνει με βάση τον σχεδιασμό του "σκηνοθέτη" - διοργανωτή! Αυτή είναι η πρώτη υποχρέωση του υπεύθυνου κάθε αγώνα βουνού. Τα απρόοπτα που μπορούσαν να αποφευχθούν, αλλά δεν αποφεύχθηκαν είναι ένδειξη διοργανωτικής αποτυχίας. Και κανείς διοργανωτής δεν πρέπει να θέλει να μπει στην θέση να αποδείξει ότι μπορούσε ή δεν μπορούσε να αποφύγει κάτι...

Είναι πολύ δύσκολο να περάσει κάποιος στην οργανωτική πλευρά των αγώνων. Ας γίνεται με σεβασμό (ή μετά φόβου και γνώσης όπως λέγεται) τόσο στην μορφή όσο και την κοινότητα του αθλήματος.

Σάββατο, 21 Απριλίου 2012

My story to a 2:44 Barcelona marathon in 2012

I thought I should share my experience and plan for a personal best of 2:44:30 at the 2012 Barcelona Marathon. Hope this is usefull for runners of all levels.

Start with a small intro:
I 've been a runner for 6 years more or less. During this period I have completed several marathons, countless smaller distance events, and a dozen or more ultra distance runs (2x100milers included). Since I am a working man as well, I have learned to make the most of my training, and on top keep my running mojo alive an kicking. I must admit that no injuries have bothered me all these years. My marathon achievements timeline is like this:
  • 2007 - Athens Classic marathon (one of the toughest official marathon routes): 3:20
  • 2008 - Athens Classic marathon: 3:10
  • 2009 -  Pafos marathon in Cyprus: 3:05, Athens Classic marathon: 3:05
  • 2010 - Rotterdam marathon: 2:56, Athens Classic: 2:56
  • 2011 - Thessaloniki marathon: 2:49
  • 2012 - Barcelona marathon: 2:44
 I have no coach and never had one. I am running all distances and usually I participate to more than 10 events per year (all inclusive, some triathlons as well). I was born in 1971 (making me 41 years old at the time of this article).

Basic principles
Barcelona Marathon 2012 took place on 25th of March. I started my preparation in mid November (a bit more than 4 months to prepare), with a goal to improve b 3-4 minutes my achievement of 2011 at Thessaloniki marathon (2:49). Before starting my training plan, I had a period of 6 months in which I was preparing for an Ironman and a 100miler on the mountains. Basically I was with zero speedwork for 5 months (before November 2011), while I had huge milleage at very slow pace (training for my 100miler).

My job is an office work of 9-11 hours per day, 5 days per week. I am married with no children. My time is quite limited, but I really enjoy running and training. I read a lot of sports books, and I like to try and test new things on my training plan. Pilars of my training:
  • Avoid injuries
  • Enjoy as much as possible
  • Make the most of my limited training time (effective training)
The plan
My plan was based on these priciples:
  1. Consistent interval training with "tunnel vision" effort, 2 times per week (followed by focused 30minutes of stretching)
  2. Surprisingly slow long runs
  3. 4 days per week with morning - evening runs (double workouts)
  4. One easy day per week, one easy week per month
  5. Core strength training 4 times per week (abs, back)
  6. Leg strength for 7 weeks at the start of the preparation period
  7. Monitoring body weight and trying to lose as much as possible from the extra kilos added during the annual off-period.
Points 1,2 above are the most crucial as I came to understand over the previous years but especially this year. No mercy on the intervals! These are usually the less popular runs and usually unpleasant ones. When I do my interval sessions, I have one thing in mind: They are "expensive" for my mentality, so better make them count! Also the slow runs were done at approximately 1min to 1:10 slower than my target race pace. Meaning that I was running at 5:00 - 5:15 per kilometer, which felt really slow for me. But... if I push a bit more, then even though I am ok during this run, it takes longer to recover for my next session! And of course, there is no gain in going 4:40 instead of 5:05 per kilometer! So ... why go faster?

The double workouts helped in the sense, that the evening run, was always on heavy legs. This is good for getting used to running while tired.

Abs and back excersises help technique, stability and eficiency in style. They are the easiest way to improve performance, yet I see very few people doing them!

Leg strength at the early part of the period, involved balanced routines for all the leg. Quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes.

My milleage per week, never exceeded 120km and never went below 70km (except during tappering and sickness week).

Getting things done
A period of 4 months for preparation is the longest preparation period I have ever been through! Many things can go wrong!!! During this period I had one thing on my mind. Always look at the coming week and not further. If I was feeling slugish, I would exchange a hard session with an easier one, or even cancel. As long as this is a limited incident, it does not affect the plan at all. And it makes me recover and feel better.

I am using Training Peaks online service to keep track of my workouts. When I am running I do not pay attention to my watch. I do not care at all about heart rate or pace. But I record everything so that I can review later my workout. Especially for the interval sessions, I think it is important always to review the data so that I can pin point (mostly based on heart rate data) if I have been trying as hard as I should during all the intervals. Training Peaks, is the best platform I have seen so far, and I have tried a few! They have some excellent features (for members only) that evaluate the stress that each session is imposing on your body, the long term load according to your training (based on volume as well as intensity), and finally an indication of the fitness level! The diagram of my preparation period is presented in the picture below.
The blue line indicates my accumulated training load according to the training stress score per day. The purple line indicates the tiredness and stress accumulated in my body. The orange line represents the training stress balance, or for simplicity how fresh I am at a given time. For top performance, TSB should be either "0" or slightly positive, and the purple line should either "0" or negative.

Overall in this period, I executed 20 interval sessions with distances ranging from 400m to 1000m and usually 7 repetitions going up to maximum 10. I did almost every week a non stop, easy going long run ranging from 21km to 34km with some uphill in them. Included two half marathon distance races in early February and early March (bit displaced my "test race 2" in the chart). Early to mid February had to slow down due to illness. But there was no stress. My intervals were going well and had no injuries. So nothing could make me feel stressed, even a 10 day fall back.

From starting line to finish line
With 25th of March approaching, I started to cool down my training. I have noticed from past experience, that when I take a "low" week, usually I feel really fresh from the mid of the following week. So there is an obvious delay. So I applied this to my tappering for the marathon. My really low week was the week before the race-week. I rested a lot, and did less interval sessions. On race week, I did almost every day short runs of 5-7k and one 5x intervals session. So I arrived at the start line fresh, but also strong without sacrificing my fitness. Training Peaks helped a lot in this direction as well. I included a bit of mountan biking these last 10 days as well, as a low stress but excellent aerobic exercise. My target was a 2:45-2:46 finish time.

So on 25th of March I stood at the start line happy and strong. The weather was on the hot side with 18degC early in the morning expecting to go to 20-21degC at the later stages of the marathon. The route is a slightly hilly one with about 280m of total accumulated ascent. My race plan was to take advantage of the cooler temperature of the morning and push it a bit more in the first half. This was not a race for negative split for me. I passed the half marathon in 1:19:07 and was feeling good, but I knew that the sun and the heat would take their toll eventually. At the 27th km I saw some runners suffering from stomach problems, and we were already at 20degC and out in the open part of the route, next to the beach front. The next 10k were exposed to the sun, with light head wind and temperature rising. Till the 29th km, I was on track for a 2:41 marathon. But it was then that I decided to secure my race since I was seeing more and more runners around me sufering from the heat. I would be very happy to go faster than my plan. So I settled to a comfortable pace, a bit lower than in the early stages of the race. Till then I was at 3:48 min/km. Then I fell back to to 3:55 min/km. The last 2km to the finish line are uphill in this race, so eventually I run these at 4:10 min/km, which was my slowest kilometer in the race. I never went faster than 3:30 and never slower than 4:10 per kilometer. When I crossed the finish line, my legs were tired but not in pain, the clock was at 2:44:30 and I was happy! There were more than 17.000 runners in this marathon. I passed the 5th kilometer 123rd, the half marathon 119th and finished 121st. I think I had a good plan.

The organization is top notch. I would dare say that it was the best orgnized event I have ever run. The route is not a really fast one, since it has some ups and downs and the hot weather possibility is very likely! One thing that I know that affects me a lot, is the heat.

Looking forward for my next marathon in 2013 with a goal to break the 2:40 mark. Staying healthy and running happily is the only way to this.

Enjoy your training.

Τετάρτη, 18 Απριλίου 2012

A week in Singapore and Bintan

Have spent last week visiting Marie in Singapore. We 've been running, cycling around the small SE Asian country. This was my second visit in this country and region in the last 3 years.

The country itself is a modern city, very well organized and clean, in the middle of rain forest area. The temperature all year round, is between 28-32deg C, but the humidity makes it feel most of the times like 36 or 38deg C. Rains are quite often even on a daily base.

During the visit I have met the group of people working for Metasport a company that is organizing sports event in the area, ranging from cycling events to duathlons, triathlons and aquathlons. A great group of people, working together to prepare the events, but also organize training camps and sessions on a regular base.
During the weekend we moved to Bintan island (about 50mins by boat) which is part of Indonesia, in order to attend the training camp there, and also do a recce of the bike route for the Metaman of September 15th 2012. This is the Iron and half Iron distance triathlon organized from Metasport. 

The island is exotic and the bike route will provide an excellent cycling experience to the participants. It is with rolling hills. The heat is one thing to consider though! But the landscapes will reward all participants. The Nirwana Gardens resort is an amazing place suitable for families as well as athletes, and is located right where all the action is happening: start, transition area and finish!

The food in this part of the world is amazing! Healthy but also with exotic tastes and great variety. I love it! Forget about alcohol... State taxes make it unreachable! Not a problem for me though.

Did some training as well. At Bintan I met the amazing Kiwi: Cameron Brown, the triathlete who has been at the front line of the sport for 20 years more or less! We cycled and run together and this was an amazing experience. Check out the video (he is the guy in blue).

I must admit that the heat combined with humidity has been giving me a hard time during my training sessions. But not as bad as I was expecting. Early morning rides and runs (like 5:30 early...) were in the plan, and to my surprise there are many out doing sports at this time of the day.

Singapore is offering amazing parks like the Mac Richie (amazing trails) or Bedok (flat loop) for running, as well as a great beach front of more than 20kms.

That was a great week! Batteries full and ready for new adventures.

Δευτέρα, 5 Μαρτίου 2012

Super Carbs - Η νέα γενιά υδατανθράκων για αγώνες αντοχής

πηγή: UCAN - Roberts et al. Nutrition Oct 2010 
Οι αθλητές αντοχής (ποδηλάτες, δρομείς, κολυμβητές, τριαθλητές) γνωρίζουν την σημασία της τροφοδοσίας και ενυδάτωσης μέσα στον αγώνα τους, αλλά γνωρίζουν και τι θα πει "οικονομία" στην κίνησή τους. Ο καλός αθλητής έχει καταφέρει να πηγαίνει πιο γρήγορα, πιο μακρυά, αλλά... καίγοντας το κατάλληλο καύσιμο. Τα αποθέματα γλυκογόνου στο σώμα μας αρκούν για 2 ώρες στην καλύτερη περίπτωση όταν η προσπάθειά μας είναι στα όρια του αναερόβιου κατωφλιού (έντονη). Το γλυκογόνο είναι το πιο εύκολα προσβάσιμο και άμεσα ενεργό καύσιμο στο σώμα μας... αλλά δεν έχουμε αρκετό για να μας "πάει" σε έναν αγώνα 3 - 6 - 10 ή περισσοτέρων ωρών. Το άλλο "καύσιμο" που κουβαλάμε είναι το λίπος μας. Οι αθλητές που καταφέρνουν να "εκπαιδεύσουν" το σώμα τους να καταναλώνει όσο γίνεται μεγαλύτερο ποσοστό λίπους και μικρότερο γλυκογόνου γίνονται πιο "οικονομικοί" και πάνε πιο μακρυά και συνήθως πάνε και πιο γρήγορα! Ο λόγος για το "πιο γρήγορα" είναι απλός: Το λίπος στο σώμα μας είναι ένα αξιοσημείωτο ποσοστό του βάρους μας. Το σώμα που αντλεί ενέργεια διασπώντας λίπος, κατά την διάρκεια της μεγάλης προσπάθειας, προφανώς επιτυγχάνει να έχει και μικρότερο συνολικό βάρος. Δύο ποδηλάτες που βγάζουν την ίδια "ισχύ" στο πετάλι, αλλά ο ένας είναι ελαφρύτερος από τον άλλο, προφανώς σε μία δεδομένη διαδρομή ανηφόρας, ο ελαφρύς θα φτάσει πιο γρήγορα από τον πιο βαρύ!

Μία άλλη παράμετρος της διατροφής έχει να κάνει με τις στομαχικές διαταραχές που πιθανά προκύπτουν από το είδος και την ποσότητα της τροφής - καυσίμου που καταναλώνουμε. Οι στομαχικές διαταραχές, είναι ένας από τους 3 πιο σημαντικούς παράγοντες προβλημάτων σε αγώνες αντοχής και υπερ-αντοχής. Τις περισσότερες φορές αυτού του είδους τα προβλήματα ξεκινάνε από το γεγονός ότι μέσα στο στομάχι "κάθονται" κάποιες ποσότητες υγρών ή τροφών που έχουμε καταναλώσει για να συνεχίζουμε την προσπάθειά μας. Οι τροφές και τα υγρά μας είναι χρήσιμες την στιγμή που φτάνουν στις μυικές ίνες που τις χρειάζονται. Μέχρι τότε, είναι πιθανές πηγές προβλημάτων! Καλή τροφή είναι αυτή που "εγκαταλείπει" γρήγορα το στομάχι και αρχίζει η διαδικασία της χώνεψης που μέσω του λεπτού εντέρου επιτρέπει την απορρόφηση από το αίμα που στην συνέχεια παραδίδει στους μύες τις ουσίες που χρειάζονται.

Μία νέα γενιά υπερ-υδατανθράκων έχει παρουσιαστεί πρόσφατα. Αυτοί έχουν μεγάλο μοριακό βάρος από 500.000 μέχρι 700.000 (σακχαρόζη έχει βάρος 180, η μαλτοδεξτρίνη που χρησιμοποιείται σε gels κλπ έχει βάρος από 1.000 - 10.000). Το ακριβές βάρος δεν έχει τόσο σημασία, απλά το αναφέρω για να έχουμε στο μυαλό μας τις τάξεις μεγέθους. Επίσης έχουν πολύ χαμηλότερη ωσμωτικότητα (μικρότερη απορρόφηση νερού). Οι γνωστοί μας υδατάνθρακες (δεξτρόζη, μαλτοδεξτρίνη κλπ) απορροφώντας εύκολα νερό καθυστερούν την "εκκένωση" από το στομάχι μας. Η νέα γενιά υπερ-υδατανθράκων προχωράει πιο γρήγορα εκτός του στομαχιού λόγω μικρότερης όσμωσης και μεγαλύτερου μοριακού βάρους. Άρα και λιγότερες πιθανότητες στομαχικών διαταραχών, αλλά και ταχύτερη επεξεργασία από το λεπτό έντερο και κατ' επέκταση είσοδος στο "σύστημα". Σύμφωνα με κάποιες έρευνες οι νέα γενιά υδατανθράκων περνάει στο λεπτό έντερο μέχρι και 2 φορές πιο γρήγορα από τους μέχρι σήμερα χρησιμοποιούμενους. Αυτό σημαίνει ότι μπορούμε να προσβλέπουμε και σε αυξημένο ρυθμό "εισαγωγής θερμίδων" ανά ώρα σε σχέση με τα μέχρι σήμερα γνωστά δεδομένα. Σκεφτείτε να μπορούμε να αναπληρώνουμε όλες τις θερμίδες που καίμε ανά ώρα και μάλιστα με μικρότερες πιθανότητες στομαχικής διαταραχής! Προς αυτή τη κατεύθυνση κινούνται αυτά τα νέα ενεργειακά προϊόντα.

πηγή: UCAN - Roberts et al. Nutrition Oct 2010
Ας δούμε και το θέμα του fat burning - άντληση ενέργειας από το λίπος. Οι νέοι υπερ-υδατάνθρακες, "ξεγελάνε" την ινσουλίνη στο αίμα μας και δεν δημιουργούν "πετάγματα" τουλάχιστον όχι τόσο ψηλά όσο η παρουσία δεξτρόζης, μαλτοδεξτρλίνης και παρόμοιων. Παρέχουν ικανές ποσότητες υδατανθράκων και ταυτόχρονα έχουν πολύ χαμηλότερες επιπτώσεις στην ινσουλίνη στο αίμα μας. Η ινσουλίνη ανεβαίνει όταν καταναλώνουμε ζάχαρες γιατί το σώμα προσπαθεί να "ελέγξει" τα ανεβασμένα επίπεδα σακχάρου στο αίμα. Τα σάκχαρα παραμένουν στο αίμα γιατί τα μόρια τους από μόνα τους δεν μπορούν να διαπεράσουν τα τοιχώματα των κυττάρων. Με την ινσουλίνη που "δένονται", μπορούν! Άρα κατά κάποιο τρόπο η ινσουλίνη τα μεταφέρει μέσα στα κύτταρα για αποθήκευση. Το πρόβλημα εδώ είναι ότι οι ποσότητες των "εύφλεκτων" παραδοσιακών υδατανθράκων μπαίνουν "μαζικά" στο σύστημά μας και συνήθως ένα μέρος τους, με την βοήθεια της ινσουλίνης, πάει και γίνεται λίπος για αργότερη χρήση! Για αυτό ακούμε ότι πρέπει να αποφεύγουμε την κατανάλωση ζάχαρης και ειδικά μία ώρα πριν και μία ώρα μετά από την προπόνησή μας. Οι νέοι υπερ-υδατάνθρακες έχουν πολύ μικρότερη επίπτωση στα επίπεδα ινσουλίνης στο αίμα δημιουργόντας μία πιο "στρωτή" ροή στο σώμα μας. Με αυτό τον τρόπο "εκπαιδεύουν" το σώμα να αναζητά πηγές ενέργειας και στο λίπος, σε μεγαλύτερο ποσοστό από ότι αν χρησιμοποιούσαμε τα συνηθισμένα προϊόντα.

Οι ενδιαφερόμενοι μπορούν να βρουν τα προϊόντα Vitargo από τον Έλληνα αντιπρόσωπο που είναι η εταιρία Μαλαμίδης. Το site είναι http://www.malamidis.gr/shop/vitargo.

Θα μας κάνουν να τρέχουμε ή να ποδηλατούμε πιο γρήγορα; Να αντέχουμε περισσότερο; Αν τα χρησιμοποιούμε μόνο μέσα σε έναν αγώνα... δεν νομίζω! Η εκπαίδευση του σώματός μας στο να καταφεύγει στις αποθήκες λίπους είναι κάτι που διαρκεί καιρό και πρέπει να το δουλεύουμε στις καθημερινές προπονήσεις μας. Άρα ο τρόπος να κερδίσουμε από αυτά τα νέα προϊόντα είναι να τα εντάσσουμε και στις μεγάλης διάρκειας προπονήσεις μας. Επίσης πρέπει οπωσδήποτε να συνδυαστούν με μείωση της χρήσης ζάχαρης, αποφύγει δε τελείως πριν και μετά την καθημερινή μας προπόνησης, και ίσως με μικρή αύξηση της παρουσίας λίπους στις τροφές μας. Έτσι το σώμα παίρνει την "εντολή" ότι το λίπος είναι πιο διαθέσιμο για ενεργειακή κατανάλωση. Στον αγώνα μας με κατανάλωση κάποιων προϊόντων από τους υπερ-υδατάνθρακες θα δίνουμε μία σταθερή, ικανή και πιο ασφαλή ροή ενέργειας στο σώμα μας. Έτσι θα μπορεί να επιβραδύνει την κατανάλωση γλυκογόνου και να αυξάνει τον "δανεισμό" από τα αποθέματα λίπους. Όλη αυτή η διαδικασία είναι θέμα εκπαίδευσης προφανώς!
Τα προϊόντα αυτού του είδους που έχω ακούσει εγώ πρόσφατα είναι δύο:
- Generation UCAN που είναι εξειδικευμένο σαν συμπλήρωμα πριν και μετά την προπόνηση
- VitargoS2 που με την ίδια λογική επικεντρώνεται στην κατανάλωση κατά την διάρκεια του αγώνα.

Κανένα από τα δύο δεν περιέχει ούτε ίχνος ζάχαρης ή καφεΐνης.

Είναι νέα προϊόντα που είναι πολλά υποσχόμενα για να γίνουν η νέα γενιά gels ή αθλητικών ποτών στα επόμενα χρόνια. Περισσότερες επιλογές θα παρουσιαστούν πιστεύω σύντομα. Και σίγουρα όσο περισσότεροι δρομείς, ποδηλάτες και γενικά αθλητές αντοχής - υπεραντοχής τα δοκιμάζουν τόσο περισσότερα θα γίνονται γνωστά για την σωστή χρήση τους. Στην ουσία είναι παράγωγα από κριθάρι, αραβόσιτο, ή ακόμα και από πατάτες, που με επεξεργασία αποκτούν το μεγαλύτερο μοριακό βάρος και την μικρότερη ωσμωτικότητα στο νερό.

Ίσως κάποιοι αναγνώστες με καλύτερο επιστημονικό υπόβαθρο να μπορούν να προσθέσουν σαν σχόλια κάποια περισσότερα στοιχεία.

Για περισσότερο διάβασμα:
Superstarch: The Patriots' Secret Performance-Enhancer
Nutrition Journal
SuperStarch & Its Applications | Athletes' Performance

Δευτέρα, 20 Φεβρουαρίου 2012

Big Data - The next big thing to come... or is it already here?

This is the trailer from a movie called "Moneyball", which is based on the true story of how a low budget baseball team was formed from players who were picked according to a statistical analysis of many players. This is an example of "big data" application. Big data is the systematic analysis of enormous amounts of information and extraction of knowledge (or wisdom) from this an analysis.

Data are being recorded more than ever. Internet in all forms, mobile phones, sensors, are recording continuously and in digital - standardized format all kinds of data. Heart beat rate of runners, traffic in the cities, searches in the web, weather, news, emotions (through social media), location of smartphones, and many other details that there is no point to list now. Recoding is not producing any knowledge. This amount of information is not even manageable by humans alone. This is the playground of computerized processors! Humans are inventing algorithms that analyze with the help of computers the available data. Of course within the limits of our current imagination.

Data are stored though and are available for ever, with the new technologies of the "cloud". They will be there for generations to come. Computers are starting to learn! Because simply... they have unlimited time to look into and combine all this information. And they are way faster than humans in analyzing huge amounts of raw data. And when a new algorithm is available they can look back at all the stored data with the new "eye" made available and enrich their knowledge. So the possibilities are only expanding.

This is a trend that cannot be reversed. Simply because our lives are improving through this procedure. Some examples:
  • Less traffic or plane accidents
  • New health procedures, like epidemic analysis and reactions (Personal Monitoring Tech: Invasion of the Body Trackers)
  • More convenience in everyday life (for example, location services and personalized information on demand and in real time)
  • Longer weather forecasts
  • Superhuman fast stock market reactions and complex financial services
  • Better pricing and distribution of products at retail (super markets for example can plan their stock according to weather forecast, or customer behavior analysis!)
  • Urban crime control through analysis of events in correlation to various parameters like historical arrest patterns, paydays, sporting events, rainfall and holidays!
And for all these you do not need to conduct a survey as in the past. Most likely all the data anyone will ever need are there already. You just have to think of the best way to "dig" in them and extract the knowledge you need.

Of course, as written in a very enlightening New York Times article: "Data is tamed and understood using computer and mathematical models. These models, like metaphors in literature, are explanatory simplifications. They are useful for understanding, but they have their limits. A model might spot a correlation and draw a statistical inference that is unfair or discriminatory, based on online searches, affecting the products, bank loans and health insurance a person is offered, privacy advocates warn." But even this kind of problems can be solved much faster than in the past. Remember... data are there for ever and they only get more and more!

The main issue that must be addresses and resolved is access to the available data. I believe that recording is not bad for anyone, as long as the access to the records are open to anyone! This is the only way that true wisdom can be extracted from all this information. This the "Open Data" movement which is affecting all of us!  The Guardian has been encouraging this movement for some time now.  This a society issue and in my opinion it should be ranking very high in our priorities for the future. I would even call it a political issue!

Of course, there’s a major shortage of analytical talent. According to the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), this is already an issue in the private sector. MGI predicts that in the US alone there will be an annual shortage of graduates in deep analytical fields of 140,000 to 190,000 by 2018. A very good article on this subject is from Linda Rosencrance of the Spotfire Blogging Team "The Promise and Challenge of Using Big Data to Address World Problems".

Big data in the end is all about wisdom and evolution! And obviously this cannot be left to the hands of few or only in the processing power of computers!

Δευτέρα, 6 Φεβρουαρίου 2012

Connected Wearable Computers!

Modern smart-phones have more processing power than the best desktop computers of the '90s. On top of this, they are always connected through GSM or WiFi networks and most of them include, camera, accelerometer and a GPS device. All in one small package that fits in every pocket!

There are two major limitation for the current smartphone technology: Power supply (or batteries), and display "real estate" or size of screen. These two, are also inter-dependant, since larger screens consume more energy. A large battery makes the device bulky and heavy, a large screen makes a smart-phone un-practical as well...

The power supply of a smartphone with all the fancy features described above, allows usually a few hours of usage of all the features. Internet connection and GPS consume a lot and a typical smartphone battery could sustain non stop operation for not more than 4-6 hours. Combined with the larger screen sizes, that enable the user to have access to the information (e.g GPS location on an internet retrieved Google Map) available to him by his phone, can empty a battery very fast.

Lets look at some other devices - apparel that most modern people carry with them everyday. The wrist watch is an example. There are many models of watches that include various sensors, like barometer, thermometer, accelerometer, digital compass or even GPS sensor. The battery of a wrist watch lasts way longer than any of the smart phones. Their screens are very low on energy consumption but also very specific in their use. This new generation of "smart" watches also has some connectivity features, that enable the user to transmit the stored data to a web-service or even retrieve data from remote sensors, like heart rate monitor or power meters in the occasion of a sports watch (like the one at the side picture).

Also many are wearing glasses and sunglasses. This "low" tech apparel is always in front of our eyes, protecting them from harmful light rays, particles or correcting our vision or even for pure aesthetics. Recently we have seen some new products in this segment, starting from the "heavier" sports goggles, where the user can connect wireless to the smartphone and use the goggles as earphones and microphone, or even embed a micro projector to create a Head Mounted Display (HMD) screen.
There are many more examples of new products that are exploiting the unprecedented computing power that each one of us has in his pocket with a smart-phone. There are also many sensors that have been introduced, that enhance the capabilities of smart-phones:
  • Sports activities sensors (heart rate, power, stride / cadence, etc)
  • Health status (heart rate, blood sugar level, etc - Personal Monitoring Tech: Invasion of the Body Trackers)
  • Car monitoring services (connectivity to diagnostics - OBDII)
  • Connected external mini cameras (Contour+ is such an example)
  • and many more...

We should not neglect to take into consideration the market demand for new features which could be served very well by an "expanded" smart-phone. A whole new range of media and marketing possibilities will open-up, like:
  • Real life social games
  • Augmented reality applications
  • Big data statistics and marketing (massive amounts of information coming from recording at a scale never possible in the past)
  • Health wellness applications
  • Safety on the road
  • Public transportation information
  • Urban life management
  • etc...

With all these things in mind, I believe that the solution to the two major limitations of smart-phone technology, can be found in the modification of the device in the direction of peripheral connectivity and delegation of tasks. The smart-phone will be the main unit, providing connectivity and processing power, while peripheral devices will be deployed according to the needs, and will be supplying the data needed.

Connected wearable computers with standard communication protocols should be able to keep their screens off for power efficiency, while on demand could be presenting information, like caller id and SMS - micro blogging messages at the screen of the connected wrist watch. Eye-wear could work as microphone and headphone and save even more energy for the smart-phone. At an advanced stage special glasses could work as head mounted displays, feeding the user with information according to his needs. It is very important to have a standard communication protocol with all these devices, because today there are at least 3-4 major protocols available making the development and marketing of such applications very complicated. Freeing some of the processing power of the main unit with this delegation of tasks, would allow development of more demanding applications as well, like voice recognition (iPhone Siri is such an example) that would make interaction with the information so much easier.

Consumers would benefit a lot as well! Imagine if you could upgrade only the accessory you need, instead of buying a whole new device (current smart-phones) every time there is a better photo-camera, or more sensitive GPS or more powerful processor for the phone! If you break one thing, you replace only this specific component and not the whole device. It is also a bit more environment friendly set up.

Trying to fit everything in a box is working only at the initial steps of a new technology. From some point on modularity has to be introduced in order to become more efficient, flexible and release the full potential of the new technology. The market will open up as well to so many more companies with new products that will complement the pocket hidden smart-phone.